Soapstone is far too overlooked when it comes to home stone installation. It is usually more expensive than granite or marble, but its value is immense, and the rewards many.
Soapstone gets its name from its softness. To the touch, it feels almost silky, thanks to the presence of the soft talc in its composition. For artistry purposes, the talc content of soapstone is extremely high, making it easy to carve, but you’ll find that for countertop and home decorating purposes the lower talc content of 50 to 75 percent makes it hard enough to stand up to regular use while still maintaining that smooth, gentle texture. It is, however, vulnerable to scratches and knicks, and it’s not recommended to cut directly on the surface of a soapstone countertop. If you do wind up scratching soapstone, the soft surface does make it easy to buff out the imperfection with sandpaper, but some people feel those knicks are part of its character. Finally, because the stone is soft, it is quarried in smaller pieces than marble or granite, and you’ll rarely be able to find lengths of slabs longer than seven feet. If your project is large, be aware that you will have visible seams between pieces.
However, soapstone does offer several very practical advantages. It is extremely dense and non-porous, and doesn’t require sealing. It will not react to acidic substances, meaning you have nothing to fear from spills that might etch or stain; in fact, most high school science labs use soapstone for their countertops because of its non-reactive properties. It is also extremely heat resistant. You’ll be able to put pans directly on the surface, and it makes an ideal fireplace hearth! It’s impervious to bacteria, and also to weather if you’re hoping to use it in outdoor stone design.
One of the best things about soapstone could also be construed as a disadvantage. There isn’t much color variety when it comes to soapstone, typically ranging from gray to black with very little or no color. Of course, this slate look is exactly what most soapstone buyers are looking for. It’s modern and austere, timeless, and always impressive. Soapstone looks at home in kitchens of every era, and makes sense in a vintage or rustic kitchen or one remodeled to be very contemporary.
Soapstone also changes its color over time. When you apply mineral oil to the surface, the soapstone will darken. Many homeowners love this about their soapstone countertops; it feels like they have a relationship with their countertop that changes and becomes richer with every passing year, rather than experiencing the same static effect. The mineral oil is a completely natural way to enhance and protect stone, and you’ll wind up loving the way your soapstone rewards you for paying it a little attention.