Judging by what you might see on almost every home-improvement show or in-model homes you might have browsed, granite, marble and quartz have been the reigning champs in the countertop game for a while now. However, as trends come and go, soapstone has been used throughout history and some countertops and fireplaces dating back to the 1800s can still be seen in use today.
Soapstone gets its name from its smooth, silky texture that can feel similar to a bar of soap to the touch. This is due to how dense the stone is, as well as the high talc content (yes, the same mineral found in baby powder). Talc is the softest known mineral, scoring just a 1 on the Mohs Hardness scale. While talc may seem like just about the worst material to make a countertop out of, soapstone contains enough magnesium, silica and other minerals to make most slabs roughly equal the hardness of marble –though that can vary.
The high talc content is what leads to soapstone being such a dense material due to its high compressibility during the formation of this metamorphic rock. It also features extremely high heat resistance, lending to its usefulness for cooking and heating equipment dating back thousands of years.
Pros and Cons of Soapstone Countertops:
Soapstone has plenty of appealing qualities, both in aesthetics and for practical reasons. Its heat-insulation properties have made it a prime choice for wood-burning stoves and for construction in lamps for centuries. It’s also relatively easy to work in comparison to other stone, making it less labor-intensive to quarry and shape. This also lends itself to being a popular choice for sculptors, with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue towering over Rio de Janeiro being a famous example.
However, there are definitely some downsides to consider, as soapstone might not be the best choice for everyone. So, we figured we’d break down some of the ups and downs of soapstone for use in your home.
The Pros of Soapstone
Nearly Impervious to Stains:
Thanks to its high density, soapstone is nearly impossible to stain. One big drawback of stone like granite and marble is that they are quite porous materials and allow difficult-to-remove stains to set in beneath the surface. Soapstone is so dense and smooth that there is hardly anything for stains and grime to hold onto. This makes cleaning the stone a piece of cake.
Soapstone Doesn’t Need to Be Sealed:
To resist that staining outlined above, granite, marble and most other natural stone needs to be sealed in order to prevent those stains. This isn’t the most difficult process in the world, but it’s not always obvious when sealing needs to be done until it’s too late. With soapstone that isn’t a worry, though it should be oiled every so often, more on that in the cons section.
Soapstone is Extremely Heat Resistant:
Helped by its density and high magnesite content, soapstone has extremely high heat resistance. If you live in the northeastern US, you’ve likely seen at least a few fireplaces or wood-burning stoves clad in soapstone for this reason. The stone insulates the heat well, and doesn’t scorch or show burn marks like other materials might.
Soapstone is Resistant to Etching:
Another drawback of granite or marble is that they feature calcium carbonate, which reacts with acidic chemicals, resulting in damage on the surface called etching. Being largely comprised of talc and other inert minerals, this generally isn’t a worry for soapstone countertops and is another reason why it doesn’t need to be sealed.
NOTE: Every slab is different, we still do not recommend cleaning your soapstone with vinegar or allowing spills to sit on the surface if you can help it.
Scratches and Dents Can Be Sanded Out:
One selling point of Corian or other solid surface has been that you can sand and buff out nicks and scratches on the surface. The same is true of soapstone, as it’s soft enough to be fixed yourself.
The Cons of Soapstone
Soapstone Is More Susceptible to Dents and Scratches:
That softness mentioned above means being more susceptible to that kind of damage in the first place, but many people enjoy the look of weathered soapstone and look forward to this sort of patina as the stone is used. This can add to the modern-rustic that many homeowners are looking for.
Soapstone Needs to be Oiled:
Fresh from the quarry, soapstone tends to come in a light gray color. The darker charcoal color that you usually see in soapstone slabs comes from the oiling of the stone in order to oxidize it. This would happen naturally over time as the stone is exposed to water, oils and grease, but in order to keep it looking uniform, it should be treated with food-grade mineral oil once every year or so (depending on usage). The oil does evaporate over time, so if you begin noticing water leaving dark marks on the surface, it’s time for another oiling.
Note: Unlike sealing, this is purely an aesthetic choice. You are not harming your stone by not oiling it, in fact, some people prefer the look.
Soapstone is Fairly Expensive:
If you’re looking for an inexpensive alternative to granite, marble or quartz, this isn’t it. While soapstone is quite abundant, it likely just isn’t popular enough to drive prices down in bulk. Plus, that density makes for very heavy slabs, making it expensive to transport. You can expect to pay between $70-$120, which is generally higher than other stone options.
How to Clean Soapstone
Soapstone is one of the lowest maintenance countertop materials out there, whether synthetic or natural. We do recommend avoiding abrasive cleaners, as well as overly harsh chemicals that are too acidic or alkaline, as this can strip the oil from the stone in those locations. We recommend using a pH-balanced cleaner such as Granite Gold Daily Cleaner® in order to clean effectively without affecting the finish. The stone will need to be oiled after a thorough cleaning with a solution like this.
Looking to read more on natural stone care? We have plenty of guides and how-tos on caring for stone flooring or countertops made of stone materials such as granite, marble and travertine. Of course, you can always get in touch with the Stone Care Experts with three generations of expertise at 1-800-475-STONE to see if we can help you with your stone needs. Also be sure to check out our full line of stone care products, carefully crafted with three generations of stone care expertise!