What is it about handmade soap? For me, it’s part of a lifestyle thing that’s been happening in the last few months. I’m tired of uber-manufactured stuff. I don’t want to buy art that’s cheap reproductions of masterpieces. I want art by artists I have actually had conversations with. I don’t want to pay almost 5 bucks a loaf for bread that’s full of preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients. I want the bread that my Mom taught me to make that infuses my house with an aroma that’s nothing short of heavenly. I don’t want bars of soap that are mostly detergent and are full of chemicals…I want the real deal. I want soap.
I could, of course, buy it at the market, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, that just wouldn’t be ME. The mad scientist in me demands that I make it. It’s a melting thing; I’m obsessed with melting things. I melt things simply because I CAN. It started with candles but has ended with me sitting with a torch in my hand melting silver, and gold, and copper, oh my! Soap is somewhere in the middle of all of that.
One of the steps in soapmaking is melting the solid fats to mix with the lye. Even as I lop off chunks of coconut oil, palm oil, shea butter or mango butter, they begin to melt on my hands, threatening to shoot off in undesirable directions. The instinct to wipe my hands on a towel is replaced by the instinct to massage the oils into my skin. And that’s the whole point to handmade soap…those lovely oils. Did you know that?
I get a lot of people, including my dad (who first taught me about the process of soapmaking), wondering why on earth I would spend my free time making …wait for it… Lye Soap!!??!! My dad was always threatening my mom with rendering down the fat from the year’s Moose hunt and making soap with it. This absolutely scandalized my Mom. Mom was raised during the depression and remembers “lye soap”. She hated it. It says poverty and want and deprivation to her. She remembers it as being harsh and smelling of rancid fat. After all, they made it out of whatever was no longer good enough to eat.
The reality is that you cannot have soap without lye. Yup…it’s true. If you have a bar of soap in your shower, no matter what you paid for it or where you bought it, it was made with lye. The lye is what interacts in a semi-miraculous chemical reaction with fat and becomes soap. Homemade soap is also chock-full of glycerin. You can buy glycerin at the pharmacy and add it to your bath for a moisturizing soak. It’s ironic that glycerin is what commercially- made soap almost always has had removed. So they can sell it separately. So you can add it to your bath for moisturizing. Am I the only one who doesn’t see the sense in this?
By making my own soap, I control what kinds of fats are used, what fragrances are added, and the quality of all the ingredients. Soaps made with luscious shea butter, mango butter, avocado oil, jojoba, aloe…..yummmm. Ylang Ylang and Plumeria essential oils. *swoon* The list goes on and on. I also control the ratios of these ingredients and can superfat my soap. Superfatting at McD’s is bad….superfatting soap is GOOD. It basically means I can use a little less lye than is required to convert all of the oils to soap, which leaves a percentage of those lovely oils free to moisturize whatever the soap touches. Namely, me.
Good-quality homemade soap is one of life’s little luxuries. It can fit into almost any budget without great sacrifice elsewhere and the payoff is pure bliss. A scent-laden, foamy, frothy, slippery bath that can leave you feeling like you deserve….The Empress Divine of All That You Survey. Or at the very least you’ll be clean and spiffy-smelling. Which is better than the alternative.