Stone countertops have been all the rage for quite a while now — long enough to suggest that it’s more than just a passing fad. Since stone counters age far better than tile or formica, the long-term benefits often outweigh the upfront expense. With that in mind, it makes sense that switching to stone countertops is not just a passing fad. The bigger question now is what kind of stone to use, because stone counters are not all created equal! There are plenty of stone options for countertops, ranging from marble and granite to slate, poured concrete, and more. Of the many options, the three most popular are soapstone, quartz, and granite. Stay tuned as we dig into the pros and cons of the three major stone counter options so you can choose the best option for your California home!
Granite has been a popular stone countertop option for a while, in large part because it is a particularly durable type of stone. On the Mohs Hardness Scale, granite typically falls around 6 or 6.5; on a scale where diamond ranks at a 10, that puts granite up there at a pretty decent hardness rating. Once installed and sealed, granite counters are impressively resistant to scratches, dings, and other similar damage. This is one of the biggest reasons they are used for kitchen countertops. Unlike formica counters, granite does not get worn down if you choose to chop foods directly on the countertops. They are also heat resistant, making them a great option for kitchens because you can put hot dishes directly onto the counters without worrying about a trivet.
The other big selling point for granite is that there is an array of different colors to choose from. Since granite is comprised of multiple different types of minerals and rocks, that provides a pretty good array of color variation. This includes the tans to browns as well as pinks, whites, blacks, greens, and more. The variety gives you decent options to match your existing kitchen colors or that backsplash tile you’ve already picked out for a brand new kitchen.
The biggest selling point for granite — its hardness — is also its biggest detriment. Because granite is one of the harder stone counter options, it can be difficult to cut and shape without snapping the slab in the wrong place. Since it’s harder to cut and harder to transport safely, granite is often cut into smaller pieces than other stone countertop options. This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, granite is usually a more expensive countertop option because of all of the labor it takes to cut it without breaking. Second, because granite is more prone to snapping along unintended lines, granite counters generally require more seams. The seams are pretty small, but over time, they can get filled with little bits of debris and discolor.
The other big thing to note with granite is that it is porous. This isn’t necessarily a problem upfront, as it will take a while for spills to degrade the stone. It is a problem because it makes cleaning harder, increases the risk of stain, and impacts the overall upkeep for granite counters. Since granite is porous, spills will need to be cleaned up quickly, or the liquids could seep into the spaces within the stone. This is particularly problematic when darker liquids spill, as it can stain the stone. Because of this, granite typically needs to be sealed. And, thanks to the wear that happens over time, that sealant can wear away. Granite tends to require more care and upkeep over time in order to keep them clean and keep the sealant in good shape.
Quartz is pretty similar to granite in a lot of ways, which is why it is gaining popularity. Like granite and soapstone, it is a natural stone. This gives it a leg up over other substances because that makes it pretty durable and slow to show wear. Quartz counters generally fall in a range of 6–7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, putting it around the same level of hardness as granite, if not harder. The hardness and natural materials make quartz heat-resistant as well.
Unlike granite, however, quartz is non-porous. For kitchen use, this is a good benefit because it minimizes the counters’ propensity to stain. This means that you do not need to worry as much about spilling red wine or marinara across a light-colored quartz countertop; since there aren’t any pores to soak up the liquid, you can trust that quartz counters are a lot less likely to get stained and dingy looking over time — which is definitely a positive change from grouted tile countertops. Since it’s not porous, quartz counters do not need to be sealed, making them a lower-maintenance option.
Quarts is impressively stain-resistant, but it is not fully stain-proof. Unlike granite and soapstone, quartz countertops are made from engineered stone. So, while the majority of the counters are quartz, there are other materials in there to serve as a binder, and those compounds can react to some substances. Bleach, nail polish remover, paint, oil soaps, and high pH cleaners can cause discoloration and permanent stains, so you will need to be careful about what sorts of liquids end up on quartz counters, for whatever reason.
The other big concern for quartz counters is one that many individuals don’t even know: quartz can discolor after prolonged exposure to UV rays. If you love a bright, sunny kitchen, quartz may not be the best choice for you. This is a better option for shaded kitchens where the sun’s rays will not be shining down on your counters throughout the day.
A lesser concern, though still something to consider, is how quartz looks. While it is made up of natural materials, the fact that quartz counters are engineered means there is a greater level of homogeneity to the pattern — that is, there is not the level of variety and spontaneousness to the pattern that you would see in natural cut stone. You may also find that the seams are more noticeable on quartz, especially with lighter-colored countertops.
Soapstone is a natural stone, just like granite, which gives it a lot of the benefits toward making it a great countertop option. Soapstone is durable and heat-resistant, just like quartz and granite. Like quartz, soapstone is also non-porous — but unlike quartz, soapstone is naturally non-porous, so you do not need to worry about staining at all. There are no compounds that could get damaged and discolored. Along with being non-porous, soapstone is also chemically inert, which is an even bigger bonus. This means it is neither basic nor acidic, but totally chemically non-reactive. This is why you will often see soapstone used in science labs, not just kitchens. Since soapstone countertops are chemically inert, you can spill any number of substances on them without worrying about causing damage or leaving stains.
Since soapstone is totally non-porous, it’s also incredibly sanitary. There are no little nooks and crannies for bacteria to work their way into, so soapstone harbors far less illness-carrying ick than most countertop options. And, since it’s chemically inert, you can clean your soapstone counters with any cleaning products to wipe away any germs and gunk sitting on them. This combination of non-porousness and being chemically inert makes soapstone an incredibly low-maintenance option for stone countertops.
The other big benefit that many don’t know is that soapstone is a bit softer than quartz or granite — and while that may sound like a con, it’s actually a big benefit. Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, so one comprised of a variety of different minerals. This gives it a bit more of a hardness range than either quartz or granite. However, construction-grade soapstone, the kind that is used for counters and other around-the-home purposes, generally falls around 5.5-6.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, which isn’t much softer than either quartz or granite. Basically, soapstone is still plenty hard, but it’s just soft enough that it’s less brittle than granite or quartz. This means it can be more easily cut, and can often be installed in larger pieces, so you’ll enjoy fewer seams. Even better, because it requires less effort to quarry and cut down to size, this makes soapstone less expensive than other stone countertop options — without sacrificing quality or long-term durability.
When it comes to soapstone, there aren’t many downsides. It’s easy to clean, durable, and really low-maintenance — which covers a lot of the deficiencies in other stone countertop options. The hardness can be a concern for some, and it’s true that soapstone is softer than granite or quartz. You can expect for some small scuffs to form over time. That’s what gives soapstone its unique patina. However, it’s also soft enough that you can buff out those nicks with a fine-grit sandpaper if you want a perfectly polished surface.
The other concern commonly raised about soapstone is the lack of color. Soapstone is typically a darker stone, but like the other stone countertop options, it comes in a range of colors and patterns. No two slabs will be exactly alike, and you can bring out more color and pattern by oiling the surface on occasion.
Overall, soapstone is an ideal choice as a granite alternative — and in its own right — because of all the benefits it offers. If you’re ready to outfit your California home with beautiful, durable soapstone counters, get started with your local pros. Connect with Dorado Soapstone to learn more today!