Soapstone is not a choose-a-good-color countertops material; it’s a fall-in-love countertop material. Once you’re hooked, there’s no going back. The soft, warm feel combined with a subdued, minimal look means this natural stone fits as well in a traditional farmhouse kitchen as it does in the sleek, contemporary design aesthetic of an modern urban space.
Geology: Soapstone is a natural rock found in several places around the world. It was formed from igneous rock in ancient ocean rift zones when those areas experienced significant heat and pressure from mountain formation and tectonic movement. The talc mineral in soapstone gives it that soft, smooth feel. The finished surface of soapstone feels like a dry bar of soap (and that’s where it gets its name!).
Artistic Grade Versus Architectural Grade: Soapstone is quarried in two basic types: high talc (artistic) and low talc (architectural). If you’ve heard that soapstone is too soft for countertops, that myth comes from not distinguishing between the two types. Artistic grade is better for carving and sculptures, but high quality architectural is what you want in your home. (Make sure to ask your fabricator about the grade of the soapstone you are purchasing.) In fact, soapstone is not only naturally antibacterial, but it is also naturally burn and stain resistant and requires very little maintenance. Most experts recommend that you do not seal soapstone, since it is not as porous as granite.
Colors: Soapstone has a limited palette of colors. It comes in grey, blue-ish gray, green, and black, depending on the mineral content of that particular deposit. Some are darker or lighter with more or less veining, as you might expect in a natural stone. Unlike granite, the colors in soapstone will darken or change appearance over a long period of time as the stone is exposed to oxygen. Soapstone can be oiled to produce a darker, richer look. This is different than mineral oil treatments and must be done during fabrication and prior to installation.
Cons: Because soapstone is a little softer than granite, barely perceptible nicks and scratches may appear when used as a countertop, but they can either be sanded out or left for a weathered, rustic look. Most homeowners who choose soapstone say the beauty of the stone it’s completely worth any marginal risk of nicks or scratches.
Maintenance: Many homeowners choose to treat their soapstone regularly with mineral oil or special soapstone wax. This is a purely aesthetic treatment that keeps the stone more consistent in color. It can also help to blend any scratches that may occur over time. Left untreated, the soapstone will darken around the surface areas most frequently used, particularly in a kitchen or food service environment. Leaving the soapstone untreated will develop a patina of age that is actually considered attractive and desirable to many homeowners. If you change your mind, you can go back to oiling the stone. Experts recommend that you clean your soapstone with a mild soap and water. Less is more with this stone, so stay away from harsh chemicals and expensive granite cleaners.Click HERE for a full article on caring for and repairing soapstone countertops.
History: In the 18th and 19th centuries the durability and heat resistance of soapstone made it a popular choice for sinks, stoves, and exterior trim. In the 19th century was particularly popular for fireplaces and wood stoves because it holds heat and radiates it long after the fire is out. Many of these soapstone creations are still being used in historic homes today, a testament to the longevity of this architectural gem. Soapstone fell out of favor in the 20th century, but in the last decade kitchen lovers have been rediscovering its natural beauty, durability,and energy efficient heat retention.
Sources: Soapstone deposits are found in several places in New England (particularly Vermont). A large amount of architectural grade soapstone also comes from Brazil. It is also found in Finland, but most of their exported soapstone goes to Europe, not the Americas.
Granite Grannies is your expert source for all things soapstone. If you have any questions about using soapstone (wherever you are in the country), please do not hesitate to call or email.
If you liked this article, you will also enjoy:
- New Soapstone Inventory (July 2015)
- Time Tested Soapstone & White Carrara Marble in a Historic Home
- How to Clean, Maintain, & Repair Soapstone Countertops
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