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Popular Techniques in Soap Making
There are several different ways to produce soap. Some are relatively straightforward, while others are more complicated. Choose the method that best matches your interest level and the time and energy you have available.
Melt and Pour
This popular method is a great way to dabble in soap making – or to get your feet wet! With this method, you purchase pre-made blocks of glycerin soap. The name of the technique comes from the fact that you simply melt the soap, add your fragrance, colorants, and additives, then pour it into the mold of your choice. There are three distinct advantages to this technique. For one thing, the soap is ready to use as soon as it is released from the mold.
There is no need to cure this soap.
Another advantage is that you don’t have to deal with lye. Whoever manufactured the glycerin soap base did that for you. Because of this, many people refer to this as lye-free soap, however, it was still made with lye – all true soap is.
The final advantage is that this method can produce a crystal clear soap, which opens up a world of design options.
The primary disadvantage of using melt and pour soap is that you have almost no control over the ingredients. Additionally, if you produce soap to sell, many customers will look down at the chemically sounding names in the ingredient list.
This is the gold standard of soap making. Cold Process soap is produced by combining oils and lye and letting the resulting mixture go through saponification to produce true soap.
There are several advantages to this method. The soap maker has complete control over the ingredients. There is a wide variety of oils that can be used in soap making – and part of the fun of the process is developing your own formulation. You choose your ingredients based on the qualities you want in your final bar of soap.
You can add an almost endless variety of elements to your soap – milk, beer, clays, fruit & vegetable puree, for example, as well as the customary colorants and fragrances.
Soap making with this method is relatively quick. You will spend more time getting ready or cleaning up than you probably will actually making the soap! Mix it up, pour it in the mold, and it sits there, doing its thing, until it’s ready to unmold.
Another advantage is that the size of batches that can be made is only limited to the size of your molds and your physical capacity to lift and blend.
The primary disadvantage of this method is that cold process soap needs to cure for four to six weeks. Although it’s said that 98% of the saponification process happens in the first 24-48 hours; the cure time allows that other 2% of saponification to happen. It also allows the soap to harden and become more mild.
Cold Process Oven Process
This method involves taking the freshly molded soap and putting in a warm (but not hot!) oven. This forces something called “gel phase” – a process in which the soap heats up and becomes gelatinous for a short time. Some soapers try to encourage gel phase, and others work hard to avoid it; it’s definitely a matter of individual preference.
Soap that has gone through gel phase gets harder more quickly in the cure process. It can also make the colors more intense and vibrant.
Some soap makers argue that hot process is actually closer to the way soap was made 100 years ago than cold process. During hot process, the soap is heated in a slow cooker, or on the stove, to speed up the saponification process.
You still have complete control over the ingredients – maybe more so! In hot process soap, you can actually control which oils are superfatted (when you use more oils than the amount of lye used can turn into soap) by adding them when the soap is done. In cold process soap, the lye combines with whatever oils it happens to connect with. There is no way to ensure that the shea butter, for example, remains unsaponified to moisturize your skin.
Another advantage is that you add your fragrances after the soap is cooked, so there is no concern about the fragrance causing the soap to accelerate or rice.
Additionally, some soapers claim that the cure time is reduced to two to four weeks, rather than the standard four to six. This is because so much of the water evaporates during the cooking process. It is still necessary to cure hot process soap, however.
The primary disadvantages are that hot process soap makes a more rustic looking bar of soap. Depending on your personal preference, this may be perfect!
Hot process soap is very thick. Rather than being poured into the mold, it is often glopped into the mold in spoons full. This makes it very difficult – if not impossible – to do intricate designs.
It also requires quite a bit of attention, and takes longer than cold process soap.
For soapers who need to produce soap for a business, the size of your batches are somewhat limited by the size of the slow cooker or stove pot. This can be a real disadvantage, although several professional soap makers have found a way to make this work. One possible solution is to have multiple slow cookers going at one time.
Fluid Hot Process Soap
There is a process gaining in popularity that allows hot process soap to be more fluid, thus creating a smoother bar of soap and allowing for design work. Fluid hot process involves keeping as much of the moisture in the pot as is possible, and adding a small amount of yogurt and cooking it again, usually for only a short time, to achieve fluidity.
This type of soap carries with it many of the advantages of hot process soap, while still allowing for a fluid soap batter. I suspect, however, that because the water is not partially cooked out, it requires a full cure time (four to six weeks).
Research each method and decide which one is most appealing to you. Or -- You may want to try them all!
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