Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Soapmaker's dirty secret...

Soap makes you clean – everyone knows that. On the balance of probability, most people probably don’t know how it makes you clean (a soap micelle contains both hydrophobic and hydrophilic elements which interact with immiscible liquids to… I’m boring you, I’ve literally no idea who’s reading this but I can just tell I’m boring you) it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that it makes you clean.

However, what’s the story behind the story? Where does soap come from? What processes and alchemy take place? Well… It’s been my experience as a soapmaker that this is not a clean process – a fascinating dichotomy, I’m sure you’ll agree. In fact, further to this, I have documented proof from a house letting agency drawing issue to the fact that certain areas of the house were “embarrassing” when they were showing potential viewers. I’m not going to name names here as we’re about to try and get the deposit back and it’s all going a bit febrile.

Anyhow, the perfectly cured and wonderful, emollient and hard bars we generate usually begin life as one of several oils. The simple task of getting them into the right mixing pan, at the right temperature (even the right chemical state) can be somewhat trying; handling castor oil is the equivalent of trying to give jelly a hug… and not in a good way. So, right off the bat we have spillages and removing oils from areas where there should be no oil is no laughing matter as any number of BP chief executives can testify – crude, olive, castor… it’s persistent.
                                                                  Me, hard at work...

Then there’s the highly alkaline nature of pre-formed soap; all soaps contain sodium hydroxide (lye) and that requires the diligent soapmaker to wear rubber gloves, aprons and protective glasses as just one grain of NaOH can burn through your skin. The rubber gloves make it hard to hold anything, the glasses become smeared in oils which impair vision and the kitchen apron just… make a man feel emasculated.

These factors conspire against the hapless soapmaker; I’m none too graceful in any event and with the addition of artificial handicaps… well, it’s a comedy of spills and, due to the highly caustic Ph levels of uncured soap, thrills. It all adds up to numerous blotches of hardened soaps in every hue and shade the mind can conjure, as well as various ‘reject’ lumps of soapy putty of differing pliability and scent.

You’d think the simple application of water to a water soluble product would erase the problem… THINK AGAIN!

An immutable surfeit of soap. Did ever a man face such a dilemma?


  1. I am still a little bit afraid of making soap by myself. Everything is ready, except for me, ha ha ha ;-)))

    I love you soaps, btw...

  2. Just keep the kids out of the way - sodium hydroxide will really ruin their day.

    Our first batch was a disaster... but since then we've only had to throw away 1 batch in 10 months.

    Have a bash m'lady.

  3. I love that you got all geeky with it. ;)

  4. There's plenty more geek where that came from, honey.