Just a decade ago, granite countertops were all the rage. Today, quartz and quartz blends have earned accolades and admiration for their appearance and durability. Even marble is a good fit in the kitchens of high-end homes, especially those without children.
Of course, there are many other options for countertops, including butcherblock, stainless steel, quartz and impressive laminates, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. But what about soapstone? Where does this natural stone fall in comparison to the others as far as aesthetics, durability and price?
What Is Soapstone?
Soapstone, also called steatite, is a metamorphic rock made from talc-schist, which means it contains talc, in this case around 50 percent. If you know your minerals, you know that talc is the softest one. What that means for soapstone is that it has a softer consistency than some other materials commonly used for countertops. In fact, it was named for its similarity to a bar of soap. However, within different slabs of soapstone, the percentage of talc can vary, so some are harder than others, and the slabs used for countertops fall in the harder range.
On the Mohs Hardness Scale, which ranks minerals from 1 to 10 based on hardness (with diamonds ranking 10 and talc at a 1), soapstone falls between a 1 and 5, according to Bobvila.com. Soapstone used for countertops comes in at about 2.5 to 3.5. The varying levels of hardness are determined by the other minerals in the soapstone, which can include micas, chlorite, amphiboles, quartz, magnesite and carbonates.
Soapstone is dense and made of up compact particles, which gives it an impenetrable surface. It's so dense, in fact, soapstone countertops don't even need to be sealed. Compare that to marble countertops, which may need to be sealed on a regular basis. Soapstone also is low-maintenance, which is one reason it's used in places like chemistry labs.
Soapstone For Countertops
Soapstone might be able to stand up in a lab, but what about a kitchen? Can it handle a messy family breakfast or a Sunday afternoon football party?
"It is [good for countertops], depending on the buyer," says Mandy Carbia, senior interior designer for Crosby Design Group in Atlanta. "It depends on their style or their taste."
Because soapstone is a natural material, buyers are restricted to the appearance Mother Nature creates. Its range of hues are on the darker end of the spectrum. If a client is looking for a rustic style, soapstone coud be the right aesthetic fit, but if they want a modern farmhouse look, probably not, Carbia explains. Consider the multitude of color and pattern options of quartz offered by Caesarstone, as opposed to the more limited range of color choices in soapstone from Crocodile Rocks, a stone supplier in Kenmore, Washington, just north of Seattle. Crocodile Rocks has an extensive supply of slabs, it's just that soapstone doesn't offer too many varieties when it comes to color.
When choosing a countertop material, Carbia says it's important to ask buyers how they live. For a homeowner who cleans up quickly, marble can make a good option, but for those who tend to leave the sauce out all night, or those who do a lot of entertaining, soapstone could be a better fit because it's nonporous and doesn't stain like other stones.
"It is a softer material, so it does scratch easier," Carbia says. Homes with children who drop things, or homeowners who prefer cutting straight on the countertop as opposed to using a cutting board, might damage soapstone. Luckily, though, when a soapstone countertop gets scratched, it can be sanded to correct it, although the finish might not be perfect.
Colors and Styles
For many homeowners today, the whiter the countertop the better, and some gray veining doesn't hurt either, says Carbia. And soapstone does not come in white — it trends toward grays and blacks, while some can have blue or green hues.
"It's kind of the darker the better with soapstone," Carbia says. Although soapstone can have a bit of veining, it does not provide that white look so many are looking for today.
That's not to say it's not popular. It does impart an Old World, rustic feeling. And there are definitely fabricators who stock it regularly, Carbia says. "There is still a niche for it," she says.
The Pros and Cons of Soapstone
Of course, the best countertop material is one that fits a homeowner's tastes, lifestyle and budget. But like granite, quartz and even concrete, soapstone has its pros and cons.
- It imparts a dramatic, Old World look.
- It's impermeable, so it is highly resistant to staining.
- Soapstone stands up to heat; you can even put a hot pan on it without damaging the stone, Carbia says.
- Unlike many countertop materials, soapstone doesn't need to be sealed, therefore, the natural stone has no chemicals.
- Soapstone can be repurposed, a.k.a. recycled!
- Due to its softness, soapstone is easy to carve, so it can be used for countertops, but also for sinks, soap dishes, drain boards for a seamless look.
- Soapstone's softness also means that it can be easily scratched or damaged.
- As natural material, soapstone has a limited range of color options, which are dark, so it's not a fit for some of today's popular design trends.
Soapstone by the Dollars
Of course, price is a consideration in most kitchen projects, and soapstone offers a mid-range cost option. As a natural material, its price point is roughly equivalent to a high-end granite or a quartz, Carbia says. But because granites come in a much wider variety, you can probably find a granite option that is much less expensive than soapstone.
Carbia estimates soapstone runs about $72 to $150 per square foot, including installation. Inexpensive granite can cost as low as $20 to $30 a square foot. Marble is typically about $75 to $250 per square foot, while quartz can run from $55 to $155 a square foot, according to HGTV.