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Body Soap Bar vs. Shampoo Soap Bar? February 24, 2015

Filed under: Natural Products,Soap — Meghan Hamilton @ 7:18 pm
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I was recently asked to make shampoo bars.  They are increasing in popularity these days with the realization that handmade soap is gentler on our bodies than many big brand soaps.  When I told my friend that they were the same as the regular soap bars, she was quite surprised.  So why do we differentiate?

A few years back I learned an important lesson from my mother’s pottery business.  People often need to be told what to do with products.  I’m not going to delve into what causes this phenomenon.  For the moment, I’m simply going to accept its truth.  My mother learned that if she didn’t use some sort of a label, as seemingly unnecessary as it seemed, she would have a lot of conversations like this:

Customer: “This is beautiful.  What can I use it for?”

Mom: “It’s a bowl.  You can serve food in it or use it as a centerpiece.”

Customer: “Great!”

I wondered about this for quite some time.  She primarily makes functional pieces whose uses should be obvious to the customer, like bowls, plates, mugs, etc…  But without fail, if it isn’t labeled, someone will ask.  She is very gracious and answers the questions, but more often than not, she labels her products.  It’s just easier.

Onto the subject at hand – soap bars.  The reasons we label them for hair or body is either a misguided belief that there is a difference, or because so many people have been conditioned by the bath product industry to want more than one product.  So it’s just easier to sell specifically labelled soaps.  Since I started making my own soap, I have used the same formula to wash from head to toe, as have my husband and son.  Whichever soap bar I have in the shower is what I use.  Truly, there is no practical difference.  Not too long ago, I explained my love of Castile soap.  But whatever you choose, it will work for your hair and your body, no matter its label.

But what about conditioner?  You’ll find that just as natural soaps don’t strip your skin of nutrients, they’ll leave your hair healthier than many shampoos as well.  When my hair was long, I needed a detangler, so I keep a spray bottle filled with apple cider vinegar in the shower to spray after washing.  I still do this as I like to add a little mint and lavender essential oils to make it smell nice.  I just spray it on, massage it into my scalp, then rinse.  Any remaining vinegar odor goes away as my hair dries.  I’m told that if you have heavy product build up from commercial hair products, it can take a week of using natural soap to get rid of it and there may be a few days of less than stellar hair.  The process is worth the effort.

Do you have colored hair?  You may find that natural soaps help the color stay true much longer than commercial shampoos.  Again, your hair won’t be treated as harshly as you’re accustomed to.

So, you will probably be seeing “shampoo bars” in my line of soaps in the near future to help customers know they can use it on their hair.  But now you know, there is no difference.  Choose the scent that you like and wash away the grime!

 

What is Castile Soap? (and a recipe!) November 15, 2014

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“Castile Soap” has become very popular lately as people search for kinder gentler soaps to wash with.  But what is it?

  • Originally, it was the soap produced in the Spanish city of Castile beginning between the 11th and 12th centuries.  Although soap making has been around for millennia, Dark Ages and Middle Ages Europeans did not regularly make or use it.  The Castilians based their method of soap making on Middle Eastern methods that called for laurel oil.  Laurel oil was hard to find in that region, but olive oil was abundant.  The product caught on and was exported all over Europe during the next few centuries.  It makes a very gentle on the skin but tough on dirt product.  It doesn’t lose its efficacy after months (perhaps years) of storage.  Olive oil is less prone to rancidity than animal fats, extending shelf life significantly.

So, what about the Castile Soaps on the market today?

  • The definition of Castile soap has been extended to include any soap made with plant based products.  Some soap makers maintain that only soap made with olive oil should receive that label.  I myself stay out of that debate, but to save myself some grief, I only label olive oil soap as “Castile Soap.”
  • Generally speaking, although there is no labeling requirement to confirm this, products labeled “Castile Soap” retain their glycerin.  One of the reasons that so many commercially made soaps are so harsh (despite claims to add in moisturizing cream) is that companies often remove the glycerin that naturally occurs in soap making so that they can sell it separately.  Hand made soap generally still has the glycerin for a couple of reasons.  One, it’s not easy to remove in a small scale operation.  Two, why would you want to?  It makes your soap nicer.

Why do we like to use this today?

  • Its gentle treatment of the skin stands out.  I’ve made soaps with other fats such as shea butter and coconut oil, yet keep coming back to pure olive oil for my soap.
  • It is safe for babies.  It may not be “tear free” but even tear free soap isn’t really tear free.  Those often have additives to fool your baby into thinking the soap isn’t so bothersome.  For some people this is worth it.  I prefer more natural products.  Sometimes we think of something safe and gentle enough for babies as not being strong enough to combat grown up dirt.  Castile soap is very tough on dirt.

What about the lather?

  • If it’s made from 100% olive oil, it won’t have a particularly foamy and light lather.  It will have a dense lather that can take some adjusting to.  Commercial soap companies have us fooled into thinking that a light foamy lather is a sign of effectiveness.  It’s just not true.  This low foaming action makes it great for laundry as it won’t ruin modern HE washers.  It’s an important part of my laundry detergent recipe.

How can you tell what kind of soap is in your home?

  • Check the label.  Chances are that if it lacks ingredients and the company can’t or won’t tell you when you contact them, it’s not very natural and it has had the glycerin removed.  Small companies and a few reputable larger ones that cater to the natural products market will tell you just what is and is not in their product.

What is that “lye” stuff you see listed on many soap labels?  Isn’t it dangerous?

  • It was originally made by filtering water through fire ashes.  When you mix lye with fat, it turns to soap.  Today, most of us rely on commercially produced lye so that we know exactly how much we are using.  We want to do this because it is, in fact, a dangerous substance and can cause some nasty chemical burns.  Natural is not the same as safe.  Fire is natural, but it can still hurt or kill you.  Lye falls into this category.  It is a great thing and very helpful when used safely.  It comes in two main forms, sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide.  Don’t let those official names scare you. It’s like calling water dihydrogen oxide or H2O.

What do I use in my Castile Soap?  Here’s my recipe.  It can be used for either hot or cold process methods.  If you’ve never made soap before, be sure to do some research on how to make it.  Whenever trying a new soap recipe, double check the lye calculations.  I like this calculator. Essential oils are optional and can be mixed and matched to your preference.

  • 4 pounds olive oil (I find regular as opposed to extra virgin makes a harder soap.)
  • 20 ounces water
  • 4 ounces sodium hydroxide lye
  • 3 tablespoons lavender essential oil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon peppermint oil (optional, omit if intended for an infant)

Don’t want to make it yourself?  You can buy mine here.

 

Homemade Laundry Detergent November 13, 2014

Filed under: Natural Products,Soap — Meghan Hamilton @ 2:09 am
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There are many recipes for laundry detergent out there. I looked at a lot and tried a few before settling on this recipe which I came up with.  It met my requirements – all natural ingredients that no one in my family is allergic to, cost effective, easy to make, and very importantly – gets the dirt out.  We are not clean people in my family.  We spill things.  My son plays in the dirt and gets all sorts of stuff on his clothing.  I’m not going to claim that this miraculously gets out every stain and spill, but it does get most of it out and better than some commercially made natural detergents.

So here it is:

  • 2 cups Borax
  • 2 cups Washing soda
  • 1 cup salt
  • 3 or 4 oz (approx 2 cups) grated bar soap

Mix the Borax, Washing Soda, and Salt in a bowl.  The washing soda is particularly prone to turning into rocks that need to be broken with a hammer if it gets too humid or wet (or if you buy it in bulk during the rainy season and have it delivered damp…).  Grate the soap with a regular cheese grater.  Add it into the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Dimension-of-a-Cheese-Grater

Use anywhere from 2 Tablespoons to 1/2 cup depending on the level of efficiency of your washer (front loaders take less) and the size of your load.  This is safe for HE washers.

A couple of notes: Washing soda and Baking soda are not the same product.  Make sure you get the right thing or you won’t get your clothes as clean.  This recipe doesn’t include any of the heavy perfumes found in many commercial products, so it won’t cover the funky odor washers get when you leave clothing in them more than a day.  I highly recommend using vinegar in place of your regular softener.  It will kill much of that mildew and soften your clothes.  I generally add cinnamon essential oil and lavender or peppermint essential oil to boost the anti-fungal and antibacterial effect of the vinegar.  Because essential oils aren’t heavy, the scent doesn’t often carry through the drying process. It just leaves your clothes smelling like nothing.

If you’re unsure about what bar soap to use, especially if you are trying to switch to all natural products, you can order any of the soaps I sell here.

This detergent will not always dissolve in completely cold water.  I set my machine to “cool” or some sort of temperature controlled cold water. Check your manual to find out which setting is best for you.  Here are some pictures of the particular products that I use for this recipe:

diamond-crystal-kosher-salt soap borax washing soda

 

What Soap Making Process Do I Choose? October 26, 2014

Filed under: Business,Soap — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:08 pm
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When I started this soap making journey, I had some decisions to make.  I knew I wanted an all natural product free of synthetic fragrances and petroleum products.  Those are my own body’s enemies.  The petroleum products make me itch and can even cause me rashes.  The synthetic fragrances make me dizzy and can trigger migraines.  I suspect they also are the trigger in my son’s stuffiness when I use synthetically fragranced laundry detergents.

So that narrowed it down to:

  • Melt and Pour – the soap is already made, you just melt it in a double boiler and add your own fragrances, then pour it into whatever shaped mold you want.
  • Cold Process – you make the soap from scratch with minimal heating of product and let it sit for six weeks until ready to use
  • Hot Process – you make the soap from scratch using low heat to speed up the reaction between the lye and your oils/fats

Melt and Pour finished product

Melt and Pour Pros:

  • You already have usable soap without having to do anything.  There are several wonderful products on the market that list their ingredients, so that if you are like me and have allergies and sensitivities, you can avoid the things that hurt you.
  • You don’t have to worry about proper storage and use of lye. (Note: lye or sodium hydroxide is a naturally occurring substance that we used to extract from ashes.)  It is caustic and makes some awful fumes.  If, like me, you have a small child underfoot, this is a very big pro.  The last thing you want is for your family to be burned or breathe this stuff in.  Storing lye out of reach of little hands and then measuring it accurately when making soap is a very big deal.  I nearly went with melt and pour because of this, but realized that given the personality of my son and our schedule, it probably wasn’t going to be a big issue.
  • It is the fastest and easiest way to make fancy looking soap. You can make fancy soaps with the other processes, but you first have to make the soap.
  • Minimal equipment – all you need is a double boiler, the scents and the colors you want, and molds to shape your product.

Melt and Pour Cons:

  • You don’t have control over raw ingredients.
  • Can be just as expensive as buying soap at retail stores, especially if your primary objective is all natural ingredients.

Cold Process Soap

Cold Process Pros:

  • Control over raw ingredients.  If you have a sensitivity, you don’t need to use it.  If you have an ethical problem with an ingredient, you don’t have to use it.  (Many palm products are a source of controversy from farming methods to farmer salaries.  Some people want to use 100% organic and/or free trade products.)  You can experiment to see which recipes work best for your skin.
  • Less process time than hot process.  Once you’ve mixed your ingredients, pour them into the molds.  Next day, remove and cut the bars as necessary, then leave them to cure for six weeks.
  • You can make up large batches of plain soap to use as melt and pour later if you wish to add different shapes into the centers of your product.
  • It’s easy to use detailed molds and swirl colors together to make a marbleized effect.
  • You know that the glycerin hasn’t been removed, leaving your soap to be much gentler and more moisturizing.
  • If you have particularly dry skin, you can formulate your recipe to leave a bit more oil unused in saponification so that you have an extra moisturizing bar.

Cold Process Cons:

  • More equipment: all of the oils, lye, colors, scents; a thermometer to make sure your lye water and your oils are both at the proper temperature; accurate scale for weighing ingredients; stick blender (unless you enjoy stirring for hours at a time); pots, bowls, spoons, etc… that won’t react to lye; protective clothing/gear to prevent burns should the lye spill or splash on you; molds for shaping product; and probably a few more things that I’m forgetting.
  • More learning time so that the soap comes out correctly.  You wouldn’t want to give yourself or anyone else a chemical burn.  On the other end of that spectrum is you want to use the appropriate amount of oil to avoid a greasy mess.
  • Long curing time: You have to wait six weeks to use your soap.
  • Proper storage and use of lye:  It needs to be kept sealed so it doesn’t react with moisture in the air when in storage.  You don’t want children getting into it, so it needs to be out of reach and childproofed if that’s a concern in your work space.  When you use it, you must have adequate ventilation and consider wearing a mask to avoid breathing in the fumes.  It can be very nasty stuff.  You should always have vinegar on hand to wash any spills off of yourself as it will neutralize the lye.  Also, plastic gloves are a good idea to protect your hands.  If you’re clumsy, have kids, or need to work in an enclosed space with little ventilation, this is not the stuff for you.

My Own Hot Process Soaps

Hot Process Pros: Almost identical to Cold Process

  • Control over raw ingredients.  If you have a sensitivity, you don’t need to use it.  If you have an ethical problem with an ingredient, you don’t have to use it.  (Many palm products are a source of controversy from farming methods to farmer salaries.  Some people want to use 100% organic and/or free trade products.)  You can experiment to see which recipes work best for your skin.
  • No curing time. You can use it immediately. I use mine the next day. Leaving it to air out makes it even harder and nicer, but there aren’t any safety concerns if you’ve cooked it up correctly.
  • You can make up large batches of plain soap to use as melt and pour later if you wish to add different shapes into the centers of your product.
  • You know that the glycerin hasn’t been removed, leaving your soap to be much gentler and more moisturizing.
  • If you have particularly dry skin, you can formulate your recipe to leave a bit more oil unused in saponification so that you have an extra moisturizing bar.

Hot Process Cons: Almost identical to Cold Process

  • More equipment: all of the oils, lye, colors, scents; accurate scale for weighing ingredients; stick blender (unless you enjoy stirring for hours at a time); pots, bowls, spoons, etc… that won’t react to lye; protective clothing/gear to prevent burns should the lye spill or splash on you; molds for shaping product; and probably a few more things that I’m forgetting.
  • More learning time so that the soap comes out correctly (even more than cold process).  You wouldn’t want to give yourself or anyone else a chemical burn.  On the other end of that spectrum is you want to use the appropriate amount of oil to avoid a greasy mess.
  • Longer process/mixing time.  Once you’ve mixed the batch, you need to heat it to speed the reaction between the lye and the oil.  This means checking it and mixing it every 15 minutes or so.  Some people do it in their slow cookers or on the stove top and constantly stir to keep it from bubbling over the sides of the pot.  I use a tall pot and take my chances in the oven.  This can take anywhere from one to two hours.
  • More difficult (though not impossible) to get multi-colored swirls and to use finely detailed molds.  The hot product out of the pot is rather like a stiff cookie dough or bread dough, but it’s very very hot, so pressing it into molds can prove problematic.  If you like “pretty” soap, go with one of the other methods.  If you just want a plain bar, this works great.
  • You must be more careful with essential oils used to scent the soap.  Your soap out of the pot will likely be too hot for the oil and can burn off the scent. But if you wait too long to add it, your soap will begin to harden and even mixing becomes difficult.
  • Proper storage and use of lye:  It needs to be kept sealed so it doesn’t react with moisture in the air when in storage.  You don’t want children getting into it, so it needs to be out of reach and childproofed if that’s a concern in your work space.  When you use it, you must have adequate ventilation and consider wearing a mask to avoid breathing in the fumes.  It can be very nasty stuff.  You should always have vinegar on hand to wash any spills off of yourself as it will neutralize the lye.  Also, plastic gloves are a good idea to protect your hands.  If you’re clumsy, have kids, or need to work in an enclosed space with little ventilation, this is not the stuff for you.

My choice: Hot Process

I chose hot process because I didn’t have any place to set bars of soap to cure in a well ventilated area for six weeks.  Most of the advice I read advised against starting with hot process if you’re new to soap making, but I went for it.  I’ve had good luck, but then again I did a lot of research and was willing to lose a few batches in the learning process.  I also wasn’t interested in the decorative potential for soap (though there are some people who manage it with hot-process).  Mine was and remains to be a purely functional interest.  That is my personality.  I like plain and simple.  I also like the near instant gratification while remaining in control of my ingredients that hot process gives.  If you get gratification from making beautiful looking things, go with either melt and pour or cold-process.  The loss of ingredient control, or the wait time on curing will be worth your while.

If all of this sounds fascinating, but you’d rather just buy some soap, you can find me on Etsy and just order some.