Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hi everyone,

I haven't had much time to devote to this page yet. Today I got the blog up and running and articles about the two most important things:

1. How is do you make soap?
2. Why is handmade soap better?

I'd like to get the another article done later tonight that at leasts lists what kind of soaps I have available at the moment. If I have time, I will take photos of each type.

How do you make soap?

All soap is made through the saponification process. Oils/fat and lye (sodium hyroxide) react and create soap. It is important to calculate the correct amount of lye needed based on the sap value for the fats in your soap. The sap value is the amount of lye needed to saponify your oils and turn them into soap. Each oil (such as olive, palm, or coconut) has a different sap value.

Once the calculations are done, you must mix the lye and and water together. Lye and water react and release heat has well as fumes. I often mix the lye and water outside and I always wear eye protection. It is important to always add lye to water. Never add water to lye. I'm told the reaction is much more violent when reversed. While the lye/waters cools, it is time to melt the oils.

The oils are always melted in a stainless steel pan as lye will react with other metals. The oils melt slowly at a low temperature. In this photo I am melting coconut and palm oils.

When the solid oils are melted, I add the olive oil. The olive oil is added last, so that it not subjected to any extra heat. It also helps to cool down the other oils. This is important as it is best to mix the lye and oils when they are at a similar temperature. I use a candy making thermometer to test temperatures.

When the temperatures are close, I add the lye to the oils and begin stirring. The mixture starts off clear and slowly begin to get more opaque. It also starts to thicken as the reaction begins.

Here, you can see that the oils are not clear any longer. Soap can be mixed by hand using a spatula, but this can take as long as an hour or more. Often I will mix by hand until the mixture starts to look like soap and then I will take the immersion blender out.

The immersion blender mixes at a much higher speed and it allows the soap to be ready in a matter of minutes. When the soap is ready, it traces. That mean it is thick enough that when you pour a spoonful back in, it will float on top and not sink back in like a liquid. It is an almost pudding like consistency. When the soap traces, it is time to add the essential oils and herbs to scent and/or color it. This must be done quickly because the soap is beginning to get thicker. The essential oils are not added earlier because the stirring and pure lye (before a reaction has started) would likely destroy the scents.

One everything is mixed thoroughly, I pour it into the mold. The soap mold is lined with freezer paper so that I can easily remove the soap log in a few days. I will generally wrap the soap in a blanket to insulate it. This helps keep it warm while the saponification reaction takes place.

After 2 days, I will remove the soap log from the mold. I'll usually leave it out of the mold for a few hours to harden up and then I will slice it into bars.

The bars need to cure for another 6-8 weeks while the saponification reaction continues. Two months later, the soap is ready to use!

Why hand made soap?

Many of the soaps that are available in stores today are actually not soap at all! They are bars made from chemicals and detergents. You can usually tell this right away as they will not even call their product soap. You might see moisturizing bar or beauty bar in their name, but not soap. Detergents are much more likely to irritate your skin, than soap.

From a vegan or vegetarian standpoint many detergent and or soap bars have animal fat in them. Tallow or animal fat is often referred to as sodium tallowate. After finding out that my "all natural bar" contained sodium tallowate, I became interested in making my own soap!

Chemical fragrances are another reason to look for hand made soap. Though some soap makers do use chemicals to scent their soaps. Synthetic fragrance oils may also be referred to as perfume, parfum, or fragrance oils. Labeling requirements do not specify that these chemical perfumes need to list their ingredients. They often contain 20 or more chemicals including phlalates which are known to be toxic. Synthetic fragrances are one of the biggest causes of skin sensitivity from cosmetics.

When buying handmade soap, look for essential oils or plant names in the ingredient lists. Essential oils are derived from plants. If you go to a whole grocer that sells essential oils, you can smell their tester bottles. You will quickly be able to discern the difference between a chemical fragrance and a pure essential oil! Be wary when you see fruit scented soaps. There are very few fruit based essential oils. All fruity essential oils are citrus based. If you see apple, strawberry, cucumber or fruits other than citrus, you are looking at a synthetic fragrance. Some soap makers will use fruit juices or purees in their soap to get a true fruit flavor without using chemicals.

Chemical dyes are another reason to use hand made soap. Most soap makers do not purchase or use chemical dyes. Soap can easily be colored using herbs or left uncolored.

Handmade soaps are naturally rich in glycerin and moisturize your skin. Corporations often add glycerin to help prevent the drying properties of their detergent bars.

If you have questions about soap or hand made soap, drop me a line!