Soap Making in the Tropics

Soap Making in the Tropics
Living in paradise can be quite challenging to the soap maker. Oftentimes the climate, political, business rules and regulations are in constant motion. This makes doing business quite a difficult feat. I have come to respect manufacturing businesses that stay in production for years. It takes a special type of determination and tenacity to stay in business.

Soaping in the tropics presents with special challenges. The environment tends to be moist and hot, making it harder to keep supplies dry and to cure soap. Working conditions may not be ideal due to the high cost of utilities, expensive and difficult to find raw materials and inaccessibility to equipment. It takes careful planning and constant reassessment to make it work.

Natural soap making produces soaps that are high in glycerin. Glycerin is hygroscopic and a humectant, so it absorbs water from the air. This causes the soap to sweat naturally. Soap sweats more because of increased temperature and high humidity in the environment.

In the drying area if the humidity is high the soaps will not dry properly. It can also cause the soap to grow mold and bacteria if the moisture is retained on the outside. The higher the humidity the longer the soaps will take to dry out.

It is important to create a drying room that is cool, away from direct sunlight, with good airflow.
In creating a good drying area:
1. Use drywall over concrete, the concrete will retain moisture longer. Drywall keeps the area cooler.
2. Use a dehumidifier to pull moisture out of the air.
3. Install an AC unit, to keep room cool and also a dryer and a fan to circulate air.
4. Store soaps on ventilated trays - turn soaps and clean trays weekly.
5. And if you still have issues with heavy moisture buildup on the soap, rework recipe.
6. Store soaps in the coolest part of the house or building.

To make life easier take care of the equipment that you have as oftentimes, it is difficult to replace. Cover scales as lye is very corrosive. ( I cover my scales with plastic ) There will always be spills. Always keep 2-3 scales, mixers and thermometers as backup.

If one lives or operates near the ocean, the salt air mingled with the heat and moisture is a deadly combination to metallic equipment. Most equipment, even if made up mostly of stainless steel parts has tiny rivets and screws that are made of steel or other easily corroded materials which over time will corrode in the sea air and in the presence of lye. So it is very important to keep equipment covered and sealed when not in use and to store lye away from equipment.

Do safety checks frequently, including calibrating scales. Remember, measurements in soap making (especially lye and oil ratios) have to be exact. Use local technicians to check equipment, and give them a copy of your equipment manual so they are familiar with your equipment before it breaks.

Since one may have difficulty sourcing raw materials, try to tailor recipes to what is available locally rather than importing everything. Experiment with indigenous materials available and explore using material that has never been used before. Use herbs that are available, process them yourself and use them fresh or soon after drying. Long term storage of herbs tends to grow mold and attract vermin unless stored properly.

Talk to local farmers to provide what raw materials you need. Contact the local department of agriculture and industry to find producers of raw materials and chemicals.

Although soap making in a tropical climate may have its challenges - it has its rewards. We have access to exotic herbs, plants and material that is relatively untouched and sometimes undiscovered. In addition, we have the enduring sunshine and optimism that comes from living in paradise!

Angela Chinhing is owner of Island Botanicals, Montego Bay, Jamaica - a manufacturer of naturally sourced personal care products.

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