How do you make soap?
People have been making soap for thousands of years. The basic recipe is still the same, mix fatty acids (fats, oils) with an alkali (soda ash, potash, sodium hydroxide). Simply put, when the oils and sodium hydroxide are mixed together, they make soap. What happens when they are mix together is called saponification. 100% of the sodium hydroxide is used up when the soap is fully saponified and cured so there is none left in the finished soap.
Glycerin is created during this soap making process which makes soap really moisturizing for the skin. Our skin loves it! Real soap will contain glycerin. But, most commercial ‘soaps’ do not.
Because Glycerin is so moisturizing, the commercial ‘soap’ manufacturing companies remove it from the soap and sell it to other companies in the cosmetic industry. This makes their ‘soap’ not soap at all, it is now a detergent which is very irritating, drying and harsh on the skin. They are not allowed to label their products as soap and can only use words like ‘beauty bars’ or ‘bath bars’, but not soap.
Once you use actual soap, you will never go back to a commercial bar.
Cold Process VS Hot Process
The oils and sodium hydroxide (lye) are mixed together to begin the saponification process. No external heat is used in this process; it’s allowed to happen on its own. Once mixed, it is poured into a mold so it can take shape. The saponification process will generate its own heat while in the mold and can get quite hot from the chemical reaction that is happening during this process. Many soap makers cover the soap once its molded to allow it to heat up as much as possible to get it to a “gel phase”. The soap will set up in the mold after about 24 hours, and then it will be removed, cut and left to cure for about 4 to 6 weeks. When the soap is finished curing, 100% of the sodium hydroxide is used up and you only are left with wonderfully moisturizing soap. Some essential oils don’t make it through the cold process cure time.
Hot process soap is the same in terms of mixing the oils and sodium hydroxide but instead of letting the process happen on its own, heat is introduced and the soap is cooked on the stove to complete the saponification process before pouring the soap into the molds to set up. This is a much more involved process and takes more time to make but it’s a much shorter cure time as it only needs a week or two for the soap to fully harden up and be ready to use. Because the soap is essentially finished when it is poured into the molds, essential oils can be added at the end of the process. This is a great option when using any citrus essential oil because it will allow the scent to last longer.
What process does Spencer St. Botanicals use?
We use both. We mostly use cold process but there are some essential oils (citrus) that we love using to get a better scent using the hot process method. Also, we like the end result of a hot process bar if using alcohol in the soap, like our oatmeal stout, which is made with Guinness Stout beer. Many of our shampoo bars are also made with hot process.
We are a bit different in our cold process soap making. We don’t allow our soaps to heat up during the saponification process because we want to keep the temperature as low as possible to try and protect and preserve as many of the properties of the ingredients as possible. So, we don’t go through “gel phase”. The saponification process fully happens, it’s just slower. We start with all of our oils and sodium hydroxide (lye) at room temperature and then refrigerate our molds as soon as they are poured to keep the temperatures low during the entire saponification process. Some of our soaps, especially the ones with honey in them, have to go into the freezer instead of the refrigerator to keep them even colder during the process so they don’t burn. This process takes longer but the soap can normally be unmolded and cut after about 48 – 72 hours. This doesn’t affect the overall cure time so it’s still 4 to 6 weeks before they can be shipped out.
PLEASE NOTE: All of our soaps are hand crafted in small batches so there may be some variation in the cosmetic appearance of the soaps from batch to batch. This is normal and does not affect the quality of the soap. We use natural ingredients such as herbs, clays, foods and oils which can change the color somewhat but enhances the uniqueness of the soap and on occasion, a white ash can form on the surface of the soap but will wash off with the first use. This can be a natural aspect of the soap making process but there is no way to predict which bars will be affected. Some of our colored soaps could potentially stain wash clothes as they may contain charcoal, clays or highly pigmented herbs and foods. For a longer lasting bar allow it to remain dry between uses.