The Soap Opera
Updated: Jun 28
What is soap?
If you look at our pictures of soapmaking, you may think I'm making pudding.
If you are used to commercial bars, you may not be using "soap" but rather a cleansing bar or beauty bar. These are made from synthetic detergents, rather than the salt we make with handmade soap, which is a little more on the basic, or alkaline side of the pH scale. Some people's skin do well with these synthetic detergents, some don't. For us, we cannot imagine using anything but real soap. We do like our plant based foaming surfactants when we have to use them in places more pH sensitive, like our scalp and hair (tried cold-processed shampoo and.. well, it wasn't pretty).
In short, soap is a salt. It's the chemical baby from either sodium or potassium hydroxide when they couple up with fat. Many "soaps" on the market are actually cleansing bars made with foaming agents or detergents. An actual soap requires sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxyide and a fat - this can come from plant or animal based oils... we only use plant based oils like organic virgin coconut oil, olive oil, safflower oil, avocado oil, hempseed oil, fair-trade naturally refined shea butter, cocoa butter and castor oil (these make up most of our recipes).
Because I'm a vegetarian, and because I would only use halal fat anyway, you won't find any lard or tallow in our soaps. Our soaps are mostly vegan but some use beeswax, goats milk, local honey, or tussah silk (a cruelty free silk collected after the silk moth has left the cocoon).
We primarily use what is known as 'cold process,' but we have done hot process and rebatched soap. We don't use melt and pour soap right now, still perfecting our recipe so we can make it ourselves, without the harsh chemicals it sometimes contains. Cold process allows for a lot more play time with fluidity and swirls - a process we're completely in love with!
I melt all of our oils and butters and then add clay - almost every bar gets kaolin clay, although I sometimes use rose clay, Mediterranean red clay or sea clay. I've used bentonite clays but that one is so strong it's hard to reliably get it in the bar - it is in our star anise bar, as people with oily skin really gravitate towards that clay!
A chemical reaction occurs when we introduce our sodium hydroxide (lye) solution into our oils. We first prepare our solution, which is usually enough water to bind with the lye so that it is ready to play, and then we add it to our oils and butters. This creates an emulsification as the two bind together, and at that point I add any milks, aloe, fragrances, essential oils or colorants I might be using.
Here's how I made our "Maid Marionberry" soap.
There are a lot of techniques that you can use for soap making. You can have a plain Jane bar like "Go Touch Grass" that has no colorants and is a solid, soothing green (image below). Or you could try a bar like our "I'm Happy I'm Scrappy"upcycled goats milk bar that is multi-colored with ethically sourced micas and topped with eco-glitter. We feature wood grain soaps that are a special technique, and you can see the hanger swirl in our Artemis bars. Our Tutti Fruitty swirls feature a drop swirl technique.
(This is my grass bar, right before I put her in a warm oven to go through gel phase).
"I'm Happy I'm Scrappy"
After the soap is unmolded and the soap is cute, I *could* technically use the bar. It would clean my skin, but leave it dry - squeaky clean but I love a milder bar that leaves my skin feeling soft after I use it. That's why we let it 'cure' for a minimum of 4 weeks, usually longer, to let extra water evaporate and the structure really solidify. This helps the bar last longer as well. A soap rack can help keep your bar intact, you really want all sides elevated to keep your bar in tip-top shape - no one likes soap slime.