Almost a year ago we had our first “meet the maker” on the Making Life – Meet the Maker with Shennandoah Ditter.
Today we’re introducing another good friend who is a soap maker. She wrote the article below and she’s kindly sharing her knowledge of soap making. Here’s her post below:
Hey, TML readers! I’m so honored to be guest posting on such a great blog. Hannah and I were roommates in college years ago, and I’ve always really connected with her because we’re both makers and dreamers at heart. I think what she and Ned are doing with this website is so inspirational and fun!
I’ll introduce myself here. My name is Clarissa and I live in Spokane, Washington with my boyfriend and three-year-old daughter. I’m a medical laboratory scientist by day and entrepreneur soapmaker by night for my little business called Athena’s.
I’m going to introduce my favorite creative outlet today – soapmaking!
There is so much to know and play with here, so this is just a brief outline of the craft for those who are just being exposed. I’ll go over the basic chemistry behind it, the process, the gear needed, how to approach it in an eco-friendly manner, and give additional resources for those who are ready to dive deeper.
My intention is to break up any false beliefs about how it’s made and any fears out there about trying it. I’ll also share the soap I make and where I’m going with it.
The Science Behind Soap Making
On a basic level, soap and glycerol are made when oils are combined with lye by a reaction called saponification.
Making soap always requires lye, also known as sodium hydroxide or caustic soda. (Melt and pour soap can be used by those who don’t want to deal with such a caustic material, but lye was still used to make it.)
To ensure there is no lye in the final product, the recipe is calculated so that there is a certain percentage of oils left over after all of the lye has reacted. This good practice is called superfatting and tends to be somewhere around six percent.
Cold Process Soap Making
There are several ways to go about making soap, but the method I use is called cold process.
In this process, the oils are melted together in one container while the lye is dissolved in liquid – traditionally water – in another container. It’s best to place that second container in an ice-water bath outside or in a well-ventilated area because it gets really hot and stinky!
Depending on the recipe or personal preference, when the two solutions reach a certain temperature (I tend to shoot for 80 to 90 degrees F) they are combined in one container and emulsified with a stick blender.
At this point, any other desired additives are incorporated, and the mixture is poured into a mold to harden. A day or two later the soap is unmolded, cut into bars, and left to cure anywhere from three weeks to a year depending on the recipe. During this curing time, the reaction reaches completion and the water evaporates to leave a hard, long-lasting bar.
More Information about Lye and Cold Process Soap Making
Don’t go throwing oil and lye water together just yet! It gets more complicated here.
Each type of oil contributes different properties to a finished soap, such as amount of bubbles, cleansing ability, moisturizing ability, or bar hardness. Also, each type of oil reacts with a different amount of lye per gram.
The number corresponding with this is called its SAP value. The easiest way to calculate how much lye is needed for a batch of soap is with an online lye calculator such as www.soapcalc.net. Most recipes use multiple oils for the contributing benefits of each, but a well-executed one-oil soap such as Castile can also be wonderful.
What You Need to Make Cold Process Soap – Proceed With Caution
To get started with making soap, here is the basic equipment needed:
- A stick blender
- A microwave or stove
- A digital food scale
- Stainless steel, glass, or heavy plastic containers
- Stainless steel large spoons or silicone spatulas
- A mold
Feel free to get creative with repurposed containers when it comes to molds! If a rigid or permeable container is used, line it with parchment paper first.
Avoid using aluminum and cheap plastic dishware because they will react with the ingredients.
Always wear full-coverage clothing, goggles, and gloves, and clean up the work area well before and after.
I like to keep a large bucket or sink of vinegar water nearby to soak my dirty dishware in as it’s generated. This way the acidic vinegar neutralizes the basic lye as it soaks. To clean up, scrub off the excess soap in the sink with dish detergent and let it go through a cycle by itself in the dishwasher.
The Business of Soap Making
I’ve been making soap for about six years now, and during that time I’ve formulated and perfected my own soaps and cosmetics that I now sell through my microbusiness.
Owning a business is an entirely different can of hairy worms than soapmaking that I’m only just learning about. However, I have a lot of excitement in store. I’m in the process of going professional by developing my own permanent product line, a total rebrand, and getting my own website off the ground. Until then my little Etsy shop remains open at www.etsy.com/shop/athenasoaps and you can follow my Instagram feed at athenasoaps.
Check it out!
Why Athena’s is Natural, Eco-Friendly, and Sustainable
Athena’s is an eco- and health-conscious company, so I don’t use palm oil, SLS, SLeS, parabens, or phthalates in my products. I keep my packaging minimal and as biodegradable as possible.
Palm is overly used by humans, leading to rainforest destruction and an inevitable extinction of orangutans if we don’t find a solution. Until then, there are many great alternatives out there. RSPO palm oil exists that is certified sustainable and fair trade, but I have decided to avoid palm altogether.
SLS and SLeS are palm derived surfactants that many people with sensitive skin find irritating.
I use coconut-derived surfactants in my shampoo bars that are far more sustainable, gentle, and create lots of small, creamy bubbles that my customers love.
Parabens are carcinogenic preservatives, and I use a safer alternative in my cosmetics. (Soap is naturally high on the pH scale so it does fine without a preservative!) Phthalates are toxic chemicals found in many fragrances that can cause migraines or even cancer in some people.
Athena’s only uses phthalate-free fragrances or essential oils. When I have enough funding under my belt I will be utilizing a new biodegradable shrink-wrapping system for all of my products. I’m really excited about this, but for now, I use recycled Kraft cardstock and minimal packaging.
Any questions about soap or soapmaking? I’m here to answer them! If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend the websites www.soapqueen.com and www.modernsoapmaking.com or any books by Anne L. Watson or Anne Marie Faiola. There are tons of YouTube videos out there to watch, too. Thanks for reading and letting me share a little of my expertise. I hope you learned something and maybe even feel convinced to try it for yourself! Whatever you do, keep making.