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Serpentine vs Quartz - A Comparison

The choices for countertop surfaces are numerable and there a natural stone materials as well as engineered, or man made solutions from which to choose. Each consumer has things that they appreciate about various kinds of materials. Therefore it helps to have an understanding of materials if you are either selecting a material to purchase, or if you work with materials during fabrication. In this article we will examine serpentine vs quartz as a comparison. Along the way, we will look at the properties of each of these materials and see why those properties play a role in fabricating and owning these materials.

Summary of Serpentine

The first of our two materials to consider is the natural stone that we (and others) call serpentine. This is actually not the technical name for the rock. But it is the term that is commonly used. We will not get into all the details about the material here, but you can read our page about the material Natural Serpentine. It explains the details about the material. Here, we will simple summarize the material in the practical sense.

Serpentine is a natural stone that is composed of a variety of minerals that give the stone a green tone. The mineral content will determine the hardness of the stone, which ranges from 3 to 6 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Additionally, the porosity of the stone varies too. So a simple description would be: "a rock composed predominantly of one or more serpentine group minerals". That is in fact how the material is described on the Wikipedia page for Serpentinite.

Overview of Quartz

The other material in our "vs" match up is quartz. Quartz is a man made material and is sometimes referred to as "engineered quartz" or "engineered stone". This material is produced under many brands. Again, explaining everything about this material here would not be practical. Besides, we have a page that explains what quartz is and what cutting requires. The title of that page is: How to Cut Quartz Surfaces & Polish Them. Like we did with the serpentine, we will give a brief description of quartz and then get on into our comparison.

Quartz surfaces are formulated from three main ingredients. Those ingredients are: particles and/or pieces of natural quartz, a resin binder (one of the man made parts of the mixture), and coloring pigment (the other man made part). All of these ingredients are mixed together and molded into a slab which is used to fashion countertop surfaces.

Comparing Serpentine and Quartz Hardness

Comparing the hardness of these materials is not a simple "this material is harder than that material" type comparison. As mentioned earlier, serpentine is a natural stone that has variable hardness. Serpentine's hardness ranges anywhere from 3 to 6 on the Mohs scale. Quartz surfaces on the other hand, are man made and the hardness is controlled. Because quartz countertops contain the actual mineral quartz and the material used for the binder is controllable, the hardness of quartz is more consistent. Engineered quartz surfaces consistently test at 7 on the Mohs scale. Yet, the best way to know for sure regarding any particular countertop is to do a scratch test on the specific slab's surface.

You can see why explaining the hardness of these two materials would not be as simple as saying on is harder than the other. Serpentine varies so one slab of serpentine might be composed of soft minerals and test out at a hardness of 3 or 4 while another slab of serpentine may test at say a 6. You get the idea. Depending on the stone, some serpentine slabs are nearly as hard as an engineered quartz surface. In these cases, the difference in hardness may not be noticeable at all from a practical standpoint. After all, both 6 and 7 are harder than a steel nail as seen in the following table that lists the hardness of common objects.

Hardness of Common Objects
Object Hardness
Fingernail 2.5
Penny 3.5
Glass 5.5
Steel Nail 5.5
Streak Plate 6.5
The Hardness of Minerals and Rocks" by William S. Cordua". Lapidary Digest. 1998 Hosted at International Lapidary Association

The Value of Hardness

The practical value of a surface's hardness is that harder materials are more scratch resistant. So if the material is used for a prominent feature of a design, a kitchen countertop for example, it will last longer. Of course the life of the surface is affected by the amount of wear an tear on the surface, so the durability expectation based on hardness is more of a general principle than it is a definite rule.

So from a practical standpoint, a hard serpentine and an engineered quartz surface would both be on the upper end of the hardness scale. The difference though would be that the serpentine slab would need to be verified for its hardness since serpentine hardness varies.

Comparing Color Selection

Comparing the color selection of engineered quartz with that of serpentine is a bit simpler than comparing the hardness of these materials. As mentioned earlier, quartz is man made and aspects of its production are controlled. Therefore, quartz surfaces are available in a number of colors. On the other hand, serpentine surfaces are generally greenish or brownish in color. This is because the minerals that compose this type of stone are specific and that is what their color is.

The Effects of Color

The color of a material used for hard surfaces is important to the overall design in which the material is used. In the case of quartz, having a large number of choices is beneficial. Being able to select just the right color for a specific room design means flexibility. Multiple colors may work for a given design and having the ability to choose your preference means flexibility.

In the case of serpentine, you have fewer color choices. However it does not mean the color is any less important. There are some design styles that work very well with specific colors. For example, the rustic design style not only works very well with greens and browns, but natural material adds to the ambiance of the design. In these cases then, there is a benefit to using a serpentine slab. As with any particular situation, the project and the design requirements affect the material choice.

Comparative Stain Resistance

Looking at the stain resistance of each of both quartz and serpentine is interesting. The materials are not only different in how they are produced, but each has a trait that plays a role in the material's susceptibility to certain kinds of stains. Let's look at the stain resistance of both quartz and serpentine.

Quartz Stain Resistance

Engineered quartz surfaces are non-porous and as a result are resistant to stains that occur due to the absorption of liquids. Put simply, any liquids that are spilled on the surface of a quartz countertop stay on the surface. These can easily be wiped up if done in a timely manner. However, this feature of engineered quartz surfaces does not mean that they are stain-proof. If a substance dries on the surface or even reacts with the material, the result is a discoloration that requires a stain remover designed for cleaning quartz surfaces.

Stain Resistance of Serpentine

In contrast to quartz, natural serpentine is porous. Serpentine, like virtually all natural stone, has pores that allow liquids to make there way into the stone. This means that a spill on a serpentine surface is absorbed by the surface. If the liquid has color, it acts as a delivery system for the color into the stone, resulting in a stain. And since the porosity of each stone varies, the rate at which a liquid is absorbed also varies. For this reason there are products designed to seal natural stone. Stone sealers create a barrier that slows the rate of absorption. However, using the wrong cleaner on a sealed surface will destroy the sealer and create the need for another application of sealer to the surface of the stone.

In conclusion, engineered quartz and natural serpentine are two very different materials. And in more than one way these materials contrast. Yet each one has its advantages in certain situations. We saw in this article how quartz surfaces, being a man made, have a consistent hardness and a wide variety of color choices. They also are non porous but are stained by various substances. We also considered how serpentine, forming naturally brings with it some benefits. These include being a great fit for specific design styles and the fact that some serpentine is harder than nails. We also discussed that serpentine can be stained too. Since it is a natural stone, it benefits from proper sealing and the use of the correct cleaners.

No matter which surface material or materials you are working with or choosing for your project, you will want to become familiar with the characteristics of each and consider those traits when making your decision on what material to use. Choosing between serpentine vs quartz is no different. Your project, preference, and design style leads you to the answer that is right for your specific situation.

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