Shake Things Up With Zinc Countertops
The Benefits Of Zinc And What To Watch Out For
Zinc countertops are the cutting edge of kitchen counter materials, but there's a lot to know about this beautiful "living" surface. OUR HOMES sat down with an industry insider, Vince Galipo of Fine Design Fabrication, to get the lowdown on everything you need to know before you decide to purchase what is easily one of the more expensive products on the market for kitchen countertops.
Zinc, like copper, is much-loved for the rich blue-grey patina it develops with time and use—hence its status as a living surface. It’s nonporous and also harbours the same antimicrobial properties as copper that makes it an ideal surface for preparing food. Cleaning it is as easy as using soap and water. Additionally, its softness makes it easy to craft interesting edge designs and textured or hammered surfaces.
The metal, which begins its life shiny like stainless steel, reacts readily with a variety of substances, including water, sunlight, lemon juice, acidic foods and fingerprints. It is also very susceptible to heat. The discolorations produced during these reactions blend, over time, into an intriguing varied-hued surface that many people find appealing. Though the original shiny surface can be preserved with regular polishing and extreme care, zinc countertops are a product best suited to those who prefer the tarnished aesthetic of a patina.
"Zinc is relatively soft. It will dent and scratch easily and can be sanded back down to its raw state if the homeowner wants to start fresh," says Vince Galipo. "It's going to get scratched, dinged and damaged."
But, that's the point. Each countertop becomes unique to the home it's placed in; the surface a singular record of the kitchen life that revolves around it. The patina zinc is renowned for, including all the dents and dings, can take a year or more to fully develop. Consumers can jump-start this process by purchasing a countertop that has been pre-patinaed in a shop. A pre-patina is achieved with acid etching to give the countertop a texture and colour that mimics years of use.
Because patina is a thin layer on the outer surface of the metal, it can be sanded away, revealing fresh raw zinc below if a deep scratch, dent or discolouration occurs (such as from a hot pan), that mars the effect of the existing patina.
"Even a homeowner can refinish their own zinc countertop with an orbital sander and polish it with a piece of Scotchbrite," notes Galipo. "They can play with the look of the patina this way as well if they want it bright here and darker over there."
Though Galipo says it is easy for a homeowner to refinish portions of a countertop easily in their home with a sander, refinishing an entire surface may require the help of a professional. Additionally, acid-etching (used in the pre-patina process) should only be done in a shop for safety. “You can’t artificially pre-patina a countertop in a house,” cautions Galipo.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of substandard products on the market masquerading as pure zinc surfaces and anyone considering a zinc countertop should educate themselves as much as possible about the material.
“Many people think they are buying a pure Rhinezinc countertop, but sometimes people are actually getting zinc-coated galvanized steel, and that’s bad,” says Galipo. “We’ve replaced countertops for customers who thought they were getting pure zinc and didn’t. I feel bad because they get overcharged for an inferior product.”
After a couple of years in a high-use kitchen space, the thin zinc coating will begin to wear away revealing the steel below, which will rust.
"Pure zinc countertops won't rust" explains Galipo. "They will tarnish over time, like a calcification patina, with green and blue tinges."
According to Galipo, you can protect yourself by putting the product you are thinking of purchasing through a few simple tests. Because zinc is soft and galvanized steel is much harder, a zinc-coated steel product will behave much differently than a pure zinc product. He suggests attempting to bend a countertop sample in half, as zinc will give under pressure. Galipo also recommends customers sand through the top layer, which will either reveal more zinc if the product is pure, or the galvanized steel core if it isn’t.
Additionally, you may be told that zinc countertops can’t be seamlessly welded together, and you may have visible seams in your countertop. Galipo warns that a skilled fabricator will be able to eliminate any visible seams.
Zinc is a countertop option that will give your kitchen a strong sense of character, with that rustic farmhouse feel. As long as you shop around and purchase your product from a reputable fabricator, you should be able to enjoy many decades with your living zinc countertop.
Images courtesy of Fine Design Fabrication.