Another metamorphic rock that makes its way into homes is steatite, commonly called soapstone. It's composed primarily of the mineral talc with a healthy does of magnesium for good measure. The magnesium is where it gets its grey color. Soapstone formation occurs in regions of tectonic subduction and in the presence of water. Let me whip out my rock phase illustration again.
By the time a slab of soapstone ends up in some one's home, it's between 400 and 500 million years old to give you some sense of the timeline involved in its formation.
Soapstone is soft. You can write your name in it with a fingernail is how soft. Due to its high talc content, it feels somewhat like a bar of soap to the touch, hence its name.
Even though it's very soft, it's an excellent material for kitchen and bath counters. Unlike a lot of stone, soapstone is neither alkaline nor acidic and is completely inert. That means that virtually nothing can make it react chemically. Vinegar and lemon juice, the great etchers of marble, have no effect on soapstone. It's virtually non-porous, so oils and dark-colored liquids can't stain it.
The stuff's used for table tops in chem labs for a reason.
Most people oil their soapstone with mineral oil but this doesn't do anything but enhance its color and minimize the appearance of the hairline scratches it will accumulate over time. In its un-oiled state, soapstone is grey. Add mineral oil and it turns black. With repeated applications, this oil-induced black color will become permanent, but that's due to the oil oxidizing on the surface of the stone.
Soapstone's an excellent heat diffuser and that's why it gets used to make fireboxes and wood stoves. It's also water proof and that's why it gets used to make sinks and cookware.
Soapstone is a great material to use in a kitchen. Its grey-black color is an achromatic neutral and that means it will go with anything. If you're considering a kitchen renovation and you want to try something different but still a natural stone, think about soapstone.