Granite countertops have been regarded as the classic high-end kitchen countertop material for some time now, and engineered materials such as quartz and recycled glass get most of the attention from the trendy crowd. But why follow the crowd? Before you go the common route and order granite or quartz for your remodeled kitchen, take a moment to consider soapstone—a unique, beautiful, and widely misunderstood natural stone surrounded in mystique.
As it turns out, many of the supposed limitations of soapstone turn out to be myths. For the right homeowner, soapstone countertops may be the ideal choice.
The Geology of Soapstone
Soapstone is the common name for the naturally occurring stone known as steatite, a magnesium-rich metamorphic rock containing a high percentage of talc—the same substance found in baby powder. The softer varieties, often called artistic soapstone, actually have a silky, soapy feel to them, and may contain as much as 80 percent talc. Because soapstone is used for carving, many people wrongly imagine that the stone is far too soft for a countertop.
However, the type of stone used in fireplaces and countertops is architectural soapstone, which is only about 30 percent talc, making it quite hard and perfectly suitable for being cut into slabs. Many people are surprised to learn that soapstone, while somewhat softer than granite, is less porous and susceptible to staining, and is harder than marble.
Soapstone slabs are usually in creamy shades ranging from nearly white to dark gray, with subtle veining. It is less dramatic than most types of granite, but many people prefer its subtle beauty to the loud exuberance of granite.
The Pros of Soapstone Countertops
Aside from its warm, soft appearance and touch, soapstone has a number of virtues when used as a countertop material:
- Soapstone is nearly impervious to staining. This is in sharp contrast to granite and marble, which can be stained quite easily.
- Scratches and dents can be sanded out of the stone, much the way Corian® and other solid-surface materials can be repaired. After sanding out scratches, the countertop should be reoiled with mineral oil.
- The appearance of soapstone is classically antique, especially as the countertop wears.
- No sealing is required, unlike granite and marble, which need to be sealed and resealed at least annually.
- Soapstone is immune to burns and scorches, unlike solid surface countertops.
The Cons of Soapstone
- The material does dent and scratch. But for many owners, this creates a desirable patina—an antique look and feel that adds to the atmosphere.
- Soapstone needs to be periodically oiled with mineral oil to help the stone oxidize and develop its patina. This involves once-a-month oiling for the first year.
- Colors are fairly limited. Most countertops are light-gray at first, then take on a charcoal-gray color with vague green tints, according to Glenn Bowman at Vermont Soapstone.
- Soapstone is fairly expensive—$100 per square foot or more.
- Countertops longer than 6 feet will probably need to include seams.
Soapstone countertops can be a great choice for homeowners who like the old-time charm of a countertop that develops an antique patina over time. It is ideal for classic kitchen styles. For the right owner, these countertops will be easier to care for and more charming than most other natural stone or engineered stone countertops.