Are you in the market for stone countertops? Or what about natural stone tile flooring? Or maybe a fireplace update? As you look for the perfect stone slab, don’t feel as if you need to be shoe-horned into choosing granite. It may be the most popular option for countertops these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice! If your home remodel consultant is worth their title, you’ll have the chance to explore a range of stone home finish options like soapstone, marble, and quartz, not just granite. Your choice should ultimately depend on the use and the qualities you’re looking for.
Soapstone is an increasingly popular Colorado home finish option for everything from kitchen countertops to fireplaces to flooring because it’s similar to granite or marble, but comes at a fraction of the price. But one of the most common refrains we hear is that soapstone is “too soft” to be useful in any high-use area of the home — which simply isn’t true! There’s a perfectly good reason soapstone is as popular as it is, so we’re here to set the record straight. Whether you choose soapstone counters or you install a soapstone tile floor, here’s what you can expect over the years:
In order to get to the bottom of this myth about soapstone’s durability, we need to dig into a bit of geological knowledge. Soapstone is talc-schist metamorphic stone, or a stone that is formed through high heat and pressure over thousands of years. How it’s made is important, but the bigger point to take away here is that it being a metamorphic rock means that soapstone is made up of multiple minerals, not just one. In this case, soapstone is made up of multiple minerals, though the primary one is talc.
If you’ve ever held talc, maybe in your middle school science class, you’ll understand that talc is the reason soapstone is named the way it is. Talc is a soft mineral that feels like rubbing at a powdery rock, and is the reason soapstone feels a bit like touching a dry bar of soap. Talc can easily be powdered and combined with corn starch to make something you’re probably familiar with: talcum powder and baby powder. If you’ve ever felt baby powder, you are probably starting to see why soapstone has a reputation for being “soft.” However, while talc is a major component of soapstone, it’s not the only mineral involved. It’s the other minerals that help strengthen soapstone and make it durable.
Artistic vs. Architectural Soapstone
All minerals, stones, gemstones, and so on are rated for hardness using the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Essentially, it’s a scale of how hard a mineral has to be scratched, on a scale of 1–10, to leave a scratch mark. Talc, as you may imagine from the above description, is a 1 on the Mohs scale. Soapstone is another story. Since soapstone is comprised of a variety of different minerals, there isn’t a single, unified Mohs hardness rating for all soapstone. Instead, each slab is rated separately after it has been quarried.
Soapstone is typically divided into two categories: artistic soapstone and architectural soapstone. The soapstone slabs with a lower hardness rating are better suited for artistic purpose. These slabs make for a great material to sculpt with because they are soft enough that artists won’t necessarily need specialty tools to get precise cuts and shapes. At the other end of the spectrum, the harder soapstone slabs are considered architectural soapstone and they are typically used for — you guessed it! — home finish purposes. If you’re really concerned about how durable your new soapstone counter or flooring will be, talk to your remodel advisor about finding slabs that have a lower percentage of talc and are, therefore, much harder and more durable.
How Soapstone Ages
There will always be a bit of variety in how soapstone ages, simply because there is such a range in hardness and mineral composition. However, if you’re using architectural-grade soapstone, there are a few generalizations to give you a good idea of what to expect.
It’s important to note that the soapstone used for home finishes is generally pretty darn durable. We know that it’s mostly used for countertops and flooring, which are both soapstone uses that see a lot of wear and tear. Soapstone countertops will face things like heavy pots and baking dishes thudding down, knives chopping directly on the surface, and so on. Likewise, soapstone flooring will probably see some wear from pet claws clacking along and the odd piece of furniture or other heavy object scraping it. By and large, soapstone counters and any other home finishes will be strong enough to handle what your daily life dishes out.
While the architectural-grade soapstone will help keep damage at bay, you may notice small nicks and scratches over time. Generally, this isn’t a big deal. It’s not going to impact how durable your soapstone is, and it’s not even going to do much of anything to the color. The only noticeable difference is that you’ll probably see a bit of a patina form over the years. All this means is that your soapstone may take on a slightly softer appearance, though it will still be smooth.
Caring for Your Soapstone
Unlike most stone countertops and home finishes, soapstone doesn’t need to be sealed. It’s already a non-porous material, so it isn’t going to absorb liquids and get discolored. For most, this is a big benefit because it means you really don’t need to care for your soapstone. However, if you want to keep up the appearance of your soapstone, you can do a couple of things. First, you can apply a thin layer of mineral oil. This will simply bring out the rich colors of your soapstone counters, fireplace surround, etc.
Second, in terms of more long-term care, you may notice the occasional scratch. You don’t need to do anything about it, but if you do want to get rid of it, you can simply use steel wool or a fine-grit sandpaper to gently buff the scratch out. After years of use, small nicks will give your soapstone a patina. You can leave that as-is, or, if you want to go back to a uniformly smooth surface, you can also rent an orbital sander to buff everything. Or, you can connect with a local soapstone pro to have the entire surface buffed. Just know that either option is totally okay! It all just depends on personal preference.
How to Get Amazing, Durable Soapstone
If you’re expecting some sort of trade secret here, we’re sorry to disappoint. The easiest way to get high-quality, durable soapstone is to work with an experienced soapstone company to choose the right slabs for your project. Understanding the difference between artistic and architectural soapstone is a good start, but the best thing you can do is find someone who knows soapstone backward and forward. They can help you pick soapstone slabs based on their intended use and how durable they’ll need to be. If you’re ready to learn more about how soapstone can reinvigorate your Colorado home, connect with the team at Dorado Soapstone today!