Don’t Give the Milk (Soap) Away for Free

GreedThe March/April 2014 edition of Saponifier Magazine focuses on business advice. I cannot claim to have a lot to offer on this front because in many ways, I’m the wrong person to ask. I enjoy making soap, and I sell it on Etsy mainly so I can get it out of the house (and into the hands of people who will like it) so I can make more. I have no great plans to build a huge soaping business and quit my day job. I actually love my day job (which is teaching English, by the way). However, I do have one bit of advice I would like to offer new soapmakers or those wishing to break into the soaping business: Don’t give your soap away for free.

I don’t mean don’t give your soap as gifts. One of the best perks of being a soapmaker is that you have ready-made gifts on hand that people actually really love because they are handmade, by you, and are also great to use, a real indulgence.

I’m also not talking about donating your soap to a good cause, such as Clean the World or auctions. If you believe in the cause and don’t mind donating your soap, then donating your soap is a positive way to support the cause. However, in such cases, you are not exchanging your soap for promises of “exposure” which might lead to future sales, and there is a difference between supporting a cause and giving your soap away to an organization that plans to make money from selling it without compensating you.

What I mean when I say don’t give your soap away for free is be wary of accepting offers to donate your soap for the purposes of “exposure.” Such schemes might work, but if they don’t, you have given away a lot of your time and hard work, not to mention the money the materials cost. If people truly value the time, work, and money you put into your soap, they will compensate you for it with something less nebulous than “exposure.”

I have been approached on a few occasions to donate my soap to companies that sell bath and beauty baskets. These baskets are either given away or sold to subscribers, but those who contribute will see their products get into the hands of people who might otherwise not have seen them. The thought is that those people will then go on to buy your products. I’m not convinced that giving your soap away to companies like this will lead to large amounts of sales, but I do find other methods of exposure do seem to work.

Social networking sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram do seem to allow soapmakers to share their soap with a wider audience. Etsy is a little bit glutted with soapmakers, but I think selling on a site like Etsy might generate a little more exposure than a standalone website, unless you are also quite active in social networking and work a circuit of farmers’ markets and craft fairs. Etsy also allows you to purchase ads for a reasonable fee, which will increase the chances your items will appear at the forefront in search results.

If companies truly want to help you grow your business and offer you exposure, they will negotiate a fair wholesale price for your soap. That way, you are are compensated for your time, work, and costs, and they are still able to make a profit. Otherwise, they are looking to take advantage of you and keep all the profits.

Image credit: Liz West

Selecting Colorants for Soap: Color Theory

When selecting colors for soapmaking, consideration of color theory as it applies to design might help you achieve the design results you want. Color theory is the notion that certain colors complement one another and make for a more pleasing design. A practical example of complementary colors can be seen in Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting, The Starry Night. The Starry NightThe cool blues complement the warm yellows of the stars, but the fresh greens also look beautiful with the cool blues. Van Gogh wrote to Anthon van Rappard:

[T]he great question occupied me—colour. I mean the breaking of the colours, red with green, blue with orange, yellow with violet. Always how the complementary colours go together, their influence on each other. Of which nature is as full as of light and shade.

Yet another letter to his brother Theo dated October 20, 1885 shows how deeply Van Gogh was thinking about color. That whole letter is worth reading if you are interested in color theory. We are drawn to color schemes based on how well the colors work with one another. In the color wheel below, warmer colors, like reds, oranges, and yellows, appear on the top, while cool colors like greens, blues, and purples appear on the bottom.

Color Wheel
Color Wheel via Wikipedia

Complementary colors oppose each other on the color wheel. For example, notice that red and green oppose each other on the color wheel. They are often thrown together, particularly as Christmas colors. Blue and orange also oppose one another, as do yellow and purple. Let’s take one of these pairs and look at it in nature:

Viola tricolor pansy via Wikipedia
Viola tricolor pansy via Wikipedia

Nature seems to know well which colors will complement one another. Can’t you picture the yellow, purple, and green, perhaps with some white added in for contrast, in a gorgeous soap? In fact, one thing I often do when designing a soap is turn to nature photographs for inspiration. Another color scheme that often works well is to use analogous colors together. Analogous colors are those colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. For example, red, orange, and yellow are analogous warm colors. Combining these colors together might evoke images such as fire or even summer fruits. However, colors look very different when they are placed next to other neutral colors, such as black or white. What might that fiery combination of red, orange, and yellow look like with a swirl of black woven through it? What about white? Here is a soap in which I tried a combination of the warm colors of red and orange with white.

Cranberry Blood Orange

One soapmaker who really gets this concept is Celine Blacow of I have watched her videos for over a year now, and I have never seen her pick colors that do not go well together. Any soapmaker who is interested in learning to use colors well should definitely check out her work. Celine often uses a bit of white to great effect in her soaps. She said recently, and I confess I can’t recall in which video, that she adds white to set off the colors. Even a little pop of white can make a huge difference in the look of the soap. In his letter to Theo (linked above), Vincent Van Gogh said:

No—black and white, they have their reason and significance, and anyone who suppresses them won’t get it right. The most logical, certainly, is to regard them both as—neutral.

I recently made Mango Papaya Soap, and in selecting the colors, I turned to photographs of mangoes and papayas.

Image credit Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
Ripe papaya via Wikipedia

The colors that jumped out me were the oranges, yellows, and greens of the leaves. While there is no white in the fruits themselves, notice that the backgrounds include white, so I decided that when I colored my soap, I’d use white to make these other colors pop. ColorantsHere is the soap that resulted. Mango Papaya SoapThe colors hearken back to the nature photos of mangoes and papayas. If I make it again, I’ll use less green and more orange, but I’m happy with the results, and the colors work well with the mango papaya fragrance I used. I am not sure this soap would be as nice without the white. Colors used in this soap are titanium dioxide, Bramble Berry’s Fizzy Lemonade and Tangerine Wow pigments, and TKB’s Reformulated Neon Green.

2014 S.O.A.P. Panel and New Soaps

I’m really excited to have been chosen for the 2014 S.O.A.P. Panel by Bramble Berry. In order to qualify for selection, entrants needed to choose their favorite Bramble Berry product and discuss it in social media—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or a blog. I actually use all four media with New England Handmade Artisan Soaps, so the first decision I had to make was which social media outlet to use. I selected Pinterest mainly because I think it’s more open than Facebook (users do not need to “follow” you to come across your pins), and it seems to be used by more soapers than Twitter. I find fewer soapers use blogs than the other three types of social media, too. I am a dedicated blogging fan, and I do see a lot of value in blogging, but I felt perhaps Pinterest had the widest possible audience, so I selected Pinterest to share my favorite product.

I admit it was really hard to pick a product. There are so many that I love. However, what it came down to is one product that I use the most often and that I rely on Bramble Berry for: sustainable palm oil. I have blogged about sustainable palm oil before. There is some controversy surrounding the use of palm oil because of rainforest deforestation for palm plantations and concerns about the loss of habitat for orangutans. However, many palm farmers rely on the crop to eke out a living, and eschewing the use of palm oil entirely doesn’t help those farmers, either. The stance of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil through sustainable farming practices.

If you start looking at labels, you’ll notice palm oil is in so many things you eat. I think it is pretty nearly impossible to determine whether or not all these products you consume are made with sustainable palm oil, but when you are purchasing palm oil for yourself in bulk, it’s fairly easy to do. When I made the decision not to use animal fats in my soapmaking, I was encouraged to learn that palm oil is a plant-based oil that is similar to tallow and brings some of the good features of tallow—a nice, hard bar of soap, rich and creamy lather—to vegetable oil-based bars. Unfortunately, once I decided to use palm oil, I discovered that most of the oil suppliers I use do not certify that their palm oil is sustainable. That doesn’t mean it isn’t, but to my way of thinking, if you know your palm oil is sustainable, you will mention it. Bramble Berry is one of the few suppliers I could find that certified that their palm oil is sustainable, and it’s available at a good price. That is why I selected their sustainable palm oil as a favorite product. I use it in most of my soaps.

I apologize to anyone thinking I sound like a commercial right about now. I just think sustainable palm oil is important, and I am really happy that Bramble Berry sells it. I am a happy customer, and I am excited to try their new mystery fragrances as part of the S.O.A.P. Panel. As a side note, I recently had an issue with a Bramble Berry order shipping quite late. They aren’t sure what happened, but they made it right with a very generous coupon for future orders. I really can’t complain about Bramble Berry, and I recommend them to everyone who asks about suppliers.

Switching gears, I made a couple of new soaps that I’m happy with and excited about. The first is an Aloe & Calendula soap scented with orange blossoms and yuzu.

Aloe & CalendulaI infused the olive oil I used in this soap with calendula petals and also used calendula petals in the soap and decorated the top as well. I think the reason the soap turned out this light, butter yellow is that the calendula infusion imparted some color to the soap. Of course, it could have been the fragrances I used, but neither one is supposed to discolor. In order to find out, I’d have to try them without a calendula-infused oil. At any rate, I’m happy with the color because it matches the scent and look of the soap. Aside from olive oil, I also used coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, sunflower oil, castor oil, kaolin clay, and tussah silk. I mixed the lye with aloe vera juice. These turned out so nice, and they smell so good!

I’m learning sometimes simple is best. Some of my favorite soaps are not incredibly complicated to make, but they are wonderful soaps. That certainly isn’t to say I don’t like soaps with more intricate and difficult designs. I have reached a stage at which there needs to be a payoff. If the design is more difficult and complicated than the trouble making it is worth, then I don’t bother. I actually feel that way about the peacock swirl, for instance. Pretty (more so when the soap is still wet, however), but not worth it for me.

Yesterday I made a soap I’ve been thinking about for some time, and at the last minute, I had to change my plans, too. This soap is a Tres Leches Soap.

Tres Leches SoapI intended to make it with goat milk, coconut milk, and cream, but once I got started, I realized I had no coconut milk. I was absolutely certain I had coconut milk! I improvised instead and used goat milk yogurt after dithering about buttermilk for a few minutes. I am not sure goat milk and goat milk yogurt are different enough to be considered two different milks, but I’m going for it. In the future, I if I make it again, I’ll definitely try coconut milk. This soap is based on tres leches cake, which is a sponge cake made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream.

Aside from goat milk, goat milk yogurt, and cream, this soap also has a generous amount of olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, cocoa butter, castor oil, and kaolin clay. I scented it with a Vanilla Lace fragrance that works perfectly with the soap’s look and concept. It really smells great! The fragrance riced on me. I’m not sure if I can blame the fragrance for acceleration, however, as the recipe does have a large amount of  cocoa butter. The bars are so smooth and hard already! I don’t think I could have waited longer to cut them, or they might have been too hard for my cutter.

It is interesting to me that the soap wound up with a sort of speckled appearance. I didn’t add any oatmeal or anything else that is known to produce that look. I can’t say whether it was the milks or the fragrance. I’ve never used goat milk and cream together before. I also haven’t used that fragrance, and I typically don’t use quite as much cocoa butter as I did in this recipe. Too many variables to determine why it turned out that way, but I absolutely love it. It has a wholesome, rustic appearance. I love happy accidents. I also love the glycerine rivers. With all the milks in this soap, it got fairly hot during gel phase, and I thought I would probably have some glycerine rivers, as I also used titanium dioxide to lighten the soap up a bit. They wound up being perfect design outlines. It actually looks quite a bit like tres leches cake.

Trying Some New Things

This weekend was a busy weekend for me! I tried out a couple of new things: making cupcake soaps and soy candles!

I apologize for the bad lighting in the cupcake photos. It was dark outside already (and soon enough it will be dark by 4:30 PM around here), and I just couldn’t adjust for the bad lighting in Photoshop like I usually can.


Here are the “cakes” in my silicon cupcake molds. Very easy to use! Just peeled the cupcakes right out the next day. My batter was getting thick by the time I poured some of them, so they don’t have smooth tops. I used Anne-Marie Faiola’s Cupcake Cuties recipe (with the tweak of converting to grams) from Soap Crafting: Step-by-Step Techniques for Making 31 Unique Cold-Process Soaps. Her combination of Dark Rich Chocolate fragrance and Vanilla Select fragrance smells exactly like chocolate cake. I used the Summer Fling fragrance she suggested for the frosting in the recipe, and it definitely has a sort of sugar or frosting note.


Given that I’ve never piped anything with a frosting bag before, I didn’t do badly, but I do hope I improve!

I also tried making soy candles. I have so many fragrances. All I really needed was the wax and wicks, as I also had a box of Mason jars. I just love Mason jar candles! I think they are so beautiful. I opted not to color my wax, mainly because I really love the look of a white soy candle.


This is my Vanilla candle right after it was poured. I had so much fun that I made four more: Candy Corn, Mistletoe and Ivy, Winter Sleigh Ride (to match one of the soaps I made), and Chocolate Cake (using Anne-Marie’s combination of Vanilla Select and Dark Rich Chocolate).


I felt very accomplished after making all these candles. The soy wax was a breeze to clean up, and I had been afraid it would be a mess.

I can’t wait to try these out and see how they smell burning. Their cold throw is quite nice. If they turned out as well as I think they did, I will be adding candles to the Etsy store in time for Christmas.

Finally, I made two batches of my Coffee and Cream Soap. I only have one bar left, and I want to make sure I have some before Christmas.

Coffee and Cream Soap

I love making this soap because it smells soooo good! In fact, Steve had to make himself some coffee after I made it. I think I’ll do a Coffee and Cream candle to match the scent of the soap.

I think if I am going to make double batches regularly, I’ll need a bigger bowl. I managed to divide my soap into two batches: dark coffee and lighter cream colored soaps. Then I split my coffee and lye in two and essentially made two batches of soap.

It was a busy weekend, but I had a lot of fun. We also went apple picking on Saturday, which is one of our favorite things to do in the fall. I imagine our favorite farm will likely close the season soon.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Hope you had a wonderful weekend as well.

Woah, There: When Good Fragrances Misbehave

Most soapmakers experience accelerated trace at some point. Trace, of course, is the term for oils and lye that have been emulsified to the point that when a dribble of soap is dropped on top of the rest of the soap batter, the dribble stays on the surface of the batter for a short period of time and leaves a “trace” on the surface. Trace can accelerate for a variety of reasons.

In his book Scientific Soapmaking, chemistry professor Kevin Dunn says that trace can be accelerated based on three elements:

  1. water content
  2. temperature
  3. the presence of catalysts (e.g., ingredients in some fragrances)

If you want to slow down or accelerate trace, the easiest thing to do is control the water content or temperature. For example, if you know the recipe you are using is slow to trace and you want it to move more quickly, you can discount the water and mix the oils and lye at a higher temperature. This is a handy tip for making Castile soap, as olive oil is notoriously slow to trace when it makes up 100% of the oil content. Instead of using full water (38%), you can discount to, say, 33%, and you can mix the oil and lye at 110°.

It’s always a good practice not to discount water or mix at a higher temperature when you are working with a fragrance you haven’t used before, precisely because sometimes fragrances contain ingredients, such as clove oil, that will accelerate trace. If you have already discounted water and mixed at a high temperature, you could wind up with a seize, sometimes known as “soap on a stick.” It takes an experienced soapmaker to save soap that has seized, and sometimes, even experienced soapmakers aren’t able to salvage it.

I recently experienced some major acceleration using a new fragrance called Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Just about as soon as I added the fragrance to my soap, it started to thicken up, and it was just about all I could do to get it into the mold and attempt a swirl before it completely hardened.

I knew the soap would likely discolor because it was such a dark, reddish color. As you can see in the video, I separated the soap into three parts, two of which I colored. I was still able to get a nice swirl with a spoon, but I was really afraid the soap would be ruined because it looked like it was starting to rice in the mold, and if I had tried to stick blend it at that point, the soap would have been utterly ruined.

I took the soap’s temperature before I put it away, and it was already 104° on the bottom of the mold. Even if I had wanted to, there would probably have been nothing I could have done to prevent the soap from gelling. If I had tried to decrease the temperature by putting it in the freezer, it would have at least partially gelled. I am not a fan of partially gelled soap.

I decided the best thing to do was just to let it gel and monitor the temperature closely. If the soap looked like it was heating up too much in the mold, I planned to let it sit in a cool spot, perhaps even turn a fan on it. The temperature stayed within a “safe” range under 140°, so I did not worry too much about it getting hot.

I expected I might have some glycerine rivers in the soap, and I did, but not as bad as you might think, given the way this soap moved. Glycerine rivers can result when soap gets too hot. Essentially, they look like clear veins in soap, and they can give a sort of “crackle” effect to a finished bar. I think they actually can look pretty cool sometimes. But I don’t always want them!

If I use the fragrance again—and despite how it behaved, I might because it smells absolutely delicious—I would not stick blend after adding it to the soap. I would just stir it well. I would also lower the temperature at which I planned to mix the soap to 90° rather than about 100°, which was about the temperature I used. I already used full water, but I think that lowering the temperature and stirring rather than stick blending will make this fragrance more workable.

If you have a fragrance that sets up your soap really quickly, here a few tips to try so that you can save your soap:

  • Examine your recipe. Some oils, such as palm oil and cocoa butter, can accelerate trace. If you are working with a cranky fragrance, try increasing the amount of olive oil and/or eliminating oils that accelerate trace. Always run changes through a lye calculator so you don’t wind up with lye-heavy soap.
  • Lower the temperature at which you mix your soap.
  • Use full water (if you discounted; if you did not, adding more water might cause other problems).
  • Add the fragrance before you add the lye. You can more carefully monitor for signs of acceleration.
  • Don’t stick blend your fragrance in. Just stir it well. Stick blending will cause trace to accelerate more quickly.
  • Bang your mold on the counter. Soap that is accelerating often leaves air pockets.
  • Let it gel. It is already getting hot, and by trying to prevent gel, you will likely cause more problems.
  • Monitor the temperature as it gels. I checked my soap every so often with my infrared thermometer.

I find that gelling the soap will fix a lot of the problems you see with accelerated trace. Just let the soap do its thing. If it doesn’t work, chalk it up to a learning experience.

There are some actual benefits to accelerated trace. The soap is ready to cut faster than soap that took longer to trace. If you want to sculpt the tops, a fragrance that accelerates trace will give you a great opportunity to create peaky tops.

Some types of fragrances that tend to accelerate trace include floral fragrances (I use a lilac one that moves terribly fast) and spicy ones (which often contain clove oil or cinnamon). Sometimes sugars can accelerate trace, too. For instance, using honey or beer in soap can cause it to move more quickly.

The soap actually turned out really well considering the problems I had. You can see I had a little minor “glycerine river” issue, but in this case, I kind of liked the look. Lucky me that i liked it because if I didn’t, oh well! I suspect the bottom part to which I added the fragrance may darken more. So what caused this fragrance to misbehave so badly? It’s hard to say, as companies do not need to publish fragrance oil ingredients, which are considered trade secrets, and this particular fragrance had no reviews.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Honeycomb Soap

Before I started making soap, I used to purchase handmade soap from a farmer’s market near my house. I actually started making soap because I didn’t think it would be practical to order it from this soap maker anymore, and I found her soaps so interesting that I really wanted to try making my own. I actually researched for some months before I made my first batch.

One of the soaps this soap maker at the farmer’s market sold had a cute honeycomb effect, and I wondered how on earth she achieved it. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy. She used bubble wrap!

I use bubble wrap on some of my soaps. My Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey soap is a big favorite, and here is a tutorial for achieving a honeycomb effect in this soap.

The ingredients in my Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey soap are olive oil, goat milk, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, sodium hydroxide, shea butter, fragrance, castor oil, finely ground oatmeal, honey, whole oats.

You can purchase colloidal oatmeal, or you can grind it very finely in a coffee grinder. I use a coffee grinder. The fragrance I use is an Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey fragrance.

First off, start with frozen goat milk and slowly add your lye, a little bit at a time, making sure to incorporate all of it. Don’t rush through this part.

Goat Milk

If you are using milk, it’s best to freeze the milk and add the lye to the frozen milk. This might sound stupid, but I figure other people might not know it, so I’ll share: frozen goat milk has the same mass as liquid goat milk. So you can freeze it in ice cube trays first, then weigh the goat milk. You don’t have to weigh out goat milk portions and freeze in portions, but you might find it convenient.

I also use a stainless steel pot every time I mix my lye with any liquid because I can more easily control the temperature. Pots are made for that sort of thing, after all. I got this idea from Anne L. Watson in her book Milk Soapmaking.

Some soap makers don’t freeze the milk all the way and just let it get slushy. I find my temps stay lower if the milk is completely frozen. When the temps stay lower, the milk is less likely to discolor. If the temperature is too high, the milk scorches and turns orange.


I prepare my mold by laying a sheet of bubble wrap in the bottom of the mold. To add interest, I sprinkle a few oats on top of the bubble wrap.

Soap Batter

When I add the milk to the oils, I try to make sure the oils are 100°F or lower, but I no longer worry about the temperature of my milk. For the record, it’s usually in the 70°-80°F range. At this stage, the milk and oils are emulsified.

Soap Batter

At trace, I add honey diluted in distilled water. I am so lucky! One of my co-workers is a beekeeper, and she trades me honey for soap, so I can use raw, locally harvested honey in my soap. Honey turns the soap a pretty golden color. After the soap saponifies, it turns a golden brown. Honey will discolor soap, but it is a humectant that draws moisture to the skin and also boosts the lather in soap. Honey is amazing in soap!

In the Mold

Once the soap reaches a good trace, but is not too thick to pour evenly, I pour it into the mold. Notice I removed the dividers. I think it is easier to pour the soap in and then add the dividers, but you don’t have to do it that way.


Then I put the dividers in. Bang the mold on the counter or table to make sure the bars are even. I sometimes rock this mold gently from side to side before putting in the dividers just to even out the soap.

Oats on Top

I like to sprinkle oats on the top, just as I did on the bottom bubble wrap. It adds some interest and gives the soap a “homespun” look.

Oats on Soap

Here’s the soap entirely covered in oats.

Placing Bubble Wrap

I cut pieces of bubble wrap to fit the bar tops and gently press them into place.

Bubble Wrapped Soap

And here is the soap with the bubble wrap in place. You can also do this with log molds. Just cut strips of bubble wrap that fit the length of the mold and place one strip in the bottom of the mold and another strip on top of the poured soap.

Finished Bars

The finished bars are a golden honey color. They smell awesome! The honeycomb effect totally makes the soap. And it’s so easy!

Soap Challenge Club: Holly Swirl

Lavender Romance Soap with a Holly swirl. Ingredients: water, olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, sodium hydroxide, avocado oil, fragrance, shea butter, cocoa butter, castor oil, kaolin clay, colorant, activated charcoal, yogurt, buttermilk, goat milk, silk.

Lavender Romance Soap

This month’s challenge in the Soap Challenge Club hosted by Amy Warden of Great Cakes Soapworks was to create a soap with a Holly swirl. The Holly swirl is named for its inventor, Holly Bailey, of Missouri River Soap Company. She makes excellent soap and generously shares her techniques on her YouTube channel. You can read her blog here or follow her on Facebook here. The technique is a swirl within a swirl—an in-the-pot swirl of two or more colors coupled with a drop swirl with an additional color. Here is the video Holly made when she tried the swirl for the first time:

Holly mentions in the video that vertical soaps really make this design shine, and it’s true, but I don’t have an appropriate mold for vertical soaps, so I improvised with my standard mold.

Lavender Romance Soap

I used a fragrance that discolors, but I didn’t want it to wreak havoc on my swirls, so I only added it to the black part, colored with activated charcoal. The activated charcoal was a little gray when I first cut the soap, but as the fragrance has darkened, so has the black in my soap. I think it has a sexy look that goes together well with its sexy scent, which is a blend of rustic amber with bold Parisian lavender and a mysterious black myrrh, sweet vanilla tonka bean, and a splash of Egyptian musk rounded out with raw clary sage. I received it as a free sample from Bramble Berry in one of my earliest orders with the company, and I immediately used it to make solid perfume. It smells gorgeous! It’s quite possibly one of my personal favorite fragrances, and I just can’t wait to try this soap!

Lavender Romance Soap

I used ultramarine violet oxide and titanium dioxide to color the swirls, and they turned out well. The fragrance has not migrated very much to the swirled parts of the soap, so they have remained vibrant. The slight discoloration that did occur in some places only adds to the sexy, smoky appeal of the soap (in my opinion, at least).

As you can see, the tops have a mica swirl done with purple and white micas. I did not gel this soap because I didn’t want to risk glycerin rivers in the titanium dioxide. Also, when I work with a new fragrance, I find that not gelling is sometimes smarter because the soap is less likely to do crazy things in the mold.

This soap also taught me to love using activated charcoal in my soap. It is so much fun to see how it looks in the soap batter and the finished soap. It can go gray if you do not use enough, so you need to experiment to determine how much you might need to use.

The Holly swirl technique is fun, and I would definitely recommend trying it, even if you are relatively new to swirling. It was not as complicated as the mantra swirl or the peacock swirl, and I liked the results a lot better, too.

Milk Soaps

Milk soaps are so much fun to make, and there are so many choices. How do you know which kind of milk to use or even how to use it? It depends on what qualities you’re looking for in your soap.

Coconut MilkCoconut Milk

Coconut milk is possibly my favorite milk to use in soap, and it is also one of the easiest. Some of the qualities I have noticed are a tendency to increase fluffy lather with big bubbles and to lighten the color of the soap. Most milk soaps will be a bit darker than water-based soaps, but coconut milk soaps look lighter than water-based soaps to me. Coconut milk soaps feel creamier than water-based soaps as well. I use coconut milk just like I use other milks: I freeze the milk and add the lye a little bit at a time. The handiest method might be to measure it out in ice cube trays, freeze it, and then just use the amount you need. I think that coconut milk behaves a little better than other milks. It doesn’t tend to discolor, like goat milk will, and it is a lovely creamy white right up until you add it to the oils. I have noticed that like other milks, the lye will begin to saponify the fats in the coconut milk, so I tend to give it a stir every few minutes until I’m ready to add it to my oils just so that it stays smooth. However, I haven’t had any problems when I’ve added thicker, partly-saponified coconut milk to my oils. I use coconut milk in several of my soaps. I recently used it in a Creamy Coconut soap (along with real cream) that turned out very nice.

Creamy Coconut

Goat Milk

Goat milk is the soap maker’s standby, and it’s fabulous in soap. It comes in three kinds: fresh, condensed, and powdered. I have used all three, and I prefer using it fresh or powdered. My experiments with condensed milk did not go as well. I think it discolors more than fresh goat milk, too. If you do use it, make sure you remember that you need to add equal parts water. Most soap makers who use it will reduce the amount of water for a recipe by half and mix that with their lye, making up the other half of their liquids with condensed goat milk.

Fresh goat milk works best when it’s frozen, just as I described with coconut milk. Add the lye to the frozen milk a little bit at a time, stirring well until the lye is dissolved each time. If you keep the temperatures low, making use of ice water baths when necessary, goat milk will discolor less, but it will still discolor. I happen to think naked goat milk is rather pretty.

Lilac Goat Milk Goat milk produces a creamy, moisturizing bar of soap. It can be used raw or pasteurized. I haven’t noticed if it affects the lather much, but it does feel nice on your skin.

I also used powdered goat milk in some of my soaps. I add the powdered milk directly to my oils and stick blend it in to combine it until it is well incorporated, and I can’t see any clumps. I have never had any problems using powdered milk in this way, though I have heard some soap makers actually mix up the goat milk powder with water and then freeze it, just as with fresh goat milk. Some soap makers also add the milk powder at trace. Powdered goat milk still adds creaminess to the soap, but it’s much easier to use than fresh goat milk.

Cow Milk

I have used cow milk in my Chocolate Milk bars. It works fine, and I liked it, but I do feel that goat milk adds a certain extra something that cow milk doesn’t. I recommend using whole milk when using cow milk. It should also be frozen and mixed slowly with the lye. I noticed that while goat milk tends to turn an orangey shade when it is getting too hot, cow milk turns more yellow.

Almond Milk

I recently made my own almond milk and used it in a new Sweet Almond and Honey soap, and I loved it. The soap has a fluffy, bubbly lather and smooth feel. There are too many variables to say for certain the almond milk made all the difference—I also used more sweet almond oil than I typically do, and the soap has honey it in, which likely contributed to the wonderful lather.

Sweet Almond and HoneyI used almond milk in the same way as I did every other milk: I froze it and added the lye slowly to the frozen almond milk. I noticed this milk, like coconut milk, stayed whiter, but it did not saponify with the lye that I could tell, and it could be that it has less fat. It was nice to work with, and I’d do it again.


Yogurt is wonderful in soap. I use full fat plain yogurt and mix it with an equal amount of water to thin it. Then I freeze it and use it like I would any other milk in soap. It truly adds a luxurious feel to the soap. It feels smooth and creamy. I think some soap makers add yogurt to their oils either before adding the lye or at trace, but I haven’t tried that yet, though I have used yogurt powder in my oils, and it’s very nice—similar to goat milk powder.


I like using buttermilk powder in soap more than fresh buttermilk, but that’s just because it’s a little easier. Buttermilk has alpha hydroxy acids that are very good for facial soaps. I use it in my Lavender Chamomile facial soap.

2013-06-08 11.53.56This is a very nice facial soap for a lot of reasons, including the oil combination, the chamomile-infused olive oil, and the French pink clay and lavender essential oil, but the buttermilk contributes very nice qualities to it.


Cream is amazing in soap. I have not tried substituting all my water for cream, but I have tried adding cream to my oils before adding the lye, and it results in a very nice, luxurious feel.

Coffee and CreamIn my Coffee and Cream soap, I mixed cream with the white part you see marbled through the soap, in addition to the coffee you see in the brown part. It was a little bit of juggling, but the bar is so amazing! It smells and feels incredible.

If you want to learn more about making soap with a variety of milks, I highly recommend Anne L. Watson’s book Milk Soapmaking.

Coconut milk photo: John Revo Puno

Using Evernote as a Soaping Journal

Do you keep a soaping journal? If you don’t, you should.

  • You can keep track of your recipes so if you really like one, you can replicate it.
  • You can make note of any issues that arise with a recipe or additives, such as a fragrance that accelerates.
  • You can keep track of supplies, cure dates, and soap stock.

My day job is technology integration specialist at a private school, and I have found ways to use technology even in cold process soap making. I have been using software called Evernote to manage my soaping recipes for some time now. Here is a tutorial I made for using Evernote with SoapCalc to manage your recipes.

I have found Evernote indispensable as a tool for soap making. If you check it out, please let me know what you think.

Natural and Rustic Soaps

I absolutely adore the artistry in soaps. Talented soapmakers can do some really incredible things with color, swirls, and embeds that just blow me away. But my first love is natural-looking and rustic homemade soap. It was through a natural soapmaker that I was first introduced to handmade soap. This soapmaker was at my local farmer’s market every week, and I was entranced by some of her soaps. I never bought it (my daughter did once), but her Sunrise soap with an orange slice tucked in the top and litsea cubeba and blood orange essential oils captivated me. I started using her Dead Sea mud bar on my face, and I noticed how much better it was for my skin.

I stocked up on these soaps as I prepared to move to Massachusetts because I knew I most likely wouldn’t be ordering them online, and I was determined to see if I could figure out how to make soaps myself. The first soaps I made on my own were natural-looking soaps. When I first started, I had every intention of making 100% natural soaps, but I quickly realized that there was nothing wrong with soap colorants and fragrance oils, and in fact, fragrance oils have undergone testing to ensure that they are skin-safe while essential oils are not as regulated. Using these materials in my handmade soaps did not hurt their quality. They were still handmade, which is better than any commercial soap.

I haven’t made any natural-looking soap in a while, however, with the exception of my Lavender Oatmeal soap.

Lavender OatmealThis soap is absolutely DIVINE, and I really wish it got a little more love. I adore it. It has a thick, luscious lather and it smells amazing—it’s scented with lavender essential oil and oatmeal, milk, and honey fragrance. It is made with aloe vera juice and finely ground oatmeal to make it extra good for your skin. I have given most of the first batch I made away. My children’s teachers will receive the last of it in a bath basket I’m putting together for end-of-year gifts. One of the nice things about being a soapmaker is that I always have the very excellent gift of handmade soap at the ready for any occasion.

Another natural soap that has been a big hit with friends and family and a few customers is my Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey.

Oatmeal, Milk, and HoneyIt’s a very pretty soap, and the Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey fragrance oil is yummy. I make this in an unscented variety, too, and it also smells pretty good. I actually like the smell of goat milk. Is that weird? Honey smells awesome in soap.

I recently received a package of soaps from fellow soapmakers participating in a swap. They made some lovely, natural-looking and, in some cases, rustic soaps.

Soap SwapsSeriously, how delicious does this cinnamon oatmeal soap look?   Cinnamon Oatmeal

And I absolutely love the label on this one.

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Seriously, how cute is that? Southern Romance, and the couple sitting on the hood of a Chevy pickup complete with cowboy boots together with the rustic font? Awesome! Might be the cutest packaging I’ve ever seen.

But look at what you see when you pull off the cigar band.

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Don’t you love it? It’s beautiful! Look at the oats on the top and even the drag marks make it seem somehow more wholesome and natural than it would if they had been planed away.

And check out this Cocoa Coffee soap.

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It smells awesome and feels so smooth.

I think this last one even has dandelion flowers in it. It’s so pretty.2013-06-16 17.53.28

Opening this box made me want to ditch the colors and fancy swirls and make a natural soap again. I made a new batch of the Lavender Oatmeal, but I wanted to make something new, too.

Then I happened upon Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve’s website through some circuitous route through the web, and I was inspired by the simple beauty of their soaps. There truly is nothing like a natural-looking bar of soap.

I had been wanting to make an almond soap for a while, but thinking about ways I could make it more natural prompted me to try making my own almond milk. I tried a recipe found at Frugally Sustainable via Pinterest:

  1. Soak 1 cup of almonds overnight (she recommends 48 hours, but 24 was fine for me).
  2. Peel off the skins. She didn’t say to do this, but I did.
  3. Put four cups of distilled water in a blender along with the peeled almonds.
  4. Blend until smooth. It took me a minute.
  5. Strain milk from ground almonds with cheesecloth. I had to use a tea strainer because I don’t have cheesecloth. I am definitely getting one because a tea strainer was slow going.

The milk might taste better if you used three cups of water instead of four. It tasted fine—sort of like milk with no milk fat flavor, if that makes sense.

Before I drank any of it, however, I measured out the amount I’d need for my soap recipe and froze it overnight.

The next day, I used it instead of water in my lye.

Almond Milk and LyeThis is what it looked like once the lye was fully incorporated. It stayed a pretty, creamy white and the temperature never rose above 77°F.  Isn’t it pretty?

I decided to add some honey to the soap, even though I knew that the fragrance oil I planned to use had vanillin in it and the soap was likely to discolor. Honey can also discolor.

AdditivesThe honey is dissolved in a little bit of the almond milk. I decided to use a tablespoon of the ground almonds in the soap itself.

To keep the soap a little bit lighter, I did add titanium dioxide, but I’m not sure how much that will really prevent the vanilla from discoloring the soap.

OilsHere is the oil mixture with some kaolin clay and titanium dioxide. The recipe I used included sweet almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, shea butter, and castor oil.

I should have taken more pictures of the soap in process, but I didn’t. Here is how it looked when I unmolded it the next day. Don’t you love the cute honeycomb look? I love to do honeycombs on my honey soaps.

Soap in the MoldYou can’t really tell because of the honeycomb top, but this soap turned out rock hard and really creamy in appearance. I am not sure if that’s the almond milk or the large amount of sweet almond oil. I have never used almond milk before, and my recipes generally have around 10% almond oil at most, but this recipe has 25% sweet almond oil.

Here are the cut bars.

Sweet Almond and Honey SoapI do not know how much they might darken as they cure, as the vendor from which I purchased the fragrance oil warned that this fragrance does cause discoloration. The titanium dioxide will counter it some, but if they stay this color or perhaps darken a little more, I’ll be satisfied. But then again, this is supposed to look natural, so if it darkens a lot, I’ll just roll with it. It smells absolutely incredible. Even the sweet honey scent comes through. If you are an almond fan, you are going to want to this soap.

Ingredients: homemade almond milk, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil, sustainable palm oil, sodium hydroxide, shea butter, fragrance, castor oil, finely ground almonds, kaolin clay, titanium dioxide, honey.