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What is Soapstone Tile?

Article Details
  • Written By: J.S. Metzker Erdemir
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Soapstone tile is made of a metamorphic rock called steatite. In homes, it is used for countertops, sinks, tubs, flooring, and garden pavers. It can also be used for wood stoves and fireplaces. Soapstone is often confused with talc, the soft stone used for carving that is commonly referred to as soapstone. Soapstone contains talc and other minerals, but it is extremely dense. Soapstone is softer than other stones commonly used in tiling, such as granite or marble, but it is hard enough to withstand regular use.

Though some varieties have a greenish tint, soapstone tile is almost always light or dark gray. Some is solidly colored while other types might have white or gray veins and resemble dark marble. The tiles have a matte finish. Soapstone's high density makes sealing unnecessary because it cannot hold liquids. The color of soapstone tile can be darkened with regular applications of oil, usually mineral oil. Mineral oil also helps to make the tiles more uniformly colored. Oiled soapstone is almost always black or dark gray.

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Although soapstone tile is relatively soft, it is quite durable. Working kitchens are often finished with soapstone tile, where it wears down over time and develops a patina in the places that are used most often. Soapstone is non-porous and chemically inert, which makes it impermeable to chemicals like acids or strong cleansers. It is also highly heat resistant, which protects it from burns from hot pans. Soapstone is commonly used on laboratory tabletops and in industrial settings where acid is used because of its stain and heat resistance.

Soapstone tile scratches easily with regular use. Much of the damage from fine scratches can be hidden with regular oiling, and deeper scratches can usually be sanded off. While stains from cooking oil, food, and people's skin may show on soapstone tiles, the stains can be covered up by oiling the surface. After soapstone has been oiled regularly for about a year, it stays dark for long periods of time and requires very little maintenance.

Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are often made with soapstone tile because heat does not cause it to crack or degrade over time. Soapstone also retains heat and radiates it evenly for several hours after the fire has gone out, reducing the amount of wood needed to heat the stove. Slabs of soapstone are often used to make cooking surfaces on the tops of wood-burning stoves because the stone evens out the heat.

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