For a lot of people, soapstone is viewed as a granite alternative, and that’s it. But soapstone is so much more than that! For instance, did you know that soapstone can be used for more than just countertops? The unique mineral composition that makes soapstone different from marble or granite also gives it a set of features that make soapstone great for a wide variety of different uses. Read on to explore all of the benefits that soapstone has to offer and all the ways this versatile material can be used!
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Curious About Soapstone?
Here’s the quick rundown of benefits:
- It’s non-porous
- It’s heat-resistant
- It’s softer than marble
- But it’s also still a hard stone
- It comes in a wide range of colors
- It’s chemically inert (neutral)
- And more…
First things first, let’s break down what, exactly, soapstone is.
Soapstone, scientifically known as steatite, is a type of metamorphic rock, meaning it’s formed from other rocks and minerals that are compressed together through great heat and pressure. Soapstone is made up predominantly of talc, magnesite, and other minerals — and it’s those “other minerals” that give soapstone such a wide variety of colors as well as its useful characteristics. Talc on its own is a softer mineral. You probably know it, as it’s commonly used in baby powder. Talc is also responsible for the “softer” and almost soapy feeling that gives soapstone its name.
Soapstone and Hardness
One of the most common concerns we hear about soapstone is that it’s considered a “soft” stone, which leads to concerns about whether soapstone is durable enough to be used for countertops and other hard-wearing applications. But here’s the thing: soapstone may be a “softer” stone, but it’s still stone. While it may feel softer, soapstone is still incredibly durable.
The other important distinction to make is that soapstone is categorized based on its intended use. Since the mineral makeup of soapstone is more variable, it’s hard to give one blanket hardness rating. However, soapstone slabs are each rated individually on the Mohs Hardness Scale so you know just how strong a given slab is. Soapstone that has a higher talc content will be less durable, and those slabs get categorized as carving-grade or artistic soapstone. This is the subset that goes to art supply purveyors, who find it a great material with which to make highly detailed sculptures. Soapstone with a lower talc content, and thus the harder subset of soapstone, is categorized as architectural soapstone and that’s what makes it to your local home finishes supplier.
If you’re concerned about the durability of soapstone counters, flooring tiles, or whatever other application you’re interested in, talk to your local supplier about finding a soapstone slab with the right hardness grade for your intended use.
The Qualities of Soapstone
Before we talk about how soapstone can be used, we need to talk about the benefits — because those qualities shape a lot of ways that soapstone can be used.
Soapstone is Hard, But Also Soft
We’ve already touched on this already, but soapstone doesn’t have a set hardness. It can vary from one slab to the next. This is a surprising boon because it provides for a greater flexibility in the ways soapstone can be used. For instance, a soapstone with a mid-range level of talc will be a bit softer, so it can be more easily carved than a harder slab. If you’re looking for a soapstone sink, you may not want the absolute hardest slab your soapstone supplier has.
Overall, soapstone is a bit softer than marble or granite. This is an important feature because it plays a major role in both cost and use. What we mean is this: granite and marble are harder than soapstone, but they’re also so hard that they can be surprisingly brittle. Trying to cut granite or marble is more difficult, and both materials often crack during the cutting process. Not only does this make it harder to get a granite counter in an unconventional shape or one long slab, but it also means that granite will cost more because it’s harder to work with. Architectural-grade soapstone is the right balance of soft and hard that makes it easier to cut, which gives you greater flexibility.
Soapstone is Heat-Resistant
Like other stone countertop options, soapstone is heat-resistant. This is what makes it a great countertop option specifically; since it’s a heat-resistant material, you don’t need to worry about damaging your countertops if you pull a pan out of the hot oven and put it directly onto your countertop. It’s why stone counters as a whole are becoming more and more popular. More than that, though, soapstones inherent qualities provide an additional benefit that takes things a step further.
Not only is soapstone heat-resistant, but it also absorbs the heat from the source and then emits it into the room slowly over time. Soapstone is often used for masonry fireplaces and fireplace surrounds for this reason. It’s great for colder areas, like Colorado and Minnesota, because you can light a fire, let it burn out naturally, and enjoy the warmth even longer afterwards as the soapstone continues to let out heat.
Soapstone is Chemically Inert
Okay, now this is a quality that really makes soapstone stand out above granite and marble. Being chemically inert means that soapstone is chemically neutral; it is neither acidic nor basic. In essence, it means that soapstone won’t react with substances spilled on it. This is actually why soapstone is often used for tabletops and countertops in science laboratories. You could slosh bleach or red wine across a soapstone surface and nothing would happen to the stone. In terms of home applications, this means you don’t need any specialty household cleaners to take care of your soapstone. It also means you don’t need to worry about spills damaging the stone, which is why soapstone is used so often in kitchens and messy spaces like mud rooms.
Soapstone is Non-Porous
This is the other big way that soapstone stands out from other stone countertop materials. Granite, marble, quartz, and other options are all porous, which means they need to be sealed and regularly re-sealed to make them useful in kitchens and other messy spaces. Despite the sealants, those surfaces can still be stained. Not so with soapstone! This material is naturally non-porous, which means it doesn’t have any of those little nooks and crannies for bacteria and liquids to work their way into. So not only is soapstone chemically nonreactive, but it’s also naturally stain-proof because it doesn’t have pores. Even more importantly, soapstone is naturally a healthier option because it is non-porous. Without pores, there aren’t spots to harbor viruses and bacteria, which means you can get your counters clean and clear of germs with a few sprays of your preferred household cleaner.
Ways to Use Soapstone
All of those awesome benefits mean that soapstone can be used in a surprising number of ways throughout a home. Soapstone countertops and farmhouse sinks are pretty common applications, but there are more options! Some of the most popular options include:
- Kitchen and bathroom countertops
- Sinks — both farmhouse and more architectural styles
- Flooring — soapstone tiles can be great for indoor or outdoor use
- Fireplace surrounds and masonry heaters
- Shower/bath tiling
- And more…
Basically, soapstone’s unique qualities mean it can be used in a huge variety of different ways throughout a home or commercial property. If you have an idea that isn’t mentioned in our list, connect with the knowledgeable team here at Dorado Soapstone and we can provide you with further guidance to make those ideas a reality!
The other common concern we hear about soapstone is that it needs a lot of maintenance — which isn’t true at all! Soapstone is actually the lowest maintenance option of the stone countertop materials out there. For one thing, you don’t need to worry about re-sealing it because soapstone is non-porous and doesn’t need to be sealed at all. For another, you don’t need to worry about using specialty cleaners because soapstone is chemically inert. In fact, you don’t really need to use cleaners, other than to kill germs that may be lingering on the surface.
Maintaining soapstone is impressively easy and low-effort. You may notice the occasional scratch or nick in the surface of your soapstone. That’s no big deal! However, if you find a larger scratch, you may want to take a bit of fine-grit sandpaper or steel wool and buff out that mark. If it doesn’t bother you though, let those marks be. Over time, your soapstone will develop a lovely patina from that normal wear and tear. If you want, you can choose to have your counters polished to bring them back to smoothness, but it’s not necessary for the health of your soapstone surface.
The only other thing you may want to do is to oil your soapstone counters. It’s not a necessary step, but oiling it can help to bring out all the beautiful color variance of your chosen soapstone slab. All it takes is a dab of the appropriate oil or wax and a few minutes to make sure that oil or wax is spread evenly. Wipe off any excess so the surface doesn’t feel slick, and you’re done!
Finding Soapstone Near You
If you’re ready to tackle those home renovations and upgrade your space with soapstone, we’re here to help. Connect with the team at Dorado Soapstone for answers to any questions you might have, and find a supplier near you to get started!