Soapstone and bluestone make durable countertops that complement rustic, traditional and elegant decors. Soapstone is composed of talc and assorted minerals that determine its hardness. Bluestone is a general term used to describe different varieties of sandstone. The most common color examples of both naturally lean toward cool grays. Whether you choose soapstone or bluestone for your counters, you will likely be pleased with the results. There is no clear winner when comparing the two, as both have benefits and drawbacks.
Soapstone has a smooth, waxy feel that resists stains and moisture better than bluestone. It is most commonly gray or bluish-gray, and sometimes features large, white veins. New soapstone has a pale, chalky appearance before it is oiled.
Bluestone is harder and more porous than soapstone. Tiles and pavers used for interior flooring and patios are rough, but slabs can be honed or sanded to smooth the texture, making it as flat as a soapstone countertop. The most common colors are blue-gray and gray-green, but it is sometimes mottled with dramatic, contrasting shades of rust, red and pinkish-brown. Some bluestone also contains mica, which gives a metallic-looking shine.
Soapstone doesn't require a chemical sealer. Buff the countertop with mineral oil monthly, or as often as you like. Oil darkens the stone in a dramatic fashion and gives it a moderate sheen. Abrasive cleansers won't harm soapstone, but they can remove the oil. After a year or two of regular use and oiling, the stone achieves a type of seasoning or patina and requires little or no oiling.
Bluestone requires a penetrating sealer to guard against stains. Since kitchen and bathroom countertops are cleaned often, the sealer may become compromised over time. You should reapply the sealer as often as the countertop or sealer manufacturer recommends, but don't work toward a thick sealer buildup, which can turn white. Sealer applications vary based on how often and aggressively you clean the counter. Some bluestone sealers are made for floors and may not be food-safe, so only use a sealer that's labeled for countertops.
Because soapstone is inert, acids, such as vinegar, and alkalis, such as ammonia, won't harm it. It also resists high heat and stains, but isn't impervious to damage. Scratches turn white due to the stone's high talc content. Unless a scratch is deep, rubbing it with oil disguises it and blends the color with the surrounding area. Sanding or grinding is necessary to remove deep scratches, which are then oiled. If a hard object hits the soapstone, the countertop can bruise. This is akin to being crushed. Grinding or sanding removes the bruised area, which is then oiled. If an edge or section breaks, two-part epoxy and a clamp can put the pieces back together.
Sealers aren't perfect, so even sealed bluestone may absorb spilled drinks and oils if the liquids sit for long periods. Blot spills instead of rubbing them to prevent stains from penetrating deeper. If a stain finds its way through the sealer, sanding or buffing may remove enough stone to lift the stain. Bluestone resists scratches better than soapstone, but it can chip or break. As with soapstone, use epoxy to repair it. If bluestone cracks over a large area, the countertop is not necessarily ruined. A trained repairer can remove some material from the crack, fill it with a matching compound and repair the damage almost invisibly.
Soapstone and bluestone are similarly expensive, as are most natural stones. Seamless slab countertops can cost as much as $250 per linear foot, depending on the depth of the countertop and design complexity. If your heart is set on stone but the cost is out of your budget, consider tiles. Usually 12 inches square and much thinner than a solid-slab countertop, soapstone and bluestone tiles are installed like most others. The appearance isn't seamless, but the savings is dramatic.