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Care & feeding of soapstone countertops


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 05:37 PM

I'm new to the world of soapstone (steatite) countertops and could use some advice on cleaning and caring for them. Does mineral oil really help? Is Windex good? Please tell all.

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#2 andiesenji

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 05:50 PM

You can use mineral oil - it takes repeated applications over a period of many weeks with rubbing the mineral oil onto the slab with a soft towel.

or

We had soapstone in the lab at work for many years and it was treated with beeswax and was a lot of work (done by the installer) but when it was done it only needed wiping with a disinfectant and a bit of buffing with a soft cloth.

The beeswax was melted and spread thinly on the counter and buffed with a thick sheepskin buffing pad (electric buffer).

Water beads up on the surface and up until the time I retired in the spring of 2007, there had been no staining since the counter was installed in 1985.
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#3 daves

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 07:55 PM

We love our soapstone. Soapstone ranges from fairly hard to fairly soft. Depending on the hardness, you might end up with surface scratches from pulling an unglazed pottery bowl across it, or you might chip it/put a small dent it in from dropping metal or glass onto it. You'll end up with some patina from constant use, but when we got it, we expected that in our well-used kitchen.

Cleaning: depending on what was on the counter top, we'll used everything from a wet cloth to a soapy sponge to a clorox wipe. This stuff was used for lab counters and is really inert. Acids/bases will not harm it, nor will anything soak into the stone itself. We don't cut on it, but we do almost everything else to it: we work dough, put hot pots from the stove onto it etc.

There is a natural darkening over time and use, and you can accelerate it greatly using mineral oil. We like the darker color (ours is very dark green with lots of white veining) so we oil. Started out with once per week for the first month, and now 9 months later we probably do it every 6w or so. The darker oxidized surface does lead to water beading.

If you do some surface damage that you want to remove, or you end up coloring the oxidation layer, then pull out some 200-400 grit sandpaper and use some elbow grease. Then follow up with mineral oil to darken the new light section...

#4 minas6907

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Posted 29 April 2011 - 10:09 PM

Acids/bases will not harm it, nor will anything soak into the stone itself.

There is a natural darkening over time and use, and you can accelerate it greatly using mineral oil.

If you do some surface damage that you want to remove, or you end up coloring the oxidation layer, then pull out some 200-400 grit sandpaper and use some elbow grease. Then follow up with mineral oil to darken the new light section...


Hi guys, I just happen to restore stone counters/floors/other surfaces for a living. That is true that the soap stone wont etch, but not so to say that nothing will soak into it. The 'natural darkening' is basically an even staining of the stone over time, if nothing could soak into it, it wouldn't get darker. Its accelerated with mineral oil because the mineral oil is soaking into the stone, its acting like a sealer, but having mineral oil soak into the stone is basically pre-staining it, thus the reason it why darkens, and makes it more resistant to other stains, because it already has been stained.

I also would be cautious about touching it with sandpaper unless you absolutely know what your doing. I repair too many counter tops because the home owner thinks they can refinish their stone top by themselves, which sometimes they may be able to, depending on the size, but most times you need very specific tools. The sandpaper thing on the soapstone could work very well sometimes depending on the location of the piece of stone, if its near a window where light shines directly on it, I know I'd be able to point out the treated area, it wouldn't have the same finish, I'd be able to point out the swirl marks from the sandpaper. Of course it would help hide them by applying the oil, but in direct sunlight you'd see some swirls. The only way you wouldn't see them is if you refinished the entire piece with a hand polisher, using sandpaper by hand wont leave it with very consistent results.

Also, dont apply beeswax to your kitchen counter, you will regret it. It will wear over time, again, I've seen it too many times, its ugly.

#5 Mjx

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Posted 30 April 2011 - 01:24 AM

I use a cream made of beeswax melted into oil on virtually every natural surface (leather and wood, as well as stone), and works amazingly well. Food-grade mineral oil is the most versatile (safe, and doesn't oxidize to a darker colour), but I've used almond oil, too.

I use a bain Marie setup to melt the two together. I fill a jar nearly to the neck with the oil, add about 160g beeswax/L [5.6 oz/quart] mineral oil (120g [4.2 oz], if you're using almond oil, or it's too hard to be spreadable), and heat it until the wax has melted. Put on the lid, and shake it vigorously every now and again (to keep it form separating) until it's cooled.
This is easier to make in small jars (about the size of a Marmite jar).

This stuff is nicely spreadable, protects extremely well, doesn't seem to build up, and smells delicious. It's also good for protecting your hands, and I use it to fix them up a bit, when they're chapped as hell from having my hands in water/cleaning chemicals a lot.

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#6 rgruby

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Posted 30 April 2011 - 10:46 AM

I was told to rub mine with mineral oil, let it sit overnight, then wipe off. Do this every other day for the first bit then stretch it out longer between applications etc. Ours are coming up on five years old, and I just reapplied about a month ago. I find the areas around the sinks tend to fade fairly quickly, still. I suppose I could do them more often, but I can't be bothered.

You don't need to apply mineral oil - it's purely for looks. Try it on a little section and see if you like it. If not, you've saved yourself some effort and it will fade in a matter of days/ weeks.

I also am skeptical that leaving it overnight does anything. The stuff is not supposed to be permeable, so leaving it shouldn't make any difference.

Stuff will stain it it a bit. Red wine, coffee. Perhaps I need to be a bit more fastidious with my cleaning regimen.

Buy your mineral oil at the phamacist (in the stomach remedies section around here). Much cheaper than the kitchen shop and it's the same stuff.

Other than that, wipe them down with soap and water once in a while.

How soft are yours. Mine are quite soft - a fingernail will dent them. Opening a wine bottle leaves a little ring (remains visible for a day or three then seems to fade on its own). The area around the sinks gets scuffed up. So, I do tend to baby mine a bit. I'm careful about putting groceries and pots down hard, for example.

Cheers,
Geoff

#7 Fat Guy

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Posted 30 April 2011 - 08:19 PM

How do I measure softness? They seem very hard to me but what do I know?

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#8 minas6907

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Posted 30 April 2011 - 08:58 PM

You'd measure softness by basically scratching the material in an inconspicuous area, like the backslash in a corner. Use a piece of metal, like a razor blade, but regardless, I'd be very surprised if it didn't scratch. Basically, I wouldn't worry about the softness of the stone, you'd treat all soapstone's in basically the same way.

#9 Mjx

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Posted 30 April 2011 - 11:38 PM

If you want a more precise idea of hardness, there's the Moh's Scale. There may be products/handling guidelines that are specially intended for softer and harder stone

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#10 minas6907

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 08:21 AM

Or if you want to go really crazy you can get a Mohs hardness pick set.

http://www.amateurge...s-pick-set.html

The scratch tests are used (at least in my field) to distinguish different types of stone. Soap stones will fall into the same basic level of hardness, while some will be harder and some softer, they are still all soap stone, and have the same basic level of hardness. Assuming your counter is already set, I wouldn't sweat anything at all, use the mineral oil, and be happy you dont have a marble top in your kitchen.

#11 Darienne

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 08:46 AM

So interesting about soap stone...and I wonder if it includes marble and other stones which are carved. When I went for one year to art school, we carved soapstone and I recall the instructor saying that when soapstone is newly mined, it is much softer than after some exposure to the air. It wasn't quite like butter, but it was so easy to carve the unexposed surfaces.

So your soapstone counters would have already been cut and exposed to the air to harden before installation, I guess. (But I really have no idea.)
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#12 rgruby

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Posted 01 May 2011 - 09:37 AM

So interesting about soap stone...and I wonder if it includes marble and other stones which are carved. When I went for one year to art school, we carved soapstone and I recall the instructor saying that when soapstone is newly mined, it is much softer than after some exposure to the air. It wasn't quite like butter, but it was so easy to carve the unexposed surfaces.

So your soapstone counters would have already been cut and exposed to the air to harden before installation, I guess. (But I really have no idea.)


I think the soapstones used for carving are quite a bit softer than what would be used for a kitchen counter.

But yeah, the softness of your counter is what it is. Yours may or may not scratch with fingernail pressure. But it will definitely get scratched. Minor scratches will "disappear" with a coating of mineral oil.

Cheers,
Geoff

#13 daves

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Posted 02 May 2011 - 09:27 PM

While looking for our slabs for our kitchen, we looked at about a dozen different types of soapstone. Most were scratchable with my thumbnail, which I thought too soft for putting up with 2 growing kids. Luckily for us, the one we eventually picked was considerably harder and had a lot of interesting veins running through it.

But I think there is a constant with soapstone: if you use your kitchen and especially if you have kids, it will develop a patina. The stone vendor we bought from showed us some amazing repair they are able to do if there is anything major (like a big chip out of a corner). Anything smaller just blends after a while, esp if you are oiling.

On oiling: it *is* optional and not needed to care for the stone. The stone will turn a pale gray/white without oiling. And then it'll turn dark when it gets wet with water (short term) or oil/fat (longer term), say from rolling out a pie shell. The oiling does help maintain a single color throughout the countertops.

One thing that worked out well for us was to get a sample of our stone. I think we got a 6" square piece that we then abused with a nail, hit with the bottom of a wine bottle, tried to stain with red wine, etc. Then we oil it to see how well it would hide the new patina (and then, contrary to the advice above, but consistent with our stone vendor, we hit it with sandpaper to get the scratches out)...

#14 Fat Guy

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Posted 13 September 2011 - 12:17 PM

Going on about 5 months with the new soapstone countertops. They're starting to darken a little (without me doing anything) and are getting less sensitive to every drop of water etc. I'm liking them.

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