Whether you’re about to undergo a full-scale kitchen renovation or planning a more modest makeover, the hardest working kitchen surface—the countertops—deserves careful consideration. Typically, choices run the gamut from natural stone to wood to tile and now, “antimicrobial” countertops have made kitchen surface top billing too. After all, less bacteria in any space that involves food certainly seems like a good idea.

But what are antimicrobial countertops and are they right for your home? Ahead, three things to consider before signing off on your choice:

Antimicrobial countertops are countertops made from non-porous materials.

First of all, it’s important to know that when a person or brand refers to antimicrobial countertops, they are almost certainly not talking about a countertop that has been soaked with a bacteria-killing solution, or manufactured with antimicrobial chemicals embedded within its material. Rather, antimicrobial countertops simply mean non-porous countertops that are antimicrobial by virtue of the fact that there is nowhere for bacteria to hide.

The most popular non-porous (and thus, antimicrobial) countertop is quartz, an incredibly hard composite material made from 90% natural stone and 10% resin. Other non-porous, antimicrobial countertop materials include porcelain, stainless steel, recycled glass, glazed lava stone, and solid surfaces like laminate.

Photo of a modern and bright kitchen, pastel color. Render image.
With proper sealing, porous countertop materials can become antimicrobial.(Getty Images)

Marble, granite, natural stone, and butcher block countertops must be sealed or treated to become antimicrobial.

Natural stone and wood countertops are considered porous because they have tiny holes on the surface that make the material susceptible to liquids, staining, and bacterial growth. But with proper sealing (and periodic resealing), these materials can develop a less permeable surface and become, as a result, more antimicrobial. The same goes for wood countertops. One study conducted by a research laboratory at the University of Illinois found that hard rock maple countertops and cutting boards treated with a John Boos Mystery Oil and Board Cream effectively killed surface bacteria.

Sealing doesn’t negate the need for proper cleaning.

While non-porous and properly-sealed porous countertops may be far less likely to harbor bacteria, that in and of itself isn’t enough to make them truly antimicrobial. Proper cleaning is a must! Always clean food and liquid spills right away, and wipe down countertops frequently with a clean wash cloth and soapy water. Keep wood countertops oiled, and stay on top of sealing needs for marble, granite, and other natural stone. You’ll know it’s time to reseal your countertop if you notice more pronounced staining or scratching…or you simply can’t remember the last time you sealed it!