Could This Be The End of Laminate in The Kitchen?

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Dear Journal,
I have discovered a way for wives to be able to convince their husband’s to upgrade their kitchens – infection control!

An eager wife

I’ve been fortunate in the past few weeks to work on some research and case study initiatives related to the design of Healthcare and educational spaces reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without mistakingly making a hypocritical comment due to my last post, I’ve come to question one very popular finish: laminate. Could this be the end of laminate countertops?

Let’s start with the material itself

Plastic laminate is really layers of paper and resin heat-pressured together to construct a relatively durable surface. Let’s say a worst-case scenario happens and the top melamine layer somehow becomes damaged, or an edge of the sheet gets chipped (and let’s face it, this is pretty unavoidable), you run the risk of moisture seeping into those paper layers which could expand, leading to more damage or unsightliness, or worse: a bacteria heaven could be created. As this water-damaged area progresses, it allows for more opportunity for bacteria to not only live in the tiny nooks and valleys but provides carbon for microbes to feed on. If you thought that sounds bad – just think about when it means when a sink is in the picture.

Hand washing and laminate

When you consider some of your past (or current) physicians’ offices, maybe even your dentist’s office, think about their handwashing sink and the type of counter surface they have. There is a good chance you will see a laminate countertop with a stainless steel sink. While I fully support the reminder to wash your hands (especially as the pandemic is still among us) I always have a worry when it comes to laminate in a wet location.

As a healthcare designer, this is one of my personal fears in a healthcare location. Although the stainless steel is okay (I may need to write a whole “problems with” post on that material as well) it’s really the connection point between the sink and the laminate that concerns me. In nearly every laminate situation where a sink is installed, you need to have an overmount sink. This means the sink sits on top of the countertop, rather than an under-mount sink which is installed below the counter. When installed correctly, caulk should be placed on the sink’s rim to prevent any water from seeping in. This is where the worrisome engineer side of me comes in. If the caulk degrades, or the sink was not properly installed, you now run the risk of moisture getting under the rim creating, once again, a lovely oasis for bacteria and microbes.

But let’s say everything works great for years and is perfectly sealed up . . . you still have the potential for particles to get wiped towards the sink, getting caught at the lip and creating microcolonies.

I don’t want to be a dower on laminate, I specify the material constantly on projects and do love it in the right location and situation. But, I think the material has a lot to be concerned about in any wet location, including a kitchen.

Feature photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash