Review: Soapstone versus Granite and Quartz

As the granite countertop trend continues to slowly ebb in high-end homes, other alternatives are starting to pick up in popularity. The National Kitchen & Bath Association recently conducted its 2010 survey of designers and found that although granite was still the number one choice for new countertops, quartz was closing the gap.

soapstone countertopWhile granite and quartz are the overwhelming choice for most homeowners, we just completed a kitchen remodel in Vancouver, WA where we installed soapstone countertops in the kitchen. The homeowners, Jim and Liz Luce, loved the understated look of the material in contrast to the flashier polished granite and quartz. We thought we’d take our recent experience and compare soapstone with the other two familiar products:

Granite
Granite has been popular for many years because of the wide variety of styles that can be found and because it has depth and when polished has a lot of sparkle from crystals embedded in the stone. Although these “inclusions” are the bane of good diamonds, they give polished granite depth, interest, and a randomness that can be hard to replicate in man-made materials. But these inclusions also give granite it’s main weakness: it’s porous, which means it needs to be maintained regularly and can harbor bacteria. I have it in my home and do not maintain it according to the “recommended rules”. I don’t seal it, I use Windex to clean it (which is a no-no), and I don’t worry about it. I have a family with kids, so I’m not going to lose sleep over maintaining my granite countertops!

Quartz
In the meantime, quartz countertops are engineered from natural quartz crystals that are joined using a resin and then formed into slabs by the manufacturers. This means that unlike granite, quartz is not porous. But it also means it can’t take the same heat as granite, so you will need to keep the hottest pots and pans on trivets. The engineering process also means that quartz can be chosen in specific colors, giving designers more control over the finished look. This is a material that can withstand neglect.

Soapstone
Soapstone is coming back into popularity. It was used as an old-world building material and often found in older American homes. It features a matte finish and is really only available in dark grey. It’s very durable, not particularly absorbent and stains stay on the surface of the stone and can be scrubbed off. In fact, according to this site, it can be completely refinished to look new, even after 100 years of use. Another option is to oil the soapstone. This will provide a darker look, but will require a little work at least in the early years of your counter. Owners also tend to love it or hate it after living with it for a few years because it gets darker and develops a patina after a lot of use.

Here are some things to consider:


Granite Quartz Soapstone
General Cost (not including installation) $70-$100 per sq. ft. $70-$100 per sq ft. $70-$100 per sq ft.
Choices Many natural and random colors and styles. Many colors, fewer random patters than granite. Most often found in dark grey, with light gray veins.
Installation Can be expensive to install in slab form, brittle, and can break during installation. Pre-determined slab sizes can lead to more seams in installation. Easier to install than granite. About the same installation difficulty as granite.
Care Mild soap and water only, NO abrasives, reseal every 6 months to a year. No sealing, soap and water or glass cleaner Seal with mineral oil regularly, and let a patina develop over time. Can be cleaned with household cleaners.
Durability/use Since it’s porous, granite can harbor bacteria. Extremely hard. It can chip and stain, but it is scratch resistant. Hot pots and pans can be placed directly on the surface. Very hard and durable, not prone to staining or scratching. Not as heat resistant as granite. VERY difficult to repair. Feels soft to the touch but is very durable. Scratches easily but also easy to repair. Resistant to acids and alkalies. Absorbs heat – hot pans can be placed on it. Gets darker in color as it ages and oxidizes.
Longevity* Personally, I like granite but think it suffers from overuse. Some styles, if maintained, will stand the test of time while others, such as some solids and granite tiles, will date many high-end homes built during this era.  But it is my favorite for easy care and daily use. Since it is an engineered product, I think quartz will have its moment in the kitchen then go the way of the Dodo.  But if you have your heart set on a particular color – it may be your best bet. Because of its limited colors, won’t see very wide use and therefore is a good choice for a timeless look. Its use in early American history also helps. I love the oiled soapstone, but don’t know that I would like the labor involved. Many people love it or hate it when it develops a patina. Finally, it’s rough finish can, over the years, scratch your glasses, dishes and pans.

* Remember, this is just my opinion.

Which to choose
Each of these materials costs about the same per square foot and have similar installation costs. Each brings something different to the countertop party. If you like the randomness and variety of natural stone and don’t mind occasional maintenance, granite is a great option. If you want a low-maintenance countertop that has consistent coloration and can be chosen quite precisely to match other colors in your design, choose quartz. If you want something old-world yet unique in modern construction, like the color, and don’t mind its maintenance or tendency to change in shade over time, then soapstone will be a great option.

18 Comment(s)

  1. I know that this is an older blog…but, these figures are not accurate..and it isnt extremely difficult to install Granite. It is just best left to the professionals. Granite starts at 28.00 per sq.ft for some materials..and the most common prices are around 35-40 per sq.ft. Soapstone would be around the 70-100 per sq.ft But, all of these prices include installation.

    april | Feb 15, 2011 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the update, we’ll have to check with our local suppliers again and see where prices are locally.

    admin | Feb 24, 2011 | Reply

  3. Yeah, this article is probably very out of date. Granite is not hard at all to install, its something left for the experts. My company deals with granite and soapstone countertops and we find that a lot of people who we install furniture for had difficulty installing it themselves. I guess it is better to find the professionals instead of doing it yourself. Also, I feel that soapstone has really returned as the dominant choice for kitchen furniture.

    Garden State Soapstone | Aug 17, 2011 | Reply

  4. We just had soapstone installed in our place and I hate it. I didn’t realize how frequently we would have to oil it to make it look nice. Also the oil will get all over everything ie your food and hands. There is another waxer/sealer on the market but that stuff will leave rings from glasses and water marks whenever water sits on it. Really wish we opted for quartz or granite. Also it can chip easily and when it does there is nothing that you’ll be able to fill it with that will change color the same way – the fill will either be too dark or light compared to the counter.

    Don | May 23, 2012 | Reply

  5. I put soapstone in a 1910 renovation. It’s perfect! Care is not at al difficult. Mineral oil once a month in the first year, once every three months in the second year, once every six months in the third year, and now just once a year. The patina is gorgeous and the simple-but-elegant look is exactly what this detailed renovation needed. It’s been 5years now, and I couldn’t be happier with it. The cost, by the way, was exactly the cost of quartz and granite, but none of them were as expensive as your site quotes in the central Ohio area.

    Gill | Aug 4, 2012 | Reply

  6. We have a naturally darker soapstone and chose not to oil it. It’s not necessary and for looks only anyway. We love the look and feel of it. The veining is beautiful!

    Rosie | Nov 30, 2012 | Reply

  7. Lol, what.

    No Comments | Sep 15, 2013 | Reply

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4 Trackback(s)

  1. Jun 30, 2010: from Can Cheap Granite Countertops Help You Sell Your Home? | Fazzolari Custom Homes & Renovations
  2. Nov 16, 2010: from Builders in Washington Compare Soapstone to Quartz | EcoFabrication
  3. Jul 15, 2011: from Review: Concrete Countertops vs. Granite and Quartz | Fazzolari Custom Homes & Renovations
  4. Feb 26, 2013: from How Much Does Soapstone Cost? | HowMuchIsIt.org

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