Many homeowners are looking for new options for countertops and soapstone is a great choice, especially for counters in active homes where they may take a beating. Soapstone is durable and virtually maintenance free. What’s not to like?
What is Soapstone?
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock that is quarried in the Appalachian Mountains or imported from Brazil and Finland. Its name derives from the soap-like feel of the stone, due to the presences of talc in the stone. The amount of talc affects the hardness of the stone. Architectural soapstone, the grade used in countertops, has between 50% and 75% talc content. However, it is not as hard as granite or marble and as a result can be cut, shaped and installed more easily. Features can be cut into a soapstone countertop such as grooves for a built-in drainboard next to the sink opening (see left). One thing to note, soapstone is generally quarried in smaller sized slabs, so counters longer than seven feet will necessitate several pieces and seams. Soapstone has three features that make it attractive for counters:
- Soapstone is acid resistant. Its chemically inert properties make it invincible to lemon juice or cleaners that can harm other surfaces. That’s why chemists use it in laboratories.
- Soapstone doesn’t stain. Its dense and non-porous surface will darken when liquid is spilled, but it returns to its original color once the spill is cleaned up.
- Soapstone conducts heat. The material’s high resistance to heat means it can handle hot pans with ease.
It’s also a great choice for homeowners looking for green alternatives. Because it doesn’t need sealing, no chemicals are needed for fabrication or maintenance. It pairs well with a sensitive home’s non-VOC cabinets and paint!
Range of Colors
Soapstone like other natural stones can vary within a range of colors. It is mostly found in varying shades of gray, from very dark to pale. Soapstone also provides variations in the veins and flecks of quartz present in the stone. These can add bluish or greenish tones to the inherent grays of the base material. If a darker look is desired, food grade mineral oil can be applied to darken the stone and to highlight veining. One technique involves applying a layer of mineral oil, allowing it to soak in. The excess oil is wiped off and the process can be repeated several times for a darker appearance. Soapstone also ages very well, developing character and patina with use. Small abrasions and scratches may appear with use, but can be diminished with sandpaper. In addition to countertops, soapstone can also provide a durable surface for both indoor and outdoor sinks, fireplace surrounds, or flooring—wherever a durable surface is needed.
Soapstone pricing is generally about the same as high-end granite but less expensive than marble, averaging around $60-$105 per square foot installed.. Factors that may affect price include location, proximity to soapstone quarries, and installation costs. However, the selection of soapstone in any application is likely one that will last for many generations.