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Soap Making: Learning From A Professional

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Last weekend I was able to watch my friend Kari, the owner of the company The Soap Barn, make a batch of soap.  I'm interested in learning to make my own soap and Kari says she'll teach me.  A lot of people are scared to make soaps using lye  so they stick to melt-and-pour soaps.  Why use lye?  Lye is the ingredient in soap that makes it harden.  You can't make soap without it.  A reader mentioned this to me and I've done further research and even glycerine soaps are made with lye.  In my experience the melt and pour soaps seem to to be softer while the soaps made from scratch are often harder and last longer.  From the reading I've been doing there are many factors that control the texture and the hardness of your soap including the proportions of your ingredients, method used, and the length of time you let your soap cure.  The only benefit of using melt and pour soaps, in my opinion, is to avoid having to use the lye yourself because it's already been added for you.  Otherwise it's more expensive to use and you have a lot less control over the quality of your finished product.

  • All her soap ingredients are measured by weight on a scale.


I have never seen a lye based soap being made so it was fascinating and exciting.  One thing Kari pointed out to me is that she usually has all her soap making components ready to go, but because she was going to show me the process she dissolved her lye while I was there and we let it sit for a while.  When you add water to your measured amount of lye the water starts heating up immediately which is really weird and certainly illustrates how caustic it is.  She said she would normally have mixed the lye and water a couple of hours ahead of time because a lot of soap-making is about temperature.

A tip from Kari: always add your lye to the water, never the other way around.  If you add water to the lye you could make a lye volcano and hurt yourself.

All the soap making books and on-line instructions I've read have you cooking your lye and oils on the stove top.  Kari used to make her soaps this way too but heard of another way of doing it years ago and hasn't gone back since.   She adds her lye to her oils and then blends it with an immersion blender until it thickens to the trace point.  When it's reached the proper thickness she pours it into one of her wooden soap molds and puts it in the oven on a low temperature for several hours.

 

Doesn't that sound easier than cooking it on the stove-top?  Watching Kari make this batch made me feel a lot more confident that I can learn to do this too.

You can see how thick it got just before she poured it into the mold.



Here's Kari smoothing the soap into the mold before heating it in the oven.  After about a day in the mold it will be hard enough to remove and cut into bars but you need to let the bars cure for several weeks, even a few months, for the soap to reach its maximum hardness.

Why should you bother to make your own soap?  I think there are a few compelling reasons to make your own soap.

Control Of Ingredients: the majority of soaps out there, whether or not they are fancy or cheap, have a lot of ingredients you'd be better off not using on your skin or polluting our waterways with.  Skin is a porous organ and anything you put on it will also go IN it.  Skin absorbs poisons really well.  So whatever you put on your skin should be healthy, gentle, and pesticide free.  The best way in the world to control what's in your soap is to make it yourself.

Cost Effectiveness (household economy):  there are some very cheap soaps out there that will fit a frugal budget but in most cases I'm willing to bet they've got a lot of stuff in them you wouldn't really want inside your body.  Natural soaps are expensive.  You can nearly always save money making things yourself.  Not if you buy expensive kits from craft stores or from fancy gift shops, but if you buy bulk ingredients you can save a lot of money.  Sometimes buying bulk isn't worth it for one family; consider going in on the ingredients with another family and make the soaps together!

No Packaging Waste: every single time we purchase something it comes in packaging.  It is possible to buy soaps in specialty shops with no packaging, but this is still rare.  More often than not soap comes wrapped in some kind of paper and often it comes in paper and also a box.  It may not seem like much, but it all adds up.  When you make your own soap you don't need any packaging.

Personalized: when you make your own bath products half the fun is in being able to make exactly what you want.  You develop herbal combinations that specifically suit your skin type and your individual taste in scents.  Why let soap companies cram more lavender down your nose?*  There are so many essential oils and herbs you can use in your soaps to suit who you are and what your body really wants.  I think we all deserve that.

We haven't set a date yet but when Kari teaches me to make my own batch of soap I'll be writing up a detailed tutorial so that you can make your own too!

If you have no interest in making your own but would love to have another source for quality hand made natural soaps- check out Kari's soaps at The Soap Barn!


*I LOVE lavender but I have a friend who hates it.

Hot Spot Remedy: DIY Pet Apothecary

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hot spot remedy 2

My dog got her first hot spot recently and I couldn't afford to take her to the vet.  She was licking the base of her tail obsessively and after a couple of days of this a completely bald round spot developed on her tail.  I noticed that it started getting slightly infected looking and so I looked up what the cause might be.  It became clear very quickly that she had a "hot spot" which is a section of skin on a dog that becomes infected with bacteria (known to vets as pyotraumatic dermatitis) and itches, so the dog licks it until it becomes worse and eventually the most infected spot loses its fur and the sore may even ooze with pus.

In my dog's case I am almost certain the cause was fleas because we had neglected to give her flea medication for several months.  Other causes of hot spots may be irritated anal sacs, allergies, thick coats, or grooming issues such as tangles and mats.

A friend of mine who works in a feed store looked up the ingredients in their most highly recommended hot spot treatment and suggested I might be able to make one of my own.  (Thank you Blaize!!)  The three ingredients she mentioned were the chamomile, aloe vera, and the tea tree oil.  It seemed that my dog's hot spot was very itchy and I had harvested some plantain from my yard because I'd read about its anti-itch properties and I decided that this would make a good addition to the hot spot treatment.

Once I made up the remedy I sprayed my dog liberally with it directly on her hot spot and then I did my best to lift the fur of her heavy coat to spray the skin surrounding the hot spot.  Before this she had been very agitated about her sore area and when I tried to examine the area she growled and warned me to keep my hands off.  She had been chewing and licking the area obsessively so it was easy to notice that after the first spray application she must have felt some immediate relief.  She stopped bugging the spot almost immediately and only tried licking it again after an hour or two at which point I applied another round of spritzing her hot spot.

Within 24 hours she stopped touching her hot spot entirely and it was able to scab up and heal.  She still has a little bald spot on her tail but there's no sore left at all.

What You'll Need:

Non reactive sauce pan (either stainless steel or enamel coated)
Wooden spoon
Strainer
3/4 cups dried chamomile
3/4 cups dried plantain
1 Tbsp aloe vera juice
6 drops tea tree oil
2 cups water
8 ounce spray bottle

Method:

In a nonreactive small saucepan add the chamomile, plantain, and water and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat and simmer herbs for a half an hour or until the water has reduced by about half.

Strain out the herbs and then pour the liquid into the spray bottle.  Add the aloe vera juice and the tea tree oil drops.  Shake well every time before use.

Store in the refrigerator.

To use:

Shake up the remedy and then spray it on the affected area liberally.  Rough the fur up around the hot spot to expose the skin and spray as you do it.

You should notice an improvement within the first few hours.  Be very careful to notice if the exposed skin of the hot spot reacts to the spray.  If it shows any signs of getting worse stop using the spray immediately.  Though all the ingredients in this remedy are mild and in normal circumstances shouldn't cause your dog's skin to react, there is always the possibility that your dog may be allergic to one of the ingredients so use common sense.

Apply the spray to the hot spot every couple of hours until your dog stops worrying the sore and lets it begin to dry out.  Stop using the spray when the hot spot scabs up and your dog is no longer paying any attention to it.


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