how can I tell if something is soapstone?

buffettgirlJanuary 14, 2008

Here I am in the thick of kitchen renovations, an I've come to be on very familiar terms with my basement sinks. We've lived here since 1994 and I've never given so much as a passing glance at these sinks other than to make sure the washing machine is draining properly. They're circa 1952ish. They're very large, very dirty, very hard rock like, and very black (if i look under 50+ years of splattered paint) Someone painted the outsides a lovely green color. The same sinks are at my mom's house and my grandmother's house, all same neighborhood, all roughly the same age (though in better condition, so I know that they are a greyish color) so I'm assuming all the same materials were used in that period.

but as I was standing there washing dishes tonight I wondered what exactly are my big double sinks made out of. Could they possible be soapstone? And how could I tell for sure?

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It really depends on your sink. We have a big double too but it is made out of concrete. We want to downsize to a single at some point to be able to make a laundry area and fit the washer/dryer in. I was looking at soapstone laundry sinks but they are $$$.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 9:55PM
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buffettgirl, post a pic I'll let you know. Also compare them to the soapstone sinks that are on ebay. Most times you can find one or two on ebay that are for sale. Alot of these sinks are concrete as mentioned before. Also where you are located and how rich or poor the owners of the house when the sink was installed all take part in if they had soapsotne put in as a laundry tub. Another thing that soapstone sinks often have is a plate stateing the name and date on them, almost like a coin.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 10:23PM
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will do - but it's so covered with junk (50+ years of never being cleaned) I'm not sure I could find a plate. But I will take a picture and we'll see if we can tell. I'm also on a first name basis with every spider in my basement too, so I'm sure they won't mind. lol.

The reason I don't think it's concrete is that I can scratch it.

I'm wondering if it was a common thing back then.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:01AM
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1952 would be very late for soapstone laundry sinks. All the ones I've seen are at least 50 years older than that. If they are soapstone they will be made up of slabs so the inside corners will be square. If they look like they are all one piece with rounded inside corners they are most likely concrete. Some concrete scratches fairly easily. A concrete picnic table in a park near us is covered with 50+ years of names and hearts and such things.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 2:05PM
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Well ladies and is the ugly beast:

So after reading Joshua's suggestion to look for a plate I figured, what the heck, I'd give it a quick glance and see if anything jumped out at me (other than spiders). So I bent down and saw something I had never noticed before, front and center:

OMG I HAVE SOAPSTONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
it looks like it says Phoenix Soapstone Company and faintly underneath it looks like New York. The middle looks like it says Trade CROWN Mark. We're in MA. I haven't yet googled to find out any info. The owners built this house by hand. They were modest people. 90% of the lumber they used was all free stuff and reused from old factories, so I wonder if they got this free too? I'm going to check my mom's tomorrow to see if its the same.

Now the big question - my laundry days would be so much happier if I could go into my basement and see soapstone sink looking halfway decent. Can this thing possible be saved? The house was built in 1952 and it looks like that much wear and tear and nastiness built up on it. Whaddaya think????

In the end, just knowing it's there makes me giddy.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 6:37PM
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That is soooooo COOL!!!!!!!!! You have got to research that some more. Maybe try the AZ historical society.

When I was young, my grandmother had a similar sink in her cottage laundry area. She would bath me in it after a long day in the summer sun and way more dirt between my toes than my mom would have cared to see. I remember how cool to the touch the stone was and the well water she was on made it even more refreshing. I so wish I had that sink!

Diana, gettin' giddy right along with ya' : )

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 6:54PM
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I just went down to my nasty basement to look at it again. I want to know how the hell to clean it.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 7:04PM
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I am so addicted to this forum it's ridiculous! Threads like this keep me coming back and back and back....


    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 7:22PM
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I feel like those people on Antiques Roadshow who discover a wild find in their attic!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 7:33PM
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Wow! Wow! Wow! That is WAY cool. It's amazing what can be right under our noses! Wonder what kind of soapstone the Phoenix Co. used? Keep us posted!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 8:43PM
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I can't find anything on it. It's killing me. Tomorrow I google deeper. lol. All I can find is phoenix soapstone stoves.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 8:47PM
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buffetgirl - this is exciting! The minute I set eyes on it, I recognized it because I grew up in a house with a gray soapstone laundry sink in the basement. That house was built in 1926 and I am betting that your sink came from somewhere else and is way older than 1952. Check e-bay. I would also think you could remove the paint without damaging the sink at all. How cool! A real antique!!!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:03PM
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You might find more experienced opinions at the old house forum:

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:04PM
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OMG buffettgirl, I HAVE A SOAPSTONE SINK TOO!! After seeing the picture of your sink I realized I have a very similar sink in my 100 year old basement. I just ran down to examine it for the first time and it too is painted on the front. Lo and behold, I found a round plate on the front but I could not read it because of the coated on paint. I got a screwdriver and chipped the paint away. I was able to read "Alberene Stone" I googled it and found the link below.

I want to oil it to see how it looks!! Where can I get some mineral oil fast??

Here is a link that might be useful: Alberene Stone Co.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:11PM
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Peel-away stripper should take the green right off. No type of stripper is going to harm the SS, so have at!
You can then use silicon carbide sandpaper to refresh the surface, get rid of traces of paint and schmutz.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:13PM
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That is so cool. Take more pictures! I know it's dirty, but what does the inside look like? Since soapstone is so resilient and enduring, I'm betting there is some way to restore it. If you could get that gorgeous green paint off, you would oil it! :)

I'm amazed at the things people paint over or cover up and someone else comes along and restores. I always wonder what possessed them. Discovering walled up fireplaces, quartersawn oak floors covered with atrocious carpet, but yours takes the cake. A soapstone sink "hidden" in your very own basement. Beautiful!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:15PM
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That is WAY too cool!! How exciting to stumble upon a treasure like that right under your nose!

I think it will be relatively easy to restore this sink. Just think of all the posts you've read about how easy it is to get messes off soapstone counters. You are going to have one gorgeous masterpiece in your basement soon!

And, donna--aren't you glad you're on this forum? Who knows how long you would have gone without noticing your treasure? Again...way cool! :)

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 9:28PM
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Buffettgirl and Donna!!! WOW!!

HEY! I have an ugly old sink in my basement too!!!!!!! I'm gonna go check it.....

Here it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, shoot. Not soapstone. Oh well.....

But congratulations to you both!!!!!


    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 10:59PM
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francy, you're killing me!

Donna - OMG! YAY for us both. alberene is the only company I could find any info about and they're still in business I guess.

for everyone else, the inside of the sink isn't painted, only the outside. The inside just has years of cellar abuse (washed paint brushes, car parts cleaned, etc etc etc) but still looks black/grey. The backspash where the faucets are is also solid soapstone too!

someone asked about mineral oil = you can buy it at any grocery store or pharamacy in with the laxatives lol. I kid you not. I have some on hand because I oil my cutting boards regularly. So I know where to find it *wink*
But I think I'll try paint thinner and that sort of thing first and a good sanding and then the oil.

This is pretty exciting. I can't believe it. I really really can't.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 7:41AM
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What a find!! We just bought a SS sink, without the back piece, and it cost a bundle. To think you had one and didn't know it!

I was wondering if you might replace it with a plastic mop sink (like most of us have!)and do something different with it. But then just think how much more enjoyable laundry time will be if you clean it up and get to see it every time you're down there.

Congratulations! It's like Christmas in January!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 8:00AM
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I was trying to make DH understand how expensive these are..but he wasn't getting it. lol. And I was thinking that too amck - that I could try to clean it and fit it in the kitchen, BUT, it's very large. Much too large to be useful in the kitchen, not in the way I've configured the kitchen. Had I discovered it 2 months ago I think I might have tried. I haven't measured it, but it's almost 4ft long - look at it in relationship to the size of the washing machine. The tubs go as low as the light green paint (the dark green is what's holding it up)

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 8:20AM
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Go to Home depot and get some BIX Stripper. Apply that to get the paint off the soapstone. Just follow the instructions and make sure your basement area has some air movement. Be generous with the stripper, slop it all over the sink, inside outside upsidedown. When cleaning it off, use lacquer thinner with steel wool, but not coarse steel wool. Once everything is dry sand it down with a random orbital sander with 150 grit sand paper. Or you may want to try a lower grit first. The old soapstone tends to be pretty soft so doing it dry will be doable. If you don't have a random orbital sander try a regular palm sander, but you will fight against little swirly marks when the sander gets clogged up with paint residue and random particles. Around the top take a block with the sand paper and round off the edges to make everything smoother. After years of abuse it will need some attention. Oh yeah it will take alot of time and effore, I hope your up for the challenge! !

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 8:41AM
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Thanks for the suggestions. I think after the kitchen is done we'll give it a sounds like something I want to wait until summer to do, to get the windows open and the fans on..

I've never paid any attention to it because it was just the cellar sink, and it was / is so disgusting inside that the least amount of contact the better. But now, I'm down there every night using it and I'm developing a fondness for it. Especially now that I know what it is.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 9:07AM
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Francy, you have quite a sense of humor with everything you have been going through lately.

Here are some pictures of my sink. Painted just like buffettgirl's.

My husband thinks I am crazy making such a big deal out of our old sink. He just doesn't get it.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 11:47AM
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Congratulations Buffetgirl and Donna! Those SS sinks are really neat! I wanted to throw out the idea of using a heat gun on the paint. I'll bet it would come right off and the SS wouldn't be damaged by the heat. Another stripper that doesn't smell much and is pretty non-toxic that we have used is Multistrip. It cleans up well with water. It is a bit pricy though.

Here is a link that might be useful: Back to nature products

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 1:17PM
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I saw from the pic that it would be too large to work in anything but a huge kitchen, but I was thinking of something creative, like mounting it on a garden wall and having it as a focal point in a patio near a potting bench, or for use in an outdoor kitchen area.

Not the type of thing you'll want to do now. But if you plan to be in the house for years, you may think of some way to use it where you can enjoy it more. Or, maybe, that place is right there in the laundry area!

If you ever do sell the house, though, take it with you if you can!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 1:21PM
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After a Google search, I can report that in the 1907 publication titled: "Mineral Resources of Virginia"
by Thomas Leonard Watson, Ray Smith Bassler, Heinrich Ries, Roy Jay Holden, the Phoenix Soapstone Company is listed on page 295 and was probably in Nelson County, Virginia. The primary use of the soapstone due to "the excellent quality of the stone" was laundry tubs, sanitary and electrical purposes, sinks, and cooking utensils. The book has photographs of some of the quarries.

I am so pleased to finally have one of the Google-scanned books show up in a search and to provide some interesting information. Enjoy that sink -- what a great find!


    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 2:27PM
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oh Donna, yours looks like it's in better condition than mine. I think there is algae growing on mine. lol i'll have to try to get in to take a picture later. During the day my cellar is all blocked off with the guys working, so I have to wait till they go home.

Carole - thanks for that info! I saw that book but didn't look much at it yet. My tag definately says New York maybe it was a retailer?

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 2:53PM
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Donna, congratulations! What a great find for you, too.

Carole, how wonderful that you were able to find that info. I'm always amazed at what's out there in internet land. Me, I saw "Phoenix" and just assumed it would have come from a company in AZ. Duh!

I think you gals need that book! And please, more pics when you get the sinks cleaned up. : )

    Bookmark   January 16, 2008 at 9:02PM
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