Soapstone gets its name from the milky or powdery look and feel of the stone, which can feel comparable to soap. The presence of the mineral Talc is what causes the stone to have that soft, powdery feel. Soapstone is also known as Steatite, which is a mineral consisting of mostly Chlorite, Magnesite, Dolomite, and Talc. The higher the percentage of talc present, the softer and easier to carve this stone becomes. That’s why soapstone has been a popular choice for centuries by artists for carving sculptures. Soapstone countertops and vanity tops are made with a lower percentage of talc because it’s quite a bit harder. Slabs of soapstone with a lower percentage of talc are still fairly soft, so avoid dropping heavy objects and using knives directly on it as both can damage the surface.
While soapstone countertops and vanity tops are not as hard as granite, this material is more pliable. That means it is less brittle, so it won’t crack unexpectedly from stress or weight. In addition, soapstone is very non-porous, another important strength that sets it apart from granite and other natural stone. It doesn’t require the sealing that those materials do, and it is far less likely to stain when wine or oil are spilled onto it.
The primary care that soapstone countertops require is a periodic oiling that keeps it looking its best and produces a natural patina as the years go by. In other words, it is done for aesthetic rather than performance reasons.
The common colors you’ll find in soapstone are pure white with light veining, and a charcoal grey that’s almost solid in color. It has a lovely, old-world feel and is popular for those seeking a more rustic look than granite or marble can offer.