Day 109: Making cold process soap.

Mary EK Denison
6 min readMay 17, 2020

I love making soap. I have been doing it for my family for several years, and give bars to clients as a gift. My kids love how it makes them feel — clean, soft, and moisturized, instead of dry. Every batch, every bar has its’ own uniqueness that can never be duplicated again. There are some soap crafters who use specific molds and cutters so that their soaps come out as close to looking the same with each bar. I’m not that kind of soap crafter. I have several molds that I always use, but each mold is different. Each recipe is different, and because of that, you are not going to get the same size bar using the different molds. Generally, my regular soaps weigh 3.2–4 ozs and some have a thicker cut than others. Partly, that’s from me because even though I have a metal cutter that uses a blade, there is enough wiggle room that the blade doesn’t go exactly straight down. I can use two different blades for it, one scalloped and one straight. Some use soap cutters that have wires strung in equal spacing so that they get a more uniformed look. This may be more important if they are wholesaling their bars. The wires cut like a cheese cutter.

That’s the beauty of hand-crafted soaps. Different additives, micas, essential oils and fragrances, etc., are going to create a uniqueness and you really don’t fully know how that will look until you cut them, and cure them. The bars in the picture won’t be ready to use, yet, because they are going to cure for 4–5 weeks. They will shrink in weight because of water evaporation. So, I weigh them right before packaging, but it can still lose weight when it’s at your house. Truthfully, the more the water evaporates, the harder your bar will become, and it will last longer because it will not melt as fast.

I call this group ‘Invigorate Your Morning!’ As you can see, they are not uniform in size. I changed this recipe from the last time I made them. Basically, the ingredients and two of the three additives are the same, and they have a light bergamot scent. The ones shown have turmeric, chili powder and a Chinese herb called Hong Hua, which is safflower. Hong hua, Red Flower, is a strong Blood invigorating herb when ingested. Turmeric, Curcuma Longa, is a part of the ginger family, and many claim that when ingested, it helps with joint pain. Chili peppers are from the genus Capsicum, a night shade plant. Some believe that capsicum will help with pain, too. All of these herbs are warm in nature. Put it all together and you have a very nice warm and invigorating cleansing bar to start your morning right, leaving your skin smooth and fresh.

But, soap has rules and regulations. The only claim a soap crafter can make is that it cleanses your skin, and all the dirt and grime wash away with the sudsing factor of the soap. That doesn’t mean that the additives WOULDN’T do what their nature does, it just means that I can’t make that claim about my soap.

Additives can cleanse your skin by removing the dead skin cells. Maybe the additive is coffee grounds, or corn meal. Because of the rough texture of either one, it is going to cleanse your skin in a different way than a bar of soap with no rough additives. It might be the type of bar you take camping, or use after gardening or other yard work that requires more of a scrubbing nature to pull the dirt away.

Maybe the bar has a lemon essential oil in it. Well, lemon has been used for centuries to lighten brown patches on the skin (sun damage/age spots, etc.). But, I can’t SAY the lemon will lighten your skin because that becomes more than just cleansing your skin, but instead is making a change to your skin. If you know the nature of lemon, you will know that it COULD lighten your skin.

Maybe the bar has mint essential oils and leaves. The leaves will cleanse dead skin cells and the coolness of mint (its nature) can make your skin feel refreshed after a long and hot day in the sun. The cool nature of mint is automatically going to cool your skin, but a soap crafter can’t make a claim that it will do that. They can refer to it as a cool cleansing bar that refreshes your skin after a long day.

Most times, soap crafters use essential fragrances to attract people by their smells, like bees to a flower. They can add a fresh fragrance to your bathroom. Your senses will decide on the mood it could enhance. Some fragrances are added to attract men. There is one called Pipe Tobacco and it smells very nice. Women can use it, too, of course, but she may prefer something more flowery.

Choosing a cleansing bar is a personal choice, and maybe just the beauty of the colors are what helps you decide. Sometimes I add mica (colored minerals that are very finely ground) to part of a batch to change it up, and create a specific bar. Once I package a soap bar in a box, I only see a small part of it. So, when I make my Gentle Aloe bars, there is a natural yellowish color to it because the saponification may create that depending on the olive oil used. Olive oils are just as unique as wines. So, I will divide the batch and use a green mica in half of it, and when I pour it in the molds, I will swirl the colors; hence, the uniqueness of each bar. Mostly, I let the colors show up because of the ingredients.

I have a Rustic Walnut Shell and Brown Sugar bar. But, black walnut hulls are much different from normal walnut hulls. Black walnut hulls are much darker, so even though they both have walnut hulls and same ingredients, they came out like two different soaps. Again, that’s the beauty and fun. You are never quite sure how they will look, but you can be sure they will be great soaps for your skin.

The main oils used are coconut oils, olive oils, grapeseed oils, castor oils, palm oils/shortening, and any fats. You could even use bacon fat, and no, you won’t smell like bacon — most crafters stay away from animal fats, but some may use lard. There are two kinds of oils, hard and soft. Coconut oil is a hard oil because it changes with the temperature of the room and if the room is colder, it will harden. Soft fats are ones that stay liquid all the time. Most soaps require a combination of hard and soft fats, with a few exceptions. You can use 100% olive or coconut oil, but other fats need the mixtures. It is a science and the amount of lye and water used does depend on the amount of fats used.

Others may use goat milk, brewed teas, aloe juice, or plain distilled water. In my soaps, I stay away from the ingredients that someone may not want because they are vegan, or vegetarian, or religious requirements (no pork). It’s just easier to please more people that way.

This is why hand crafted soaps are more expensive. High end ingredients and the amount of time making, cutting, curing and packaging add to the costs. Essential oils vary in prices and they can be very expensive. For example, a fluid ounce of bergamot can be over $100, and I have seen it up to $400. Many are willing to pay the cost of hand crafted soap because they know they are getting exceptional quality for their skin. Your skin is your biggest organ, and it holds everything in place. It deserves to be treated well. You’re worth it!



Mary EK Denison

My vocation is in alternative health therapies; cosmetic acupuncture, oriental medicine, esthetics… Subscribe for a monthly newsletter