By Rachel Zohn
Soapstone may not seem as sexy as some of the other choices for countertops and flooring, but in many ways soapstone is the unsung hero of natural stone surface options out there. The reason? Its incredible durability, extremely low maintenance, and a basic gray, greenish gray or black color palette that can fit with a number of different styles and design aesthetics.
Let’s face it, its name alone doesn’t project an image of something that’s enduring, stable and no-fuss, with a natural simple elegance - but that’s exactly what makes soapstone a hidden treasure. This material is nonporous and very dense, so acids like tomato-based sauces, wine, lemon or vinegar will not stain or mar it. It also naturally resistant to bacteria, so it is a great choice for sinks or countertops. It also requires no special cleaners –mild soap and water will do the trick. (However it’s also impervious to chemicals, so it’s tough enough to stand up to the harshest cleaners or acids.)
It is non-slippery, so it works well for both indoor and outdoor uses. But best of all, it is the only natural stone countertop that doesn’t need a chemical sealer. Some people use a food grade mineral oil or wax on it, which helps the stone oxidize and darken, but it is not required for maintenance. Others let it age over time and develop a natural patina.
Soapstone’s appearance has a more subtle look than more exotic surfaces or natural stones. It can range from a rustic, textured look, to a sleek and modern look, but could easily fit in with an industrial aesthetic or many contemporary designs. It’s the kind of look that won’t go out of style, but it will instantly add contrast and character to a room and allow you to play with color in other ways. Soapstone can pull the room together without adding a “busy” look, and allow you to accessorize through your home décor or other room components.
Not to be overlooked, but this natural stone also earns environmentally friendly points as it is a material that will last generations. If you are purchasing soapstone through Imagine Surfaces, know that they use Alberene Soapstone Company which quarries its soapstone from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. As a US product it requires less transportation and has a lower carbon footprint than stone that has to be imported from other countries.
Soapstone gets its name from its soft and silky feel which comes from its high mineral talc content. It’s zero absorbency means it is unaffected by water or humidity, making it a great choice for kitchens, bathrooms or outdoor areas. Soapstone is impervious to heat – it can withstand directly flames indefinitely -- which is why it has historically been used in wood burning stoves and fireplaces. Its talc veining produces movement and texture within the stone, which gives its surface character and spunk.
Soapstone comes in various grades ranging from architectural grade, which has a higher “hardness” factor, to artistic grades which are softer and used for carving. As a tip for picking out a slab, the greener the tint, the more talc it has in its composition which will make it softer and more easily nicked or scratched. Remember, the scratches will eventually become part of the surface patina and oiling the surfaces will help, but if it really bothers you, it is possible to sand out these flaws.
Overall, soapstone has a natural and subtle beauty and tremendous benefits of being incredibly dense and durable. It will be a choice materials that can last a lifetime!
Rachel Zohn is a freelance writer and editor and part-time contactor with Zillow Digs.