Suited Up and Suitable for Soaping (and Candlemaking)

How do you dress to make soap or candles?  Are you covered head to toe in protective gear or are you be found in a t-shirt, shorts, and bare feet?

 

If it’s the former, you’ll want to read on to feel good about yourself or to make sure you’re doing things the right way.  If the latter, well, consider this a lecture.

 

Making soap and candles comes with inherent dangers, mainly pertaining to heat and caustic substances.  We’ve all heard stories about people being burned by lye, caustic soap getting in the eye, burns from a forgotten pan of wax.  To be sure, things happen.  Soap gets spilled on the floor, unnoticed.  A pot volcanoes, sending soap lava out of the pot and all over the surface it’s sitting on.  The candle wax heated up faster than you thought it would and flames appear.  A properly suited up person is in a better position to react quickly and safely than one who isn’t.

 

If it seems like overkill, think about it as if you were an employee of a company or that one of your loved ones was.  What if that company allowed its workers to be barefoot, making soap?  What if your child or other loved one were put to work in that environment without access to safety gear?  I can predict that you would rightfully expect that both you and your loved ones would be properly protected, so offer the same to yourself.

 

Chandlers, think you’re off the hook?  Not so fast!.  Hot wax is dangerous and cannot be removed easily, so as with soapmaking, shoes and socks and a heavy apron are essential equipment for protecting from splashes.  Long sleeves and eyewear are also important.

 

Even in creating bath and body products, certainly safety rules must be obeyed.  The first one that comes to mind is a mask to filter out particulates from powders such as cornstarch and powdered herbs.  The second is to protect the skin from scent by wearing gloves.

 

Finally, wearing a respirator mask when working with scent, whether fragrance oils or essential oils, is just plain smart.  We often worry about scent in regards to our customers, but tend to forget that we are exposed to much stronger scents, more frequently and for longer time periods than  the average user and thus, are more likely to develop problems with scent than the general public.

 

My advice:  get yourself suited up so you can safely pursue your craft!

 

Until next time,

 

May your days be filled with bubbles &  wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Meh or Yeah?

As I was showering the other day, I noted how quickly my husband and I go through soap.   It’s a good thing I make it!  

 

You see, hubby likes that soap-to-body experience– no wash cloths or soap savers for him.  I’ve tried to convince him to use them, but to no avail.  He also tends to judge a soap by its lathering capability, the more lather, the better.  You can quite imagine how low he would rate castile soap.  Moreover, he isn’t particular about scent, as a general rule. If it’s in the shower, he’ll use it.  He also likes larger bars than I do, and prefers rectangles.

 

I confess that I like lather, too, but I also like soap savers, cloths, and other cleansing and holding devices.  Additionally, one of my criterion in soaping is to make a hard soap, except for facial use.  Not that I don’t engineer it to be moisturizing, but if my batch wasn’t hard, then I would consider a batch to improve upon.  I do enjoy a wide variety of scents,  whether essential oils or fragrance oils and yet, I am much more discriminating when it comes to scent than hubby is.  I like different shapes in soap as long as they fit in my hand, as well.

 

Of course, as a soapmaker, I am more attuned to colors and patterns in soap than most of the general public is, and admire those so skilled as to create them.  That same consideration ranks at the bottom of my husband’s checklist.

 

Thinking about our marked preferences caused me to wonder, what makes soap perfect in your book?  Do you insist on hard bars?  Do you search for the most conditioning oils and make them a large percentage of your soap?  Perhaps scent is your biggest concern or you prefer only essential oils or only fragrance oils.  Is a particular shape or size your favorite?  Does it have to be artistic or do you prefer Plain Jane?  Are soap savers and so on, a godsend or a hindrance?

 

Tell us about your perfect bar.  What changes  ”meh” into  ”yeah” for you?

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Are You a Mad Scientist or Tried and True?

Oil.  I never thought in my life that I would care so much about oil.  Animal or vegetable, organic or refined, it captures my interest.  And for what reason?  Making soap, of course!  Now, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of oils and enjoy using many of them and experimenting with them in soap and other products.  Do you?

 

Oil choices and percentages play a major part in making good soap and a soapmaker who wants to be knowledgeable simply cannot remain ignorant of each oil they use and its properties.  Certainly, it’s possible to make soap out of 100% coconut oil or 100% olive oil, and it is common.  In fact, some of the world’s most famous soaps are 100% olive oil.  Yet, to my way of thinking, a truly wonderful bar comes from a mix of oils, each with properties that contribute to a bar that is moisturizing, cleans well without stripping the skin, lathers up well, and is hard enough to last in the tub or shower.

 

How do we find out which oils do what for soap?  Research and experimentation is the answer.  Begin with an established formula and tweak the oils until you reach what for you, is the perfect soap.  It’s part of the process for becoming a confident soapmaker.  Hint:  recipes that you run across calling for a can of this and a cup of that are best ignored.  Can sizes may change over time, so if it doesn’t state what that can size is by weight, move on.  Cup and other types of non-weighed  measurements are also potential problems. Why?  Because even cup measurements from cup to cup can vary, so a cup of shortening might not weigh eight ounces, and lye calculations are based on the weight of each oil.  You could potentially end up with either a very soft batch or a lye-heavy one.  Soap isn’t as forgiving as cooking and the ingredients were meant to be weighed out.

 

But what about you?  Perhaps you have a formula that you have used for years and you’re very happy with it, so you see no need to waste time or money on changing it.  You admit that you know just so much about each oil that goes into your soap, but you do know how to produce a consistent product from batch to batch.

 

Where product production is concerned, I understand the need for a consistent formula, but couldn’t exist without my r&d (research and development) time, but that may not be true for all.

 

Weigh in (no pun intended).  Are you an experimenter (mad scientist) type or a tried-and-true soap/bath and body maker?

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Color My World–or at Least My Soap

Color–one of my favorite topics.

 

 I find myself drawn to color, which probably explains why I like gardening, flower arranging and soapmaking.  They allow me to enjoy creativity in coloring, whether blending or just enjoying the beautiful hues.  The possibilities in creating color patterns are literally endless and I can admire photo after photo of colorful soaps that my fellow soapmakers have created.  The same is true of candles.  I’m a stickler about the color matching the scent, but I enjoy the many colors and designs in candles.  At the same time, I want to see a lilac scented candle with lots of purple.  Don’t confuse me with something red!

 

One scent/color combo that I find disconcerting is peppermint.  Have you noticed that it can be red, blue, or green?  How confusing.  Give me something easy like lemon.  The soap or candle will be yellow; but, simple, common peppermint, and I have three choices!  It can really wear on a person trying to decide which color to use in a case like this.

 

Quite often, a scent doesn’t conjure up an obvious color.  As a matter of fact, I recently made a soap using a sandalwood vanilla fragrance.  What color should it be?  I think it should be a light brown, because sandalwood is a tree and tree trunks are brown.  Also, vanilla beans are brown and the scent will turn the product brown, so I’m just being realistic.  I ended up making it light brown and blue.  Why blue?  I don’t know.  I just liked the blend, and thought it would be appropriate for a unisex soap.  You might say I’m breaking my own rules, and I am.  In my defense, however, I do attempt to offer my customers a variety of colors so that if they’re looking for a soap to match the bathroom or kitchen, I have it and for some reason, I don’t offer much in blue.

 

Do you feel the same way about color?  Must you color your soap and candles, or is it unimportant to you?  If you use colorants, what are your favorite ones?

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Remember When? A Request of the Experienced

Remember back to the days when you first began to make soap or candles.  For some of you, it’s a distant memory.  For others, it’s easily recaptured.  Regardless of the time and path traveled from then until now, try to remember how “green” you were– maybe far enough back that “green” only meant the color or that you were new to the craft!  Are you remembering how confusing everything was, how many terms you had to learn, how to procure the equipment and supplies?  Remember carefully studying the safety tips others gave you?  I want you to put yourself in that place again for a moment.

 

 

Why?  I have a couple of reasons in mind;  one of them is empathy.  If you can remember how much there was to learn and the trepidation that you felt at the beginning, you can feel empathy for the newbies you run across.  Yes, it may feel as if you’ve answered a certain question a hundred times and yes, it might seem obvious what the answer is to another.  Nevertheless, you can answer that question or help the person figure out the answer, paying back what has been given to you.

 

I don’t have to tell you that soap and candlemaking have been serious industries and crafts for centuries, their secrets closely protected and passed on to future generations.  Just as in the past, this vital information must be passed on to others now, so the crafts will be preserved for the future, which is my second reason for asking you to think about where you began.  I personally remember many teachers I had–Rita Scheu of  TLC Soaps and many others I “met” online who taught and encouraged me along the way.  Indeed, I’m not finished learning.  Just a few days ago, I asked a question which other soap makers helped me with, and that knowledge will make me a better soapmaker.

 

Potential and beginning soap and candle makers these days face a different challenge than many of us faced.  Before the explosion of the internet,  instruction was difficult to find.  Today, they are barraged with information, much of it inaccurate at best, and dangerous at worst.  If you can lend some encouragement along the way and show newbies where they can find good information (Saponifier), you’ll be doing them, the craft, and you, a world of good!

Until next time, bubbles up!

 

Beth Byrne

Soapmakers Love Oils!

We soapmakers love our oils, do we not?

 

 

Many of us like to try a wide variety of oils and become connoisseurs, learning the color, viscosity, and nutrients found in each of them.  Those of us who make other bath and body products, even more so.  We want the best oils for a balanced bar of soap, for the perfect consistency of lotion, for massage, and a host of other products.  They are, indeed, a mainstay of our businesses or hobbies.

 

One of my favorite oils for soap and for other body products is sunflower seed oil.  When we visited my city’s farmers’ market this summer, I gazed lovingly at the bottles of golden liquid sunshine offered there and had an interesting discussion with the vendors about how nice it was for soapmaking, as well as for cooking.

 

Why do I like it so much?  One reason is because it has a nice skin feel, being light and not too greasy.   It contains tocopherols, vitamin B, and trace minerals.  Sunflower oil is a beautiful color and creates an almost-white soap used alone.  The imagery of fields of golden sunflowers lifting their face up to the sun is warm and inviting, and cheerful, at the same time.  What’s not to like?  The fact that it is readily available and cost-effective helps, as well.

 

What about you?  Tell us about one of your favorite oils.

Artist or Artisan, Which are You?

What kind of soapmaker or chandler do you consider yourself?

 

Are you an artist, creating and offering soaps and/or candles that are intricate and beautiful pieces of art that customers are more likely to admire on a shelf than to use?  Or, are you a pragmatic artisan, offering to-be-used, but plainer soaps or votives and tealights?

 

At first, I made melt and pour soap and loved coming up with new ideas for making beautiful soaps.  People purchased them as gifts or to display in their bathrooms, for the most part.  Later, I learned CP soapmaking but still wanted to make artistic soaps.  In talking with a fellow soapmaker, however, she offered her observation that plainer soaps sold better.  The purchaser was more likely to use them and come back for more, not to mention the fact that they took less time to make so there was more profit to be made.  Since I was having trouble mastering the swirl, I quickly decided the plainer but more profitable, artisan route was for me.  I did miss the fancy m&p soaps and decided to make them in a few seasonal soaps if I got around to it, and I’m still working on my swirls and other techniques that challenge my creative side, but that is no longer my focus.  Part of me wants to do more, but the business side tells me to concentrate on my main product.

 

I am not a chandler, but have seen others’ work, and the artistic vs. artisan influence is certainly at work there.  I admire the candles that look like sumptuous desserts, for instance, but are unlikely to be burned, and I also admire a nicely made candle in a tin or a votive that burns well and makes the room smell pleasant.

 

One is not intrinsically superior to the other; it’s more of a preference, a market, and what one finds fulfilling, but just in case it’s not clear, here is how I separate artistic from artisan:

 

Artistic:  not the basic bar or candle; features colors, swirls, shapes, and other visual appeal designed to delight the eyes.

 Artisan:  more of the basic geometric bar or candle.  Although visually appealing, not designed for artistic market.  Designed for everyday use, instead.  Focus is on the performance of the product.

 

Of course, both are artisans.  Neither one is intrinsically superior to the other; it’s a preference, a market, or what one finds personally  fulfilling.

 

So, here’s my question:  what do you do?  Do you strongly prefer artistic soap and/or candle making or are you an artisan?  Perhaps you’ve combined the two?

 

  Until next time, happy suds and wax!

 

Beth Byrne

Whipped Soapmaking

 Have you made whipped soap?

 

I’ve been perusing sites recently, and thought I’d share a few with you:

http://nizzymoulds.com/Whipped/WhippedSoapGallery.htm (this one is classic)

http://www.soap-making-essentials.com/how-to-make-soap-whipped-cream.html

http://candleandsoap.about.com/od/coldprocesssoapmaking/ss/whippedsoap.htm

Ooh, look at that beautiful soap!  I get excited about trying it just looking at the pictures.  Although I should admit to myself that it won’t happen until after the holidays, I have a tiny glimmer of hope that I’ll sneak in a batch somewhere here soon.  It keeps me going.  For you, is it the fact that the soap floats or the creative possibilities that intrigue you?  I am definitely part of the creative possibilities camp.

LaShonda Tyree did a demo in July at the NY Bubbles & Blazes Gathering and it looked easy enough, so I don’t have any qualms about trying it, I just haven’t.  I love the possibilities with color and the impressive confection-like soaps that can be made with whipped soap, and am betting that anyone with cake decorating experience would go wild with the possibilities.  If you do decide to try it, be sure to read the instructions carefully to be safe.  Careless mixing or not paying attention to the length of time the soap needs to saponify and cure could be your undoing–but then, we soapmakers are used to exercising caution!

What about you?  Have you tried it, are you interested, is it on your soapmaking bucket list?  If you have tried it, what do you think of the technique?  Any drawbacks or special cautions you’d like to share?  Tell us.

A Soap For Every Soaper

Most of us, I believe, would consider cold process soap to be the standard, or most common method of soapmaking among those who are creating soap using lye and oils.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few variations on this theme, not to mention other types of soap altogether.

I recently watched whipped soap being made and soap being felted.  The whipped soap we worked with was simply done, but I have seen on the internet, soaps that look like bakery creations  using whipped soap.  The felted bars are like having the washcloth on the soap, and can be done mixing colors and patterns.  Some theorized that these would be particularly helpful for the elderly as they make holding on to the soap easier than a plain, slick bar.

My favorite soapmaking method is CPOP (cold process, oven process).  Some love the instantaneous results of HP (hot process).  Still others, though few it seems, rebatch or handmill each of their batches, noting with confidence that their additives are not being destroyed by the lye.

As if that’s not enough, we have liquid soap, made with potassium hydroxide (KOH) rather than sodium hydroxide (NaOH).  Naturally, then, why not a combination of KOH soap and NaOH soap, and call it cream soap?

So, you’re afraid to work with lye or your work is very artistic.  In this case,  melt & pour, sometimes known as glycerin soap, is your soap of choice.  Not that I haven’t seen amazing works of art with lye soaps, but it’s a different kind of artistry that is created with m&p, and many use it for special effects, like the adorable soap I just received.  It has a solid base, a cow embed in the middle, which is clear, and then a solid top.  Who wouldn’t love that?

What types have I missed?  What’s your favorite?  What haven’t you tried that you would like to?

 

Is Your Soap a Natural Product?

One reader, Dawn, recently commented on the last blog post, where one company’s natural soaps was mentioned from our Soapers’ Showcase. Dawn questioned soapmakers’ use of the term, “natural.”  Here is what she posted:

“Since you brought up the subject, maybe we need to look into natural again. When making my soap, I do not like to use 100% natural everything because it stifles me in color and fragrance. I think most Americans do not like the smell of most essential oils and prefer the more mellow fragrance oils or a blend of essential and fragrance oils. Until glitter is 100% natural, I will have problems making 100% natural soaps. When using mica, oxide, and lab colors in soap, it makes soap less natural. So us in the soap industry should state that our soaps are mostly natural or 95% or what ever percentage natural, should we not? Do some of you feel this way, or do you think that if we should just say fragrance and coloring on our list of ingredients and be fine with that?”

Dawn brought up an excellent question, though akin to opening Pandora’s Box.  I do want to emphasize that I don’t believe that Dawn was stating that the soap in the Showcase was less than natural, just that reading about these soaps caused her to think about the topic of natural soap.  Unfortunately, no simple answer to the dilemma exists.

Why this lack of definition?  In short, it is because we have no official definition of natural.  We all think we know it when we see it, and yet we do not all agree.  Indeed, the more we learn about cosmetic ingredients, the more complicated the decision becomes.  Additionally, the FDA has no legal definition of what constitutes natural ingredients in cosmetics.

We might, in a broad sense, consider anything that comes from the earth to be natural; but soon, we are faced with deciding how much processing in a product is tolerable before it no longer fits the category of natural.  Many cosmetic ingredients are derived from something most of us would consider natural, some of our foamers being a prime example.  At what point did these ingredients cross over from being natural to being synthetic?  Or are they still natural?  Are essential oils less than natural because of the processing required to obtain them?  Who’s to say?

Hence, natural is left to individual discretion.  Indeed, at least one group who is has undertaken the task of defining natural, but they are not a governing body, so their opinions are not official or binding.  Thus, it again boils down to individual thoughts and opinions.

The best I can offer, then, is that each soapmaker must search his or her own conscience regarding labeling and claims, regardless of what others do.  Do you feel truthful about using the term, “natural,” even though you have added fragrance oil and colorant?  If you use no more than 5% of what you consider natural ingredients, for instance, do you feel truthful in offering your customers, “natural” soap?  How do you feel about modern, lab-derived sodium hydroxide?

What do you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughtful and civil opinions.

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