Soapstone is most often used for things like bathroom and kitchen countertops and indoor/outdoor floor tiles, or, sometimes a farmhouse sink. But if you have paid attention to home-improvement shows or looked through social media sites like Pinterest, you have probably seen soapstone used in some fantastic and unique ways! Some of our favorite less-conventional soapstone uses are options that embrace soapstone’s natural beauty, while also tapping into the stone’s inherent properties — soapstone fireplace surrounds and masonry stoves.
Form and Function
There are plenty of folks out there who shy away from soapstone as a fireplace surround because soapstone slabs are typically darker. That can weigh down a room if the swath of dark tiles aren’t balanced appropriately — and that can be a daunting challenge for some. But we would encourage you to think outside the box and consider soapstone as a fireplace surround because it offers something that most other fireplace surrounds don’t have: they don’t just look great, they can actually help with temperature regulation in your home.
Soapstone Fireplace Surrounds
One of the soapstone qualities that makes it so great for kitchen counters is that it absorbs heat, like most stone counter options. However, unlike the other stone options, soapstone actually absorbs the heat and disburses it slowly over time. Options like granite will absorb heat to an extent, which is what makes it a safe option to use for kitchen counters; however, it releases that absorbed heat quickly. This difference is one of the key things that makes soapstone so well-suited for use as a fireplace surround. Not only will it absorb some of the heat and protect the walls around the fireplace, but it will also let that heat out slowly over time, to continue heating your home after the fire has gone out. For states like Minnesota or Colorado, this is especially helpful since it’s a much more energy-efficient way of keeping your home warm during the winter, without your heater running full-bore all the time.
Soapstone Masonry Stoves
The other use you may see, especially in colder areas, is soapstone used to create a masonry stove — something that is half cooking tool and half home heater. You can use it like a fireplace or a wood stove to pump heat throughout your home without electric-powered help. You can also, as the name implies, cook with it. While masonry stoves were originally designed to provide whole-house heat, they have evolved over the years to become something multifunctional. And, as with fireplace surrounds, soapstone is a great option because of the heat-absorbing and heat-radiating properties. A soapstone masonry stove can help keep your home warm longer specifically because it provides a more even distribution of heat than other materials. That same even distribution of heat is what makes soapstone masonry stoves a great option for cooking because you are worrying less about unexpectedly too-hot or too-cold spots.
Other Soapstone Qualities That Matter
When we’re talking about fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, the heat absorption and distribution are definitely important factors. In addition, though, there are a couple other features which make soapstone so useful. First, soapstone is nonporous. This is part of what helps with the even heat distribution, but it also makes a soapstone fireplace surround or masonry stove easier to clean. There aren’t any little nooks and crannies to collect ash, so it’s a lot easier to wipe down with little effort and keep the area clean. Along those lines, soapstone is also non-reactive, or chemically inert, which means it doesn’t stain and doesn’t interact with other substances. Basically, you can use whichever household cleaners you choose and it won’t damage the soapstone.
The other really big quality of soapstone that makes an impact is the fact that it is less hard than options like granite or marble. Soapstone is still a hard stone, but the fact that it is a softer hard stone makes it easier to cut into more specific shapes without it breaking — unlike granite or marble, which tend to snap in places other than the intended cut lines. This is a big part of what helps keep soapstone costs from becoming as expensive as those costlier stone choices, because you aren’t paying for accidental slab breakage or the work it takes to cut it.