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Soaping 101 the coffeemaker diaries

When I got started on making soap, lets just say it was a unique way around. I started with melt and pour, which is fine if you are someone who a) has the ability to do more with it than melt and pour and b) really just want quick and easy. Lord knows I have never been a quick and easy person. So I checked out books from the library. Now I know the word LYE is a trigger word for many people, especially when thinking about soap. But in reality when you buy actual soap, there is no longer Lye in the final product. But to get to the final product lye must be used.

Back in the days of our grandmother’s lye was gained through wood ash, measurements were eyeballed and the fats were usually obtained from slaughtered livestock, preferably pig or beef fat. When rendered, meaning they have been cooked and cooked and cooked it becomes a hard fat called Lard if from the pigs and tallow if from the cattle. When I first began making soap I was telling my cousins about what I was doing and heard many of their stories of ‘having their skin burnt off’ when they would bath with lard soap. I then had to tell them that more than likely what they were bathing with was never meant to be used on the skin it was made for the laundry. But once cured out and left on shelves side by side and grabbed in a hurry they could easily be confused. While the use of lard in cooking is frowned upon in today’s world, let me tell you it makes and amazing soap! Think of how soft and pretty your grandma’s skin was well into her senior years. Truth is using real soap probably had a big hand in keeping their skin so great. You see real soap, not the stuff you find marketed in the stores, is made to be a cleaner, it was meant to get the day off of your body, but not leave stuff behind. My customers know that once you use real soap you soon discover all of the crap left behind by your other products that are sold commercially in the big box stores. Mainly because real soap starts stripping the left overs from the skin from day one. It will literally roll off in little balls that remind me of damp lint, and it will and can continue for up to 5 days after that your skin will squeak after a bath, because it is ‘squeaky clean.’

But my first foray into the art of soap making was taught by a local herbalist who showed me how to make 2 lbs at a time in a method called hot process, using an old coffee maker and its carafe. Don’t laugh it was just the right sized batch for me starting up and it was simple and to the point. The warmer on the coffee maker kept the oils warm during the cook process without being too hot. Once poured it set up rather quickly because it was cooked through the stages that the extra warmer applied. It didn’t take long for me to realize that 2 pounds of soap was nice but I wanted bigger. So we made a mold that could hold 7 lbs and worked up our own recipes and the rest is history. While my line is based on 4 basic recipes I still play sometimes with different butters and oils just to see how it compares.

Soapmaking can be an inexpensive way to have fun or it can quickly become an expensive way to play and try to get a business established. If you are thinking of starting in your area I would strongly suggest looking in your area to see how many people are making the products, how long they have been doing it, their customer base, etc. If you are thinking it is a quick way to get rich it isn’t. You have to love the craft as a whole to really understand why it is a business that takes heart.

Also learning places to get supplies can be time consuming, with co-op options as well as big company choices. You will soon find who you like and who you don’t. But the key is knowing where you are finding the best products for the best money and sometimes that can be spread over several places for different reasons. You may prefer colorants from one place and scents from a variety of people who range from small SAHM to big businesses that carry the items you want at the quality you want. Know that using cheap oils and butters will result in product that is cheap to make but also can look and feel cheap to your buyer.

While I make several products my first love will always be making the soaps. Whether for a show with buy and walk out customers to huge wholesale orders with big stores I sweat over making every batch. My love for making the soap runs deep. Almost as much as my love of writing.. almost.