A Delightful and Creative Hobby Making an Oft-Needed Product!
If we were to consider one of the products that we all use daily, yet seem to take for granted, soap would surely be right up there on the list. A product that we introduce even the youngest babies to right after birth, that remains a staple item throughout our lives, soap is surely a must!
That said, few of us consider that there are many reasons to actually consider making our own soap; the process seems arduous, and the motivation not great. But consider this: most commercial soaps contain dyes, additives as well as many other chemicals that are, in the interest of good health, best avoided. They often also produce a nasty residue on the skin, which is that feeling of “something being left behind” after a shower or bath. Yes, of course, there are natural alternatives, and they are good. But once given the opportunity to try your hand at home soap-making, you might find this both a fun hobby as well as a good way to insure only natural products on your skin at a fraction of the cost of commercially available natural choices. Glycerin, by the way, is a natural product, which is pricey, and is precisely the reason why it is often eliminated in commercial soap production; unfortunately, it is also one of the ingredients which offers the most moisturizing effects on skin, and moisture-enriching remains one quality that most people look for when applying any product to their skin.
In the production of soap, there are several methods, and of course many unique and wonderful additions that can go into the final product. A visit to one of the fancier shops around our metropolitan area can give you a glimpse into those possibilities. Most of the stores are French, as soap-making is an art that seems to have its roots in this country (where so many other crafts, delicacies, and delights far too innumerable to mention also seem to originate…). Sabon (there are several here in Manhattan) is one such shop, which markets the art and selling of soap-making to a charming fabrication approximating a delicate and country-like French country savonnerie. L’Occitane en Provence , though less authentic in terms of the suggestion of fresh bars of soap “apparently” being produced “on-site,” (I doubt it), also offers what they claim to be natural soaps in their shops. Another is Lush, a somewhat funkier, younger, edgier all-natural soap-maker, offering less of the vintage French charm than the other two stores, and more of the colorful, urban and kitschy. Finally, Soap Cherie, is a unique and adorable shop in Brooklyn, New York, which also happens to offer soap-making classes
But these stores are undeniably expensive. They are New York expensive, and a very small bar of handmade soap can run as much as $10. Given the length of time that a bar that size (yes, it is quite small) lasts, and the fact that we would all agree that it is surely a much-frequented item, there is a much cheaper alternative: the delightful and fun craft that I have come to love –soap-making!
There are, essentially three methods to make soap. There are others, but I am boiling it down to the three most common ones.
- Melt and Pour: with this method you will be using a base material that has already been saponified, or, essentially, “turned into soap.”
With this method you can also add your own colorants, scents, herbs, clay, and pour the mixture into a mold of your choice. This is a particularly good method to use when creating soap with children, as you will not be using active lye, which is caustic, and unadvisable for use with children. Your choice of base material can include shea butter, goat’s milk, or glycerin (very moisturizing, as already mentioned).
- Cold Process: this method includes using lye* and oils, which you will mix, in order to cause the saponification to take place; there is a curing time involved with the cold process. There are many ways to customize this soap-making process, again, including scents, essential oils**, herbs**, flowers**, and spices**, and the resulting bar is especially smooth and creamy.
Steps to Cold Process:
- Mix the lye and water (IN THAT ORDER FOR SAFETY!) and cool.
- Mix oils and cool oils and lye to the same temperature near 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add the lye and water mixture to the oil and mix until you can drip the soap to a point where you can see a line when you drip onto the top layer.
- Add your scents, herbs, spices.
- Pour this mixture into a mold and allow it to remain untouched for 24 hours. It must be covered with a heavy towel so that it does not cool down too quickly.
- After at least the 24 period, up to 48 hours (after this time, it will be difficult to cut into bars), cut your soap into the desired size bars.
- Next comes the curing stage! This lasts for 4-6 weeks, when you will allow your bars to remain on a cookie sheet- single layer, turning them over occasionally so they will cure evenly.
- Hot Process: this method is the same as the cold process, but involves the addition of heat to speed up the saponification, or curing time.
This method is made exactly like the cold process, but you must mix it in a slow cooker or on the cook-top. Just follow the directions above and prepare it that way. It will be near ready before it is even poured into the mold. This “cooking” lasts for about an hour. The results of hot process soap, however, are not creamy and smooth like the cold process.
Safety Comments about the Use of Lye*:
Lye is a dangerous chemical unless used properly. A couple of cautionary comments about its use in soap:
*Always add LYE TO WATER, NOT vice versa. Adding water to lye will cause an eruption.
*Do not breathe in the fumes when the lye and water mix, and if you can possibly do this outdoors, do it there.
*If you do the mixing indoors, make sure to have plenty of ventilation!
*Wear goggles and gloves during soap-making that uses lye!
Some suggested Oils to add to your soap**: There are many oils that will add wonderful properties to your home-made soap. Research the individual qualities of each additive, and make your own choices. Some possibilities include: tallow, sweet almond oil, neem oil, shea butter, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, argan oil, castor oil, babassu oil, cocoa butter, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, hempseed oil, hazelnut oil, mango butter, macadamia nut oil, and olive oil.
Some suggested Spices to add to your soap**: The list here is virtually endless! Do some research into the scent and color of spices, and feel free to mix in what appeals to you, from common cinnamon to the exotic like saffron! Remember that the color of your soap will change with certain spices, particularly ground powdered ones!
Herbs and Flowers**: These are best added to the top of the soap in the mold, so as to enable you to see them, and still maintain a creamy/smooth product within the bar. Remember that both should be totally dried when adding to the surface of the soap!
BY THE WAY! Should you want to make your soap somewhat abrasive: think exfoliation, there are some classic additives that can achieve that purpose: sugar, salt (kosher or Himalayan is the way to go, in this case for the extra exfoliating “rough” qualities!), or ground Arabica coffee beans are excellent add-ins to any soap for that extra kick!
Here is a terrific link to a soap-making online supply company, BULK APOTHECARY. The choices are fabulous, as are the prices! :
By the way, should you happen to be in France (alas, undeniable capital of fine soap-making), here are some wonderful venues to visit, all for purchase, and several for soap-making instruction as well! :
La Maison du Savon de Marseilles Marais
17 rue de la Verrerie
La Savonnerie Bourbonnaise
16 rue Dauphine Saint-Michel/Odéon
La Boutique d’Aroma-Zone
25 rue de l’École de Médecine
Musée du Parfum Fragonard
9 rue Scribe
Le Comptoire de Famille
35 Passage Jouffroy
Mairie du 18e/Lamarck
107 Rue Caulaincourt
196 boulevard Saint-Germain
Notre Dame De Paris
34 boulevard Saint-Germain
Le 86 Champs L’Occitane et Pierre Hermé
86 avenue des Champs-Élysées