5/09/2011

"Let's Talk About Soapstone"

What is Soapstone?


Soapstone is a naturally-occurring metamorphic talc-schist rock. Its 3 primary mineral components are; (1) Talc (2) Magnesium (3) Magnesite. There are TWO distinct forms of Soapstone and are used for TWO different purposes. 

Artistic Soapstone: Artistic soapstone has a much higher content of Talc, close to 70%. This composition makes the stone soft enough to carve and gives it a much lighter color. Artistic Soapstone has been used for generations for carvings; from statuettes in Inuit cultures to perhaps its most popular application of “Christ the Redeemer” which sits atop mount Corcovado over-looking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Architectural Soapstone: Has a much lower Talc content, closer to 30%. The remaining portion is a mixture of magnesium and magnesite. It’s used primarily in home applications such as countertops, sinks and tiles. Due to its geological make-up, architectural soapstone typically is much denser, darker and has more pronounced veining. This composition produces a beautiful infusion of functionality and magnificence which together make the highest quality of Soapstone. 




Why is Soapstone Called Soapstone?
People have referred to this natural stone as Soapstone because it often reminds people of the feeling of a soapy surface, due to its soft and smooth feel. 

Where does Soapstone come from? 
A large portion of today’s Soapstone comes from Brazil. Soapstone was heavily quarried out of the eastern seaboard however; mainly Vermont, however; due to limited quantities and there are only a few if any active quarries still operating today. Soapstone is also found in Finland, but most of that Soapstone is going to the European market for masonry heaters, and very little enters the U.S. for countertops. Likewise, a small quantity is imported from India & Canada; however Brazil is by far major resource for Soapstone used in North America and is where all of Dorado Soapstone comes from.

Quality and Characteristics
Porosity: 
Soapstone is 99.9% non-porous; meaning that is can’t be penetrated by any liquid. This is due to its density. Soapstone is about 30% more dense than any other if it’s competitors; like Granite or Marble. Because of its density, soapstone is inert, meaning that it won’t be penetrated, stained, altered or etched by any corrosive liquid, regardless if it is acidic or is an alkaline substance, like; lemons, tomatoes, oils or Red Wine. This makes Soapstone the only stone used in any interior application that does not need to be sealed. 

*Note: liquid contact with the surface will temporarily discolor the stone, but soon as it will evaporate out of the stone and leave no mark or stain behind. Like the mineral oil, the liquid will simply rest on the surface until it evaporates. 

Temperature Changes:
Extreme heat or temperature shock will not hurt soapstone. Neither hot nor cold temperatures will harm or discolor the stone. Because Soapstone it as dense as it is, there exists no pockets of air, which react to temperature change and leads to color change and/or cracking and breaking. Due to this unique characteristic soapstone has been used as ovens, pots & pans and masonry heater. Clients should feel safe that neither direct sunlight nor extreme temperature changes will harm their countertops. 

*Examples of real life applications demonstrating this characteristic are; (i) Outside kitchens (ii) around fireplaces & hearths (iii) ovens (iv) Steam showers to help keep the warmth in (v) floors to radiate heat from below (vi) Wine cellar to help keep that constant 55 degrees. 

Scratch Resistance:

Like all natural stone, Soapstone is susceptible to damage and the kitchen’s wear and tear; however, Soapstone is denser than many competitors such as Granite or Marble, and therefore the scratches will rarely penetrate the surface. We generally recommend protecting your soapstone by using a cutting board when cooking and avoid using harsh abrasives as cleaning agents. In the event that your soapstone countertop is scratched it can be restored to their original look with a gentle application of mineral oil. If the problem persists, the client can gently buff the scratch out using generic 220 grit sandpaper. Usually after this process it’s best to reapply the mineral oil in order to match the color of this spot to the rest of the stone.

*Note, No other natural stone can be repaired by the consumer. Also, there are plenty of softer soapstone on the market, however Dorado has researched and invested in finding only the hardest and durable soapstones in the world. There are no other soapstones harder. 



Maintenance
Sealers:
Unlike all other natural stones used in home applications, such as marble, limestone and granite, you DO NOT seal soapstone. Stone sealers are meant to seal porous stones such as marbles or Quartz based stones. Soapstone’s natural durability and density permit it to be used without any additional protectors or environmentally harmful synthetic products. 

*Note: This is important for several reasons. In an aesthetic sense this allows it to be used in its natural form. The outcome is a beautiful matte finish that is truly unique to soapstone. This characteristic makes it a unique solution to all interior design problems as it will mesh well with any style due to its inherent classicism. Another unique advantage to any non-porous material is that it is a truly hygienic surface. Soapstone is completely food-safe and will not harbor any bacteria growth.



Color Enhancers: 
Many soapstone owners apply mineral oil to the surface of their countertops. (About half) The application of mineral oil will naturally enhance the colors of the stone. Over time the stone will patina and darken to a charcoal grey or black and the complementary colors; likely green or white will become more prominent. Mineral oil simply accelerates this patina process and ensures that the color change takes place evenly over the surface of the stone. 

• How to Apply Mineral Oil. Simply use a rag to spread the oil evenly over the soapstone. Use a second clean rag or paper towel to wipe away the excess oil. Allow the soapstone 15-20minutes to dry and enjoy!
• How often. It is normally advise to apply the mineral oil more frequently (bi-weekly) immediately after installation and then apply less often as the stone naturally becomes darker. It will usually take 6 months to a year for the stone to darken on its own. 
• What happens if you do not oil the Soapstone? It is not necessary to oil soapstone. The Soapstone will begin its natural patina and darken in some areas, most noticeably around the sink area frequently used areas. Leaving the Soapstone untreated will develop a nice rustic look that many people seek. The client can always oil the stone anytime you wish. 


Mineral Oil vs Wax:
If you choose to darken your soapstone we recommend Dorado Soapstone Dry Wax or 100% mineral oil. The only difference between the two products is the mineral oil has to be applied more frequently in the beginning because it evaporates more quickly than the dry wax. The dry wax is made of carnauba wax, walnut oil and beeswax; both are 100% food safe. Both will give you the same look! 


Cleaning Soapstone:
Because the stone is nonporous any common household cleaner can be used to clean it. For best results we recommend using a damp cloth or sponge and gentle soap cleaner. For a deep clean, any household cleaner will do, but we suggest dish soap. However, using strong cleaners will remove the oil from the stone and may require the stone to be re-oiled more frequently. We do strongly advise against using any harsh abrasive to clean, such as a SOS pad or steel wool. Instead, simply use a sponge or cloth.