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Serpentine vs Soapstone

Both of the stones we will consider in this article are of a green hue. Each having distinctive traits and properties that make it unique from, not only the other one, but from others stone materials altogether. And even though both are green in color, that is not to say that either of them is "green with envy". For each of these materials, both of which are natural rock, has characteristics that warrant consideration for use in specific applications. In this article, we will take a look at the match up of serpentine vs soapstone. As we do, we will consider an overview of each stone and then see how they not only compare with one another, but also the uses and applications of each.

Serpentine Summary

The name of the first stone in our comparison is one that evokes thoughts of reptiles or perhaps snakes. That's understandable, the word serpent is right there in the name. The green tone of this natural stone material is due to the minerals of which it is composed. You see, even though this stone is commonly called "serpentine", the actual name of it is serpentinite. You will also hear this stone referred to as, "green marble". However, serpentine is not calcareous. The group from which the minerals come that make up this stone is called the serpentine group. This is because of the fact that they are green in color. So it stands to reason that the stone would thus be green as well. For more details on this particular stone, check out our natural serpentine page.

Serpentine can be composed of various combinations of those minerals mentioned above, so its appearance will vary somewhat. Since the minerals that make up the serpentine group differ in their hardness, serpentine stone will also vary in hardness as well. Because of this, you will often see or hear the statement, "this is a hard serpentine". The color variance is also due to the fact that each stone will have a blend of minerals that determine the specific shade of green the stone will be. Regarding the appearance of serpentine, The California Department of Conservation says the following about California's state rock:

Serpentine rock is apple-green to black and is often mottled with light and dark colored areas. Its surfaces often have a shiny or wax-like appearance and a slightly soapy feel. Serpentine is usually fine-grained and compact but may be granular, platy, or fibrous in appearance.

Yes, serpentine's appearance distinugishes it form other materials. And its composition offer benefits that make it great for specific applications; which we will get to in just a bit.

Soapstone Synopsis

Our second material in this match up of serpentine vs. soapstone is a material that perhaps you haven't heard of before. Or, if you have become acquainted with it, it was through your study of chemistry or by working in a laboratory of some sort. Soapstone too is green in color and it, like its counterpart in this match up, has specific characteristics.

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock that is considered to be very soft compared to other stone. Its primary mineral is talc and that substance resides at the lowest place on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. But just because it is softer than most other stone it does not mean that it is without its benefits. Like the other stone in our discussion, soapstone has a greenish hue to it. It is often a greenish gray in color and varies in shade. Due to its softness, soapstone is compatible with blades designed to cut soft stone such as diamond blades for sutting marble. There are good reasons to consider using the proper blade for cutting any stone. We won't go into the specifics in this article, but you can read about them in our article entitled: The Basics of Diamond Blades under the subheading "Selecting the Right Diamond Blade".

Characteristics of Serpentine

So, what are the traits of a serpentine stone? We already touch on some of them to a certain degree in our summarization, but let's discuss a few important points briefly here. First, in the commercial aspect, the name of any given stone won't necessarily line up with the scientific requirments needed for a stone to qualify to be the material it is labeled as. So, just know that even though we are discussing materials from the technical aspect, there will be naming differences if you are looking at commercial stone.

Seprentine's Hardness

In the green corner, serpentine. As we alluded to earlier, the hardness of serpentine will vary. Some serpentine slabs will be harder than others. This is important when considering it for a specific application. Why is that the case? Well, the hardness of a surface determines how easily it can be scratched. Many of the minerals in true serpentine are hard and therefore, many natural serpentine surfaces are nearly as hard as granite, although they can be softer depending on the mineral mix in a given stone.

Porosity of Serpentine

A stone's porosity is also important to keep in mind when deciding on how the material will be used. Porosity is basically the degree to which a material will absorb liquids. In the case of stone surfaces, liquids can penetrate the pores of a stone and cause it to stain. This is not something that the majority of people desire. Because of this, it is good to know just how absorbent a given stone is.

True Serpentine is Not Marble

Sometimes in the commercial stone industry, serpentines are grouped with marble; even called "hard marbles" but the reality is that they do not meet the requirements necessary for them to be a true scientific marble. We won't delve into why in that is the case in this article, but there are good reasons to know the difference. One big reason you should know how to tell the difference between serpentine and marble is that marble reacts with acid and true serpentine does not. This reaction with acid is known as etching and it discolors finished stone in such away that it looks like a stain. The reality though is that an etch is a an inconsistency in the stone's surface that discolors it.

Testing the Stone Reveals its Properties

All of this variety may seem overwhelming. It could cause one to think, "How am I going inform my customers about the beneifts of serpentine of there is not regularity in the properties?" That is a good question. As a general rule, there three practical stone tests that are easy to do and will reveal the hardness, the porosity, and whether the materials is "etchable". These stone tests are user friendly and are not complicated. Knowing how to perform each of those tests will enable you to instill in your clients the confidence many want in a particular stone for which they are shelling out thousands of dollars.

Soapstone's Traits

In the other green corner, soapstone. Natural soapstone is a peculiar animal when considering natural stone. Simply put, is unlike virtually every other stone. Granted, each stone is completely unique. However, as we consider the properties of soapstone, you are going to see that it really stands out from the stone crowd in practical ways.

The Hardness (Or Lack Thereof) of Soapstone

As we mentioned earlier, soapstone is soft. its main mineral is talc. Talc measures a 1 on the Mohs scale of hardness. In fact some soapstone is so soft that it can be scratched with a fingernail. Since natural stone is a composite material, there are other minerals in soapstone that contribute to its hardness. As a result, there are soapstone slabs that are around 3 in hardness. But that is still pretty soft compared with other materials. Softer stone scratches easier than harder stone. On the other hand though, soapstone is less likely to chip because it is not as brittle as harder stone.

Soapstone's Porosity

Now we have come to one of the biggest differences betwen soapstone and virtually every other natural stone; porosity. Soapstone is non-porous. It does not absorb liquids. That means, you need not worry about it getting stained by absorbing liquids. Liquids stay on the surface of a soapstone slab. So cleanup is realtively easy.

Chemical Reactivity

Soapstone has one other characteristic, trait, or property, whichever term you want to use that distinguishes it from other stone. It is chemically inert. Thus, it doesn't react with chemicals. In the introduction of this article we said that soapstone is commonly found in laboratories. This is one of the reasons why; it stays out of the way of the chemicals being used. This makes it a sensible option for use in environments where chemicals (particularly liquid chemicals) are used.

Soapstone and Serpentine Compared

With the groundwork laid for each of these materials, we can now make our comparisons. As you may have already concluded, serpentine is harder than soapstone so it will be more scratch-resistant. When soapstone does scratch, the scratch is usually a lighter color. A scratch is easily concealed simply by applying mineral oil to surface. And because soapstone is so soft, smoothing out a spot is very easy to do with some very light sanding. Additionally, harder stone is chipped more easily than softer ones. Still, the harder the stone, the more resistant to scratching it is.

In the area of porosity, it is easy to see that soapstone is less absorbent than any serpentine slab will be. And because of this it might be tempting to conclude that soapstone is a "winner" when it comes to staining. (As we mentioned earlier, absorbency it directly related to stains.) However, by applying a high quality stone sealer to a serpentine slab, you can make the stone resistant to water-based and oil-based liquids. And since serpentine is not calcareous, you won't have to worry about it etching. So, we could hardly declare soapstone an outright winner in the area of porosity.

Care and maintenance comparisons for these two stones are pretty equal when you look at it from the standpoint of what needs to be done to care for them. Each of the two responds well to pH neutral cleaners for natural stone so it is easy to clean them. You simply use a daily cleaner for natural stone such as Lustro Italiano Natural Stone Cleaner

Serpentine and Soapstone Similarities

The similarities between serpentine and soapstone include a couple of basic ones. First, they both have color limitations. That is, they are pretty much only available in shades of green. Second, they are both used for countertops, worktops, etc. But that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Differences Between Soapstone and Serpentine

Looking at the differences between these two stones, it is easy to see that they are not the same. Here is a chart summarizing the differences between serpentine and soapstone.

As we have discussed in this article, serpentine and soapstone are two natural stones that are unique from one another. Each has its own properties, strengths, and weaknesses. Yet, with the proper care and maintenance either one can be utilized for a beneficial purpose.

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