Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cold Process? Milled? Glycerin? Soap is soap, right?

In case you were wondering about the different soap-related words we use in describing our products, here is a quick rundown of the ones we're asked about most frequently (and if you want to know about something not covered here, feel free to ask!):

1. Cold-process: this is the term for the method of soapmaking we typically use. It's called cold process because, while we do heat up our oils enough to melt them, there's no real cooking involved, just a chemical reaction between a lye solution and oils.

2. Castile: this is a type of soap made using only (or mostly, depending on what you're going for) olive oil for the oil portion of the soap mixture. Using only olive oil makes the soap mild and gentle. It also makes for a good, hard (read: long-lasting) bar of soap which is white or sometimes faintly green, depending on how the olive oil's pressed (extra-virgin comes out a little greener). It takes a lot of stirring to get this soap to mix properly.

3. Milled, or French Milled: this is a method wherein we take already-made soap (we use our Castile, usually), and mill or grate it up. We then re-melt it slowly, adding other ingredients, before we spoon it into molds. There are two benefits to this process. First, it makes for a harder and longer-lasting bar of soap. Secondly, you can do some interesting things with ingredients. I always add extra moisturizing oils during the process, but also, in making cold-process soap, the lye destroys a lot of the more delicate ingredients... so for instance, you have to use a lot of essential oil for it to be noticeable in the finished soap, and if you use, say, lavender flowers or chamomile, the lye will turn them brown and ugly. Now, if you make a plain castile soap and mill it up, you can add flowers or herbs without turning them ugly colors or reducing their effectiveness, and essential oils or more delicate oils like wheat germ or Vitamin E will have a much bigger impact. These soaps don't swirl or layer well, though, as they aren't as liquid when they go into the molds- more the texture of mashed potatoes, while regular soap is more like a thin custard, and glycerin soap is completely liquid.

4. Glycerin: this is a kind of soap that's made the same way as cold-process soap initially, but when the lye and oils are mixed together, instead of pouring it straight into a mold, the mixture is heated for several hours ("hot process"). This causes the soap to become "neutral"- the part that's accomplished by several weeks of curing in cold-process soap making. When it reaches that point, vegetable glycerin, alcohol and sugar are added to the soap, and after some additional cooking time, it becomes transparent. Then I put in any additives and pour it into molds. Glycerin soap is silky-smooth to the touch and is very moisturizing and mild. This is the method we use for Fancypants soap, several holiday soaps, and some craft beer soaps, for example. (The photo to the left is our frankincense-and-myrrh holiday soap, which swirls a creamy white soap with a shimmery gold glycerin soap.) You can  swirl or layer glycerin and cold-process soap for different effects. Shimmery colors do very well in glycerin soap because, unlike opaque soap, transparent soap makes it possible for light to refract off the particles and produce a shimmer. This is also what you'd use if you wanted to suspend something in the soap and have it be visible. The up side is all the neat effects; the down side is that it takes a long time to make and somehow always makes a huge mess :)

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