Some natural materials nearly everyone has heard of. Others are less prominent. Soapstone is one of those natural materials that perhaps most people have not heard of. But in certain communities, it is common. Yet, natural soapstone has much to offer for those that are looking for a natural stone surface with some specific properties. In this article we will cover some basic information about natural soapstone. We will discuss why people choose soapstone, what its properties are, and what to keep in mind when working with it. Then, we will finish our discussion by considering how to care for and maintain this material.
Why People Choose Soapstone
One of the main reasons people select soapstone is because of its appearance. They are drawn to the look of it and then after learning about some its other features, they just have to have it. So what are some of those additional features? One of them is the feel of it. Notice what one blogger that wrote on her website roomfortuesday.com about the feel of soapstone.
It has a touch like no other natural stone… it almost has a soft, velvety cool texture.
Another person describes the touch as being "soft and silky". Those are interesting words to use for describing a natural stone. At any rate, there are some that select soapstone as a worktop or countertop surface because of the feel of the material.
But the feel of soapstone is only one of the reasons people look past its limited color selection to opt for this material in their kitchen or other space. A second reason that consumers select soapstone is because it is anti-bacterial.
In addition to the feel of soapstone and its anti-bacterial properties, some choose this natural stone for their surfaces because it tolerates heat very well.
The first property that we will mention regarding soapstone is its porosity, or rather its lack thereof. Soapstone is one of the few non-porous natural stone materials available for countertops. Non-porosity plays a role in some of the other areas we will talk about later.
Another property of natural soapstone is that it is a soft stone. Notice where it is on the Mohs scale of hardness:
Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness
Talc is a mineral that is the primary part of talcum powder.
Formed when seawater evaporates from the surface of the Earth. It is also found in drywall.
A carbonate mineral found in many popular stones such as marble and limestone. It is often the primary constituent of the shells of marine organisms.
The mineral form of calcium fluoride. It is often used for ornamental carvings.
A group of phosphate minerals named by the German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner.
Feldspars are a group of rock-forming tectosilicate minerals that make up about 41% of the Earth's continental crust by weight.
A hard, crystalline mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms which belongs to the trigonal crystal system.
Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminum and fluorine. In its natural state, Topaz is golden brown to yellow in color.
Corundum occurs as a mineral in mica schist, gneiss, and some marbles in metamorphic terranes.
Diamond is a solid form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure called diamond cubic.
As you can see in the table above, soapstone can vary widely in its hardness. But it all falls toward the low end of the Mohs scale. This is primarily because of the material it is composed of.
Anytime fabrication is done, there are factors that affect the process. Some of these factors include the environment, the material being fabricated, and the tools being used. If all of the factors involved are not compatible or if even one of those aspects is just little but off from where it needs to be, the results will show it. Let's look at an example.
One tool that is vital to fabricating natural and engineered stone is the diamond blade. However, not just any diamond blade will work for every material. As with most other products, diamond blades are made using different specifications.
One blade might use a bond material in its matrix that is softer than another blade. Some matrices are made using a harder bond. This affects how the blade cuts. And it affects how the blade cuts different materials too. One material might work well with a specific blade and the next material may not.
The quality of the diamonds in the matrix of a given diamond blade and the quantity of the diamonds therein impact the way the blade performs too. We won't go off on a tangent about how the diamonds and bond material interact here, but it works in a specific way. How the interaction happens affects the way certain blades cut specific materials.
Because of this specificity in how blades perform, choosing a diamond blade designed for cutting soapstone is recommended. This is just one of the aspects involved in selecting the tools needed for fabricating natural and man made materials. There are others as well. But you get the idea.
Soapstone Care and Maintenance
Usually when you are reading about natural stone and you get to the care and maintenance part of the information you find at least a paragraph about applying sealer. That paragraph usually also explains why sealer is important. In the case of soapstone though, sealer is not necessary. We mentioned earlier that soapstone is non-porous. This trait has specific implications when it comes to care and maintenance.
Because soapstone is non-porous, it is not necessary to seal it. The non-porous nature of this natural stone is also the reason why it is stain resistant. Any discoloring substance that gets on the surface is not abele to penetrate the stone becasue there are no pores for it to penetrate. So what then is involved with caring for soapstone?
To clean soapstone you can use a solution of mild soap and water. If you prefer to use a stone cleaner, we recommend using a mild stone cleaner to clean up inevitable messes that will occur.
Optional Mineral Oil Application
Soapstone naturally darkens with age. However, some consumers prefer their stone to be dark and choose to darken it using mineral oil. Additionally, soapsotne is a very soft stone. When it gets scratched, rubbing a bit of mineral oil on the spot that was scratched conceals the blemish. So having minerl oil on hand makes it easy to to turn scrathces into ancient history.
In conclusion, soapstone is a natural stone that deviates from many other standard patterns that you normally find in natural stone. Many natural stone types form in an array of colors. Not soapstone. Most natural stones are in the middle of or on the high end of the hardness scale. But soapstone lives at the soft end of the scale. Most natural stone is porous and must be sealed. But soapstone is non-porous and needs no sealing. So, you could say that soapstone is the "eccentric" rock of the natural stone family. Knowing a bit about how to work with it and care for though, may prove beneficial should you end up working with, purchasing, or inheriting it.