Since the 90s, Soapstone has been steadily gaining popularity as one of the best materials for countertops, stone fireplaces, sinks, and tiles. Due to its impervious qualities, soapstone has also been used to fabricate chemistry lab tops, acid room sinks, and lab shelving. Learn about our favorite stone—including where soapstone comes from, why soapstone is a good choice for interior applications, and how to choose the best quality soapstone for your intended installation.
The Basics of Soapstone
Soapstone—also known as Steatite—is a metamorphic rock that consists primarily of talc. Depending on the quarry from which it is sourced, this natural stone 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 Soapstone Authenticity
Unfortunately, fake soapstone comes from numerous sources. Currently, there are several forms of slates and marbles being falsely advertised as soapstone. This is an international issue in the soapstone market, so read about fake soapstone to educate yourself prior to purchasing soapstone slabs or fabricated goods.
Best Uses for Soapstone
Though soapstone has been used in American homes since the 1800s, Martha Stewart and Bob Villa made this natural stone option even more popular beginning in the late 90s by featuring it in their projects. Soapstone is a terrific material for many applications, and especially makes a good alternative to granite, quartz, or marble countertops. Other popular uses for soapstone include 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 countertops, sinks, and floor tiles. Soapstone is even used to make pots, pizza stones, griddles, cookware, and as lining material for commercial ovens. It’s a great choice for laboratory countertops, as well—and M. Teixeira Soapstone has supplied soapstone to many high schools in the New York area.
There’s no better material for kitchen countertops: Soapstone adds the perfect visual element to any kitchen, modern or traditional. You can either allow the natural patina to develop over time or oil the surface for a darkened sheen and more even appearance. Some of the features that make soapstone the perfect material for kitchen countertops and sinks include:
- No need for trivets or hotplates, you can set hot pots directly on soapstone counters
- Vinegar, cleaning chemicals, wine, and other acidic or corrosive substances won’t damage soapstone
- Soapstone resists staining and won’t be damaged by standing water
- No special cleaners or sealing required
- Huge variety of styles with different natural veining and colors
Handy homeowners can save money on labor with a DIY Soapstone Countertop Kit (no special tools required!)
Soapstone is an excellent choice for commercial applications, too: Restaurants and bars love our soapstone bar counters and tabletops because they are absolutely patron-proof, standing up to spilled drinks and busy nights. Besides being a practical and long-lasting surface, the elegant look and feel of soapstone coordinates with any décor. Because special masonry tools are not required, business owners also love the ease and DIY options available for fabrication.
Soapstone is a practical and elegant choice for striking sinks and bathtubs. 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 masonry heaters outperform their traditional counterparts by a landslide in high-heat applications, and soapstone woodstoves help you save money on your heating bill. While traditional fireplaces emit short-lived convection heat in close proximity, soapstone is incredibly efficient: Its thermal mass absorbs, retains, and radiates heat long after the fire has been extinguished.
Soapstone is also a great alternative to standard firebricks. Available in “standard” firebrick sizes, the material’s gray colors provide designers and architects plenty of design options.
Since the 1700s, soapstone has been used in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais for cooking pots, pans, stovetops, and griddles. In addition to practical daily use, soapstone has long been used to create stunning sculptures. One of Brazil’s most famous Baroque sculptors used soapstone extensively in his works, which include the famous sculptures of The Twelve Prophets, completed in 1805.
One of the most famous soapstone sculptures was created more recently: In October of 1931, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was opened to the public. Construction took nine years (from 1922 to 1931) and cost the equivalent of USD $3,500,000.
The Alberene Soapstone Company was first established in 1883 and employed more than 2,000 people. At the time, the demand for soapstone was so great that the small town of Schuyler, Virginia was literally built around the quarry itself. Soapstone was popular because it was an ideal material for laundry tubs and farm sinks.
Want your own piece of soapstone history? Because soapstone is so strong and can be easily refinished, you can still find original soapstone sinks for sale at architectural salvage and antique stores across the US.
Architectural Versus Artistic Soapstone
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: The higher talc percentage, the softer the stone.
About Architectural Soapstone
Architectural soapstone is used in the building industry. Typically, it has 15 to 50 percent talc and comes in varying shades of gray with wide variations in veining pattern—surface treatment makes it black. Sometimes, architectural soapstone features a hint of blue or green. Slabs are available as large as 10′ x 6′ (3m x 1,8m).
Soapstone varieties closer to 15 percent talc will be more scratch-resistant, while varieties in the 50 percent range will show scratches more often. The good news is that scratches can be easily removed from soapstone with light sanding, without any special tools or equipment. This video shows how to repair scratched soapstone surfaces.
About Artistic Soapstone
Artistic soapstone is the variety you see in sculptures and handicrafts and is not suitable for countertop and other building use. It comes in a broader color variety, including browns, yellows, greens, blues, and whites. Artistic soapstone is made of as much as 80 percent talc, and can be easily scratched with a fingernail.
Our company 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.
Soapstone is a durable, great-looking material for updating your space, both indoors and outdoors. If you’re ready to refresh your countertops, floor tiles, bath, or shower, request a quote today.