Stone is one of the most popular kitchen surfaces and among all the options, soapstone countertops may be the most durable and generally care-free. These totally natural countertops develop their own patina and character over time. As with most countertop materials, it’s important to research the pros and cons before investing in a particular type of material.
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 is this talc content that distinguishes the two main types of soapstone: architectural and artistic. Artistic soapstone is softer and is very 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. According to TheKitchn, the type of soapstone used for countertops also contains a higher percentage of quartz. This stone is most often sold with a smooth finish called a honed finish, which is still matte and not at all shiny like granite.
Speaking of granite, soapstone is a softer stone and is cut into smaller slabs. Consequently, large areas – typically more than 7 feet — will require more than one piece and will have seams. The larger slabs of architectural grade come from Brazil, according to Sierra Soapstone, but it is also quarried in India and parts of the east coast of the US, such as Appalachia and Vermont.
7 Great Things about Soapstone
It’s very durable
This is the greatest thing about soapstone, so it’s an investment that will see you through decades of use.
Soapstone doesn’t stain.
It is a very dense, nonporous rock and, so liquids will not 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. Soapstone is also great for sinks and other parts of the kitchen.
Soapstone is resistant to heat and acids.
You already know it’s a dense stone, and this makes it heat resistant. Go ahead – plop down a hot pot and know that your countertop will be fine. Soapstone can take the heat is because it’s a great heat conductor, according to Geology. The chemical composition of soapstone also renders it impervious to acids like lemon juice and vinegar. Spill red wine? No problem – just wipe it up. In fact, it’s so resistant that is used for scientific laboratory countertops.
It’s a very sanitary surface
The same 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 countertop material that helps keep the kitchen safe and sanitary.
No sealing is necessary
That same marvelous density means that you don’t need to seal soapstone countertops!
They’re an environmentally friendly choice
Because no chemicals are used to manufacture the countertops or to maintain them, many people consider them more environmentally friendly than other countertop surface materials. Remember that it’s natural, quarried stone with no added fabrication besides the cutting and sanding. Moreover, soapstone is totally recyclable.
Soapstone has great aesthetics
The characteristic gray color of soapstone is one of it’s 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.
There are a few caveats with soapstone
As with any countertop surface material, there are some downsides. That said, most are typically not deal breakers for those who like the look of soapstone countertops.
It dents and scratches – Being one of the softer stones used for kitchen countertops, soapstone is prone to scratches and dents. While some homeowners feel this adds to the patina and charm, it might bother others. If you don’t like this aspect of the stone, explore other options. Soapstone doesn’t often chip because of the softness. Because it is solid stone, however, dents and scratches can be sight sanded down, which is not possible with other natural materials like granite and quartz.
It’s not trendy and color choice is very limited – Soapstone has been around for centuries. In fact, you can find some examples still around from the 1800’s. Its 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.
Slab size is smaller – If you want a very large expanse of seamless countertop, soapstone is not for you. Because the size of the slabs is smaller, seaming is often necessary. 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
Soapstone countertops cost about the same as better 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 thickness of the countertops. If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to cost out other options.
Because they are so durable, soapstone countertops are indeed a good investment, typically seeing a 50% to 80% return on investment.
How to maintain soapstone
Because soapstone is nonporous, it does not need to be sealed. If you like the natural color, there isn’t anything else you need to do except enjoy tour countertop.
Those who like the look of a darker gray can apply food-grade mineral oil to the surface, which darkens soapstone. Oiling can also help highlight veining in your slab. It enhances the natural aging of the stone and its developing patina, says M. Teixeira Soapstone.
If your stone has a green hue to it, the mineral oil can help turn it a deeper and richer tone, they add. Remember that the oil is used for aesthetic reasons only, and it’s not necessary for the preservation of the stone’s durable qualities.
Once you have oiled your soapstone counters, they recommend reapplying the oil as soon as your most recent coat of oil started to fade. M. Teixeira Soapstone says that 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. Throughout the process, each coat will last longer than the previous one. You’ll have to reapply the oil periodically. Vermont Soapstone recommends that when you see water leave a mark, it’s time to oil the countertops.
If you have a soapstone sink it is up to you if you want to oil it. Regular use of detergents can strip away the oil, and it will darken from use over time anyway, says Vermont Soapstone.
No special products needed
Another great thing is that you don’t need any special products to clean your soapstone countertops. Regular kitchen soap and water are best, especially on oiled stone because stronger cleansers might remove the oil
Scratches are easy to remove
This is where the softness of soapstone is advantage. Yes, it can nick and scratch, but these marks are easily removed, notes M. Teixeira Soapstone. Scratches that are not very deep can be masked with a light coat of mineral oil. Deeper scratches can be repaired with a little sanding. Use a small piece of sandpaper to sand the area of the scratch in a circular motion. Start with a coarse sandpaper. When the scratch is nearly gone, step up to a finer grit of sandpaper and sand it with a little water. Once you’re finished sanding, you’ll have to reapply mineral oil, if your countertops are oiled. 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.
It may seem counter-intuitive. But the more you use your soapstone countertop, the less often you will have to oil it, notes Vermont Soapstone.
Soapstone Countertops are a Good DIY project
If you’re accustomed to doing some renovation work, then you can indeed do soapstone countertops on your own. No special equipment is required. You can save some serious money because all too often, half the cost is labor. In many cases, the stone has to be shipped anyway, depending upon where you live.
Do-it-yourselfers likely have all the necessary equipment for cutting and shaping: a circular saw, a jigsaw, a drill/driver, a grinder, and a sander. There are plenty of tutorials online. A little self-education and you can install your own countertop.
For most people who like soapstone countertops, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. While it may cost a little more initially, the easy care and maintenance, combine with the stone’s durability, make it a classic choice for many kitchens,