The Mister and I are very enthusiastic and excited about our new business venture. Aside from running my consulting business, which I sort of fell into, we’ve never tried this and it has turned into quite an adventure. I’d like to take you all on an excursion into what it has been like for us so far.
This idea was born from somebody else’s tragedy. Jennifer had bought handmade soaps for me as a birthday gift a couple years ago and I immediately fell in love. Handmade, natural soaps have a thicker, richer lather, they smell better, and they moisturize better. Plus, they are made from ingredients that you can pronounce and oftentimes find in your own kitchen. Unfortunately, the woman that Jennifer bought the soaps from, her business burned to the ground in the California wildfires of early 2008. Sadly, she decided to sell off the last of her stock (I was fortunate enough to be in California at the time and scoop myself up a few bars, heheh) and close up shop for good. I tried to find somebody else to buy soaps from but they were either too expensive or I didn’t like them for their smell and their ingredients. I figured that if I couldn’t find what I wanted, I should try making it myself. Thus, our journey began.
The Mister thought it was an excellent idea as well and we proceeded to buy every soap making and small business book we could find. This led to extensive research into oils, colorants, scents, additives, and the steps necessary to start a home-based business. I recently posted about how my weekends are pretty much like my weekdays because we don’t get a break anymore. The soap business is why. We have devoted the majority of our spare time and money into getting ready. With the VT house drama, we’ve had a tougher time getting started than we might have otherwise, but it’s been something positive to focus on and probably what has kept the paddy wagon at bay, lol.
We’ve had a few setbacks with botched recipes and experiments but it has been a learning process and even the setbacks have been positive lessons learned. Most of all, it’s FUN! Once you put aside the fear of working with sodium hydroxide, mixing ingredients and experimenting with different scents and additives is exciting.
Here are a few pictures from our most recent batch. I won’t include everything that goes into our process so as to not give away our secrets, heheh, but you’ll get the general idea of what it’s like and how much work goes into it. This is a eucalyptus/spearment bar colored with spirulina which is what gives the soap it’s green color. Without colorants, our soap tends to be a butter-yellow color which is nice, but we don’t want all our soap looking the same.
This is the lye mixture. It’s made from sodium hydroxide and distilled water. What’s really cool about this is that when the sodium hydroxide reacts with the water, it heats up to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s very important to use cold water because hot water would make the reaction even hotter and dangerous. It’s also important to wear an apron, long sleeves, gloves, and eye protectors because this solution will burn your skin pretty severely.
After the lye solution cools to between 90 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit, we combine it with our choice oils and butters which have also been melted and heated to between 90 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some batches we use one or two oils and others three, four, or even more. Which oils and butters you use and in which quantities determine the hardness, the quality of lather, and the moisturizing effects it has on the skin.
After mixing the lye and oil to what is called trace, we add in scents, colorants, and other additives such as ground flower petals, oatmeal, or even coffee. So many different things can be added to a cold process (that’s the way we make our soap) soap batter that the possibilities are limited only by our imagination. Well, that and our bank account, heheh. Essential oils that we use to scent our soaps can be really expensive.
After adding in the last ingredients, the soap batter is then poured into molds. Again, the shape of molds and the materials used (as long as they can withstand high temperatures without melting) provide many different opportunities for your imagination. We, however, have chosen to use wooden molds and to cut our soap into bars. I like the rustic, natural look of them rather than shaped molds such as seashells or flowers, etc.
This is a simple, wooden box mold that the Mister made for us to use. It is big enough to hold two batches of our soap. Each batch makes 30 bars. The soap batter has to be left to harden for 24 hours before being removed from the mold. This also allows for the saponification process to complete which is the process the lye and oils go through to become soap. After 24 hours, we remove the soap from the mold in one flat bar and then cut it into smaller bars to package and sell.
We have chosen to use a drywall putty knife thingy that we bought at a hardware store. It probably has an actual name but I can’t think of what it is at the moment. All I know is that it works wonders when cutting soap. We tried using an actual knife but this gives better control and also makes it so that I cut the bars straight, heheh.
As you can see, they are a little rough looking. In about four weeks after the soap has gone through its curing process, we will take a block planer to them and make them prettier. Not too much though because I don’t want them to lose their rustic naturalness. We just want to give them a little uniformity.
And there you have it. From start to finish, the whole process takes about four weeks which is why we are constantly trying out new recipes and making new batches. It takes a while to build up our stock.
We will be open for business shortly. We need to take care of a few technical details and wait for our stock to cure and then we’ll be set to take orders. It’s scary but it’s a good scary. What’s life without a few risks?