Plastic laminate clad countertops are horizontal work surfaces made from a substrate material and high pressure decorative laminate. The substrate material used in plastic laminate clad countertops is typically 3/4 or 1 1/2 inches thick and may include: particle board, medium density fiberboard or plywood. Originally invented in 1913, by Formica, high pressure decorative laminate (HPDL), or what is commonly called plastic laminate (PLAM), is a manufactured, composite product. It consists of laminations of papers and plastic resins which are bonded together with heat and pressure. HPDL is a versatile product that is readily available today from several manufacturers in many colors, textures, patterns, sheens and grades. Popular in residential and commercial interiors, plastic laminate clad countertops are durable and attractive. They are inexpensive and easy to install, clean and maintain.
While plastic laminate countertops are not indestructible, they are impact and bacteria resistant. Cuts, scratches and chips can occur from sharp and abrasive objects if the countertop is not properly protected. The solid surface of plastic laminate is waterproof; however, the seams are susceptible to water penetration, which can cause damage to the substrate. Proper installation at the seams and the use of sealants help to protect the substrate. Plastic laminate should also be protected from heat and chemicals, as they may cause surface damage or delamination to occur.
The wide range of attractive plastic laminate clad products which we see today is the result of ongoing HPDL development. Available in virtually any color or pattern, HPDL can be solid color, multi-toned, patterned with shapes and detailed designs, or have the appearance of other materials, such as wood, leather, stone or metals. Traditionally a smooth surface, HPDL can have texture and is available in varying finish options. Finish options are commonly determined by the application and define whether HPDL has a matte, fine-matte, high-gloss or embossed finish. Matte and fine-matte finishes are typically used in high traffic applications. High-gloss or embossed finishes are commonly installed in light traffic applications and are decorative or have an intended functional use, such as dry erase plastic laminate surfaces. Due to traditional manufacturing processes, most plastic laminate clad countertops will have a dark edge where the product terminates at a corner; however, more recent manufacturing processes allow for the production of solid core laminates. Solid core laminates have surface color through the thickness that eliminates the dark edge.
Plastic laminate that is installed over countertops is typically 1/16 inch thick; however, it can be thinner or thicker depending on the application. Common lengths of plastic laminate are 60, 72, 96, 120 and 144 inches, and common widths of plastic laminate are 24, 30, 36, 48 and 60 inches. Plastic laminate clad countertops can be preformed or postformed. Preformed countertops have HPDL adhered and molded to the substrate prior to job site arrival. They are seamless and have an integral backsplash. The construction of a postformed countertop includes adhering the HPDL to the substrate and pressure rolling the surface to bond both materials. The adhesive used is a water based, low toxicity contact cement that can be sprayed, rolled or brushed on. While post formed countertops have visible seams, they offer edge detail options, such as wood edging or plastic laminate edging that is square, rounded, bull-nosed or angled.
As with any other product, plastic laminate clad countertops should be properly maintained. Maintenance of HPDL is essentially cleaning, which can be accomplished with a non-abrasive cloth and a mild cleaning solution. Surfaces should be rinsed after cleaning, then dried. Should stains from food, drink, and fingerprints present themselves, they can be removed. However, more permanent stains from dyes and pharmaceutical products are non-removable.
Plastic laminate clad countertops are an economical solution and have an attractive appearance. They are readily available through material suppliers or home improvement stores for both professional installers and for the do-it-yourself homeowner.
See also: Countertops 101