Soapstone, also known as Steatite or soaprock by geologists is a very dense and magnesium rich variation of talc. These minerals in combination with several environmental factors during the metamorphic process create the stone’s characteristic soapy texture. Soapstone typically manifests in a grey or greyish-green color with varying degrees of white veins of pure talc. The surface of soapstone is most commonly sold with a smooth, honed finish which is similar to a polish. However, it differs in the fact that it is non-reflective. Other finishes are also available, like leather finish.
Traditionally, soapstone is treated with mineral oil to aid in sealing and to enrich the color. Sealing gradually enhances the stone and reveals a darker and more dynamic color range. A periodic application of mineral oil is the only maintenance needed. Similar to antique silver, soapstone develops a patina over time which gives it a rich, timeless character.
Ancient civilizations found various uses for soapstone, in particular, carving. The higher talc content provided softer and more managable carving products. In fact, the outside layer of the world famous “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio De Jeniero is made of soapstone! Traditionally, soapstone has been used in America for centuries. First discovered by Native Americans, domestic soapstone derives geologically from a line of talc and accompanying mineral deposits the run along the Appalachian Mountains from New England to Georgia. Early colonial settlers found it an ideal stone for many applications and it can still be found in historic residences throughout the original 13 colonies. While easy to fabricate, soapstone also provided these early users with superior thermal properties and natural acid resistance. Many colonial fireplaces were lined with soapstone and settlers would often fashion farmhouse box sinks from the resistant material.
Today, we enjoy many of these same great properties and soapstone has resurfaced as an increasingly popular material of choice in American homes. Due to soapstone’s remarkable acid resistant properties it has become incredibly useful in countertops and bar tops where products like vinegar, wine or lemons are stored. Furthermore, the way soapstone naturally absorbs and evenly distributes heat lends itself perfectly for use in fireplace surrounds, wood burning stoves and even cookware! This convenient heat dispersing property also makes soapstone fully capable of handling any hot pots one might place on it. Remember the black laboratory tops in school? They were made of soapstone due to the fact that they would not stain and were durable enough to endure accidents like an acid spill or a fire from a Bunsen burner. Of all natural stone, consumers continually choose soapstone products due to its superior durability.
The large blocks needed to produce full sized slabs are rare in the Northern Hemisphere due to the destructive impact of ice age glaciers and our frequent freeze/thaw cycles which naturally break up stone formations. Today, after centuries of consumption, large blocks of soapstone are almost non-existent in US quarries. To obtain large slabs (at least 8 feet long and 4 ½ feet high), Genoa Soapstone imports all its slabs from Brazil – a country which was spared the effects of glacial ice and seasonal freezing and is therefore an ideal source for this valued stone. Prized for its structural quality and beauty, Genoa Soapstone is available in a number of colors reflecting the slightly different background tones and the variation of its veining.
While there are many soapstone quarries in Brazil which operate without legal status, all the soapstone slabs imported by Genoa Soapstone are extracted from legally registered quarries which meet all governmental requirements with respect to legal staffing and environmental standards. Workers are paid according to industry standards and employed in safe work environments.
Soapstone begins naturally in tones of grey to grey /green. Over time, it will oxidize or darken into a natural dark color and develop a rich patina with consistent use. The application of mineral oil enhances this darker color and creates a uniform look to the slabs.
Our soapstone requires very little maintenance due to the fact that it will not absorb liquids and does not need any special handling around heat or acids. In the beginning, we recommend the application of mineral oil to assist in the oxidation process and to develop a homogenous color. Over time, this color will ‘set’ and oiling will no longer be necessary.
To apply the mineral oil simply use a clean cotton cloth and wipe the oil on in circular motions. After 20 minutes or so wipe off any excess oil residues. This process can be continued every few weeks as needed. A useful indication of when to re-oil is when the lighter grey begins to show through the darker hues. Over time the soapstone will naturally darken evenly and will no longer require any oil.
In some circumstances new scratches in soapstone will appear as thin white lines. This is simply residual talc dust and further application of mineral oil will remove this dust and restore its lustrous dark color. Deeper scratches can be first removed by hand using a #150 or higher sandpaper. Gently rub over the scratch then follow up by reapplying a touch of mineral oil.
As for cleaning on a daily basis, any household cleaner will do fine with the soapstone. Furthermore, since it does not absorb liquids your soapstone countertop should not require any harsh cleansing. Usually, soap and water are sufficient.
Genoa Soapstone lends itself to a number of products besides countertops. Skilled fabricators can cut our slabs into farmhouse sinks, tables, fireplace, tub surrounds, shower bases, steps and more! In addition, manufactured items made directly in Brazil are also in stock. This includes tiles, mosaics, vessel bowls and cookware.