Plastic laminates have come a long way since the early Formica product I remember that was a solid color with flecks of metallic stuff suspended in the laminate. Plastic laminates today are much more than a practical counter top covering. They are more durable and a lot better looking than their predecessors.
They come in a myriad of colors, patterns and finishes that make them useful in a variety of situations other than kitchens. There are finishes that look like grained leather, antique metallic, marble, granite and others. Many products imitate natural surfaces remarkably well.
What this has done is to make the unaffordable “real” surface finish affordable in counterfeit. Laminate sheets can be used to cover walls and many other surfaces not normally considered within the realm of plastic sheets.
There are some considerations in choosing laminates. For example, you need to keep function in mind when picking out a product. Matte finishes are less likely to show nicks, scratches and finger prints than a glossy or metallic surface. Embossed products are not considered appropriate for kitchens or any area where you prepare food.
In general, laminate’s greatest advantage is one of easy care. It cleans easily with a damp sponge and a mild household cleaner. Save one or two of your old toothbrushes and use them for scrubbing tough dirty spots. Oily stains and some other tough ones, like wine, tomato juice and so forth, need a full-strength cleaner. The cleaner should be applied and allowed to stand for a time before wiping. Do not use abrasive cleaning agents on plastic laminates.
There are two kinds of laminates on the market now. The most commonly used is made from plastic-impregnated decorated paper. This layer is placed on top of several layers of brown Kraft paper. All the sheets are then bonded together under heat and intense pressure. This type of laminate has a brown seam that is visible along the edge of the sheet.
The other predominant laminate type is one that has the color all the way through. Instead of the brown Kraft paper used in the manufacturing process, the laminate layers of paper match the top laminate color. This process results in no brown edge. Furthermore, since the color is all the way through, scratches and other surface blemishes do not show as readily.
Laminates also come in different grades. The grades are determined by the total thickness of the laminated layers, the amount of abuse they can withstand, and the use to which they will be put.
First, horizontal laminate (.05-inch thick) is used for work surfaces like kitchen and vanity counters and desktops.
The next grade is vertical laminate (.03-inch thick). This is used for cabinet doors and for wall covering.
Last is “postform” laminate, (.04-inch thick). This laminate can be shaped into a curve more easily, by using heat, than the other grades.
Plastic laminates are sold in most home supply stores, but the variety of products in these stores is not always the best. Many stores will carry top-selling colors and textures and have swatch sheets from which the customer can choose other colors and patterns.