Thursday, March 10, 2016

What I Love About Making Soap



Making soap and making it available for sale has become such a fulfilling creative outlet in my life. My hobby has flourished into profitable, growing business with a dedicated website, and
I couldn't be more excited for the many wonderful events and markets that are lined up for the coming months. Here are some of my favorite parts of soap making!

Soap Making Terminology is Exciting and Adventurous!


From trying to steer clear of the Dreaded Orange Spots to carefully avoiding Alien Brain in my soap, the terminology involved in making a simple bar of soap lends itself to an air of fantastical adventure and daredevil feats of bravery. We don't just say that the soap batter thickens to a consistency that makes it impossible to stir, it seizes! Just watch out for those dastardly Soap Volcanoes and you should be just fine.


Working With All Natural Ingredients is Like Solving a Puzzle


While some of my soaps use skin safe (phthalate free) synthetic fragrances for scent, many use natural, plant derived essential oils for scent. I like to keep about half of my soap offerings all natural, which sometimes means getting creative with natural colorants and essential oil blends. For example, my Patchouli Orange Soap was one that I wanted to make sure was all natural. I used orange illite clay for the bottom third, cocoa powder for the center, and calendula petals for the top. It would have been easier to do this batch using synthetic colorants, but I know that many of us are trying to nix unnecessary chemicals from our lives. It's a little bit of a challenge to find and source all natural alternatives, but the end result is so pure and beautiful that it's well worth the effort. The only way this bar could be more natural is if I harvested the lye out of ashes myself!

I'm working more and more with natural colorants these days. I'll soon announce a new all natural Lavender Mint soap that uses lavender and peppermint essential oils, spinach powder and alkanet root for colorants, and includes ground raspberry seeds for exfoliation. It's a lovely combo!


Making Soap Makes Me Feel Like a Chemist


From comparing fatty acid profiles in various oils and butters to measuring out precise amounts of sodium hydroxide, soap making is definitely a scientific endeavor. Every time I make soap I suit up in my goggles, apron, and gloves, keeping meticulous records for each batch. It's important to have those standards in place to turn out a quality product on a consistent basis!


...and a Chef


Soap making is also a lot like cooking. There is a recipe, ingredients in specific amounts, and an important order of operations. Just as a gourmet chef would consider each ingredient in a recipe, I always consider which properties each oil, butter, and liquid will bring to the finished bar of soap (for example, coconut oil in soap makes big fluffy bubbles in the finished soap). While I'd venture to say that making soap is quite a bit more complex than whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, in a lot of ways it's very similar.


...and an Artist


Mapping out the color, scent, and design of the soap before I even begin mixing the ingredients is one of my absolute favorite parts of the process. This is where the real creativity comes in! With a host of options for fragrance, colorants, and designs, there are infinite combinations to choose from to make each bar a work of art. I use the cold process method of soap making most of the time, so the soap batter is still fluid when I pour it into a long loaf mold. Because of the fluidity, no two batches or bars are exactly the same. Each bar is an original work of art!


Cutting Into a Fresh Batch of Soap is Like Christmas Morning


After I pour the liquid soap batter into the mold I put it to bed (another one of those fun soap making terms) for a day or two to let the saponification process take place. This is the chemical reaction that turns the combination of fats and lye into soap. The liquid soap batter hardens considerably and is usually ready to cut within a day or two. For a soap maker, those couple of days of waiting to see what the cut bars are going to look like are agonizing! Cutting the soap into bars is like tearing into your presents on Christmas morning and finally getting to see what was inside. There's something incredibly gratifying about finally getting to see the colors, swirls, and scents come together into a lovely piece of one-of-a kind, giftable art that will no doubt bring a little bit of extra luxury into someone's day. I love my job!