Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Handmade soap is  an inexpensive luxury. That may be an oxymoron, but its true. I love sinking into the warm, steamy, water of my claw leg tub, surrounded with the scent of lavender and a bar of soap that feels like drawing silk across my skin. It's a very decadent, lavish experience.

Not given to a lifetime of pampering myself, it has become an event that I look forward to every evening. After I began manifesting more symptoms of an immune system gone haywire, my skin began to suffer. It was often itchy, dried out easily and nothing seemed to help or soothe it. Out of desperation, I began to research things that might make a difference. For over 7 years, the idea of making my own soap had intrigued me, but I hadn't the courage to overcome my fear of lye. Deciding that for hundreds of years, women did make their own soap, using unstable ingredients and inconsistent outcomes, I decided if they could do it, so could I. I took the plunge.

I studied, read, followed internet boards, blogs and every other modality of information on soap making I could find. I slowly purchased the needed equipment over the course of time and appointed myself a date that I was going to begin. Randyman made me a couple of molds, I donned my goggles, elbow length hazmat gloves, bandana over my face bandito style and even added shoes to the ensemble, in the name of safety. I opened windows, locked out dogs, put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door and warned Randyman not to speak, touch, or otherwise engage me while I was immersed in the undertaking. I stepped into the kitchen in my soap making uniform and after glaring at him for his failure to suppress his hilarity and admonishing him for his "mad scientist' comment, I began.

I had already made several 'dry runs'.  My recipe and instructions were clearly displayed, my oils were measured, my lye was measured, all my equipment and ingredients were close at hand. With grave concentration and a few misgivings, I began.

Into the water, I began to pour my lye. Never, ever, do this the other way around. The lye must go into the water, not the water into the lye, or you risk spattering and serious burns. Lye is an extremely caustic material able to melt skin, oils, hair and other things on contact. That's why it is such an effective drain cleaner. As I slowly poured and stirred, I waited anxiously for the great toxic cloud of lye fumes. They began to rise and I turned my head away to gasp for breath before turning back to my work. Having kept the lye water in a stainless steel bowl in a sink full of cold water helped the fumes stop early and cooled the mix down quickly, as it had almost instantly shot up over 200 degrees. This is not child's play.

With a thermometer moving back and forth, my bucket of oils and pan of lye mix finally came close enough in temps for me to mix. I poured them together, watched them begin to emulsify almost immediately and began to stir with my stick blender. It didn't take long before I reached what is known as 'trace' and I added my lavender essential oil to the mix, poured it all into my freezer paper lined molds and spirited them away to the back room where I insulated it all with towels.

I took off my uniform, tossing the bandana and goggles nonchalantly on the kitchen table. I pulled off my gloves and went to look in the mirror. There was definitely a change. I was now a 'soaper'. I had conquered and prevailed. Tomorrow night would tell me if I was victorious or not.

The following night, I pulled the molds out from under their insulation and was able to pull the soap log out. I cut them into bars, eyes rolling in ecstasy as I inhaled the lavender wafting from the bars. Now I had to wait but two more weeks to see if the product was worth all the effort.

It was.

The end product was unlike any soap I had ever tried. It left my skin feeling not just clean, but silky smooth and moisturized.  There was a definite difference. I began to experiment with some different formulations. Each type of oil brings a different quality to soap. Some are moisturizing, some make great bubbles, others creamy lather, yet others are super cleansing. After several months of testing, working on soap calculators and trying things out,  I had pretty much fine tuned my formula to what i wanted. I added milk, which nearly matches the PH of our own skin and it made the bars superior.
All these bring qualities that I really liked. I think you will too.

All my soaps are handmade and hand cut, right here at the ranch. The milk soaps are made with milk from my own Nubian goats and Jersey cow. Some soaps even have organic ingredients that grow right here in our pastures.

Soaps are made with combinations of lard, tallow or vegetable shortening, lye, olive oil, coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, palm kernel oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, shea butter and essential or fragrance oils.
Specialty soaps may have additional ingredients such as egg, honey,  beer, pumpkin, milk, pine tar or nettle tea.
Glycerin is a natural, skin conditioning, by-product of homemade soap. In commercial soap it is extracted to be used in more expensive beauty products leaving the soap more of a detergent which strips the natural oils out of skin and hair. All soap, commercial or artisan, is made with lye and fats. That is what soap is. After combining, the chemical reaction turns the lye and fats to soap, which is technically a salt!

Granma's old lye soap, however, used lye made from wood ashes, which was very unstable and she was unable to weigh out the oils and measure to 1/10 of an ounce to produce a consistently safe and usable product. Today we have  stable and consistent ingredients to work with and  can confidently turn out a luxury soap time after time.