A Quote from the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, Inc:
“Known as ‘handmade’ or ‘homemade’ soap, handcrafted soap is a blend of both science and art. By combining the scientific knowledge of the last 150 years and the artistic creativity of the soapmaker, each bar is safe, luxurious and unique.
Soap ingredients are usually food-quality, natural ingredients starting with a variety of vegetable oils such as olive, coconut, or palm, or purified tallow or lard. To these the soapmaker might be added specialized oils, nut butters or seed extracts to bring the desired qualities to the finished bar.
Fragrance oils or plant-based essential oils are added for scent. For color or texture, soapmakers often use cosmetic-grade pigments or dyes, botanicals, herbs, spices or other natural ingredients. For those with sensitivities, many soapmakers also make “simple soap” with no additives or scent.
In addition to all the wonderful ingredients that may be in handcrafted soap, perhaps the biggest advantage of handcrafted soap is in the soapmakers themselves, each of whom invests their care and attention to detail into every batch and bar.
When you use a bar of handcrafted soap, you know it was made with the personal touch of a local soapmaker.”
- Reasons to Use Handmade Soap
- Store-Bought Baby Wash Ingredients
- All About Handmade Soap
- Melt & Pour Soap (referred to as MP Soap or Novelty Soap)
- Cold Process Soap (referred to as CP soap)
- Hot Process Soap (referred to as HP soap)
- Soap From The Enchanted Bath
- A Note About Lye
- A Quote From Articlebase.com
There are many reasons to consider trying handcrafted soap. Listed below are some links that explain these reasons much better than I can. Some of these links are to the web sites of other soapmakers who, like me, find soapmaking to be a fascinating process as well as a great outlet for creativity.
If you have always used a popular baby wash for your children, you may want to compare your wash with my handmade Buttermilk Baby Soap. These are the ingredients in the most popular store-bought baby wash:
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine
- PEG 80 Sorbitan Laurate
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- PEG 50 Distearate
- Tetrasodium EDTA
- Sodium Chloride
- Polyquatemium 10
- Quaternium 15
- Citric Acid
These are the ingredients in my handmade Buttermilk Baby Soap:
- Olive oil
- Coconut Oil
- Sodium Hydroxide
How is handcrafted soap made? Most handmade soap fall into three categories; Hot Process, Cold Process, or Melt & Pour. I use the Cold Process method for nearly all my soap, however I occasionally make some Melt & Pour soap, and sometimes even mix the two. I usually list my Melt & Pour as ‘Novelty’ soap. Listed below is an explanation of these three methods.
MP soap is the quickest method of soapmaking as it does not need to be cured, so it is ready to use right away. In MP soapmaking, a pre-made chunk or block of soap is melted, then color and fragrance are added to it. It is then poured into a mold where it hardens quickly. It may also be called ‘Glycerin Soap’, which can be confusing because all types of real, handmade soap contains glycerin.
The MP method of soapmaking has many advantages – most notably that it is quicker than other methods and does not involve handling lye. Because there is no lye used, it is a great way to get children started in soapmaking. Because of its texture, it can also be poured into intricate molds, creating beautifully-detailed soap bars. This type of molding is more difficult to do with the other two methods of soapmaking. When you see gorgeous handmade guest soaps with a very detailed picture or design, the kind that are almost too pretty to use, chances are they were made with MP soap.
Technically speaking, some people point out that when a soapmaker uses the MP method, he or she is not actually making soap; they are improving plain, already-existing soap. Most MP soapmakers would be offended by this statement. Making MP soap can require a lot of time and skill, depending on how elaborate the MP soapmaker decides to get with his/her designs. This type of soap can be quite artistic and beautiful.
Several examples of excellent soapmakers who make artistic MP soap are my friends, Ada, NaYeon and Suzanne. Ada is located in Florida and she specializes in MP soap. You can see what gorgeous MP soap designs she creates by visiting her web site, SoapMuchLove. Even her web site is adorable! NaYeon is located in Washington. Not only does she make MP soap, she also makes other kinds of soap including some incredibly realistic copies of food, flowers, cartoon characters and more. You can see her work on her Facebook page, Castle Lake Studio. These ladies have talent! My good friend, Suzanne, from Suzy’s Soaps, Etc., also makes the cutest MP soap and she lives right here in my area so we get together for soap projects on a regular basis.
Although MP soap starts off with a pre-made block of soap, what MP soapmakers do with that block of soap can be time-consuming and the resulting designs can be incredible. So it is up to each individual client to decide whether MP soap is handmade ‘enough’ for them. MP is not my specialty but I do make some and you can find most of them in the Products for Children section of this site.
One notable difference in MP soap and soap made by other methods (Cold Process or Hot Process), is that the original block of soap that an MP soapmaker starts out with almost always contains at least some preservatives. This may or may not be an issue for you. Keep in mind the soap you have been using for years has come from a store shelf and definitely has lots of preservatives and additives in it. As a matter of fact, it isn’t even soap. It is detergent. Look at the label of your favorite soap. You won’t see the word ‘soap’ on it anywhere. It will be called a cleansing bar, a beauty bar, or a deodorant bar. It has so many additives and foaming agents that it can’t legally be called soap anymore.
Soap made by the Cold Process method (referred to as CP) or the Hot Process method (referred to as HP) do not begin as a block of pre-made soap. CP soap is made from scratch, so the finished soap rarely contains the same amount of preservatives as some MP soap. The exception would be if the CP or the HP soapmaker adds any colors, dyes or other ingredients that may already contain a miniscule amount of preservatives.
There are varying opinions on the subject, but most books and literature I’ve read, claim that CP and HP soaps are more gentle to the skin than the MP soaps. This can vary, however, depending on the amount of preservatives and chemicals in the original block of soap that the MP soapmaker buys from their soap supply company. NOTE: Many soap supply companies are starting to offer blocks of pre-made soap with more natural ingredients, and fewer chemicals and preservatives, so many MP soapmakers choose those blocks to limit the amount of additives in their MP soap.
Many people claim that the cold process method of making soap produces a soap that is gentler on the skin. This is the reason I chose this method when I began making soap. The CP method of soapmaking begins with lye, water, and several different oils. These are edible oils that people use in their kitchens every day – olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, etc. There are many oils and ingredients that can be used in CP soapmaking. Each oil contributes a different quality to the soap.
Since certain oils provide the best lather, and others provide the best cleansing, and still others provide the best moisturizing, the goal is to combine the various oils so that you end up with a bar of soap that has a good combination of all these qualities. An experienced CP soapmaker can break it down even more and tinker with their recipe ratios to get a creamier lather as opposed to a bubbly lather. There are endless possibilities as far as combining various types of oils and the ratios of each oil. CP soapmakers sometimes spend years perfecting their recipes and they often guard those recipes as jealously as any master chef guards her secret pie recipe. I can’t claim to be in that category yet.
Once the oils are chosen and measured by the CP soapmaker, they are set to one side, and the next step begins. Lye is mixed with water (or with other liquids like goat milk) and then the temperature of that mixture is monitored closely. Temperature is very important. When the temperature of the liquid mixture and the oil mixture is at the right point, the liquid mixture is added to the oils. The entire raw soap mixture is then blended until the CP soapmaker notices that the mixture is beginning to change in consistency. Color, fragrance and dried herbs like chamomile may be added at this point. The CP soapmaker can then pour the soap mixture into a plain mold, or they can get creative with it.
Although it can be difficult to get CP soap to pick up all the tiny indentations of intricate soap molds (remember, many soapmakers use MP soap for those types of molds), it is possible. It takes a bit of finesse to get this to work with CP though, so most CP soapmakers do not pour their CP soap into those complicated molds. Instead, they find different ways to beautify their CP soap creations. They make swirls in their soap, or they embed one soap within another soap, or they pour different colored layers, or they make soap that looks like cake or cupcakes. So CP soap is super gentle, rich and luxurious and can be fun and pretty as well.
I chose the CP method for most of my soap. I have control over what goes into my soap and, more importantly, what does not go into it. The amount of preservatives in a product really does make a difference to many people. You may be trying to live a healthier lifestyle by reducing your exposure to chemicals, or you may be struggling with sensitive skin. Or you may just want to buy fresh soap from a small business, instead of buying soap from that national mega-store chain. Whatever the reason, I know you will become a fan of handmade CP soap once you try it.
Hot Process Soap is somewhat similar to Cold Process soap in that it begins by adding lye to water and oils, such as palm oil, coconut oil, and olive oil. Unlike CP soap, the oils are heated and stirred for a long period of time, usually in a crockpot. This type of soapmaking takes longer to make than MP soap, but not as long to cure as CP soap. I will not go into detail on this method as I do not yet use it, but I will be playing around with this method in the future.
Do preservatives bother everyone? Of course not. The next time you go into your bathroom, pick up your kids’ baby shampoo bottle or your liquid soap and look at the ingredient list. Many of those unpronounceable things are preservatives. If you haven’t had a reaction to those products, you probably aren’t going to have a problem using MP soap, which often has a few additives in it because it starts with the block of premade soap. Kids adore MP soap though because of the cute designs and bright colors. Will your child have a problem using MP soaps? Unless they have exhibited signs of sensitive skin or had a reaction to a commercial soap, probably not.
So which soap method should you use if you want to be a soapmaker? And which soap should you use if you are a client who would like to try handmade soap? The summary below may be helpful. It is not something I wrote, it is a few sentences I copied from somewhere on the internet (I need to find that site again so I can give them credit for their work):
• Children, beginning soapmakers and soapmakers who don’t want to work with lye are probably better off using the melt & pour method.
• Traditionalists might prefer the hot process, which is the oldest method that humans have used to make soap.
• People who want to pamper themselves with extra conditioning soap might like the cold process method.
My cold process soap is luxurious, gentle and very conditioning. I use food-quality oils and cosmetic-quality fragrance and color in my soap. For those few people who have ultra-sensitive skin, I make ultra-gentle soap that has no added fragrance or color.
I also make a soap that contains real goat’s milk from a farm around the corner from me, Lucas Farm. The owners of this farm love their goats and treat them well, so I like to think my goat’s milk soap is especially good since it’s made from the milk of contented goats (smile). Lucas Farm also provides homes and adoption services for animal rescue, including large animal rescue. This is another reason I love the place. Please visit their site and consider adopting a hard-to-place animal or donating to them to help them care for the abused or neglected animals they have rescued.
At The Enchanted Bath, I have 3 or 4 basic recipe combinations that I use for most of my soaps. All my soap recipes include three or more of the following food-grade oils: olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, palm kernel oil, sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter, canola oil, avocado oil, avocado butter, sunflower oil, safflower oil, jojoba oil or hempseed oil.
Depending on the recipe, I may also use goat milk, tea, honey, wheat germ or herbs. The tea is a green tea that comes straight from the tea bags on the grocery store shelf. Many of the other herbs are from my own garden where they are grown naturally without the use of pesticides. Distilled water and lye are used in all the cold process soap recipes but there is no lye left in the finished soap so they are very safe, gentle and moisturizing for the body and face.
Lye is also known as Sodium Hydroxide. If you look at the ingredients on the best-selling baby washes, you’ll see they include Sodium Hydroxide in their product. Lye causes a chemical reaction in oils that changes them into soap, then the lye is gone. It is no longer in the soap.
Many people have tried to find a way to make soap without using lye, but it is just not possible. If you are using a product that didn’t start out as lye, then you are using a detergent; not soap. I use detergent to wash my car, my clothes and my kitchen floor, but I do not want to use detergent to cleanse my skin.
Even the soap in the MP soap blocks was processed with lye (unless it is a block of detergent base), although people using these blocks do not have to handle the lye themselves. It is important to note that just because soap begins with lye, the resulting soap is not your great-grandmother’s harsh lye soap of yesteryear. Granny made her soap with EXTRA lye so that it would still have lye remaining in the finished bar. She did that because she wanted her soap to be able to scrub people free of anything, including poison ivy. She also wanted to use that same soap to scrub everything from laundry to the kitchen floor. Today’s handmade soap is a very different animal; there is only enough lye in it to cause the chemical reaction that turns oil into soap. Today’s handmade soap is calculated so precisely that it ends up with only the good stuff left in the finished bar; gentle, conditioning oils and glycerin.
“Buying and using handmade products also helps small entrepreneurs. If you buy commercial soaps, you are just supporting big companies, with factories and shipping factors. Makers of handmade soaps are usually local people, trying to sell their products which they have made using their own two hands, while encouraging people to have a better and healthier lifestyle.” [End Quote]