Stone is one of the most popular kitchen surfaces, and among all the options, soapstone countertops may be the most durable. These natural countertops develop their own patina and character over time, adding texture and style to a kitchen.
What is Soapstone?
Soapstone is a natural, metamorphic rock whose geologic name is steatite. It gets its moniker and soapy feel from the talc in the stone. In fact, it’s this talc content that distinguishes the two main types of soapstone: architectural and artistic.
Artistic soapstone is softer and easy to carve, thanks to its high talc content. Architectural-grade soapstone contains less talc, which makes it harder, tougher, and better for surfaces like countertops. Most countertop-grade soapstone also contains a higher percentage of quartz and has a honed finish, which is matte.
Soapstone is softer than granite and cut into smaller slabs. Consequently, large areas – typically more than 7 feet — will require more than one piece and will have seams.
Where Soapstone Comes From
The larger slabs of architectural grade soapstone come from Brazil, but it is also quarried in India and parts of the east coast of the US, such as Appalachia and Vermont.
The Advantages of Soapstone Countertops
1. Soapstone Doesn’t Crack
Soapstone is a durable countertop that doesn’t crack or chip. You don’t have to worry about dropping an item on it and experiencing hairline fractures like you would with other options, such as sintered stone.
2. Soapstone Doesn’t Stain
Soapstone is a very dense, nonporous rock, meaning liquids can’t penetrate the surface. That said, if liquid collects on the stone, it turns a darker color. After you wipe up the liquid and the moisture evaporates, the lighter color returns. Since this natural rock doesn’t absorb water, it’s also great as a sink material.
3. Soapstone is Resistant to Heat and Acids
Soapstone is heat resistant – you can plop down a hot pot and know that your countertop will be fine. According to Geology, soapstone is a great heat conductor, and its chemical composition renders it impervious to acids like lemon juice and vinegar. Spilled red wine? No problem – just wipe it up. In fact, soapstone is so acid and heat-resistant that is used for scientific laboratory countertops.
4. Soapstone is Sanitary
The qualities that keep liquids from harming your soapstone countertop are the same ones that prevent it from harboring bacteria and germs. It’s a family-friendly material that will keep the kitchen safe and sanitary.
5. You Don’t Have to Seal Soapstone
6. Soapstone is All Natural and Eco-Friendly
Because no chemicals are used to manufacture or maintain soapstone countertops, they are one of the most environmentally friendly countertop options. They are also 100% recyclable.
7. Soapstone has Great Aesthetics
The characteristic gray color of soapstone is one of its major pluses. The various shades, some of which have a greenish cast, are highly prized for their versatility in all styles of kitchen design. Similar to other types of stone, no two slabs of soapstone are alike.
Natural tones range from very pale to light gray, and some can have more prominent veining that looks a little like marble. In some cases, the greener slabs are a bit softer. (This comes from the quartz content.) Texture is also an option with soapstone, so you don’t have to have a countertop that’s completely smooth.
The Disadvantages of Soapstone Counters
1. Soapstone Dents and Scratches
Being one of the softer stones used for kitchen countertops, ranging from a 1-5 on the Mohs hardness scale, soapstone is prone to scratches and dents. While some homeowners feel this adds to the patina and charm, it might bother others. Its softness also allows its dents and scratches to be sanded down, which is not possible with other natural materials like granite and quartz.
2. Limited Color Soapstone Color Choices
Soapstone’s geologic nature limits the number of colors available. If you want a countertop that has a lot of color or lots of pattern choices, soapstone might not be for you. It comes in mostly darker shades, including gray, green, blue-gray, and black. There is also white soapstone that features a white base and lots of gray veining – but because there’s so much veining, it appears more gray than white.
3. Soapstone Comes in Small Slabs
The slab size of soapstone is smaller than other stone counters. If you want a large expanse of seamless countertops, soapstone is not for you. Because the size of the slabs is smaller, seaming is necessary. However, the nature of soapstone makes those joints very smooth and tight, so this may not be an issue for many homeowners.
The Cost of Soapstone Countertops
Soapstone countertops cost about the same as granite slabs but less than marble. The price ranges from $60 to $150 per square foot installed. Your specific cost will be affected by where you live, the size and layout of your countertops, and the slab thickness.
Because they are so durable, soapstone countertops have a good ROI, typically seeing a 50% to 80% return on investment.
How to Maintain Soapstone
Because soapstone is nonporous, maintenance is easy. You don’t have to seal the countertops, although you can oil them if you want to achieve a darker patina.
Oil Soapstone to Darken It Or Highlight Veining
Those who like the look of a darker gray or black soapstone counter can apply food-grade mineral oil to the surface, which darkens the soapstone. Oiling also highlights veining in the slab. It enhances the natural aging of the stone and its developing patina, says M. Teixeira Soapstone.
Reapply the oil once your most recent coat starts to fade. After your first coat, the surface will start to lighten and each subsequent application will make it a little darker. The stone will not achieve its final color until after six to eight coats of oil. When you see water leave a mark, it’s time to oil the countertops.
Clean with Gentle Cleaners
Clean your soapstone counters with any gentle multipurpose cleaner or dish soap and water. You don’t need specialty stone cleaners to care for soapstone.
How to Remove Scratches from Soapstone
Mask light soapstone scratches with a coat of mineral oil. Deeper scratches will require sanding sanding.
To sand scratches from a soapstone counter:
- Use coarse sandpaper and a circular motion to go over the scratches
- Switch to fine grit sandpaper, adding a little water to the area before sanding
- Clean with your favorite gentle cleaning spray
If you oil your soapstone, you’ll need to reapply a coat of mineral oil. If you see a slight difference in color in the repaired area, remember that it will take several coats before it is back to the final color.