How Do Wooden Countertops Really Hold Up?

September 08, 2020

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How do wooden countertops really hold up? Are they practical?  Do wooden countertops stain? Do they wear well? How do you clean them? A year after installing one in my own bathroom, I have a few answers.

And today, I'm sharing them with you.

How Do Wooden Countertops Really Hold Up? text over bathroom vanity photo with other questions in text. How do I clean them, are they durable, do they stain.

Last spring, we renovated our bathroom.

It was a huge project that took months to complete. The finished product was revealed sometime late last summer.

That's when I shared our wooden countertop DIY.

And while that post was met with so many wonderful compliments, oohs and ahhs, I also received my fair share of disbelieving emails and questioning comments.

Oh, everyone was kind in their correspondence and thought the vanity topper was beautiful, but the refrain was clear.

Are you crazy?? Putting a wooden countertop in a bathroom?? With kids??

It'll never hold up.

Maybe. However, I've wanted wood counters since the day we moved into this house, and if it wasn't going to happen in the kitchen, the bathroom would do nicely.

Second, it was such a small investment, in both time and money, that it was worth a shot.

And third, my husband built a wooden kayak way back in the 90's and I figured it his boat could withstand 20+ years of salt water baths and look that good, my countertop could surely do the same.

And I was right.

Now, it's only been a year, but that slab of maple still looks just as amazing as it did the day we installed it.

And that room sees multiple hot showers, hair drying, teeth brushing, hand washing, make up application and more on a daily basis.

However, even though I've updated the original DIY to show this, I still get emails about its durability every day.  And they're always the same few questions over and over.

While responding to a few more of them over the weekend, I decided that maybe it was time I wrote all the answers down in one place.

So that's what I did.

A small disclaimer here, I'm no pro. I'm just sharing information based on our experience and our particular construction and usage.

We have a single sheet of maple veneer plywood countertop and it's in a bathroom with no windows. Lots of steam.

How Well Do Wooden Countertops Wear?


Wooden Countertop On A Bathroom Vanity

Of course, this answer depends largely on their initial construction. However, all things considered, wooden countertops wear very well.

We've had ours for over a year now in a heavily used bathroom. No one is careful in there and it looks like it did on installation day. No dents, no stains or scuffs and the wood is still shiny.

Plus, consider this. If the wood wears or does show signs of damage the future, a dent from a drop perhaps, it can be mended easily, with wood filler, a furniture marker or a quick sanding and re-staining.

If you chip granite or stain marble, there's no easy fix. Sure there are ways to patch them, but they're usually best left to the pros.

Wood is a great material for DIYers. Easily constructed, repaired and refinished.

A little note...we honestly don't do anything special to protect our counter and the kids are hard on it. The only thing we do use caution with, is hot hair tools. I have a heatproof silicone pad that we place under the appliances.

I wouldn't want the wood to get a burn mark or worse yet, catch fire. It's a long shot, but better safe than sorry.

Do Wooden Countertops Stain Easily?


Water puddle on wooden countertop in the bathroom

This is a big one. Lot of people ask.

Again, the answer here is largely dependent on the initial treatment of the wood, but if you use an appropriate polyurethane sealer, no the wood doesn't stain, because the water never gets to it.

We used an oil based polyurethane to seal it. I believe it took about 4-5 coats, applied one per day, and each coat lightly sanded in between.

It was not a marine grade varnish, which you can use, but this worked just fine. Great, in fact.

And trust me, it's been tested. Like I said, every day.

Between the teeth brushing and excessive hand washing lately, this room is always under siege. As a matter of fact, when salons were closed, my daughter decided to color her hair at home.

In that bathroom...on that countertop.

Stained beach towel

It was not pretty. This is the towel she used. Stained forever. My wood countertop? Nope. Still perfect. The color just beaded up and wiped away.

Fabulous.

What Is The Best Finish For Wooden Countertops?


Varathane Oil Based Polyurethane can on outdoor table

There are lots of different types of finishes out there to protect the surface and you'll need to choose one based on where your countertop is being used and what kind of wood it is.

If it's in the kitchen, for example, you'll need to consider food safety.

However, in the bathroom, that wasn't a concern. Constant exposure to water was though. A simple, clear, satin, oil based polyurethane was super protective.

As I said, you could use a marine grade poly since it's made to protect against water or an epoxy, but we've used them on boats, they're not always easy to work with and I didn't see a huge difference.

What Kind Of Wood Is Best For Countertops?


Unfinished Maple Plywood Wooden Countertop in Bathroom

At this risk of sounding repetitive, this too is largely dependent on where you're going to put them, the size of the area needing coverage, whether they'll be in contact with food or water and, ultimately, your style.

Based on all those factors, we opted for a large sheet of maple veneer plywood. It was easy to work with, super inexpensive and available on the shelf at Home Depot for a grab and go.

It's basically the material used for cabinets. We chose it because maple is a hard wood and very clear, meaning relatively few knots and grain.

We also chose it because we wanted one solid surface. Wood is a natural element. It will expand and contract, especially in a bathroom where there are steamy showers taken on a daily basis.

If we'd joined wooden planks or boards to make this, the tiny movements could've allowed moisture to gather between them.

That would not have been good.

The boards could buckle, swell, separate and moisture could get into the cracks and to the wood that wasn't sealed...you get the picture.

If you do want to use that kind of planked construction, I don't recommend it for a main bathroom.

How Do You Take Care Of Wooden Countertops?


The simple answer is, the same way you would any other piece of wood furniture you have in the house.

I try not to let water stand or pool on the surface, but since I don't go in there often, sometimes it does.

Toiletries on wooden bathroom counter

Generally speaking though, wipe up spills and stains (toothpaste, liquid soap, make up) with a paper towel or soft rag as soon as possible.

You can use a furniture polish, but honestly I just use a damp, warm rag and go over the counter to bring up the shine.

If I need to clean it well, since it is a bathroom and it gets germy, I add a little bit of vinegar to the mix. It's exactly the way I clean my kitchen floors.

And they've been shiny for almost 20 years.

Vinegar bottle

And that's that.

I have to say, I have been thrilled with the way our new bathroom looks and functions.

The wooden countertop has been a charming addition to the room and frankly it's worn better and looks better than both the marble and granite slabs we had in there before.

The marble stained and dulled very quickly from make up and liquid soap.

And the granite edges chipped every time someone dropped a hair dryer or curling iron. They both looked dingy and old in very short order and I had no simple recourse.

For much less money, the wooden countertop has proven to be a stronger, more durable option for our family.

And way better looking.

Which is really all that matters.

Right?

Just kidding. Sort of.

How do you feel about wooden countertops?
  1. Hi Kim,
    This post was excellent. Thank you for the tips. As you know the kitchen is our next big project. We are still thinking of what to do, but I liked your wood advice for the kitchen too. Thank You! I am pinning your post.

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    1. So glad you found it useful, Carla!! I would LOVE wooden countertops in my kitchen, too. Maybe someday, but if you do it, you must share so we can see!! xo

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  2. Hi Kim. You made a great investment and thanks for all the tips. I have butcher block in my kitchen and love it. It holds up to everything. Hope your Labor Day was great. Have a good week.xoxo

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    1. Thanks Kris! I think a lot of people are afraid of wood when you're right, it's very, very durable. Enjoy the weekend!!xo

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  3. I love wooden countertops or anything wood, there are so many different hardwoods and products to use to care for them and it makes it easier and easier to use. Your bathroom countertop is prime example and it looks so pretty.

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    1. You're so right, Marlene...today it's easier than ever to have them and keep them looking great. Thanks for the sweet comment!!

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  4. Kim,

    These still look perfect and I still love them. As you mentioned, if the hubby built a kayak and it stood the test of time this would too.

    With 2 young ladies using makeup, flatiron, blow dryers etc. your a mom that knows.

    Cindy

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    1. Thanks Cindy! He did a great job building this and I think the kayak experience definitely helped when it came to picking sealer...because yes, two young ladies with lots of stuff!! Hahaha!!

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  5. I've thought about a wooden countertop on my bar. I have a country white kitchen & think it would look so pretty. But I am happy with what I have...almost 40 yr old laminate. It's in very good shape considering how old it is.

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    1. You know, Jenny, I have an almost 20 year old laminate in my kitchen and it looks absolutely fabulous, too. I love it and I think that's another underrated countertop material! Great minds...😉

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  6. I love your countertop! I did have all those questions and it's good to see how well it's worked for you. Maybe someday I'll have wood too!

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    1. It was always in my someday pile, Mari, so we decided to go for it. I'm so glad we did!

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  7. I LOVE wood counters! In our cabin we had a custom vanity made for the master and it was great. Granted, it had a shiny finish, probably one of those finishes that you pour and let it settle (forget what it’s called) so it was super durable, but I think what you did looks and works perfectly too. Love the color you choose too.

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    1. It was probably an epoxy finish, Doreen, and it was probably indestructible!! That's what we *probably* should've done with Thing 1 and Thing 2 still about...but so far, so good!! And thanks! I'm really happy with the way it turned out...xo

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  8. Kim,
    I think it looks absolutely stunning and you are right, if a boat can hold up in salt water why wouldn't a wood countertop, properly treated, be able to hold up too??? Great job, it is beautiful! Thanks so much for your visit and for your kind words and for letting me know your daughter enjoys my blogs!! I was thrilled to hear that she likes thrift shops and vintage items!! It is nice to hear that about a young person because in this day and age, that is not a common thing...Our great niece Caitlin, who is 15 years old, loves all things vintage and antiques too! I was thrilled when she asked if my other's bedroom furniture could be passed on to her some day....And even her sister who is 11 years old, is now promised y mother's hope chest....Tell your daughter that I am so flattered that she enjoys both of my blogs and how happy it made me to hear that!!
    Hope you had a nice Labor Day!
    Stay safe, healthy and happy!!
    Hugs
    Deb

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    1. Thanks so much, Debbie! So far so good!! Plus it’s just so pretty! And your great niece and my daughter sound very much alike. As a matter of fact, my daughter just found a box filled with my mom’s old books from the 30’s and 40’s and she started reading them this summer. Anything old will do!!

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  9. Hi Kim, that is great news that the wood countertop has held up so well after a year. Those are great tips for taking care of wood.

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    1. Thanks Julie! It's worked out way better than we could've hoped!

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  10. I've never thought about using wooden countertops in a bath before, but I will now! We have a wooden countertop on our breakfast bar in our kitchen (distressed walnut) and I LOVE it!

    I love how the wood looks in your bath. It's pretty!

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    1. Oh...walnut!! That's the flooring I fell in love with when we added the kitchen almost 20 years ago. It was way out of our budget at the time...but I've never forgotten about it. Dreamy!! And thank you!

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  11. Hi Kim. I knew you wouldn't have any trouble with the counter top and it looks just as gorgeous now as it did at the first. We put a sink in an antique oak dresser in our bathroom when we were raising two kids. That was over 50 years ago and when we visit our daughter who lives there now, it looks as good as when we first did it. It depends on mainly how you take care of something, as any kind of counter can become bad over time with heavy use and no care..Stay well..xxoJudy

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    1. I love that bathroom vanity/ dresser look, Judy. It was what I was trying to emulate when we redid this vanity. I looked for a dresser that would fit the space for a loooong time without any success. How lucky that you were able to make it work. And now it's your daughter's? Fabulous!! Did she buy your old home? The one she grew up in? Very cool!! Take care!! xo

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  12. You are certainly the expert on wood countertops...and yours looks great!

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    1. I don’t know about being an expert, but we certainly have a lot of real life experience caring for them, that’s for sure. Maybe I should’ve put one in my own bathroom instead of the kids’!!

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