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Basic Handcrafted Soap Facts

Basic Handcrafted Soap Facts

So what really is “handmade soap” or “handcrafted soap”?

I can only give you my definition as many soap makers or cosmetic manufacturers have their own view.  It’s a lot like baking a cake, in my opinion.  Do you use a box mix, or do you start from scratch with the ingredients?  I start from scratch with all of the ingredients.  I know many bakers that use box mixes and add pudding mix, and consider that handmade (made by hand).  They make great cakes and there is nothing wrong with doing that.  Handcrafted (the crafting of by hand) for me is from scratch while using the box mix qualifies as handmade.  No one way is better than the other really, it’s how much control over the final product and ingredients you like to have.  So, I’m a control freak.

MP or Melt & Pour Style Soap

The white or clear soap base that is usually purchased at craft stores is known as melt and pour. It can be melted in a microwave or over the stove and can include a variety of ingredients both naturally sourced and synthetically reproduced. This style soap is fantastic for creating some of the most beautiful works of art in soap making! Colors, fragrances and intricate molds can be used that are very difficult to use in simple Cold Process style of made from scratch soap.  One can purchase it pre-made at a store, melted it in a microwave, added fragrance, clays and herbs, then hand pour into a mold in their kitchen at home.  That certainly sounds handmade or homemade for sure.  For me to say “handcrafted” it must be made from scratch starting with all the ingredients to make soap.

Handmilled Soap is not the same as Melt & Pour

Handmilled or rebatched soap is soap that has been made using the cold or hot process method of made from scratch soap, then shredded after setting up and cooked again.  This style of soap is perfect for working with expensive essential oils.  Some people consider it a way to take care of excess soap or “save a bad batch”.  I love making soap using the rebatched method as it has a different feel than cold process soaps in general.  So while you can shred the soap just like melt and pour, it is made from scratch soap.

Read the ingredients and know what you are purchasing.  Learn what the soap maker you are purchasing from considers “handmade” and for that matter, “natural”.  Now there’s another blog post!

So now that you have my definition of handmade and handcrafted, let’s talk about soap.

BAR SOAP IS MADE WITH LYE or something very similar!

If it is made correctly, there is NO LYE remaining in the final bar of soap. This includes every major, popular cosmetic soap and every made from scratch, handcrafted soap. If what you are purchasing is call a beauty bar, well that means it’s not soap.  I am only talking about soap.  To make bar soap, a soapmaker uses sodium hydroxide which is known as lye or caustic soda. For liquid soaps, it is potassium hydroxide. Wood ashes, burnt palm leaves do not create a gentler feeling soap either as it’s the ratio of ingredients.  I have had horrible soap made of wood ash too.

What produces the naturally forming glycerin that is retained in handcrafted soap?

The chemical reaction called saponification.

Water (or milks, herbal teas) + Fat (oils) + Lye = Soap with glycerin retained.

The soap maker must calculate the correct amount of lye for the specific oils used in each recipe. This controls the amount of “super-fat” or remaining oil in a soap to make it moisturizing to the skin. If too much lye is used, the bar may be hard and crumbly. If too little, the bar becomes soft and will turn rancid faster.  Let’s think of baking a cake again. (Can you tell I like cake?).  If you use eggs, they are raw when you start but after baking, if the cake is made correctly, those eggs have transformed themselves into something wonderful – cake.  Same with soap.  You add lye and mix well with all the right ingredients and it turns into something wonderful – soap.

The reason people think of “lye soap” as being harsh is because grandma didn’t have a digital scale to measure ingredients perfectly and was many times making her own lye. It is a difficult, time consuming process and being able to acutely gauge lye strength can be difficult. Errors were made at times with this process.  All of our soaps are made with professional food grade lye to ensure consistent quality.  While I do make soap from wood ash for certain customers, I can not do that on a normal basis.

Learn how to read the ingredients

A pet peeve of mine is when people look at a label and say, “I only want ingredients I can pronounce”.  Please, that has nothing to do with quality or natural-ness of ingredients.  Some of the big unpronounceable words are simply the scientific name which is the world wide standard in listing ingredients.  This way, all countries around the world are basically speaking the same language when it comes to ingredients.  A favorite ingredient of mine is Shea Butter.  It’s INCI name ( International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) is Butyrospermum parkii.  Say that 3 times real fast.

Just because the ingredients do not include the word lye – doesn’t mean it wasn’t used. Soap ingredients can be listed three ways. Each example is the same bar of soap.

  1. Ingredients: Water, Olive Oil, Beef Fat and Lye
  2. Saponified Oils of Olive and Tallow (remember the chemical reaction is called saponification)
  3. Ingredients: Sodium Olivate and Sodium Tallowate  (Lye is a salt which is sodium).

Make certain you purchase soap from a soap maker or company that discloses the list of ingredients on the package. Soap is sometimes considered a cosmetic and must be labeled by FDA standards and sometimes it is not – and no ingredients are required. If the soap just says, Vegetable Glycerin Soap – there are other ingredients used to make it than just glycerin. Most handmade soap makers are delighted to talk about their ingredients, so just ask any of us.

There’s no such thing as 100% Glycerin Soap

This is one of those “read between the lines” thing.  Now, the maker added 100% glycerin to the soap and you have no idea how much always, but the soap is not made of 100% glycerin. Remember, soap is made with an oil, water and something to combine the two.  Out of that combination, a by-product is glycerin.  Soap can not be made with just lye and glycerin.   If is was, it would be the MOST disgusting non-lathering, mushy soap one could imagine.

So there you have it – the short and condensed versus of basic soap information.  When you love doing something as much as I do making soap, then you want people to understand.  Always feel free to ask questions.

Thanks for reading!