For our kitchen counters we decided to use soapstone, from Canyon Soapstone. We chose soapstone for a number of reasons, the foremost being the health factor. Because soapstone is non-porous, it is very sanitary (germs cannot sink into the stone). It is also finished with a beeswax concoction that is non-toxic and all natural. Beyond that I really like the fact that it is inert (does not react to alkaline or acid) and that I can maintain it myself.
Soapstone can be left un-waxed. The photo above shows the counter after a month of no wax application. The colour variations and veining in the stone is much more visible, and it is very matte... almost "powdery" looking. The wax is for aesthetics only, the stone does not need protection. As the wax slowly wears off the stone lightens, and over time the stone will naturally develop a dark patina and regardless of waxing.
|applying the wax is just a simple rub on then buff with a rag|
|this is a good shot of how much the stone darkens when waxed|
And there is the counter after waxing! Dark, with a soft sheen. An upside for me to periodically wax my counters is that it forces me to move everything off and reorganize (and I do so love a chance to reorganize!)
The final reason we chose the soapstone is that we were able to use leftover slab pieces from other jobs. It made me feel a little better that a slab wasn't brought from South America just for us. Almost all stone slabs are imported from distant parts of the globe, and so the carbon footprint is high. There are a few stone options that are available closer to home (I posted about them here), but they did not have the health advantages of soapstone. Because we wanted to use leftover pieces of stones, we chose two different varieties of stone.. one called "Beleza" for the kitchen, and "Julia" for the bathroom.
The "Julia" stone is much lighter in look and has an overall spotty appearance. It does not retain the wax very long (I believe that is because it is a very hard soapstone), so I have been leaving it unwaxed. It is absolutely gorgeous, but does show water rings and drips that sit on the surface. All it takes is a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth to clean it right up.
I believe there are two schools of thought on home finishes... those who want materials that "hide" the dirt, and those that don't mind it showing. I suppose I fall into the second category, although let's be clear that it doesn't mean that the dirt doesn't bother me. I look at it this way.. if I can't see the dirt, then I don't know that it needs cleaned.. which means we are using it dirty (ick). So I would rather see the dirt, and clean it more often!
Our third and final countertop material is maple butcher block for the islands. Once again, it requires frequent oiling (this time with mineral oil). It's a darn good thing I don't mind oiling things. I actually find it satisfying to renew a surface with oil. A fresh start of sorts.
The butcher block is made with a non-toxic glue so it is food safe, but I don't actually use the surface for much prep. It is nice to have the option of wood for rolling pastry dough, and soapstone for prepping a chicken. The wood will stain, and that's OK with me. I like patina... when did we get so worried about our home showing evidence of how we live? I enjoy leaving my mark, and giving over the stress of "damaging" surfaces which are supposed to look perfect. That said, I still can't bring myself to chop directly on the counters. Maybe I'll get there one day, and maybe I won't.. at least I have the choice!