Soapstone is a natural stone that consists primarily of talc. In fact, it’s the high concentration of talc that gives it its name, as talc softens the stone and gives it the texture of bar soap. Soapstone with 80 percent talc is favored among sculptors for its pliability while stone with around 30 percent talc is preferred for architectural features such as countertops. Here’s what you need to know to determine whether it is right for your kitchen:
How does it compare, cost-wise, to granite and quartz? Granite and quartz cost about $50 to $100 per square foot, while soapstone countertops costs $70 to $120 per square foot. Not including installation, a typical 30-square-foot slab of granite or quartz costs about $1,500 to $3,000, while a soapstone countertop costs about $2,100 to $3,600.
It is a highly durable countertop material used in science labs across the country. A non-porous material, it doesn’t stain. It will darken when liquid is spilled on its surface, but it will return to its original color when it dries. It is acid-resistant. Lemon juice and other agents that will harm other stone surfaces won’t harm soapstone. It is also heat-resistant. You may set hot pots and pans directly on its surface without worry. This also makes it a good choice around fireplaces.
Soapstone counters don't require a sealant, making it an environmentally conscious as well. Some homeowners rub their soapstone countertops with mineral oil once every four to eight weeks to keep a uniform color, but this is for aesthetics, not functionality. Because the stone is soft, it’s easy to sand out small nicks and scratches.
It is available in numerous, varying grey hues — some of which present with blue or green undertones. Like granite, each slab is unique; some contain few streaks while others contain many. Untreated soapstone develops a patina with age, which lends it a warmer look.
Drawbacks to Soapstone
Because it is a soft stone, soapstone is not recommended for use as a cutting surface. (Remember, sculptors favor the material precisely because it carves easily.) It is fairly easy to sand out light damage done to a soapstone counter top. But deep grooves or chips require mixing same-colored material into an epoxy mixture, molding it into the counter and sanding it into shape.
As with any countertop, there’s more to the cost than the countertop itself. You must also factor installation into any estimate. Also consider set-up; delivery and clean-up; and any special features, such as backsplashes and cut-outs.
Materials – 50 square feet, $2,100 to $3,600
Installation – $550 to $750
Total – $2,700 to $4,200
Since soapstone is malleable, many homeowners opt to include cut-outs and carved grooves to allow washed dishes to drain directly on the countertop and into the sink. Keep in mind that features such as these will add to the cost of your project. Also keep in mind that if you decide to get a dishwasher later, you will most likely be stuck with the grooves. Even if you mix epoxy and soapstone as a kind of filler putty, it will be impossible to match the veins and other patterns within the stone.
There are also alternatives to grooves. Some homeowners opt for a British-style drainage area — a flat, recessed area with a slight lip draining towards the sink. Another option is a European-style drainage, which contains no grooves or lip. European-style drainage simply slopes the countertop so that it will drain toward the sink.
The cost of these options will depend on the supplier and the design of the feature. Of course, the thickness of the slab and the degree of elaboration on the edges will also affect cost. Thicker slabs and more elaborate edges are more expensive. Be sure to get at least three quotes from professionals with experience in soapstone counters & who come to see your kitchen first.
Materials – 50 square feet, $2,500.00 to $3,500.00
Installation – $350.00 to $750.00
Total – $2,900 to $4,300
Unlike soapstone, which requires no underlying support, granite, quartz and marble require a supporting layer beneath them to prevent sagging and splitting.
Also, because harder stone doesn’t carve as easily as soapstone, it takes more labor — and therefore costs more — to include cutouts for sinks and other features. Sealants must also be applied and maintained during the life of the countertop to keep harder stone performing and looking its best.
Intermittent repairs will add to the long-term cost of a granite countertop. While cracks and chips can be easily repaired on soapstone, granite usually requires an expert’s touch to camouflage imperfections. The cost of such repairs will depend on the size of the crack, as well as what must be done to repair it and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
Materials – 50 square feet, $2,900 to $4,100
Installation – $600 to $800
Total – $3,500 to $4,900
Like granite, quartz is rigid and requires extra supports and materials to keep it from cracking. Because it is a hard stone, it will also add substantially to the cost to add cut-outs and other features.
Maintaining quartz requires the use of specialized cleaners that can cost about $25 per pint. Further, repairing quartz requires a professional to ensure that cracks are properly repaired and that substructures are adequate to support the weight. The cost of repairs will depend on the severity of the issue and the amount of support required underneath the countertop.
Materials – 50 square feet, $3,000 to $4,000
Installation – $250 to $700
Total – $3,000 to $4,700
Marble is a heavy stone that requires good support to keep it from cracking. This porous material is easily scratched and stained and requires a lot of maintenance. Keeping your marble countertop clean and looking great requires specialty cleaning materials that can cost around $8 for a 7.5 ounce bottle.
Small cracks and chips in a marble countertop can be repaired for $30 to $40, but larger cracks can get expensive — and they will often require extra supports to hold the weakened area. The cost of repairs will depend on the extent and location of the crack.
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock, which means that it’s a fusion of different kinds of rock that have come together. It is created by deep heat and pressure inside the earth.
Soapstone is more properly called “steatite.” It consists mostly of talc. Other minerals found in it include magnesite, chlorite and various amphiboles — crystal-like structures found in some minerals. It is denser than slate, marble and other harder stones.
Other qualities that make soapstone a good material for kitchens and bathrooms include:
Soapstone is available in many shades of grey. While a single color may sound limiting, each slab contains veins and flecks of quartz that make it unique. Some contain large, streaking veins, while others contain smaller, thinner veins.
Soapstone will darken naturally over time, highlighting veins dramatically. It is possible to achieve this look sooner, as the application of mineral oil will accelerate the process. Saturate the surface with mineral oil, let it set a few minutes and wipe it off. Repeat the process a few times and then treat it once a week for about a year.
Since soapstone is easily shaped, it is possible to include a number of features. One of the most popular features is an integrated drain board that drains runoff from washed dishes into the sink. There are three basic types of drain boards:
Traditional – A series of grooves that are cut deeper as they get closer to the sink. The water runs along these grooves and goes into the sink.
British – A smooth, recessed area with a small lip. The recessed area slopes toward the sink.
European – Similar to the British style in that it is smooth, not grooved. However, there is no lip. It’s more like a ramp with a slight slope.
Some people combine the traditional style with one of the other two, adding grooves to the sloped area for better drainage.
Soapstone may be expensive up front, but the lack of specialty maintenance requirements and chemicals makes it a lower-cost option over the long term. It is a durable material with a lot of character, and it ages gracefully as well. It may even outlast your kitchen!