In the countertop world, “low maintenance” and “durable” are buzzwords that are often thrown around. Most of us desire to choose surfaces with minimal required upkeep. Late night parties, spilled drinks, and accidents happen; after the big investment, the last thing you want is a big ugly stain on your new countertop. Finally, after years of research quartz countertops were created. No more sealing, no more staining, no more worries, it’s about time! But wait, something like that already existed? Yes, that's right- Mother Nature has been making the dream surface right under our nose. Allow me to re-introduce you to soapstone.
Let's start with some very basic geology. Soapstone is a natural rock that comes from the earth in a similar to that of slate and marble. It was formed by years of extreme pressure and heat; usually in areas of the earth were tectonic plates meet. The key difference between soapstone and the other natural stones is its abnormally high talc content. Talc, another naturally occurring mineral, has had known benefits for years. You'd know it as the main ingredient in talcum powder.
You may have already experienced soapstone in a very unexpected place- the high school chemistry lab. This is because its high talc content makes soapstone softer than other stones but it also gives it some unique noteworthy benefits. Unlike other natural stones, soapstone is non-porous, meaning it doesn’t need to be sealed. Plus while we'd never use the word “impossible”, soapstone is as resilient to staining as man-made quartz. More points are gained in the heat resistant category. Clients often don't shy away from placing hot items directly on its surface. For these reasons chemists have used it for years, long before the invention of other man-made products.
(Photo Credit: K&B : Granit Design)
The more I learn about soapstone, and the more I experience it, the more surprised I am that we don’t install much more. Our business does hundreds of countertops every year, and maybe only one or two homeowners will choose soapstone. The rustic and warm country look isn’t for everyone, but our 6” x 8” samples really don’t do the stone justice. Often the clients who choose soapstone have done their research up front and have experienced its magnificence in person; pictures simply don't do it justice.
(Photo Credit: K&B : Cuisines Memphré & Granit Design)
Another plausible reason for its lack of popularity in North America is that we tend like new and shiny things. Unlike high gloss quartz, soapstone has a matte finish. This finish enables it to age gracefully, like a slab of maple butcher block, it’s supposed to look used; like a place where meals were prepared, good times were had, and memories were made over and over again. In European countries, people will take a freshly installed, perfectly polished slab of Marble and drag chains over it. They will hit it with hammers and scuff the surface to make it appear as if it’s hundreds of years old. It’s this aging that gives it character and tells a story. To me, soapstone should be treated no differently. While it won’t stain, its softer nature is going to ding and scratch, that’s the point. You’re going to be reminded of the spot where your kids did arts & crafts. You’re going to see where you clumsily dropped the toaster, and where the knife fell as you cut the Christmas ham. However some memories are best forgotten. Luckily it takes nothing more than some basic sandpaper working your way up in grit and outwards in pattern to erase the wear and tear- a claim no other natural countertop can make.
If you’ve done any research, one common misconception with Soapstone is that it has to be oiled. It’s usually confused in this way with butcher block countertops which must be oiled regularly to avoid staining and bacteria growth. However, unlike butcher block, oiling soapstone is done only to enrich its natural character. Using 100% mineral oil you apply a thin layer and rub off the access to transform your Soapstone. It's similar to a stone polish, I have both Quartz and Granite in my home and if I have guests coming over, I break out the stone polish and give it a light spray to enhance the look. You’d do the same with the oil for Soapstone. The surface doesn't HAVE to be oiled, no bad things will happen if you don’t, it just won’t be as rich in colour. You’re just trading in the polish for mineral oil, the result is the same.
To sum up, Soapstone is not for everyone; you have to have a desire to achieve a certain look. However, for those of us that love that look; its warm, durable and resistant surface really can’t be beat.
Thanks for reading.