As durable as it is timeless, soapstone can seem to be a bit of an enigma…
Old & New? It feels equally at home in slick, modern settings as it does in antique home restorations.
Hard & Soft? Used even in high-traffic areas, soapstone flooring will last forever, and yet it is soft enough to shape using simple woodworkers tools.
Light & Dark? Left untreated soapstone has a cool blue-grey tone — oil it regularly to bring out its rich dark sheen.
The main reason most of our customers choose soapstone is simply this … Soapstone is gorgeous. It has a very soft texture, and wonderful veining. Soapstone doesn’t stain because it is non-porous. This also makes it the ideal kitchen surface — cleanups are an absolute breeze and there are no pores to retain bacteria from meat and fish. If you are looking for something unique, choose soapstone.
What is Soapstone?
Soapstone is the common name for the mineral steatite (also known as soap rock). Soapstone is a talc-schist, composed of at least 50% talc combined with other minerals, which have been geologically metamorphosed into stone through a combination of heat, pressure and time. It is called soapstone because the talc gives the softer grades a soapy feel. Soapstone has been a medium for carving for thousands of years, as it is relatively soft due to its high talc content.
Are There Different Kinds of Soapstone?
Yes, soapstone is found in basically two varieties depending on the talc content. There is no fixed hardness for soapstone because the amount of talc it contains varies widely. Artistic soapstone has high talc content, is very soft, and is used for carving and welders pencils. The little Inuit whales and polar bears common in gift shops are carved from soapstone. Architectural soapstone is between 60% and 80% talc and is used for sinks, counter tops, floors and other architectural elements. Common, non-architectural grades of soapstone can just barely be scratched with a fingernail. If a candidate rock cannot be scratched with a knife blade it is not soapstone.
Recently a number of sources have been marketing a “harder” soapstone which is not soapstone at all. It is actually serpentine, which has in the past been discarded, or sold as low quality marble. It does not have the same characteristics as soapstone and we do not work with or recommend it.
Why Use Soapstone for Sinks or Countertops?
Soapstone has three characteristics that make it an excellent choice for use as kitchen sinks and counter tops.
- Soapstone is heat resistant. You can place a hot pan or dish on a counter without any damage being done to the counter.
- Soapstone is non-porous so that no products found in the kitchen will penetrate the stone. Other stone surfaces such as granite, marble or limestone have to be repeatedly sealed to prevent liquids from staining them.
- Soapstone is chemically neutral so acids like lemon or tomato juice do not affect it, nor do alkalis found in some household cleaners.
No other solid surface counter top material has all three of these characteristics.
Why is it Recommended to Oil Soapstone?
Soapstone is non porous so nothing penetrates the surface. When any liquid is spilled or applied to the surface the stone darkens because the light is refracted off the stone. The stone will lighten when the substance is removed from the surface either by evaporation or cleaning. In order to avoid an inconsistent color or tone, we recommend applying mineral oil to the surface of the stone.
How Often Does Soapstone Have to be Oiled?
We recommend weekly for the first two or three months and then monthly, or less, depending on use. The thin layer of oil, too light to feel, will keep the stone a consistent shade of dark gray. The oil does evaporate so the stone will lighten with time.
Where is Soapstone Found?
Soapstone is found throughout the world in relatively small deposits ranging from small rocks to seams, boulders and other deposits. Soapstone is found in the Appalachian range from Maine to Georgia with significant deposits in Vermont and Virginia. Finland and Brazil are the largest international producers of soapstone.
Does Soapstone Vary?
The stone varies in appearance, hardness and purity from deposit to deposit. We only use stone suitable for the intended end use.
Does the Softness of Soapstone Affect Wear?
Soapstone will wear, softening the edges and accumulate some nicks, scratches and dents over time. The scratches can be removed with light sanding if desired. Sinks that were built 100 years ago (those found in many New England cellars) are still as attractive as sinks built today. A weathered or aged appearance will occur naturally over time as the patina is enhanced. Applying mineral oil simply darkens the appearance of the stone; it does not protect it in any way.
Why Am I Not Familiar with Soapstone?
Because of its relative rarity and because it is unlike most other architectural minerals, soapstone has not been quarried or marketed by large companies and has not been sold through traditional stone distribution channels.
Are there Disadvantages of Using Soapstone?
- Soapstone will darken as it ages.
- Soapstone is usually quarried in smaller pieces, so if a counter top is long, more than one piece must be used.
- Soapstone requires some maintenance such as periodic oiling to maintain a consistent appearance.