Monthly Archives: May 2013

Look What You Made Happen!

Moore-4 Moore-3 Moore-2 Moore-1Over 100 each of Foaming Liquid Soaps and SunSoap bars, and about a dozen Hand & Body Creams for good measure. You guys are AWESOME – without your help, I might have been able to ship off one box of soap, but not FOUR!  Over $1,200 worth of soap was shipped yesterday.

Seriously, I am in complete awe of the response I got to my request for donations to this cause. You are all incredible people. Thank you for helping!


This Is Not The Post I Was Planning For Today

I was planning to announce a Memorial Day sale/coupon code today, but I’m not. I’m still running the soap drive for Moore, and I don’t want to distract from that right now.

However, remember you can get a coupon for 30% off a future order by contributing to the soap collection. Read about how to do it here.

Thanks, everyone – and I’ll have a more standard sale in a few weeks!

Help Me Help Moore

OK, everyone, I have a favor to ask.

I have been packing up soap for the last day and a half to send to Moore, OK. I don’t know if they’ll hand it out to people who are staying in the university dorms or other shelters due to having lost their homes, or if they’ll keep it for use by the people who are coming down to help clean up, but either way, it’s bound to come in handy.

Where you come in is this: I can send a fair bit of stuff on my own; I may not be able to spare an overwhelming amount of cash at any given time, but soap I usually have in plenty. HOWEVER, I am willing to bet they can use all the soap (bar and liquid both, and probably shampoo and conditioner and lotion, too) that they can get, so I’m offering you the chance to help me help them.

Here’s how it works: Purchase any items at our Etsy store ( using coupon code MOOREOK, and you will receive a 70% discount on the purchase, and I will ship the items you purchased DIRECTLY to one of the donation addresses which have been provided. After your purchase, you will receive a coupon code good for 30% off a future purchase as well, to thank you for helping.

If you don’t want to pick out specific items to send, use the above coupon code to buy a gift certificate (we have $10, $25, and $50 denominations) and I’ll put together a donation packet of the appropriate size.

I will very likely batch multiple purchases together into single boxes for more efficient shipping. If this results in my having collected more than $10 more in shipping fees than I end up spending, I will donate the excess to the Red Cross.

Thank you for reading, and please share the word.


Yesterday I paid a visit to my aunt’s fourth-grade class!

4th Grade Demo 1

Pouring soap into the mold.


After talking a bit about the history and science of soap, I fired up the soapmaking apparatus and demonstrated how it’s made. The kids stayed several feet back while the mixing part was going on, obviously, but they loved watching the process, and once the blending was done I let them file past and take a look at the soap in the mold.

One batch down, one ready to go.

One batch down, one ready to go.

Then I put together a second batch, of Waste Not, which is the soap I had handed out pieces of as samples. This went pretty quickly, and then they asked a really surprising number of excellent questions.

A good time was had by all, and I think there’s a good chance I’ll be back next year to do it again!

Oh, and the first demo soap was cut this morning:

4th Grade Demo 3

Melon Melon Melon

New Soap Studio Update

I’ve still got a long way to go in setting up my new workspace, but I did accomplish one thing this weekend:

Fragrances: Organized!

Fragrances: Organized!

It’s not the world’s best photo, partly because I haven’t installed the new lighting yet. It does convey the general idea, though. It is a 4′ wide, 6′ tall bookcase, sized for mass-market paperbacks, which I have converted to fragrance oil storage. Several shelves are stacked two or three bottles deep, and there are two shelves above the photographed area which are still unfilled; I expect to fill them with smaller bottles of oils and extracts.

So: It’s only a beginning, but it feels pretty good to have one piece of the project finished – and also to have the fragrances organized MUCH better than they have ever been before. Next up: Establishing a place in the new studio to set up storage for packaging and containers awaiting use.

Leopard Spot Challenge Redux!

As I said earlier, I’m working on some self-set challenges to follow on from the ones Amy Warden ran. I started with a repeat of my strikeout on the Leopard Spot soap, which went much better this time:

Bright, summery spots!

Bright, summery spots!

Still not perfect, perhaps, but definitely well within the parameters of what I was aiming for. Plus, it’s just cheerful. This soap makes me happy!

Next up: Peacock Swirl – I’ll be giving this a test run at a demo next week, and we’ll see how it goes. If it implodes spectacularly, the demo will be extra interesting!

Saponification: What on Earth Is It?

And here again is one of those terms which pepper the inside of most crafts, making the newcomer feel adrift in a sea of syllables. So, indeed, what on earth is it? At it simplest, saponification is the process by which lye turns oils into soap.

Let’s back up a bit. The reaction of an acid with a base is one of the first and simplest reactions demonstrated in elementary chemistry, and plays a role in everything from grade school science fair volcano eruptions (baking soda + vinegar) to the rising action of quick breads (baking soda again, with buttermilk and/or cream of tartar). Most of these reactions produce fizz and heat, but one thing every single one of them produces is salt. No, not (usually) NaCl/table salt, but still, salt.

Let’s back up a bit more. An acid/base reaction which does produce table salt is this:

NaOH + HCl –> NaCl + H2O

Sodium hydroxide (lye, caustic soda) added to hydrochloric acid produces table salt and water. When you look at it that way, a salt can be handwavingly described as the front half of a base and the back half of an acid joining up, and leaving the remainder of their original compounds to fend for themselves and find new compounds to be part of. In the above reaction, it’s pretty simple, but some reactions of this category are a bit more complex.

What does all this have with soap and saponification? Well, saponification is, at its heart, an acid-base reaction. Wait, what? Acid? Yes, acid, though it’s true they’re not what we traditionally think of as acids. I’ve talked before about triglycerides and fatty acids (and indeed touched on several of these points at that time), and it’s those which provide the other half of this reaction. A triglyceride molecule is a big, unwieldy thing; it has one “head” – the “glyceride” part – and three long “tails” – the fatty acid chains. The first step in the saponification reaction is to knock the head off from the tails, leaving the head and the tails both free to react with something new. This step requires the presence of water, which is part of why we dissolve our lye crystals in water when making soap (the other reason is that without dissolving in something very like water, NaOH will not separate (“disassociate”) into Na+ and OH- ions and therefore will not be able to enter into chemical reactions). After this, the sodium from the sodium hydroxide binds to the fatty acids, creating soap, and the former glyceride “head” binds to the oxygen and hydrogen (the “hydroxide” portion) from the sodium hydroxide, creating glycerol, which we usually refer to as glycerin.

Image credit: V8rik at en.wikipedia.

Here’s a picture to help that make a bit more sense. The “R”s in this picture represent long fatty acid chains, shortened this way so we can concentrate on the bits of the molecules which are participating in the chemical reaction. On the left is a triglyceride molecule. The arrow represents the reaction with water and sodium hydroxide/lye, and on the right are three soap molecules and one glycerol. The reaction is the same with potassium hydroxide, by the way, for making liquid soaps.

OK, so, that’s a whole big pile of chemistry talk. I’ll be honest, I don’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about the nuts and bolts of the chemistry when I’m actually making soap, but there are a few things which I try to keep in mind. For one thing, the early part of this reaction requires heat, but a later part generates it – which is part of what creates the “sweet spot” of heat when soaping. Too cold and the reaction will take a very long time to complete – several days or even a week; too hot and it will create a runaway chain reaction and you’ll end up with a soap volcano. It explains the function water plays in the process, and why we don’t want to discount our water too steeply when soaping. It explains where the glycerin that is part of the reason handmade soap is so awesome has come from.

Anyway, why is saponification such a significant reaction? Well, you know the old saying about how oil and water don’t mix? Which, true, they don’t. There are two general categories of substances, and by and large, things will only mix with other things from the same category as themselves. So you can mix olive oil and canola oil, and you can mix water and beer, but if for some insane reason you wanted to mix olive oil and beer, you’d be out of luck. Which in that case is probably a good thing, because, eww. But saponification produces a molecule which is one kind of substance – the Na and O end of the thing – at one end, and the other kind – the fatty acid tail – at the other. So it is able to stick to oily, yucky, dirty stuff with the tail, and then the other end is able to hook up with water and wash the whole mess away, soap and dirt alike. Neat, huh? (Chemists call this kind of molecule “amphiphilic”, but we don’t need to worry about that.)

So, suds up – soap is awesome!