Stone and Tile 101: Everything You Want to Know About Soapstone
Soapstone gets its name from the silky, soapy feel and softness that comes primarily from magnesium rich mineral talc in its composition. One of the most functional materials for countertops, it has a variety of uses from bathrooms to backsplashes, flooring to fireplaces because of its versatile characteristics.
With each slab being unique, this stone complements both rustic and modern design with an overall elegance and sleek look and feel—but soapstone isn’t for everyone. It’s important to fully understand the pros, the cons, and the upkeep before deciding if soapstone is right for your home project.
Type of material/product
Soapstone is made of steatite, the mineral talc in a consolidated form, along with other minerals. It’s often found in places like Brazil, China and Canada where tectonic plates are subducted (where one plate moves under the other and sinks) and sedimentary rock is changed with heat, pressure and an influx of fluids but doesn’t melt.
What does soapstone look like?
Soapstone typically comes in a variety of grey shades to a deep charcoal or black, often with a bluish, green or brown cast. It has minimal, gentle pearl or white veining.
Soapstone will gain a patina over time—darkening in color—a natural by-product of aging and can be enhanced with proper care.
- Nonporous – its durable surface is naturally bacteria-resistant and hygienic.
- Heat resistant – it will never burn or scorch, so feel free to put that hot casserole dish right on your countertop.
- Exceptional heat and thermal retention capacity – absorbs and releases heat gradually over time, making it ideal for fireplaces and masonry heaters.
- Chemically inert – non-reactive to either alkaline or acidic properties, so you don’t have to worry about spills staining or having to avoid specific household cleaners.
- Nonabsorbent (hydrophobic) – with an absorbency of near zero it won’t absorb water or liquids.
- Low electrical conductivity
- Scratches easily – considered a “soft” stone, soapstone can easily scratch, dent or be nicked. Be sure to use a cutting board over countertops.
What is soapstone best used for?
Soapstone is most commonly used for kitchen countertops because of its durability, hygienic properties and resistance to heat and staining. It’s popular for bathrooms for much of the same reasons. And, because of its exceptional thermal retention capacity, it’s also oftentimes used in fireplaces and their surrounds.
Soapstone can be used in a wide variety of home remodeling options:
- Kitchen and bathroom countertops
- Fireplaces and masonry stoves
- Outdoor living spaces (pool surrounds or outside kitchen)
We don’t recommend soapstone be used in applications where there would be considerable wear and tear such as a workshop.
How to care for soapstone
Soapstone is pretty low maintenance when it comes to natural stone and caring for it is a simple process. Because it’s nonporous and nonabsorbent it doesn’t need to be sealed liked other natural stone options. It can be maintained with a light coating of mineral oil or wax, and cleaned with everyday household cleaners.
When first installed, let the dust settle. Then evenly coat the soapstone with mineral oil and wipe clean with a dry cloth.
NOTE: There is no “special” type of mineral oil that you need to use. Mineral oil is nontoxic and not harmful if ingested. Purchase it in your local hardware store or pharmacy or buy it online. Alternatively, you can use wax, such as beeswax, or a combination of both mineral oil and beeswax which we prefer for optimal results.
Reapply the mineral oil about once a week for the first few months, after that the frequency really depends on your personal usage.
A good test to know if your soapstone needs to be oiled is to splash some water on the soapstone. If the water beads up, then you can skip the oiling for now, if it doesn’t bead up, it’s time to reapply.
If there are scratches, buff the scratch out with fine grit sandpaper and a little water to create a slurry. Wipe the surface clean and apply mineral oil, wiping clean with a dry cloth.
For everyday cleaning, a solution made of a combination of dish soap and warm water works fine or most any household cleaner. For tougher food residue, use an abrasive cleaner like Ajax or baking soda.
What to avoid with soapstone
Soapstone is durable and forgiving, but it is considered a relatively soft stone compared to other natural stones, like granite. It is possible to scratch or even dent or nick soapstone, so avoid cutting directly on it or doing any food prep that involves pounding or heavy blows.
If soapstone is installed as kitchen counters, we recommend using cutting boards to protect against potential scrapes and cuts.
Interesting facts about Soapstone
With its excellent thermal retention features, soapstone has been used for everything from radiator caps to whiskey cubes to pizza stones. Historically, soapstone was used for bed warmers, in heating lamps, as smoking pipes, and carved into bowls, pots and other heating elements.
Soapstone is a New England favorite, often seen in older farmhouses. With a variety of colors and each slab unique to itself, you can get impressive results when using this material in your home remodeling project.
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