Soapstone Countertops

soapstone countersSoapstone has been used for centuries and in the past 10 years or so, it has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity. It is appropriate for both period and traditional interiors as well as contemporary. Soapstone is truly unique in the realm of natural stone. It is a metamorphic rock comprised primarily of mineral talc. It is softer than granite and scratches easily but it is also less brittle and the scratches will blend in as the stone wears. Part of the beauty of soapstone is the gently worn patina it acquires over the years. Small scratches can be sanded away and large gouges can be repaired by a professional stone service. It is inert to acids and alkalis and is so dense, it doesn’t stain like marble. Sealers are unnecessary.

Soapstone Characteristics

The only maintenance required is that you oil the stone with mineral oil. The oil darkens the stone and makes it uniformly dark in color. Soapstone is available in a very limited color range-dark gray/black. When looking at slab in a stone yard, they will usually wet the slab to give you a better indication of it’s color after oiling. In reality, the stone will be even darker with the oil application. Soapstone has a warmer look and feel than granite and it is not subject to damage from thermal shock like granite and the man-made quartz stones. You can place a hot pot directly on the soapstone with no fear of damage. It has been traditionally used for wood stoves, fire backs and hearths, so heat is not an issue.

Soapstone Installation

Soapstone slabs are usually 1 1/4” thick. The counter top edge detail that is best is square with a slightly eased edge. You can also have sinks fabricated from soapstone and have drain-board runnels cut into the stone. Soapstone seams beautifully, so the waste is minimal. Honed black granite and the black/charcoal man-made quartz stones imitate soapstone, but do not evoke the same aesthetic. Scratches are more evident and you get a limited warranty on the man-made materials in any honed finish. If you want the look of soapstone, there is no substitute for the real thing, scratches, dings and all. No counter top material is worry free. Consider your design preference and lifestyle and make the best choice for you.

The Dishwasher Blues (or Crusty Whites)

Have you been noticing your dishwasher isn’t performing as well as it once did? You are not alone. Due to the banning of phosphates in dishwashing detergent (except for commercial use) in an additional 17 states this past year, most detergent manufacturers have eliminated phosphates altogether. This, coupled with the EPA mandated guidelines for water restrictions on dishwashers, has resulted in crusty white build-up in the dishwashers, not so clean dishes and cloudy glassware.

We hope that the manufacturers will be able to improve on the currently available products, but until then here is some helpful info to improve the performance of your dishwasher. Consumer Reports has rated (out of 100 possible points) the following phosphate free products as the best available:

  • Finish Quantum (tablets) 78 rating,
  • Finish Powerball Tabs (tablets) 77 rating,
  • Cascade Complete All In One Action Pacs (pacs) 74 rating.

The highest rated powder was Cascade Complete All in 1 with a 53 rating. Previously, Cascade rated much higher in the “Excellent” category, but the changes have taken their toll.

In addition to using a recommended detergent, you should also do the following in order to protect the investment of your dishwasher and enhance its performance.

  • Use a rinse aid for better drying-Jet Dry or similar. Depending on how hard your water is, you will need to clean/descale the unit every 4-8 weeks.
  • You can use Jet Dry dishwasher cleaner, Lemi Shine cleaner or simply pour 1 cup of white vinegar in the bottom of an empty unit and run a regular cycle.
  • You can also use a tooth brush soaked in white vinegar to clean the nozzles on spray arms and any lift-out filters you may have. Check your manual.
  • If you need to eliminate any scale on your glassware, you can run a regular cycle (or a delicate cycle, depending on the glassware) using ascorbic acid (vitamin C powder) or Lemi Shine instead of soap. This will also help on the hard water deposits in the machine.
  • Lemi Shine is also effective, when added to the powdered detergent in a 50/50 ratio, in keeping your glassware clear.

Keeping your dishwasher clean, rinsing your dishes as best you can and keeping on top of the cloudy glassware should help the situation. So in conclusion, before you run out and buy a new dishwasher, try these remedies. Most likely, the issue is with the detergent, not the machine.

Kitchen Floors

The selection of Kitchen floor covering for our period homes is always a challenge-we want style and durability, as well as a floor that fits in with the architecture and period of our house. Many of our homes have the original wood floor-either Douglas fir or oak strip. If the wood is in good condition it can be repaired and refinished.

If you have an active household and worry about the upkeep of wood, linoleum is a good alternative for you. I am speaking of genuine linoleum, not vinyl flooring. Linoleum has been in use for over 100 years. It was originally patented in 1860. It is made from linseed oil, rosins (from pine trees) and wood flour, all of which are readily renewable natural resources, which are calendered onto a natural jute backing. Linoleum fell out of favor with the invention of vinyl flooring and no wax coatings for vinyl. Linoleum has gained popularity in the past 20+ years when the “green” building movement began. In recent years the product has been improved with the development of factory applied finishes, which eliminate the need for a surface finish application at the time of installation. It has inherently bactericidal properties, is anti-static and very resistant to many solvents and acids, including acetone, alcohol, paint thinner and citric acid. It’s easy to maintain, is repairable, is warm and comfortable to the touch as well as inherently resistant to fire.

In addition to all of these excellent qualities, linoleum is available in a wide range of colors and patterns and the design possibilities are endless. The material can be hand cut on the job by installers for borders and simple patterns or water jet cut for more intricate patterns. Seam weld rod can be used in matching or contrasting colors to add to the design. Any motif is possible. You can match a pattern in a tile or fabric or create a custom border pattern. The subtle marbling pattern of the material itself adds to the design and is a great camouflage for dust and dirt between cleanings. Maintenance involves sweeping on a regular basis to prevent damage from soil and grit and damp mopping with the recommended cleaner. Most manufacturers have a floor finish available for use in high traffic areas once the factory applied finish shows some wear (usually after 5-7 years) or if you prefer a high gloss finish. These products are “green” as well. So if you are considering a new Kitchen floor, take a look at “old school” linoleum. You may be pleasantly surprised.