Pros and Cons of Soapstone Countertops

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Soaptone is a mineral known as steatite. The name soapstone was given to the mineral because it is composed of at least 50 percent talc, giving it a feel similar to soap. The rest of the stone is formed from a variety of other minerals, including magnesite. Soapstone that is very high in talc is soft and is often used by sculptors and artists. Stone with a lower talc content is a bit harder and is used to make sinks, countertops and window sills. Like all countertop materials, soapstone has pros and cons that must be weighed before installation.

Pros

Soapstone is a very attractive material and, because it is created by Mother Nature, no two slabs are alike, making for a unique look. Unlike granite, soapstone is not at all porous, so it doesn't stain or harbor bacteria, so it's easy to clean. Soapstone is also very durable, and some soapstone sinks and countertops made in the 1800s are still in use today.

Because it is a soft stone, it is more pliable and much more resistant to cracking than other countertop materials. Another benefit of soapstone is its heat resistance. You can set a hot pan directly onto a soapstone countertops without causing damage or burn marks. The environmentally conscious appreciate soapstone as a green building material -- it's completely chemical-free and 100 percent recyclable.

Cons

Although the softness of soapstone makes it less brittle and resistant to cracking, the soft surface also makes the stone susceptible to damage from dropped glasses or cookware. In addition, when choosing a soapstone for your countertop, it is important to choose one with a smooth finish. Stone countertops that are not properly smooth can scratch your china and glassware if you're not careful.

You'll also notice when selecting your soapstone that you will be given limited color choices. Soapstone comes in various shades of gray, with some hues having a blue tint and others looking more green. The stone darkens as it ages and must be treated regularly with mineral oil to ensure that it darkens evenly. Oiling also helps eliminate watermarks.

If you're remodeling on a tight budget, be aware that soapstone counters can be costly to install. Given soapstone's durability, the installation cost is a worthwhile investment, but it may be cost-prohibitive depending on your budget. As of publication time, soapstone costs between $70 and $120 per square foot, depending on the thickness and grade of the stone. Because no special cutting tools are required, you can install soapstone countertops yourself and save some money, but the process does require a moderate skill level and one or two afternoons.

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