Soapstone is born, deep in the earth, where one tectonic plate slides under another. There the rock is subject to heat and pressure in the presence of fluids. This causes chemical change to occur but – oddly enough – without melting. It changes but it changes in subtle ways. Even though it is soft, for stone anyway, it is non-porous and very durable. Another plus is that it’s chemically inert. That means it won’t stain. And soapstone stands up to heat as well.
Soapstone has been called enigmatic by some. For example, soapstone is soft. It is easy to cut and shape but, when used as flooring or countertops, it can stand up for decades or even longer. Soft? Yes. But at the same time it is remarkably durable. In color it tends towards the light greys or blues. But when treated with oil or wax it darkens noticably and the veins and swirls will stand out.
Soapstone countertops have a lot going for them. First of all, they come with the beauty of natural stone. Some people like to apply a thin coating of mineral oil for the rich look it brings out. Other people prefer the natural patina that develops over time. Soapstone is naturally anti-bacterial because it is so non-porous. Soapstone can also stand up to hot items from the stove. And it won’t stain either. Most stains just wipe right up. At worst, they may need a little scouring. Other than that, routine cleanup is fast and simple.
On the minus side it is soft. You should always use a cutting board to avoid scratches. However, even if it does get scratched all is not lost. Small minor scratches can disappear by applying a little mineral oil. Bigger ones can actually be sanded out. Call it the plus side of soft stone.
Soapstone has been used from ancient times. It was used extensively in the American colonies. In many ways it is quite literally old world and even rustic. At the same time it is used today by cutting edge designers and architects. Old world and up to date at the same time. The enigma continues.