December 27, 2012

How to Make Your Handmade Soap Last Longer (With Some Footnotes)

Thanks for dropping by. A slightly different, expanded version of this post can be read on

December 21, 2012

Heartwarming Holiday Soap 2012

For the past eight years, I've been writing a 'Heartwarming Holiday Story' and making a little booklet out of index cards for my A-list friends. Everyone else gets to read the stories online. The stories are never really heartwarming, but my friends are used to my cynical nature and tongue-in-cheek stance on the holiday season.

This year, some of the A-List will receive a bar of 'Heartwarming Holiday Soap' as well. I made two different kinds—one for omnivores that contains lard and one for my vegetarian and vegan friends.
Both have the same heartwarming blend of pine, ho wood, cedarwood, orange and clove essential oils.

For omnivores

olive oil pomace infused with charcoal/spirulina
coconut oil
shea butter
palm kernel oil
castor oil
poppy seeds
NYC tap water

The spirulina didn't come out as green as I wanted. I'm a bit disappointed in that.
And it was another attempt at swirls. I tossed some poppy seeds into charcoal soap batter. It's not bad, very subtle. I might try adding the exfoliator to a swirl again sometime.


For vegetarians


olive oil pomace infused with mint and lemongrass
NYC tap water
melt and pour soap

I used olive oil infused with mint to get the color in the melt and pour and I really like the stained glass effect. In fact, I really love the way melt and pour looks in cold process soap. I just wish it wasn't such a pain to work with.

A bunch of the booklets

The booklets were easy. I've done a few of them now using Photoshop—not the best program for text, but I do it in high resolution (600 dpi) then reduce it to 300.
I'm planning on including similar booklets of my short stories with upcoming batches of soap in 2013. This is how making soap will tie into my writing (there it is—finally!).

Packaged and ready for giving

One thing I'm going have to work on going forward with the Bar and a Book (just came up with that…have to decide if I like it) concept is cutting each bar of soap so it's slightly larger (to allow for shrinkage during the cure time) than the booklet which is 4" x 2 ½". That way the 'packaging' will be tidier. Stay tuned for that.
Anyway, if you'd like to read the story, here it is. Beware—some people might find it offensive.
Heartwarming Holiday Story 2012

Hope you have a happy 2013!

December 12, 2012

Experiment with Booze #1: White Star

Extra special labels for these babies.
So there are in soap-making (and in life) 'Happy Accidents,' 'Screw Ups' and 'Screw Ups That Don't Really Matter.' White Star will be filed under the later.

Surprisingly, adding Champagne to lye wasn't the 'Screw Up' part—due to my vigilant research on soaping with alcohol.  I let the Champagne go flat (fizz will cause a volcano), heated it in a sauce pan to reduce it, then popped it into the freezer. The sugar in Champagne (or any booze) can make the lye mixture heat up too much, causing scary and smelly things to happen. Ya gotta keep everything cool.

Which I did. Even the oils. Heated them up just enough so the shea butter melted.

The 'Screw Up' part was the almond fragrance oil I added at trace. It made the soap seize then separate. It looked and smelled like I was making some sort of cookie dough.

I took the stick blender to the mess, got it straightened out then blobbed it into the mold where a layer of grated clear melt and pour soap lay waiting. The idea was the melt and pour was going be 'bubbles' on top of the soap.

After just a few minutes in the mold, the soap began to separate again, so I dumped the whole thing—layer of 'bubbles' and all back into the pot for another round of stick blending.

The result was 'bubbles' throughout the soap rather than a layer. A 'Screw Up That Doesn't Really Matter.' It's still beautiful soap. And the sugar from the Champagne makes the lather creamy, fluffy and so decadent.

Still bubbly looking, but not what I planned.

I walked away with two lessons learned:

1) I love making soap with booze and will be doing more soon (vodka martinis this summer!)

2) I don't like fragrance oils and will stick to essential oils that don't play tricks and misbehave.

So, cheers. And please lather responsibly.

olive oil
coconut oil
shea butter
palm kernel oil
castor oil
Mo√ęt & Chandon White Star Champagne
almond fragrance oil

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

December 11, 2012

Be My Guest Soap

Made these for my mom to give as Christmas gifts.

They're trimmings and scraps that I molded together while the soap was still soft. About a week later I'd put a hole in the center using a chopstick and string each bar on some jute. Once I'd gotten three bars on a line, I hung them in my closet to finish curing and hardening.

I love the idea that so many people I don't even know will be lathering up with my soap this year.

November 30, 2012

Black, No Sugar

The best part of waking up

Anybody who knows me knows I love coffee. In fact my radio name during my college days at WBNY was The Coffee Orphan. I can't imagine life without it.

So coffee soap was inevitable.

And this is a triple treat. I infused olive oil with coffee for six weeks, used brewed coffee in place of water to dissolve the lye and added ground coffee at trace.

I added just a little bit of citrusy essential oils to compliment the coffee aroma—which does come through.

So what does coffee do for your skin? Well, according to stuff I've read on the internet, it's great for absorbing odors. I do know it works for cleansing your smelling pallet. You'll usually find a dish of coffee beans at fragrance stores.

The ground coffee works as a fantastic exfoliate and coffee oil is very similar to the PH in our skin, so it will leave your skin feeling soft and silky.

Other benefits I read about:  It's used to fight acne, eczema and psoriasis; reduce skin redness and under eye puffiness; repair cell and sun damage and minimize cellulite and varicose veins.

I have no idea how much of that is true, but it does smell wonderful in the shower and gives me another way to enjoy my favorite beverage.

olive oil infused with coffee
coconut oil
shea butter
palm kernel oil
castor oil
coffee made with NYC tap water
coffee grounds

lemon, orange and may chang essential oils

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

November 25, 2012

Somalian Rose and Sandalwood

This soap wasn't supposed to look like this at all.

It's made with olive oil infused with dried rose hips—which are said to be loaded with vitamin A and C, calcium and plant flavonoids.  Great stuff for your skin. And from what I read, would make a peach to mauve-ish soap.

The plan was for that with a charcoal swirl as contrast.

However, I screwed up by making a rose petal tea for the lye water, thus turning the soap brownie brown. And the fragrance oils I used accelerated the trace so there're blobs instead of swirls.
The fragrance is amazing though. I don't like straight rose (in this case Arabian rose). It smells too old lady to me, so I added Somalian rose, black sandalwood and ylang-ylang. The result is very exotic. Picture harems, silk pillows and men with thick mustaches.
It's lovely in the shower. Incredible (although brown) lather. Makes my skin feel soft and smooth. Like a rose petal.
I took a bunch of photos of the soap, but no matter how many rose petals I added or silver trays I placed it on, it still looks like a brownie.
Then I labeled it with an under layer of paper with roses on it and it did look a better--since you can barely see the saop.

olive oil pomace infused with rosehips/charcoal
coconut oil
shea butter
palm kernel oil
castor oil

powdered rosehips

NYC tap water infused with rose petals

Somalian rose, Arabian rose, ylang ylang and black sandalwood fragrance oils

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

November 24, 2012

Rosemary for Remembrance

Soap as pop art.

Some soap for a very talented friend and former tour guide, Brian Vinero.

Brian's an actor, a writer (most recently a brilliant adaptation of Euripides' plays Hecuba, Electra and Medea) and an insanely good pastry chef.

During his days at Gray Line, he always kept me amused with stories about tourists on his bus—and gossip about other guides. Every Christmas, he wrote a special 'Holiday Tip Song' that he'd sing during his tour—and bring in his samples of his yummy baked goods to share with tour guides that he liked.

Sadly, Brian has moved back to the land of Mary Tyler Moore (Minnesota). I really miss him.

Anyway, I wanted to make a soap for him that had balls. Big ones.

They're hot process using lots of olive oil pomace infused with mint for the chocolaty brown. I cut them in half once they were hard and arranged them on the bottom of my new silicone square brownie pan.

The over-pour gets it's khaki hue from white sage and rosemary.

Rosemary is said to improve your memory. Ancient Greek students used to tuck sprigs of it in their hair when studying for exams. That's backed up of course, by Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember!"

Twenty-first century research shows rosemary does indeed contain a chemical that can boost brain performance.

Rosemary smells great too.

Hopefully, this soap will trigger some fond memories of New York City for Brian when he lathers up.

olive oil infused with mint, white sage and rosemary
palm kernel oil
coconut oil
castor oil
NYC tap water

rosemary, peppermint, wintergreen, sage, tea tree, lemon, citronella, may chang essential oils.


November 8, 2012

Pomegranate and Mint #2

I had a request for more Pomegranate and Mint for a friend to give as Christmas gifts.

I tweaked the recipe and jazzed it up a bit. I love using balls. They're so playful and fun. These are hot process using lard which was scary to me. I was afraid the heat would make the lard piggy-smelling. Not so, I guess after the lard saponifies, heat isn't an issue.

It's actually a big, tedious job to make over a pound of balls—about half way through, I decided I was over making them and used the remaining soap to create the base (which is now the top). I think it looks good. Sometimes laziness pays off.  The little line separating the top from the greenish part and the lines around the balls are brought to you by powdered mint.

Note that I didn't trim these bars. After looking at thousands of soap photos online, I've become enamored with a nice, sharp edge.

olive oil pomace infused with lemon balm and mint
palm kernel oil
coconut oil
castor oil
powdered mint
NYC Tap Water

peppermint, wintergreen, clove, ho wood and tea tree essential oils.
pomegranate and vanilla fragrance oil

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

November 4, 2012

Lavender and Lemongrass

I tried doing a swirl using alkanet as a coloring, but the soap started getting too thick too fast and I ended up with very inelegant blobs. It was good soap though—lavender infused olive oil and a really healthy amount of lavender fragrance oil (Exotic Fragrances was out of lavender essential oil—can you imagine?). I think the fragrance oil actually accelerated the trace.

So I shredded the blob soap and sandwiched it. It's not as pronounced as I'd like, but still pretty.
That beautiful green is from olive oil infused with lavender and lemongrass—which I have a ton of. It grew very nicely in my plot this summer. I have a feeling I'll be using it a lot.
This lemongrass part was cold process/oven process—or CPOP as it's called on The Dish.  Regular cold process, but then you tuck the soap into the oven to force it to gel.
Most soapers seem to pre-heat their oven to 170 degrees and then turn the oven off when they put the soap in. I don't dare turn my oven on—I haven't since the 20th century. God knows what's in there that could catch on fire or just stink. So I just let the pilot light do the work.
Much easier than regular hot process. I think it looks better too.

Olive oil pomace infused with lavender and alkanet/lemongrass
Palm kernel oil
Coconut oil
Castor oil
NYC Tap Water

Lemongrass, ylang ylang and may chang essential oils
Spanish lemon verbena and lavender fragrance oils

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

October 23, 2012

Happy Accidents

What I got when my camera lens didn't open all the way.

I had this drawing professor in college who smelled bad. Really bad. Like a homeless person.
It was torture when he came over to look at your work. I wore turtlenecks spritzed with  Naim so I could pull the neck up over my nose and mask the odor.
He was a good teacher despite his aversion to washing.  He was always having us look at what we were drawing, not the drawing itself. "Have your pencil follow your eyes," he'd tell us. "Don't worry about what your drawing looks like."
He also talked about 'happy accidents.' That was when you made a mistake that ended up inspiring you. Like lines that were wrong, but still interesting. More interesting than lines that were right.
'Happy accidents' always stuck with me—even though I didn't pursue a career in art.  When I write a first draft of a short story, I look at what I'm writing about (in my mind's eye) and not what's on the paper—misspellings, words used incorrectly, crazy sentences. Sometimes I end up with happy accidents. Maybe it's the way I phrased something or two very different images that I merged into something fresh.
And now I'm finding that happy accidents happen in soap. Colors don't come out the way I expect, layers aren't straight,  fragrances morph—and they end up being more interesting and beautiful than what I had intended.
I'd love to meet up with that professor again and tell him how important his 'happy accidents' have been to me. I'd also give him a bar of soap.

August 8, 2012

Experiment with Melt and Pour #2: Miguelina!

The finished product

There were a few steps to making this soap:

1.    I made the dark purple soap in the very center of the squares using alkanet, then cut it into strips. That was easy.

2.    Then used melt and pour colored with annatto and coated them. Ack! Again, I don't like the way melt and pour sweats and bleeds and sticks where it shouldn't and doesn't stick where it should. I have a lot of respect for people who use it on a regular basis and do all those amazing thing. It took quite a few attempts to finally get the purple embedded—and it didn't look as nice as I wanted.

3.    Cut the sweaty, cloudy embeds into squares.

4.    Arranged the squares on the bottom of a square mold and sprayed them with rubbing alcohol so they'd adhere to cold process soap.

5.    Made a big old basic batch of soap fragranced with vetiver, neroli, clove and tea tree essential oils and colored with annatto.  Also added some rice flour. I read somewhere that it's good to hold fragrance, so when I saw it in bulk at a health food store, I said why not?

6.    Brought the soap to a very light trace and carefully poured it over the embeds, using a spatula to keep the pieces from moving around.

7.    Banged the mold to get rid of air bubbles and to be sure the embeds were all coated properly.

8.    24 hours later, I unmolded. Beautiful. Sexy, fun, a little rock and roll. Kind of like a punk rock Velveta cheetah. I was happy and thought maybe melt and pour has its place and that I just need to work with it more.

Straight from the mold and looking fab.

9.    Then I cut it. Ack again! The melt and pour embeds popped out of the soap in some spots. I ended up doing some major repairing and trimming, but finally got some decent bars.

10.  I then had to come up with a name. 'Velveta Cheetah' doesn't make you work for soap. Was going to have a contest on the blog, but didn't think I had that many regular readers. Finally I brought samples (all the not-so-nice bars) to work and one of the ticket sellers said, "Oh, my God I love this, I want two bars. It smells so good. And it's so pretty."

Her name is Miguelina, so I named it after her.
Final note: it does smell great and although it's very floral, men adore it. It's lovely in the shower and really lasts—although when the embeds melt away you're left with a bar that looks like Dial.

July 3, 2012

Experiment with Melt and Pour #1: Hibiscus

Olive oil infused with hibiscus. Beautiful, isn't it?

I'm going to start out by saying that I'm not a really big fan of melt and pour soap: it's kinda pricey, it's a pain in the butt to work with and it doesn't seem very natural as far as the ingredients go.   

But I bought some to try and make hibiscus soap. A friend of mine gave me some powdered hibiscus, "Can you make this into some soap? I love the color."
I told her that I love color too, but from what I'd read hibiscus is pH dependable and it'll turn brown in the presence of lye.
"Well, just try."
So I infused the oil and bought the melt and pour thinking that since it's 'pre-made' the PH might not morph the color.
Alas, no. It turned a bluish color and then I got this:

Not a bad color if you like tan...
So much for hibiscus.

June 21, 2012


So refreshing.

The perfect bar for hot and sticky summer days.
And a colorful way to use up some of my soap scraps.
Fragranced with a cooling combo of peppermint, sage, orange, tea tree, lemon, wintergreen, holy basil, clove, may chang and benzoin resin.
Olive oil infused with mint and annatto. Shea butter to soothe sun-parched skin. Coconut and castor oils for mucho lather. A generous dose of cornmeal to scrub away sweat and irritability.  Lard to make it gentle—and last a long time—even if you take a forty five minute shower. Which you'll be tempted to do.

June 4, 2012

More Olive Oil Soap

The soap looks a little raggedy here, but the photo is cool. Taken from my roof.

So maybe this soap (and its variations) will become my signature soap.
It's so easy to make and showcases the different herbs from The Readers' and Writers' Subplot. And since it's fragrance-free, it's great for people with allergies and asthma—yet it still has a slight scent from the herbs.
Do the benefits of herbs survive the lye? Who knows? I've read opinions on both sides. Plus there's the school of thought that there are no benefits from anything in soap because it's a wash-off product.
That I totally don't believe.
Anyway, I wait about twenty minutes between making and pouring the layers. It seems the right amount of time to let the soap firm up enough to hold another layer.
People say it looks like vegetable terrine. Or sedimentary rock. I'm the only one that thinks it looks like bacon.
Still not fond of the word 'castile.'

Cleaned up and in the garden.

Herbs used: hyssop, lemon balm, orange mint, lemon verbena, pineapple sage, passion flower, chamomile, lemongrass, basil, eucalyptus, Russian sage, dill and some powdered rosemary.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

May 25, 2012

Hot Process Castile

This almost needs a paper umbrella.

I really love making olive oil soap. Funny though, I don't like the word 'castile.' It sounds harsh. But it's the proper word if you use 100% olive oil.
This was done using the hot process—which I'm feeling more comfortable with. I like that you don't have to wait so long for the soap to cure.
Cut it into big chunks to avoid all the weird trimmings that I have when I use my silicon loaf mold. I think it has a more 'Gilligan's Island' look to it that way as well. Used Coconut/Lime Verbena  fragrance oil that I found at Gold Star. So summery. Added some ground lemon verbena and poppy seeds for fun.
Myrtle, jasmine and rhubarb infused in the olive oil are responsible for the great color.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

May 23, 2012

Sometimes It's All About Fragrance

Yes, this a beautiful bar of soap (if I do say so myself) made with alkanet embeds and confetti for a mysterious, but modern look—but its scent will blow you away. Tunisian Naim.
I found the fragrance when I was in college from some African man selling oils on the street. It might be the antithesis of  patchouli—which people either love or hate (because it smells "like a dirty hippy"). Naim smells clean. Floral, but not femmy. Rich and exotic, but not heady or overpowering.
Naim means 'level of heaven' in Arabic.
I've yet to meet anybody who doesn't love it.