You’re renovating your kitchen and your heart is set on natural stone countertops, but which option should you choose to achieve the look, feel, and function you envision for your space?
For the second installment of our regular blog series on kitchen countertop options, we’d like to explore the pros and cons of soapstone, a classic choice that flawlessly merges old-world appeal with modern sophistication.
With its light grey color, subtle veining, milky finish, and ever-evolving patina, soapstone offers the best of both worlds — dramatic beauty and exceptional durability. It’s pretty easy to clean and maintain, too. Here’s what you should know.
Soapstone Countertop Basics
Soapstone (steatite) primarily consists of talc, a soft mineral with a “soapy” feel, along with lesser amounts of magnesium, mica, quartz, chlorite, and iron. As a metamorphic rock, this durable and extremely dense stone forms slowly under time and immense pressure.
Soft, but dense
Soapstone has been a perennial favorite among builders and sculptors for centuries — artistic “high-talc” soapstone is just soft to carve, while architectural “low-talc” soapstone is a suitable material for hard-wearing interior design elements such as countertops, sinks, and fireplaces.
Soapstone may be a relatively soft material (it’s 50% softer than engineered quartz, one of the hardest countertop materials available), but it’s also very dense. Because soapstone particles are so compact, they form a non-porous surface that’s virtually impervious to stains.
Color and patina
In its initial quarried state, soapstone is either light grey, light blue-grey or dark grey in color; dark soapstone slabs are harder and have less talc, while lighter pieces are softer and contain more talc.
Talc gives all soapstone surfaces a milky appearance and a smooth, silky texture. Otherwise, every slab is unique — they may have light veining or marbling, or they may be solid with little to no veining. They acquire a darker, more dramatic patina as they age that makes them even more beautiful with each passing year.
Pros and Cons of Soapstone
Soapstone isn’t just an ageless beauty that gets better over time, it’s also a low-maintenance, high-performance surface that has plenty to offer in the way of functionality. Here are the main benefits and drawbacks of this stand-out choice:
Advantages of soapstone
- Versatile beauty: Soapstone possesses a charm all its own that complements almost any style; it’s just at home in a high-end, modern kitchen as it is in a traditional, French country or even farmhouse-style kitchen. Whatever your design aesthetic, chances are a soapstone worksurface will fit right in.
- Nonporous surface: As an exceptionally dense material with an impermeable surface, soapstone won’t be stained by lemon and tomato juice or penetrated by odor-causing mold, mildew, and bacteria. You also don’t need to seal it — ever.
- Soft durability: Soapstone may not be as hard as quartz, granite, or marble, but that’s not necessarily a flaw. In fact, it can often be an asset — soft stone surfaces are more pliant and less brittle, meaning they’re less likely to crack unexpectedly under stress or weight.
- Heat-resistant: Soapstone is one of the most heat-resistant materials used in building (it’s often used to construct fireplaces, after all). This means that even if you set a hot pan directly on a soapstone countertop, it won’t scorch or crack.
- Eco-friendly: Whether you’re selecting materials for a green kitchen renovation or simply trying to create a more sustainable home environment, soapstone is an ideal choice. Extracted with care and manufactured without harsh chemicals, soapstone is an eco-friendly natural material that can eventually be recycled.
Downsides of soapstone
- Higher-end pricing: Like granite, marble, and other natural stone surfaces, soapstone is among the more expensive kitchen countertop options. This may not be a problem, however, if natural stone is high on your wish list and your budget can accommodate.
- Prone to scratches: Because soapstone is relatively soft, it’s vulnerable to the dings and scratches that come with normal everyday use. This isn’t always a drawback, though, as many people feel that these marks enhance the stone’s unique antique-like patina. You can also remove scratches from soapstone with fine sandpaper, too.
- Ages best with care: Soapstone is considered a low-maintenance stone because it doesn’t require sealing or any other routine care (apart from cleaning) to stay in prime condition. Even so, most homeowners treat the surface with mineral oil on occasion to promote an even patina as their countertops darken with age. Untreated soapstone is more likely to develop an uneven patina.
The Bottom Line on Soapstone
If you’re looking for a classic natural stone countertop that’s resilient, low-maintenance, and gets better-looking with age, soapstone checks every box. Although it may be a bit more expensive than other natural stone options, its beauty, practicality, longevity, and high return on investment make it worth the extra cost.