16 October 2008

Please pass the soapstone

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.


  1. I love soapstone, but I live in a early 1960s Eichler, so I'm looking into modern/contemporary for my kitchen remodel. My friend is appalled I'm considering soapstone, because to her soapstone says "traditional kitchen" I was thinking soapstone's utility, quality, and natural beauty make it appropriate for a modern kitchen.

  2. Ah, I just found your other post with the pictures of soapstone in a modern kitchen. I take that as approval. Plus pictures to send to my appalled friend.


    But please, if you have further comments on soapstone and modern/contemporary, please I'd love to read them.

  3. Thanks for your comment Johnna. You live in an Eichler? Be still my heart.

    I don't see how a dark gray stone is inherently traditional at all. But I live in the part of the country where soapstone anywhere is a novelty. But if you leave out other people's opinions and stories about it, it's a neutral. It's the neutral's neutral and really, it can be anything. Just like white marble doe2s. Marble's at home in practically any style, and it's all a matter of how it's used. So I say go for the soapstone!

  4. You posted your second comment While I was responding to your first. Yes, that contemporary kitchen with soapstone is in Hawaii of all places and was my pal Susan Palmer's project.

    I love soapstone in any use and I think it's a tremendous material for a kitchen counter. It transcends styles, it really does.

    I appreciate your comments tonight and I will track down some more material on soapstone and write about it some more over the next few weeks. Deal?

  5. Deal! That would be lovely!

  6. Great explaination and diagram of how Soapstone was formed millions of years ago!

  7. Again, thanks for looking through my archives!


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