Hello, readers! Welcome back to the Stonehouse Countertops blog! We’re pleased you’ve chosen Stonehouse Countertops for everything you need to know about custom countertop materials. We provide comprehensive deep dives into various aspects of the design and installation process, as well as helpful tips for choosing the best material for your home. Our goal is to equip you with the information you need to commission the perfect countertops! Stonehouse Countertops carries an array of granite, marble, quartz, quartzite, soapstone, silestone, limestone, travertine, onyx, glass, sodalite, slate, and porcelain materials in its inventory. In addition to countertops, we offer fireplace surrounds, patios, floors, and walls. Whatever your design goals, we’re happy to help you achieve your unique vision!
Our last article, ‘Patio Stone & Design,’ explored the advantages and disadvantages of different stone materials used for patio flagstone. Just like when fabricating countertops, not all stones are made equal. We gave a comprehensive overview of what to consider when choosing a stone material. Additionally, we discussed design strategies and gave a few ideas for making your patio the place to be (even in the dead of winter)! Each design choice impacts the functionality–and thus the enjoyability–of your outdoor space. For help planning or inspiration for your next renovation, head over to our last article after finishing this one!
Our All About series now stands at three parts. Each of the articles in this series shine a spotlight on the unique attributes of a different stone material. Our first post, ‘All About Marble,’ explored marble’s association with luxury, how its composition contributes to its luminosity, and how designers are pushing the limits on how marble can be used in residential and commercial spaces. Our second post, ‘All About Granite,’ recounted the interesting history of granite, how the stone’s versatility has been put to good use by designers across the globe, as well as how granite is graded. Our third post, ‘All About Quartz,’ served to complete the trifecta of the most popular stone countertop materials on the market. We explained the oft-misunderstood difference between quartz and quartzite, detailed the pros and cons of quartz, and quoted a few stone experts on what makes quartz a worthy investment.
Today, we turn our attention to soapstone. While we’ve discussed this stone on our blog before, we’ve yet to give soapstone the undivided attention it deserves. Soapstone is quickly becoming a designer favorite and with good reason. We’ll start with a brief history of soapstone and its many uses throughout antiquity. Then, we’ll delve into the modern-day fervor surrounding this supple stone, before detailing a consumer’s guide to the pros and cons of soapstone. Finally, we’ll finish with the thoughts of a few designers. If you’re interested in learning everything there is to know about soapstone, read on!
The History of Soapstone
Soapstone, which is primarily composed of talc, is one of the softest stone materials on Earth. Or, at least, it can be. The higher a piece of soapstone’s talc content, the softer the stone will be, with soapstones containing between 30% and 50% talc used for architectural purposes (such as countertops and wood-burning stoves). For a large part of soapstones history, its softness was its most attractive attribute, as many cultures used soapstone for carving. Historically, in Ancient Egypt, signets and amulets were carved from steatite (another name for soapstone). The Esie people of West Nigeria used soapstone to construct hundreds of statues, while the Yoruba tribe used soapstone to create toylike obelisks, which they referred to as “the staff of Oranmiyan.”
Tepe Yahya, a trading city in ancient Iran, was responsible for a large portion of the soapstone trade from the fifth to the third millennia. In Europe, on the island of Crete, a great soapstone table could be found in the Palace of Knossos. This table was used for libations, or liquid offerings to the gods. The Vikings used soapstone to create cookware and, similarly, Native Americans also used soapstone to create everyday utensils during the Archaic period. Medieval Europeans used the stone to build entire structures, such as the Nidaros Cathedral. The Priest-King statue, fashioned in Pakistan during the Bronze Age, is perhaps the most famous work of art created using soapstone.
The Composition of Soapstone
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, meaning it begins its lifecycle as a mineral and–through exposure to intense heat and pressure–achieves its signature characteristics. Soapstone begins as the mineral talc. Combined with magnesium and chlorite and amphiboles (a variety of crystalline minerals) and iron-chromium oxides, exposed to the heat underneath Earth’s tectonic plates, soapstone forms. Even after this transformation, most soapstone is still incredibly soft, rating between a 1 and 5 (out of 10) on the Mohs hardness scale. Soapstone used for countertops will usually fall between a 2.5 and a 5 on the Mohs hardness scale.
Soapstone derives its name from its texture. The talc present within the stone imparts a smooth waxiness to the touch–not unlike soap. Soapstone is most often found in darker colors, such as greys, blacks, and greens. The common green tint of soapstone comes from the presence of chlorite during the stone’s formation. When you hold soapstone up to a light, you should see a clear luster to the stone. This luster is distinct from sheen, but clearly visible and can be described as “pearly” or “silky.”
While the composition of soapstone makes the stone soft enough to be susceptible to scratching, its composition also enables the stone to withstand incredible amounts of heat. Remember how we mentioned soapstone was commonly used for cookware in Viking and Native American tribes? Well, that’s because this stone distributes heat evenly throughout its entire surface area. This makes soapstone a wonderful fireplace surround or encasement for wood-burning stoves, as well as countertops for avid cookers.
The Positives and Negatives of Soapstone
The most notable positive of soapstone is its non-porous nature. Due to its lack of permeability, accidental spills will not result in permanent staining. This allows for a more lax lifestyle and cleaning approach than, say, marble. Likewise, the maintenance routine for soapstone is fairly straightforward. The stone can be oiled down with mineral oil once per month during the first year to speed up the natural darkening process, then once per year thereafter to ensure an even darkening. Some soapstone owners prefer for the stone to develop an uneven patina naturally for aesthetic reasons.
Speaking of aesthetic reasons, some do not trust the appearance of soapstone, which is subject to change over time. In addition to darkening significantly during its tenure, soapstone can also develop a greenish tinge. Slabs which begin grey can become greenish-grey over time. For those who prefer their countertops to remain the same as the day they purchased them, soapstone’s tendency to evolve could be considered a negative. Another negative is soapstone’s softness, which leaves the stone susceptible to scratches. However, like the stone’s discoloring, its softness provides the solution to scratches as well. Any scratches obtained by soapstone can be buffed out with a piece of fine-grain sandpaper and reoiled.
Though soapstone might sustain a scratch or two, cracks are highly unlikely. Despite its relative softness to other stone materials, soapstone is pretty durable. Another positive of soapstone is that it is environmentally friendly. Soapstone is quarried, not manufactured, which eliminates the usage of synthetic chemicals in its formation. Soapstone can (and should) be recycled.
We mentioned how well soapstone handles heat, but did you know this stone is also chemically neutral? This means soapstone does not react to highly acidic substances, like lemon juice, or highly alkaline substances, like bleach. While other stone materials might etch or degrade with the use of these chemicals, soapstone will be just fine. For this reason, one of soapstone’s modern-day uses is as a countertop for science labs!
Soapstone is a smart investment for your home, as soapstone can garner a 50% return on investment whenever you decide to sell your home!
Designers on Soapstone
Designers enjoy utilizing soapstone because of the qualities mentioned above. According to Steven Schrenk, a design consultant at Polycor, “soapstone plays well in pairing with [different finishes]. It tends to blend into its space and become more integrated in the whole design instead of being a separate, individual entity.” Schrenk cites soapstone’s ability to pair with multiple textures and patterns as one of its key attributes. “No matter how you slice it, there are 101 ways to style soapstone,” he says. “It may be a cool, blue-gray color when left in its natural honed state or a deep, sultry black when waxed or enhanced. You can go from a highly figured, dramatic statement piece to a minimal and moody silky surface in the slabs that are neutral without veining.”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this addition to the All About series. Check back in for future posts spotlighting other stone materials. If you’re interested in learning more about soapstone or having soapstone in your home, reach out to schedule your complimentary consultation. We offer a wide range of different materials and always have someone on hand to answer your questions! Don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation or for help forming a plan. We want to ensure your vision becomes a reality! Until next time–thanks for reading!