In which we tackle the dark art of soap making
Imagine, the year is 2011. It’s Christmas time, and we’re tired because the holiday season is exhausting for anybody. And when you produce and sell products, that exhaustion increases exponentially. Christmas can sometimes feel like a hassle when you can’t just wake up, open presents, and relax. Growing up, Christmas would start at my house with my mom, then move to my dad’s house, and then to my grandmother’s house. When you’re a kid, this is fantastic because it means you’re opening presents literally all day. As you get older, you start to feel like you’re driving all day. When you get married, you now have twice twice the places to go to. But then I get a whole week to do nothing but relax and realize that any holiday frustration I felt was just me being exhausted from the months of craziness that is the holiday season immediately preceding Christmas.
In 2011, we received a few books for Christmas from Donny, Krissy’s dad. The most surprising one was Soap Maker’s Workshop, a book on soap making. This gift had kind of come out of nowhere. We make all kinds of stuff, but we’d never considered soap. I honestly don’t know if we’d even even considered the fact that you can, in fact, make soap.
Needless to say I set out to conduct research. One thing you need to learn about me is that I don’t usually just jump into anything. I must, must research everything I do. Sometimes this might drive Krissy just a little bonkers. For soap making, this meant that I would set out on a yearlong journey of looking at raw ingredients, the multitude of companies that sell them, and processes. Earlier this month,
Krissy had bugged me enough we finally decided that enough was enough and we finally bought the oils, butters, and personal protection equipment that we needed.
Soaping is surprisingly easy, but it’s also extremely complex the more you get into it. Realistically, you can follow a recipe, and as long as the amount of lye that you use is correct, you will have soap. I should add that the soap might be utter rubbish, but it will be soap.
Different oils and fats contribute different effects to soap. Tallow, palm oil, or lard will give you a nice hard bar, but aren’t very cleansing. Coconut oil will add cleansing as well as a full lather, but isn’t very conditioning, nor does it have a stable lather. Olive oil is conditioning, but will make a bar that takes forever to cure or harden. And Castor oil is a lathering dream. Suffice to say you’d want to find a good recipe that strikes a balance among these qualities, or make one yourself that has the attributes you’re looking for.
Naturally, we followed a recipe and made a plain, unscented oatmeal soap with a bit of coca powder and ground coffee for color. The most nerve-wracking part of making soap is dealing with lye. It’s highly caustic and since it dissolves fat and tissue, has no problem noshing on skin. It’s best to have vinegar on hand to help neutralize spills.
Sometimes when I’m doing work, Krissy is supposed to be documenting the process. Sometimes she gets a little distracted, especially when she spots something cute like a chipmunk, or her toes peeking out from under her too-long rubber apron.
Making soap is definitely a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to making all kinds of other stuff, like shaving soap, playing with scents, and even making other products like lib balm, because Krissy loses them almost as fast as she buys them (even the giant tubes of it we get from The Golden Button).
You can actually see the little bits of coffee grounds and cocoa powder in the soap.