Soapstone is a material that is finding its way into many log homes. It’s a great looking material and has some unique properties that make it a great choice for many rooms.
Types of Soapstone
Soapstone, the common name for steatite, is made up of two mineral substances: talc, which gives it its “soapy” feel and magnesite, along with small amounts of other minerals including quartz. Soapstone has at least 50% talc and has been metamorphosed into stone by heat, pressure, and time. Soft, carveable artistic soapstone has a high talc content. Artists often use this kind of soapstone to carve small figurines, like Inuit whales and polar bears found in gift stores. Harder architectural soap stone contains 60-75% talc and is used for a range of applications, including sinks, countertops, floors, and hearths or stoves.
What are the Benefits of Soapstone?
Soapstone has three primary benefits that make it a durable substance for use in the home.
- Heat resistance—Soapstone can handle a hot pan with no damage. This resistance to heat as well as ability to store heat also makes it a great material around hearths and in stoves.
- Non-porous — Soapstone is impervious to products found in the kitchen that would stain other materials like granite or marble. Its non-porous properties also make it impervious to bacteria.
- Chemically neutral — It resists both high acid and high alkaline substances unlike other materials that need to be sealed for protection from etching or scarring.
How is Soapstone Maintained?
To maintain a consistent coloration, soapstone looks best when oiled with mineral oil. This prevents inconsistent coloring when water or other liquids come into contact with soapstone. While the impervious stone doesn’t allow substances to penetrate and stain, it may take time for the liquid to evaporate and return the surface to an even color. It’s recommended to apply oil weekly for the first two to three months, then monthly. This thin layer of oil is too light to feel and will evaporate over time leaving a lighter stone color.
Where is Soapstone Found?
Soapstone is found around the world in relatively small deposits. In the US, most soapstone is quarried in Virginia and Vermont. It is generally quarried in 30” by 84” pieces.
Is Soapstone Durable?
Even though it’s a relatively soft stone, any scratches or abrasions generally can be sanded out with sandpaper or steel wool.
Soapstone is basically a dark stone: mostly gray with variations on green, black and charcoal. Some deposits will have veins of lighter colored quartz but generally, soapstone is uniformly dark and gray or greenish-gray in color. However, this palette provides a terrific contrast to lighter cabinets or wood hues found in log homes.
What About Soapstone Woodstoves?
Soapstone’s high magnesite content allows this material both heat resistance and heat retention. The latter characteristic is why stove manufacturers use it for wood stoves and hearth materials. Soapstone masonry heaters are quite popular in Europe and one manufacturer, Tulikivi, markets their soapstone stove products in the US. Made from Swedish soapstone.