Specialty Countertops - Soapstone

Introduction:Soapstone 1

Part of the appeal of Soapstone countertops is how different it is most any other surface. It is certainly not a surface for everyone, but it is for people that don’t like being like everyone else!

Like other natural stones, soapstone can be used for many other items than just kitchen or bathroom countertops.

There are basically two different types of soapstone. The difference is in the talc content. Artistic soapstone has a high talc content and is very soft. It is used for carving, like those little whales and polar bears you see in gift shops and welders pencils.

Architectural soapstone is between 60 and 75% talc and is used for sinks, countertops, floors and other architectural elements like tables, benches, shower stalls, bathtubs and windowsills.

Soapstone is very heat resistant. It is one of the few countertops that you can set a hot pan or dish on without leaving some kind of damaging mark. It is also non porous so that no products found in the kitchen will penetrate the stone. Soapstone does not have to be repeatedly sealed like granite, marble and limestone. These characteristics as well as the ability to resist stains make it the only solid surface countertop with all three of these characteristics.

How they are made:

Soapstone is the common name for mineral steatite. Steatite is at least 50% talc combined with other minerals, mostly magnesite, that has been geologically metamorphosed into stone through a combination of heat, pressure and time. It’s called Soapstone because the talc gives it a soapy feel.

For sinks and countertops the recommended thickness is 1 ¼” giving it a nice bulky appearance. For backsplashes, ¾” is recommended. Soapstone is also available for fireplaces and 12x12 floor tiles in 2 ½” thickness.

Styles

Soapstone is basically gray, but can have a blue or green tint with flecks and veins of lighter quartz. When treated with mineral oil, it turns a darker charcoal gray.

That’s one of the beautiful things about soapstone. There’s just one color offered. As far as styles, almost anything you can think of can be made out of soapstone.

With soapstone countertops, sinks of the same material are usually used. These sinks are custom fabricated so they can be any size or shape that you desire.

Soapstone 2Before you buy:

Soapstone will wear, especially around the edges. Using a softer shaped edge will reduce nicks, scratches and dents. Soapstone tends to dent rather than chip or crack like other stones.  Scratches can be removed with light sanding, if desired. Sinks that are made from Soapstone over 100 years ago are still as attractive as sinks built today – they just have a little more character.

Your tops will always be a shade of gray, but depending on the amount of oil used and the age of the top it could turn a very dark charcoal gray that is almost black. Fresh from the quarry, soapstone is actually a cloudy blue color.

If seams are a concern, know that soapstone is usually quarried in 30” x 48” pieces. So, if a countertop is longer than 48”, multiple pieces will need to be used. Larger slabs can be quarried, but your project needs need to be determined well in advance. The seams in soapstone countertops are less visible than with most stones so they are generally inconspicuous.

Installation:

Most installations last at least a full day and often two days. All cutting and sanding of the stone is usually done on site, so it can be quite dusty. All cabinets need to be in place and stable before the installers arrive.

Maintenance:

To maintain a consistent color tone, it is recommended to oil the countertops with mineral oil. Mineral oil helps speed up the oxidation process of the stone, bringing out its natural beauty faster and more consistently. When spills happen on the countertop, light reflects on the spill making the top appear to be a different color, the application of mineral oil prevents this.

When the tops are new, it is recommended that the tops first be cleaned and then oiled weekly for the first few months. After that, monthly oil treatments are recommended. Certainly, if your countertop gets a lot of use you can oil it more often, as needed. The process is simple, the oil needs to be applied with clean dry cloth onto a clean, dust free countertop. Once the tops are covered with oil, they need to sit for about half and hour. After that, just rub the tops down with a clean, dry cloth. The trick to knowing when the tops need to be oiled is when water leaves a dark spot, it’s time to oil.

Soapstone is chemically neutral so acids like lemons, tomatoes or household cleaners do not affect it. After oiling, any household cleaner can be used.  Typically, nothing more than water needs to be used on a countertop that is well maintained with oil.

Don’t worry if you see scratches early on. These are usually just a displacement of mineral oil. Gently rubbing with your thumb or applying oil will remove the marks.