Laboratory counters are your workspace. They hold your equipment and projects and tools. You need counter space for a writing surface, to catch spills, even to sit on… maybe. Countertops are available in a stunning array of materials, composites, finishes and costs. Because each
laboratory is different from the next, it is important to understand the benefits and strengths of each type of material. Below are a handful of the most popular choices for laboratory countertop materials. When designing your lab it’s important to do your research and talk with a professional lab planner/designer to explore all the options and make the best choice for your lab.
Phenolic Resin counter tops are lightweight, hard, durable and highly chemical resistant. They are oil and moisture resistant and do not support the growth of most bacteria and fungus. Phenolic resin is an excellent choice for laboratory environments with continuous heat exposure up to 350°F (176°C) – beyond this temperature on a continuous basis use Epoxy Resin. Phenolic resin is resistant to scuffs and abrasions and holds up well against impact and stress cracking. These countertops will look good and perform well for many years. Phenolic Resin is an exceptional choice for your new space.
Epoxy resin counter tops are made from a mixture of materials then cured as a solid, continuous product. Epoxy resin is a durable and economical choice for many kinds of labs. It is non-porous, water and moisture resistant, and holds up well in wet situations. Therefore it is often used around sinks. It is impressively resistant to heat and chemicals, resists discoloration, blistering and cracking under very harsh conditions. Plus it takes a beating but continues to look like new for years. The durability of this product is built-in, not added as layers or coatings. Epoxy resin countertops are popular in many types of labs including: educational labs, hospitals and medical labs, research R&D labs, pharmaceutical labs, biological science labs, microbiology and biomedical labs, molecular pathology, and industrial testing.
The difference between phenolic resin and epoxy resin is construction materials and manufacturing process. Phenolic resin countertops are composite panels made by layering natural kraft papers that have been saturated with phenolic resin and processed under high heat to form a solid surface composite panel. Epoxy resin countertops are a mixture of resin, silica, a hardener, and filler, which are molded and oven cured as a solid slab.
Functionally, phenolic and epoxy resin countertops are very similar. The main difference is heat handling capacity. As previously mentioned phenolic resin countertops perform very well with continuous heat exposure up to 350°F (176°C). Epoxy resin will handle higher heat loads including open flame.
High-pressure plastic laminate countertops are another available option for labs but these countertops do not perform or last as well as phenolic resin or epoxy resin. Plastic laminate is a combination of wood fibers, phenolic resin, and melamine. It has a very low chemical resistance and does not hold up well against acids, heat or moisture. The biggest advantage of these countertops is the budget-friendly price. Plastic laminate countertops are a good choice for dry working conditions such as technology labs.
Stainless steel countertops and work surfaces provide excellent chemical and heat resistance and are the preferred choice for sterile environments. Stainless steel holds up well to high temperatures but can become discolored. The biggest drawback to stainless steel is the cost. However, in the right situation with consistent care stainless steel will last and look beautiful, too. Stainless steel is a good choice for biological science labs, microbiology biomedical, pharmaceutical, medical, and hospital labs.
Edge grain maple bench tops, also known as butcher block, are robust and forgiving in physically demanding environments. Wood countertops are often finished with DURAKRYL 102. This is a tough, acrylic coating that repels alcohol, bleach and most household solvents. Butcher block is one of the few materials that can take hard wear and tear, be resurfaced or repaired without any special tools or particular skill, and end up looking brand new. Butcher block is ideal for physical testing environments. It is suitable for use in biological areas, but has poor chemical resistance properties. It is, of course, popular in test kitchens and food laboratories,
There are many other options for countertop materials: Corian, marble or stone, concrete. Each choice has it strengths and weaknesses. When specifying countertops for your laboratory workspace consider these evaluation criteria:
- Resistance to certain chemicals
- Resistance to heat or open flame
- Resistance to moisture, liquid, and absorption
- Load bearing capabilities
- Impact and abrasion resistance
- Electrical conductivity
- Liquid containment
- ADA compliance
- Color options
A knowledgeable lab design professional can help you make the choice that is right for your laboratory, your work, and your budget. Remember, Lab Furniture and Fume Hoods offers free design services. We can help you plan your lab and choose materials that will create a laboratory space that will hold up to the rigors of your work and last for years and years.