Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Knowing Your Stuff

You know I wanted to write a little something about having knowledge of what you do. This applies particularly if you are making something and selling it to the public at large. Do you know what you are doing? Do you have a deeper knowledge of your product beyond the price tag? Let me talk about soap, since that's my chosen field of expertise and what I am most familiar with. As you know if you've been visiting me, I am on Etsy. There are plenty of bath and body sellers on the site. Some of them are absolutely phenomenal, some are pretty good, others are fair, and others are dismal. One thing that has come to my attention over a short span of time is the amazing lack of effort on some soap crafters parts to even take the time out to find out what it is they are selling.

Let me break the soap making processes down really briefly for those of you who don't know. There are three basic ways to create soap. The first and probably most well known method is the cold process way. This is basically taking a lye/water solution and mixing it with oils until it reaches trace, or the stage of saponification. Saponification is the very process by which the oils are converted by the lye into soap solids (a type of salt really). After the mixture has reached trace, all additives like fragrance and color are added at this time. The mix is poured into the mold in order to harden over a period of 24-48 hours. After it has hardened, the soap maker usually allows at minimum 4 weeks of cure time. Curing is the process of allowing the soap to further harden, and to become more mild. The pH level drops during this period as the soap becomes more ready to be used.

The second method is melt and pour. This is just what it sounds like. A pre-made base of plain unscented and typically uncolored soap is melted down by the soap maker. After that the fragrance, any color, or other additive is added while the soap is in liquid form, and then it is allowed to harden in a mold. This soap is ready for use as soon as it hardens without the need for a cure time. I personally view this as a great way to see if soap making is a craft one would like to do. Also, for people who have small children and pets, it is safer than doing the cold process method due to lack of using raw lye in the process from start to finish.

The third method is hot process. This is the method I use personally, and find that it satisfies my urge for instant gratification (no cure time), and my need to control the ingredients in the soap. This method is basically the same as the cold process method, with the difference being that a hot process soap maker is not looking for trace to mark the end of the process. Trace is important here but to a lesser extent, because the soap mixture is being cooked until it becomes usable, mild soap. This is as opposed to the cold process where you are waiting for the soap to become usable on its own over time. Hot process uses heat to speed the saponification process, and bring about the end result within a couple of hours depending on the size of one's recipe.

Okay, so those are the three methods of soap making that a soap maker is gonna use. Some people use all three, others specialize in one, etc. Now ask yourself, was that hard to read? Was it very long? No, right? Okay so why can't people who choose to create soap take the time out of their busy schedule's to research what it is they want to get into? I don't think many so called soap makers understand the gravity of what they attempt to make. This is stuff that people are gonna rub all over themselves in a bath or shower. They trust us to be able to competently make a product that won't harm them due to negligence and ignorance. We are dealing with people's skin. We are dealing with their sensitivities, allergies, and all that goes with the territory. We as soap makers, and all bath and beauty makers must be aware of what we are doing. It is the epitome of irresponsibility to choose to create soap in whichever capacity, and then have no idea what you're doing. This ranges from not understanding the method you use, not knowing what's in your product, not knowing the various effects of ingredients, etc etc.

Reading a few articles on soap making does not qualify a person to make it. At first I started out doing melt and pour. I felt passionately about soap making then, but realized that I needed to know what the heck I was doing. This started out as a desire to have a sales pitch. So I went online and found out about different soap bases, what was in them, and what people were looking for and what they were trying to avoid. Once I started digging though, I realized I wasn't even close to perfecting my chosen craft. A soap crafter who uses a melt and pour base must realize that their soap is only as good as the base they buy. I realized that desirable butters and oils couldn't really be added to a MP base without negatively affecting it's quality and lathering ability. So what was an amateur soap maker to do? I could create it from scratch. So that's when I stopped all production. My soaps were mediocre at best and I couldn't tolerate it. How can I sell a mediocre product and feel proud to sell it? I couldn't. I realized that in order to move forward both as a craft and a potential business it was absolutely essential to understand soap making. If I wanted a certain type of soap I had to have certain ingredients but how to know what does what? More and more research I had to do. After careful consideration I decided that hot process was best for me because I simply do not have the patience nor the space to cure cold process soap. I would end up with no less of quality by choosing this other method, so the choice was made.

I am still learning about soap making. I am becoming more of a fan of it not only because it feels so much better, but because I am learning about why store brand soaps are becoming more and more undesirable to many. See until recently I was only a fan of making it. I knew that the quality was much better than any store bought brand I had ever used, but chalked it up to being more natural. That is indeed true, but there are other factors as well. I have not purchased a single bar of store soap since I have been creating my own, and I don't plan to.

One other thing. People get into soap making as a business for different reasons. Some simply want to make money. The bath and body/cosmetic industry is a multi-billion dollar one. I want to cash in on this as much as other people. I can't be mad at that if someone got into it because they saw a potential money-maker. It is hard times economically here in the US, and making soap is honest work. Some people get into it because they have loved it for so long and decided they want to share the fruits of that love with others. For me it is both. I want to make money with this because I believe I can. I'm broke and find that this is an honest way for me to get back on my feet financially. I find that I love it so much, that even if I were not to sell soap I would make it anyway. I am enthralled with doing this so much so, that it drives me to keep finding ways to improve it, and that calls for more and more research all the time.

I guess what I really want to stress is to those who wish to make money doing this is do your homework. It is really unprofessional and reflects badly upon you and others in your field when you have no knowledge of what you're doing. Please, please, please read up on it. You don't want to harm others nor yourself all because it wasn't worth your time to simply know. That's all I want to say.


Carol said...

This is great advice. As a new soap maker, I am reading everything I can about the subject and want to be as educated as possible. I also use the hot process, I am too impatient and lack the space for cold process. It like your blog and will bookmark to read.

Lave-me! Soap Co said...

great blog. i need to check out the one below on laundry soap too!