11 Mar Cold Process Soapmaking
Cold Process Soap is made through a chemical process called saponification, in which a strong alkali (lye) interacts with a fatty acid (animal or plant derived oil). The alkali (lye) molecules react with the acid (oil) molecules, resulting in a salt substance we call “soap”. It is this transformation, or “alchemy” – the medieval precursor to chemistry, that Alchemy & Ashes derives the first part of it’s name from. Since ancient times, the method of saponification included leaching hardwood ashes with rain water to obtain “potash” (potassium hydroxide, a form of lye), and mixing the potash solution with an available fat, which resulted in a soft soap that tended to be quite harsh but was useful for multiple purposes. This method is where the “ashes” in Alchemy & Ashes is derived from. These early soaps had a tendency to irritate the skin due to an excess of lye, since there was no way to accurately measure the strength of the rain water/potash solution. Modern chemistry has made sodium hydroxide (lye) available to the soap maker through a method of passing an electrical current through salt water, and with the use of scales, it is possible to make a consistent strength of lye solution, making the soap on the market today much less harsh to the skin. A method called “superfatting” or “lye discounting” ensures a soap without excess lye, and when combined with a properly balanced oil formula, results in a mild soap that does not strip the skin of its natural oils. Cold Process Soap is different from the “Melt & Pour” technique, where a ready-made base made up of detergents, surfactants, and alcohols is melted and remolded. It is also different from the commercial “soap” products marketed as “beauty bars”, “moisturizing bars”, and “deodorant bars”, which are mainly comprised of synthetic detergents. Most people find a well balanced handmade cold process soap to be gentler on their skin compared to the commercial detergent bars.
To prolong the life of your soaps, keep them in a well draining soap dish and allow them to dry between uses.