While there are a myriad of building materials on the market, there's a good chance that the kitchen countertops and elegant bathroom vanities you've been drooling over feature cultured marble and/or quartz in a big way. Both materials are capable of replicating the elegant look of natural marble without its colossal weight, price tag, and upkeep. And both materials are also man-made composites of natural stone, color, and polyester resin. So what's the difference between cultured marble and quartz? The short answer is the type of stone in each composite, but the real differences are in durability, maintenance, and cost.
In a head-to-head between cultured marble and quartz, the latter is the clear winner when it comes to durability. Cultured marble is still a relatively tough surface, but it can be scratched easily and is also susceptible to damage from extreme temperatures. The naturally nonporous surface of quartz makes it resistant to scratches, heat (though Lowes recommends that you still use heat protection) and stains, so it pretty much trounces cultured marble in this category. Both materials come with a clear protective layer in your choice of matte or glossy finish, but this layer is weaker on cultured marble surfaces and can degrade from wear and tear over time. You may need to re-seal your cultured marble periodically. To stretch out the length of time between re-sealings, avoid abrasive cleaning tools and corrosive cleaning products, and always use protection (hot pads) with high temperature pots and pans on your cultured marble.
Cultured marble and quartz both come in multiple colors and styles, so which one wins based on looks is subject to your personal preferences. Quartz can appear more uniformly patterned, while cultured marble bears the most resemblance to the natural striations of real marble. Visually, each material has advantages and disadvantages: cultured marble is constructed to fit each project and so is seamlessly installed into a space, whereas the fixed-size slabs in which quartz is produced necessitate visible seams. However, (depending on the material's intended use) the visible seams of quartz could be preferable when weighed against the potential scratches and stains of cultured marble in the long run.
Maintenance and durability go hand in hand, so quartz is definitely the winner in this category as well. The nonporous surface that makes quartz so durable also makes it easy to clean and hard to scratch or stain, whereas the inverse can hold true for cultured marble. Maintaining cultured stone may take a bit of effort, but there are DIY fixes to clean cultured marble, remove stains, reseal, and repair cultured marble surfaces, and plenty of options for professional restoration (although the pros may stretch your budget). And while quartz is incredibly durable, it isn't indestructible, so on the off chance that you're making an ice sculpture atop your quartz countertop and your chisel goes astray, be prepared to shell out for the repairs. When quartz surfaces need serious repairing, you are better off going to the pros — the polishing machine you'd need to DIY a quartz surface retails for $2,450 at The Home Depot. For light cosmetic damage, try using a polishing compound to remove surface scratches.
So, here's where things get slightly tricky. Unsurprisingly, the ultra-durability, heat, scratch, and stain resistance of quartz makes it the pricier of the two materials. However, you are paying for both quality and longevity. The comparative value of cultured marble and quartz will depend entirely on the uses of the materials. The higher price of quartz may be money well spent for a countertop or table in a high-traffic kitchen where spills and scratches could be regular occurrences, or to keep cleaning easy in the bathroom; whereas, cultured marble could make more sense for a mantle, shelves or end table.