The Basics of Soapstone

Soapstone is steadily gaining popularity as one of the best materials to use for countertops, stone fireplaces, sinks, and more. Due to its impervious qualities, soapstone has also been used to fabricate chemistry lab tops, acid room sinks, and lab shelving (fun fact: M. Teixeira Soapstone has supplied soapstone to many high schools in the NY area). Read on to learn all about our favorite stone.

Soapstone Is a Natural Stone

Soapstone (also known as Steatite) is a metamorphic rock that consists primarily of talc. Depending on the quarry from which it is sourced, it also contains varying amounts of other minerals such as micas, chlorite, amphiboles, quartz, magnesite and carbonates. It is a relatively soft, very dense, highly heat-resistant material.

Check Authenticity Before You Buy

Unfortunately, fake soapstone can be found from numerous sources. Currently, there are several forms of slates that are being wrongfully advertised as soapstone. This is an international issue in the soapstone market, and we wrote an entire blog post on the subject. You can read the blog post here to educate yourself prior to purchasing.

The Best Uses For Soapstone

Soapstone is a terrific material for many applications, and especially makes a good alternative to granite, quartz, or marble countertops, sinks, tiles, masonry heaters, and wood stoves.

Real soapstone is inert to acids, chemicals, and heat, which means that soapstone will not stain, burn, or be harmed by acids. These properties make it very useful for a wide variety of applications such as residential and commercial kitchen and laboratory countertops, sinks and floor tiles, as well in high heat applications like firebricks for wood stoves and masonry heater construction. Soapstone is even used as cookware in the form of pots, pizza stones, griddles, and as lining material for commercial ovens.

Though soapstone has been used in American homes since the 1800s, Martha Stewart and Bob Villa made soapstone even more popular in the late 90s by publicly featuring it in their projects. Read on to learn all about our favorite stone.

Soapstone Kitchen Countertops, Sinks, and Tile

rustic soapstone kitchen
Soapstone is the perfect material for kitchen countertops and sinks, and here’s why:

  • No need for trivets or hotplates, you can set a pot directly on the counter
  • You can spill vinegar, cleaning chemicals, wine, and other acidic or corrosive substances without damaging your counters
  • You don’t have to worry about staining
  • No special cleaners or sealing required
  • Huge variety of styles with different natural veining and colors
  • If you or a loved one is handy, you can save money on labor with a DIY Soapstone Kit (no special tools required!)
  • Standing water won’t damage the stone

modern soapstone kitchen

Forbes Magazine agrees, there’s no better material for kitchen countertops. Soapstone adds the perfect visual element to any kitchen, modern or traditional. You have the option to either allow the natural patina to develop over time or oil the surface for a darkened sheen and more even appearance.

Soapstone Bars and Tabletops

Soapstone Bar

Restaurants and bars love our soapstone bars and tabletops because they are absolutely patron-proof! Spilled drinks and busy nights be darned, soapstone will not fail your business. Besides being a practical and long-lasting choice, the look and feel of soapstone is elegant and goes well with any décor. Because special masonry tools are not required, business owners also love the ease and DIY options available for fabrication. Read more about why soapstone is an excellent choice for commercial applications.

Soapstone Bar

Soapstone Bathroom Sinks, Tubs, and Tile

Soapstone Sink

Soapstone is a practical and elegant choice for striking sinks and bath tubs. Soapstone sinks can be custom crafted from 1 1/4-inch soapstone slabs, or made from a single block of soapstone and set on a vanity countertop (known as a vessel sink).

Soapstone Fireplaces and Woodstoves

Soapstone fireplaces and masonry heaters outperform their traditional counterparts by a landslide. While traditional fireplaces are known to emit short-lived convection heat in close proximity, soapstone stores and releases heat slowly. Soapstone is incredibly efficient because its thermal mass absorbs slowly and radiates the heat long after the fire has been extinguished. This couple from New York has saved on their heating bill thanks to their soapstone woodstove. They even enjoy using it to prepare dinner ahead of time, and affectionately refer to their woodstove as their “slow cooker on steroids”!

Soapstone is also a great alternative to standard firebricks. Available in “standard” firebrick sizes, soapstone’s gray colors give designers and architects a way to elevate their design and to offer their clients more options. In addition, soapstone’s ability to retain and radiate heat improves the efficiency of these fireplaces.

Handy Homeowners Can Save More

DIY Soapstone

Some homeowners shy away from natural stones because they believe the cost isn’t within their budget. M. Teixeira’s DIY Soapstone Countertop selection ranges from complete DIY to fully fabricated, so no matter your skill set or tool collection, you can save money on renovating your kitchen, outdoor area, or bathroom counters. For those who may second guess their ability to tackle this project, we’ll even give you a practice piece to try before you commit to the full kit. Take a look at M. Teixeira’s DIY options today to get started on building the natural soapstone countertop you’ve always wanted!

Where Are Soapstone Quarries?

Soapstone is a natural stone and ethically mined in several places.

Soapstone Quarries

The majority of architectural soapstone available in the US and Canada is quarried in Brazil. All Brazilian soapstone is quarried in the state of Minas Gerais, very far from the Amazon Rainforest (approximately 2,500 miles [4.000km] to the Southeast of Manaus).

Minas Gerais, Brazil

Fun Fact: There are less than 10 active soapstone quarries in Brazil and less than 2 in the US. In Carrara Italy alone, there are currently 80 active marble quarries.

 

Left to Right: Osmar Puperi, Roger Teixeira and Flavio Pautassi, Mariana, Brazil, early 2000’s.

Soapstone also comes from Finland, Southern India, and the state of Virginia in USA.

Soapstone History

When the Alberene Soapstone Company was first established in 1883 and employed over 2,000 people. At the time, the demand for soapstone was so great that the small town of Schuyler was literally built around the quarry itself. Soapstone was so popular because it was an ideal material for laundry tubs, farm sinks, chemistry lab tops, etc.

Since the 1700s in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, soapstone has been used for cooking pots, pans, stovetops, and griddles. In addition to practical daily use, soapstone has long been used to create stunning sculptures. In fact, one of Brazil’s most famous Baroque sculptors used soapstone extensively in his works, that includes the famous sculptures of The Twelve Prophets, completed in 1805.

One of the most famous soapstone sculptures comes occurs in more recent history. In October of 1931, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero, Brazil was opened to the public. Construction took nine years (from 1922 to 1931) and cost the equivalent of 2018 USD $3,500,000.

Want to find your own piece of soapstone history? There are still original sinks that are being sold at architectural salvage and antique stores across the US, thanks to the strength of the material and the ease with which they can be refinished.

shed.

About The Hardness Of Soapstone

This topic gets a lot of people confused, so we’ll try to make it simple. When someone uses the colloquial term “soapstone,” they could be describing architectural or artistic soapstone. What separates these rocks is their talc percentage, and thus their level of hardness. Remember, talc is what makes soapstone soft, so the higher talc percentage, the softer the stone.

 Architectural Soapstone: This is the material used in the building industry, typically has 15% to 50% talc, only comes in varying shades of gray (surface treatment makes it black), sometimes with a hint of blue or green, with wide variations in veining pattern. Slabs are available as large as 10′ x 6′ (3m x 1,8m). Varieties closer to 15% talc will be more resistant to scratching, while varieties in the 50% range will show scratches more often. The good news is that scratches can be easily removed with light sanding, without the need of any special tools or equipment.  Click here for a video showing this process.

Fun Fact:

Artistic Soapstone: This is the soapstone variety you see in sculptures and handicrafts, comes in a broader color variety such as browns, yellows, greens, blues, and whites. Artistic soapstone is made of as much as 80% talc and can be easily scratched with a fingernail.

Fun Fact: Our company actually began as an artistic soapstone supplier. Our first clients were art schools, art supplies stores, universities, and the Inuit of Canada, whose preferred carving stone in the 1990s was Brazilian Soapstone.

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