The Great Soap Controversy

The Great Soap Controversy

Why are daytime television series referred to as “soap operas”? Soap seems so innocent with its squeaky-clean image. How is soap tied to Victor’s famous mustache, Erica’s many love affairs, and Jason Quartermaine’s hotness? Disclaimer: I haven’t seen a soap opera since the early 90’s so I might be a little out of date on the metaphors. Actually, it was the early days of advertising voodoo that seeped into our social consciousness. More to that in a minute.

Just to be clear, this certainly doesn’t mean the handmade soap world is without its own fair share of intrigue and upheaval. There are three types of soap making. Ever get bored on a Saturday night? Pour some wine and join an online soap group just to watch the sparks fly when the topic of methods comes up. Soap makers are a feisty bunch.

Hot process soap making is the traditional, stick with the basics, honor thy ancestors, way of making real soap. Cold processed soap making is the modern, not your boomer chemistry, weird science way of making real soap. Melt and pour….well…if you use melt and pour are you really even a soaper dude? The resounding answer is all three methods are equally complicated, intricate, and at the end of the day all still soap. All three methods still result in a handcrafted, one of a kind, soapy creation born from the maker’s artistic expressions.

The style known as hot processed soap making traces all the way back to the OG days of soap. Using an external heat source, the large bubbling pots would sit over a wood fire filled with animal fats, wood ash (lye), and water. It had to be continually stirred until all the ingredients came together. This method would take hours and was rather dangerous. Making hot processed soap can and will volcano up and out of the pot and well…it’s like hot duh. This method is still popular today. Still using external heat however, we now have the tools like stick blenders and crock pots and stove tops to speed up the process. Hot process is simply cooking the soap through the various stages until saponification. It is a preferred method for those wanting to use fragile essential oils that may break down and loose efficacy in cold processed. While design applications are slightly more limited, it can be difficult creating fancy swirls, hot processed soap often has a more textured and rustic look and feel to the finished bar. I’ve made several batches of hot processed soap. It’s pretty cool watching the various stages unfold: thick pudding stage, volcano stage, Vaseline stage, to the final complete saponification stage. While a bar of hot processed soap should still cure for 4-6 weeks to completely harden, it is safe to use right away because the lye has completely saponified. Soap curing is the evaporation of moisture from the bar creating a solid longer lasting product.

Cold processed soap uses exothermic heat by creating a chemical reaction between fatty acids and bases. Once poured into your mold of choice the soap heats up from the inside out and saponification can take up to 18-24, even up to 36 hours. Cold processed soap allows for more variety and flexibility in design. A bar of soap made the “CP” way appears smoother, shinier, and generally more aesthetically pleasing. This method provides the soap artist the ability to incorporate embeds and embellishments that would otherwise melt in hot processed soap. With that being said, a full cure time of 4-6 weeks is a must with cold processed soap. Completely curing also ensures that no trace amounts of lye remain in the bar. Without properly curing your bar the user may be left with a squishy sticky ball of goo after only a couple uses, or worse they could get that uncomfortable tingling feeling from a lye burn. And now is a great Segway into reminding folks that soap is for external use only 😊 Cold processed soap making is my preferred method. Most, but not all, of the soaps I make and sell are created this way.

Finally let’s talk about the bastard of bar soaps…melt and pour. Also known as soap base or glycerin soap. Melt and pour has a bad rep. As if melting and pouring is all it takes. It’s as if other soap makers think it’s cheating on your stick blender if you create a melt and pour product. Well soap snobs be damned…melt and pour soap making has many benefits and qualities…there I said it. For starters, the soap science has already been done for you. No measuring, no mixing, no caustic lye, and no cure time. Yet from a creative and design perspective the maker can still create beautiful designs. Perhaps not quite as broad of options as cold processed, but I have seen some amazing melt and pour soap designs. Not to mention that most embeds and embellishments are made from melt and pour. If it’s good enough to go on top your soap then it’s good enough to stand alone. Melt and pour can be purchased at most hobby stores and it comes with a wide variety of ingredients such as goats milk, honey, shea butter, and even hemp. For anyone looking to get started making homemade soap I would totally suggest they begin with melt and pour. As a matter of fact, I currently have two bars in my inventory made from melt and pour. It’s the farmers market season and I needed additions to my product line that could be ready right away.

There you have it my soapy friends. At the end of the day do what’s right for you and let the haters hate. Now for the dramatic plot close and answer to the opening line…why is daytime television referred to as soap operas? In the 1920’s, in an effort to boost revenue, radio stations that aired daytime “stories” marketed for stay at home wives and mothers looked to manufacturers that would buy advertisements during the program. The first of these advertisements and what later became the bulk of daytime advertising was for none other than…you guessed it….soap. #loveyouloveyourshow

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