Caring for Soapstone Countertops
Traditionally used for fireplace surrounds, chemistry labs, and sculptures, recent years have seen a resurgence in demand for soapstone as a countertop material. With its rich tones and resistance to heat and chemicals, it is easy to understand why modern builders and homeowners have turned to soapstone.
Why Choose Soapstone?
Soapstone has a long, rich history: quarried for thousands of years, it has been used for everything from paving and cladding to cooking utensils and whiskey stones. Soapstone is versatile and can be incorporated into a wide variety of designs. It has remained a go-to countertop material due to its long-known physical properties and classic old-world aesthetic, which can be enhanced by the application of oil or wax.
Because soapstone is comprised primarily of talc, it has an extremely high resistance to chemicals and acids. It is a hydrophobic stone with an absorbency of near zero, meaning that it does not absorb water. Soapstone retains heat and it will not scorch when in contact with hot cookware. It has a porosity of nearly zero, making it a naturally sanitary food preparation surface that does not have to be sealed. It does not harbor bacteria or absorb liquids.
Soapstone countertops are typically found in a honed finish. Geologist Karin Kirk notes: “Unlike many types of natural stone, soapstone cannot be polished to a glossy shine. Instead, it has a soft, warm glow and rounded edges that help a space feel comfortable rather than imposing.”
Yes, Soapstone Will Scratch—But Maintenance Is Simple
Its nonporous nature means that caring for soapstone is simple: little more than water and a gentle cleanser is needed for regular maintenance. Despite the ease of maintenance, there is one thing to keep in mind when it comes to soapstone countertops.
Soapstone is extremely soft, ranging from 1-4 on the Mohs scale of hardness. (For comparison, most granites typically range from 6-7 on the scale.) This does mean that if you choose soapstone for your countertops, you should expect that they will get scratched rather easily. However, this is not a deal breaker for most soapstone users.
Most soapstone scratches can be easily disguised or removed using mineral oil (for smaller scratches) or sandpaper (for larger scratches). This can be done as a DIY project, although a stone professional can be consulted for advice for any larger issues. Preventative measures like using cutting boards during food preparation can help keep scratches to a minimum.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. Does the idea of a countertop that scratches cause you stress? If so, you may want to consider a harder stone. If not, the benefits of soapstone will likely outweigh its softness.
What Do I Need to Know About Oiling?
In their natural state, most soapstones are a soft gray. When treated with mineral oil, this color can be enhanced to a darker, richer, and more uniform state. While many homeowners choose to oil soapstone to enhance its natural color and movement, this is not necessary. In fact, many people prefer the look of untreated soapstone. Many soapstone suppliers sell oil specially designed for the stone, but common mineral oil purchased at grocery stores and pharmacies can also be used. Several coatings will be required before the darkening is considered permanent. Be sure to communicate with your stone fabricator and supplier to better understand this process.
As always, your stone supplier and fabricator will be able to answer any specific questions you may have about choosing soapstone as a countertop material. Whether you choose a soapstone that is dark and moody or light and smooth, your countertops will be beautiful, durable, and easy to maintain for years to come.