Are Soapstone Countertops Right For Your Kitchen?

Kitchen With Soapstone Counters
Kitchen With Soapstone Counters. Getty / jimkruger

They may not hold as high a standing in the pantheon of countertops as quartz, solid surface, or even laminate, but soapstone countertops are more than just a gimmick.  For the right homeowners, they can have a solid place in the world of kitchen countertop materials.  

This odd, unique, beautiful, and widely misunderstood natural stone countertop material is surrounded in such mystique that it draws in as many buyers as it does repel them.

 It is entirely appropriate to begin by dealing with the most obvious question that all prospective buyers have:  softness.

Myth:  Soapstone Is As Soft As Soap

Truth:  Soapstone is not too soft to use for countertops.  Yet it's not the most durable either.

Retailers report that this is always the number one question that homeowners have. It is probably the word "soap" that throws everyone off. The answer to "Is it too soft to use for counters?" is "No."  Soapstone is not too soft—however, it must be noted that there are harder materials available.

Soapstone is often used for carving and sculpture. But this is artistic soapstone, in which up to 80% of the product is talcum, not the architectural soapstone that is used for countertops (with as low as 30% talc).

Talcum Is the Secret Ingredient Behind Soapsone's Unique Feel

Steatite is the geological term for soapstone.  Because steatite has a high degree of talcum in it, this gives the stone a warm, soft feeling—a feeling that cold, hard granite certainly does not have.

 And yes, this is the same talcum as is used for baby powder.

Soapstone vs. Granite

It depends on your needs, but one chief feature of soapstone counters: it is nearly impervious to staining.

Granite has the reputation of being the best type of kitchen or bathroom countertop material available. This reputation is largely unfounded because, amazingly enough, granite can stain quite easily.

Soapstone is dense and resists staining. Few other countertop materials can claim this.

Like Corian, Scratches and Dents Are Fixable

Soapstone is not for the perfectionist homeowner; you have to be comfortable with an interestingly "flawed" kitchen counter surface, or what might be called "age" or "patina."  

And this is exactly why soapstone tends to be installed in kitchens that have more of a traditional, classic feel, rather than a sleek contemporary, and flaw-free feel. 

Owners of soapstone counters are divided on the issue. Some think that soapstone dents and scratches too much; others think it dents just enough. But no owner will ever claim that soapstone doesn't scratch and dent! That's pretty much a given.

It is interesting to remember that solid surface, that highly praised countertop material, is prone to scratches and dents, too.  

Sealing Required?

No. But you do need to initially apply mineral oil and then follow up with mineral oil treatments about once a month for a year. This is not sealing, since soapstone does not absorb the mineral oil (granite does require sealing). The mineral oil helps the stone oxidize.

Any Color You Want As Long As It's Gray

Soapstone counters are light-gray at first.

After application of mineral oil, they take on a charcoal-gray color with vague green tints, according to Glenn Bowman at Vermont Soapstone. So, if you're looking for vivid pistachio-colored counters, you'll need to go for Corian.

What Owners Think

Owners of soapstone counters tend to be honest about this unique material and they report:

  • Maintenance:  They love that soapstone is relatively low maintenance.  Oiling is very easy to do and does not approximate the frequent sealing that must be done with granite.  Mineral oil is cheap, whereas granite countertop sealer can be expensive.
  • Cost:  Soapstone is very expensive:  over $100 per square foot.
  • Appearance:  Owners love its great looks, though you have to be happy with monochrome.
  • Feeling:  Owners, too, rave about soapstone's soft, warm, and silky feel.  
  • Cleaning:  They note that prospective owners should beware if you have a house cleaner or maid.  They might accidentally end up using the wrong cleaning solutions.
  • No-Scorch Zone:  Finally, owners are happy that they don't have to worry about scorching when a hot frying pan is placed on it.

Buy or Don't Buy?

Soapstone counters are not for most kitchen owners.  Unless you want soapstone specifically for your kitchen, you may want to avoid purchasing it.  It is a niche unto itself.

If you have a more traditional house, you are a good candidate for soapstone counters. If you like the look of old things (rather than pristine, sterile things), you are a good candidate, as well.

You will not find giant, uninterrupted slabs of soapstone, either. You may get slabs that are 30 inches deep by 6 feet long—plenty big for most kitchens—but nothing larger because no larger slabs are quarried.