Monday, February 21, 2011

Bursting Bubbles

I wonder how much it would take to buy a soap bubble, if there were only one in the world. ~Mark Twain

I love homemade soaps and I have been buying homemade soap locally for some years. The soapmaker, whose soaps I prefered, moved away from being just six miles away a couple of years ago and although I could still buy her soap online and have it shipped, it was a more expensive soap without those expenses on top, plus there is something far more fun in smelling and selecting the soaps in person. After the first one moved, I began getting my soap from another soapmaker just four miles away, whose soaps are less expensive and I did not like quite as well, but they were sufficient for the last few years.

Although I stopped by for soap sometime before Thanksgiving, I again forgot the phone number, so I looked up the website online only to find it was no longer there. Not so easily discouraged, I found it the Google cached site and called but the phone service disconnected. I eventually looked around some more and found a number that was working and talked to the soapmaker. Because of her health, she is no longer going to be able to make soap in quantity, but more as a hobby to sell to local established customers, like me, but then that also means I may not be able to count on her continuing to make the soap and, even if she continues, my favorites will most likely not be available as was the case this week.

You might be wondering what is the big deal. Why do I not just go to a regular store and buy commercial soap. I will explain why homemade soaps work much better for my sensitive and dry skin:

Many commercial soaps are made from petroleum distillates and remove the natural occurring glycerin, a humectant that attracts moisture. This creates a skin drying detergent. (Did you know that the extracted glycerin is then sold to manufacturers of lotions and creams, which are almost necessary after bathing with commercial soaps?)

Although the term “glycerin soap” typically refers to clear soaps, technically all soaps that do not have the glycerin harvested out are glycerin rich. The benefit is that skin washed with this soap is left with a thin layer of glycerin, which draws moisture to the skin and leaves skin with a wonderful feel that is not greasy or oily.

Hot processed soaps can produce clear soap (aka glycerin soap), but cold process is the most popular among soapmakers of yesteryears and today. Cold process soaps are made using lye, animal fats and/or vegetable oils, and water forming a chemical reaction called saponification. The natural emollients in the fats and oils are retained. In fact, some soaps are supper fatted by adding emollients such as jojoba oil or shea butter after most of the oils have saponified. Essential oils can be added as well as natural coloring and other ingredients, like bits of oatmeal and herbs, for more appeal and therapeutic values.

There was a time I mistakenly thought that all Castile soaps were liquid, but they can be bar soaps too. Soap that is made without animal fat and exclusively with vegetable oils is Castile soap. The most commonly used oils are olive, coconut, almond, hemp, and jojoba. Castile soaps have a very high alkalinity, usually around 9 pH, therefore are not recommended for hair, as hair typically needs between 5 to 6 pH.

Although bar soaps are known to be messier to deal with than liquids, I am convinced that the little bit of extra care that is required of a cold processed bar of soap is worth the benefits. I like the how they lather well, leave the skin moisturized, and have a wonderful scent. Now that I have found just the right soap for my skin type, I have not had to use lotion after a shower for three winters saving making the little extra I spent in soap well worth the savings! An added plus, a fresh bar of soap can scent the entire bathroom as well as a candle and they make memorable gifts too.

Now the odd thing is that I have been reading about how to make my own homemade soap so much when I began buying it that I could probably write a step-by-step manual at this point, but I have not been brave enough to just do it. I even bought lye in the last six months, which is not so easy find these days because it is used in drug production, I am told, however I found that Ace Hardware is still selling it locally. So, for the last few months, I have the lye and instructions and all the kitchen utensils I need, and I just needed oils (or lard or tallow) and scents, which can be the costly parts. Our finances have been really tight, and even though it would save us in the long run, I have to think about the short term also. Plus, it was just easier to pick up some soap on my errand day than to do all that preparation but with my soap source becoming unreliable, it now seems I have a more motivating reason to begin making soap myself.

I also think it is interesting that I have been rather intrigued with making things in my kitchen that seem to have an experimental quality to me. I even almost enjoy cooking!? (I am sure I am just hormonal.) So, as soon as I have a budget again, perhaps within two months, I am determined—de-ter-mined—to make my first batch of homemade soap. Well, that is the plan and I bought just enough soap to last just about that long, a self-imposed incentive.

~ My Lord, I am continually amazed by the things man makes with the elements You provided. Some things are very good and useful, while others get me concern and should be used with care, as is the case with lye. Please help me to be well prepared and protected in making homemade soap. I am really looking forward to finally doing it. ~


  1. I'm sure you will be very good at making your own soap. I am on a quest to make my own bread.and am off to a pretty good start. I am soon going to tackle my all time favorite,sourdough again. Tryed this once before and it was a total flop,but I am determined to make the sourdough.Hope your soap turns out good. Blessings jane

  2. Hi Jane! I enjoy baking and especially with sourdough. I just started three years ago myself. Here is a post I did on beginning with my own starter: Patience in a Sourdough Loaf

  3. Extra benefit: one can always write it off as science. Succed or fail it becomes a homeschooling project. ☺

  4. Ganeida: Absolutely....but failure is not an option! ;)


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