As its name suggests, soapstone has a texture and feel to it that is similar to a dry bar of soap. The softness of the stone makes it difficult to use soapstone for many structural applications, but the stone provides a translucent-white to dark gray coloration that is popular for use on countertops and carved decor.
Soapstone is essentially talc stone, with mineral deposits formed during crystallization that attributes to the color and hardness of soapstone.
Soapstone was originally the material of choice for carving ornaments in Egypt, India, and China. The Inuit and Norse have traditionally used soapstone in their works for millennia, carving out artworks and religious figures from a single block of soapstone.
Soapstone carving was incredibly popular in regions around the Appalachian range, where the largest deposits of soapstone can be found. The rock may vary in hardness depending on its composition, but is generally considered to be a soft stone that reacts well to chiseling and carving without creating fractured cracks.
The soft stone was used all over the world for various artworks, utensils, and even cookware due to its high heat storage capacity. Today, soapstone continues to be used for decorative purposes rather than structural ones, and is most commonly used in artworks, sculptures, and home decor.
Soapstone can be found in a variety of colors depending on the composition of minerals found in the surrounding environment. White soapstone can have a translucent quality to it, especially when unpolished, while gray soapstone can show off white or gold veining similar to marble.
Soapstone can also come in rust, beige, and even green hues. However, dark gray soapstone is the most commonly used type of soapstone in kitchens and as countertops. Soapstone would typically have veinings due to the concentration of different impurities during its formation, but solid-colored soapstone also exists.
Texture-wise, raw soapstone is said to feel greasy, soft, and slightly waxy - much like a dry bar of soap. When polished and varnished, the stone presents a shiny, smooth finish that has a glassy feel and appearance. The surface of the stone is non-porous and crystalline, making it suitable for carving and cutting without the risk of fracture damage.
Beneficial Features of Soapstone
The non-porous properties of soapstone lends to its features of being heat-resistant, stain-resistant, and waterproof. For these reasons, soapstone is popular for use in kitchens and bathrooms as countertops, where these areas typically get their fair share of moisture, spills, and oils.
However, the stone can be easily scratched even when polished and varnished. While the softness of the stone can be considered a con for practical applications, it provides different use cases for soapstone in carving out decor and cookware. As cookware, soapstone is known to have fair heat conductivity.
Uses of Soapstone
Soapstone is commonly used for countertops, wall tiles, and even fireplaces, but the demand for soapstone materials has dwindled as granite provides a higher degree of hardness for architectural uses. Soapstone is still used for sculptures and decorative pieces around the home.
As cookware, soapstone is listed as a safe material for food to come in direct contact with, so select companies manufacture soapstone cookware that promises even heating and chip-resistant properties. Soapstone is increasingly used in serving dishes, as the stone can retain heat much longer than ceramic plates or cast iron serving dishes.
Soapstone is also ideal for use in wood-burning ovens, particularly in pizza-making as the main baking stone. The greasy surface of the stone is perfect to use as a natural non-stick pan that does not burn in most conventional ovens. In fact, soapstone can be used in grills as well, since the stone can withstand heat up to 1,200 degrees!
Because soapstone is non-porous, all you need to do to clean the stone is to use some mild soap and warm water. Mild soap, such as dish soap or castile soap, can effectively clean the rock without any damage.
Avoid using harsh chemical cleaners, as these may dissolve the soapstone. You may opt to seal soapstone cookware and artworks with a mineral oil to give the surface a glassy sheen and a non-stick surface.