Saturday, March 26, 2011

Handmade soap ...

For me, almost every visit to a small boutique or 'mom and pop' mercantile includes the purchase of a handcrafted bar of soap. These aromatic charmers trigger beautiful childhood memories of my grandparents and an appreciation for the efforts of soapmakers everywhere.

My grandfather and his brother-in-law (my great uncle) founded a soap company in 1952, based on my grandfather's soap recipes. (He had been making soap from home for meat processors in San Antonio and South Texas since the 1940s.) While the commercial business made industrial cleaning products for manufacturing facilities, grandpa was also a wiz at making soaps for home laundry and personal use, too.

My grandfather (second from left) poses along with family members
who founded and operated the Acme Soap Co.

To this day, clean laundry always reminds me of the smell at my grandparents house. As a result, I have been facinated with the soap-making process ever since I was a child. Now that I have some time on my hands, I think it's high time I give it a try myself.

Photo via Jane Austen Gift Shop.
There are three different soap making methods: melt and pour, cold process and hot process. And, the ingredients needed for most soap recipes are often readily available at health food stores and are sold onlineStep-by-step instructions can be found on the internet as well.

Melt and pour is by far the easiest. Basically, a glycerin base is melted, colorants and fragrances are added, and the whole concoction is poured into molds.

Photo from Candles and Supplies.
Cold process soaps are made from scratch by adding lye to water - allowing it to heat, then, cool; combining it with melted oils for fragrance; then, placing it into molds. The tricky part about the cold process method is the need to cure the soaps for several weeks before using.

Hot process is very similar to the cold process, but this method relies on cooking the mixture on a stove. This way, you don't need to wait for the soap to cure. It can be used as soon as the bars are cool.

What's great about making handcrafted soap is the ability to select all natural ingredients (no more skin allergies), adding your favorite fragrances, and producing cakes for gift giving.

I am ready to give it a try, and I think my grandfather would be proud!