Hello, readers! Welcome back to the Stonehouse Countertops’ blog. Today we’ll be continuing our series on maintaining and caring for your countertops. In this series, we’re exploring how to care for the following materials:
Natural stone countertops are a long-term investment. In this post, we’ll help you choose which material is right for your home and answer any pressing questions you might have about how to address stains/etching. Stones come in many different forms and each type requires a special routine of care. Stonehouse Countertops’ blog is your one-stop shop for maintaining the original luster of your new countertops!
What is Soapstone?
Soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a type of metamorphic rock primarily composed of talc. Talc, like talcum powder, gives the stone its soapy, powdery texture. Rated as a one on the Mohs hardness scale, this means the material is relatively soft compared to other stones. This allows for great carving ability and lessens the likelihood of the stone cracking.
Soapstone has been used for centuries, especially in a carving capacity. The ancient Egyptians carved amulets, the Yoruba formed statues, the Vikings made cooking wear while the Chinese made seals, and Native American tribes have been using soapstone for smoking pipes since forever.
The material is durable, heat-resistant, and classic. Its most common colors are charcoal, gray with green tint, gray with blue tint, black, and pearlescent white. This stone can be marbled or solid. Currently, Stonehouse Countertops carries three centimeter thick slabs of black honed soapstone at various square footage.
Advantages of Soapstone
The most notable advantage of soapstone is its nonporous nature. Unlike granite or marble, soapstone won’t stain. Say you spill a glass of wine or splash a bit of coffee onto the countertop–no worries! The stone is easy to clean and unlikely to absorb anything it’s not supposed to.
Speaking of easy to clean, because of soapstone’s high density, the stone is bacteria resistant. We wouldn’t recommend cutting your fruits and vegetables directly on the countertop, though. Soapstone is a softer material and, though it is unlikely to chip, you could scratch the surface if you aren’t careful. That said, soapstone is also chemically neutral. Which means high-acidity liquids (like lemon juice) and high alkaline liquids (like bleach) won’t etch the surface.
Soapstone is one of the most effective materials for absorbing and evenly distributing heat. You can place piping-hot pots and pans directly onto the surface of the stone without any concern. Soapstone is often used as a border around fireplaces or for wood-burning stoves because of this property.
Since soapstone doesn’t require any sealants or special cleansers, it’s one of the most non-toxic natural stones available. As well, it’s 100% recyclable. Most soapstone in the United States is harvested from Virginia or Vermont in thirty-inch by eighty-four inch slabs.
Disadvantages of Soapstone
The disadvantages of soapstone are few, but might be a deal-breaker for some. Soapstone, as a natural stone, comes in a small array of colors. You won’t find bright green, orange, or red soapstone anywhere. Depending on your design concerns, soapstone may or may not fit into your plans. As well, the softer nature of this material means you need to be cautious of dropping glassware or heavy objects directly onto the surface.
Maintenance of Soapstone
Maintaining your soapstone countertops is relatively simple. For the first two to three months, soapstone countertops will need to be oiled weekly. Use a small amount of mineral oil and rub the oil into the entire piece of stone. Don’t worry, this won’t make your countertops oily! Soapstone naturally darkens over time and this oiling process is done in order to even the darkening. As well, the oil prevents water stains.
After the initial three months, you can cut back oiling to one a month. Nothing will happen if you miss a month, but this is the best practice to ensure your soapstone keeps looking brand new for years to come!
What is Concrete?
We know what concrete is. It’s the foundation of our homes. It’s the sidewalks we walk on. It’s everywhere. However, there are as many ways to make concrete as there are places to put it and the kind you choose for your countertops can make all the difference.
Concrete is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement. In simpler terms, concrete is made of two parts: Aggregate (a rocky material like limestone, granite, or sand) and a binder (like cement or asphalt). Concrete measures at between a five and a seven on the Mohs hardness scale, which is about equal to granite.
Like soapstone, concrete has been used for centuries. The Mayans used concrete for their buildings. In the 4th century BC, secret cisterns made of concrete were built underneath the desert of Jordan and served as oases for the merchants traveling those barren lands. And, in the royal palaces of Greece, concrete was used for the floor.
Advantages of Concrete
Unlike soapstone, concrete is incredibly versatile. You can customize the color, shape, edge profile, and finish. You could recreate the appearance of granite or marble, if you wanted. You can add drainboards, cutting boards, trivets. You could add decorative glass into the mix, integrate lighting fixtures, or add a stencil to the surface. The possibilities are endless. Most people consider concrete to be a staple of industrial design, but concrete can fit into a tradition, modern, or even rustic design.
Concrete is an incredibly durable material. Glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) has been imbued with glass fibers to create a concrete which literally defies gravity, allowing for sizable overhangs and oversized slabs.
Concrete is valued about the same as higher-end natural stones and isn’t likely to go out of style anytime soon. Therefore, it is a great investment in the long-term value of your home.
Disadvantages of Concrete
Concrete is porous, unfortunately. This means the material is susceptible to stains of all kinds. Annual maintenance will be required to ensure your countertops stay pristine.
Custom countertops will take extra time to complete as everything must be done by hand. This aspect will also affect the price. Concrete, while a common material, can be quite expensive. Including labor, the price of concrete can be as much as $150 per square foot.
Concrete is also quite heavy. Because of this fact, your kitchen will need to be constructed properly so the weight of the slab is not borne by the actual counter.
Maintenance of Concrete
A good water-based wax sealant, applied once or twice a year, will be enough to ward off water stains and stop the material from absorbing anything it’s not supposed to. That said, you’ll need to clean up spills quickly. As well, these sealants are susceptible to heat. You’ll either need to invest in heat protection (i.e. trivets) or be certain not to set hot pans onto your concrete surface.
Use a pH-neutral cleanser as, unlike soapstone, concrete is not chemically neutral. Avoid scrubbing pads or abrasive cleaning solutions, as you could damage the surface of your concrete.
If you do acquire a stain, don’t fret. Stains from juice of coffee can be remedied by placing a cotton ball soaked in bleach on the stain and allowing the stain to soak for five to ten minutes. If you have a finish on your concrete, be sure to check if exposure to bleach will degrade the finish. For oil stains (which can be particularly stubborn), buy or make a poultice. The poultice is composed of an absorbent powder and a liquid solvent. You can either make your own or purchase one from a stone care retailer.
Our next blog will continue our exploration of countertop materials. Stay tuned and comment below if you have any questions! We, here at Stonehouse Countertops, are eager to assist in your stone maintenance needs.
Finally, if soapstone countertops sound like the answer to your countertop needs, we would love to get into contact with you! All you need to do is reach out to us via phone or the contact form here on our website. We’ll get you connected to a member of our team that can put your stone countertop renovation dreams into motion! We look forward to seeing you next time, readers. Have a wonderful day!