Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Milling soap part II

A couple months ago, I wrote a blog entry about milling soap and what that means for a handcrafted soapmaker vs. a commercial soap manufacturer. 

Huge difference.  Commercial soap milling is a manufacturing process that involves removing the skin-softening, moisturizing glycerin that's a natural by-product of soapmaking so it can be used more profitably in lotions, creams, and other cosmetic and skin care products.  That's why so many commercially-made soaps are harsh, drying, and even irritating to the skin. 

With this in mind, it was especially interesting to stumble across this little press release from a company in Dubai that does exactly that -- removes the glycerin from soap and sells it for substantially greater profit to cosmetics manufacturers. 

Makes me wonder who buys what's left over.  Proctor & Gamble?  Unliver?  Henkel International?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Soapmaking & social media

I am WAY behind the curve when it comes to using social media, whether for personal or business purposes.  But I'm becoming a convert.  I've got a Facebook page now.  I've got a Twitter account too.  And there's egg on my face because it wasn't too long ago I thought both were frivolous.  

Are either of them proving useful?  Yes.  Facebook is a vehicle for connecting and communicating with customers, potential customers, and friends/associates.  I'm still in the process of figuring out exactly how I want to use it and what I want my Facebook presence to be -- I'm studiously observing how others use it to get a better feel for its potential. And I'm seeing that it actually is a useful tool for creating and building relationships. 

Same for Twitter, except I'm so new to it that I don't have much to show for any of my tweets -- yet.  But I've got a lot to show from having read other's tweets.  One guy I'm following, for example, tweets all the time on a whole range of subjects in technology and innovation.  Some fascinating and very useful stuff. 

And I like Twitter's libertarian spirit. You can follow or stop following whoever you choose whenever you choose. Anyone else can do the same in choosing to follow or stop following you.  People can block individuals from following them if they want, though I can't imagine that happens very often. 

What I've come to realize in all this is that I'm behind the curve in using these tools because I didn't understand them, and in my mind that became a reason to ignore them rather than a reason to learn about them.  Embarrassing to admit, but a valuable lesson! 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

New product photos

I was so impressed with the photos Lydia Krupinski took of my soaps that I'm going to experiment with redoing all my soap pics.  Having just made several fresh batches of bath bombs, I decided to start with them.  Whaddya think of this one?  Thumbs up?  Thumbs down?


Monday, November 23, 2009

How to name a soap

As I was packaging a new batch of jasmine sandalwood soaps today, I was reminded of one my favorite farmers market stories. 

It was late morning, and two young men wandered through the market.  One looked like a very ordinary kind of guy.  The other was anything but ordinary.  A vintage English driving cap on his head, artfully unruly long hair sticking out below, sunglasses, chains around his neck, black fingernail polish, black pants with zippers all over them.  Let's just say a young man who enjoys being on the cutting edge -- or the lunatic fringe, depending on your tastes -- of fashion.

So the two of them stop by my table and the flamboyant one is checking out the soaps, sniffing and offering his assessment of each soap's scent.   The overall verdict?  "I LOVE your soaps.  And they have such great drag queen names!  I think I went to high school with Rosemary Lemon!"

What a HOOT!  And he was so right.  One of my other soaps at the time was Ginger Lime, a tart and spicy drag queen name if I ever heard one.  And the innocently sweet but voluptuously curvy Cucumber Melon. 

I remembered this because when I first made the jasmine sandalwood soaps, I was wondering if that was what I should call them.  But when I realized that Jasmine Sandalwood is just about the most fabulous name a drag queen could have, the decision was made!

Aspiring drag queens who haven't yet settled on a stage name, this might be you . . . but Peppermint's taken.  Don't even think about it.  She's fierce.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Edgewater Soaps in feature interview on Sprout Chicago blog!

Many thanks to fellow Edgewater resident and craftperson Lydia Krupinski of Pierogi Picnic for featuring Edgewater Soaps in an interview for the Sprout Chicago blog!  Described as An Urban Guide to the Green Life, Sprout Chicago " . . . takes you into the heart of good and green life in Chicago.  From local news and restaurant reviews, to interviews with green go-getters and profiles of eco-events, Sprout Chicago is your source for sustainability in the city." 

The interview is great and the photos -- which Lydia took -- are stunning.  Got me thinking I should retake all the pics on my website . . . !  (Or hire her to do it, maybe?  What do you think?)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How we make buying decisions

This is amazing.  It's about how people make buying decisions.  If you don't see yourself in it immediately, it's only because you -- like me -- do this all the time without being conscious of it.  I guarantee that you will soon start to catch yourself doing exactly what he describes.

The first part of the video is Siamack Salari, the ethnographic researcher who analyzed and identified the buying decision process.  It's a little dry when he explains the process (although it's an excellent explanation of what ethnographic research is if you're not familiar with it), but keep watching.  The videtaped examples that follow are truly uncanny.  If you were to see them in a different context and without the benefit of his narration, you'd say, "So what?  A woman buying some hamburger buns."  But she's doing more than buying hamburger buns.  She's going through a very specific thought and decision-making process.  The same one you and I do almost every time we buy something.

Establish a reference point. Compare to the alternatives. Make a decision. Do a final check to be sure. 

If you'd like to check out his website, which is also very interesting, it's called

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chicago's DIY Trunk Show!

Just three more days to the 2009 DIY Trunk Show!  Do Not Miss It!  Saturday, November 21, 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse in Wicker Park, 1419 West Blackhawk.  Just a couple blocks away from the Milwaukee & Division el stop on the blue line.

We'll be there along with more than 100 independent Chicago-area artists, artisans, and craftspeople.  It's a one-of-a-kind show and it's great fun.  It's organized by a committee of dedicated, hardworking volunteer craftspeople -- no one benefits from this except the craftspeople themselves.  And it's one of the few shows that gives priority to local artists and craftspeople.  Admission is free!  Come out and discover how vibrant and vital the Chicago-area craft scene is.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do It Yourself skin care recipes

This is so fun!  I've added a page to my website for do-it-yourself skin care recipes, and my first two DIY recipes are for hand sanitizer and a seaweed facial mask. 

"A seaweed facial mask?" I hear you ask incredulously.  Yep!  And I really like it.  I'm not much of a spa treatment person myself, and I'd never experienced a facial mask until I tried this.  I was quite surprised by how good it made my skin look and feel!

Maybe I'm more of a spa person than I thought . . . perhaps a closet spa person.  All I know is you gotta love anything so simple that makes such a difference.  I'm a new man.  See?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Global Handwashing Day!

Of course you -- being the well-informed and up-to-date person that you are -- already know that today is Global Handwashing Day.  And you've probably planned some especially festive handwashing activities to celebrate the occasion. 

I'm embarrassed to admit that I did NOT know today was Global Handwashing Day until I ran across the L.A.Times article posted just below this entry.  And while I have no celebratory activities planned, I do at least have a handwashing song to contribute.  Let the festivities begin!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Soap addiction

It's true that some people are addicted to soap.  They LOVE soap, and when they pass by my table they always stop and they always buy something.  Or several somethings.

"Addicted" is their word, not mine.  Just last week a customer asked how she could get my soaps once the farmers markets were over.  I told her she could get them online through my website, and also mentioned the stores that carry them.  "Good," she said.  "I just want to make sure I can still get it, now that you've got me hooked on your CRACK soap!"

Crack soap!  I laughed about that one all day long.  I'm cracking up all over again even as I write this.  I love that she's a true fan, though the comparison to crack cocaine isn't exactly flattering . . . ! 

Well here's a new twist on addictive soap.  From the Northwest Florida Daily News online police blotter:

14-year-old sells cocaine, actually soap
October 2, 2009 2:30 p.m.
Angel McCurdy
FORT WALTON BEACH — A 14-year-old boy was arrested for felony charges of selling counterfeit controlled substances.
According to a Fort Walton Beach Police report, the juvenile sold a quantity of suspected crack cocaine to an undercover police agent.
The boy sold the supposed cocaine for $145 and then fled the area.
He was arrested at his home on Wright Parkway on Sept. 11.
Officers found that the sold drugs were not cocaine, but that it was pieces of soap.
The boy admitted to officers that he cut up a bar of soap at his house and then sold it as crack cocaine.

Now why didn't I think of that.  $145 dollars for a truly addictive bar of soap!  I've gotta raise my prices.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

DIY soap making

When I first started making soap seven (eight?) years ago, my soap mold was a shoe box.  I'd line it with plastic grocery store bags that I'd cut down both sides and try to make fit into the box so the loaf of soap would have nice edges and corners.  It never really worked.  The bottom edges were always rounded and the corners were even more so.  And the bottom of the soap loaf was always wrinkled and crinkly.

In time I got more particular about it and made a form out of styrofoam planks that I cut to fit snugly inside the shoe box.  I wrapped the form with duct tape so the edges wouldn't crumble off.  Then I folded freezer paper around the form and taped it into shape so I could just slip it into the shoe box to make bars with sharper edges and corners.  It worked pretty well.

The shoe box, along with all the things with which I experimented and the many lessons I learned along the way, is part of my soapmakng roots.

And it's a good thing I still have it. 

Just the other day a customer told me she really loved my Luxury Bar soap, and wondered if I could make it for her in a larger size.  I said, "Yes, of course!" not having any idea how I would actually do that.  When I got home and started to think about it, however, I remembered the shoe box.  I got it out, dusted it off, took measurements and made calculations, and figured out that it would work perfectly.  Voila! 

I just think there's something charming about the idea that my old beat-up DIY shoe box mold is being brought back into service.  Thinking about it even as I write this is already bringing back many fond memories!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The shower head study

Doesn't that title sound like a must-read blog entry?  NOT.  But you should read it anyway.

A story that recently made a splash in the news isn't much of a story for most of us.  But it is a story for people with compromised immune systems.  It's about shower heads that serve as incubators for bacteria and result in people literally being sprayed with bacteria when they step into the shower.  You can read it here if you haven't heard about it already.

The story was picked up from the newswires and run with headlines like "Is Your Shower Making You Sick?"  That kind of headline followed by highlights from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder make it sound like SARS all over again.  Except this time it's not Chinese people who are the carriers, it's the shower head in your very own bathroom!

Most people can just relax.  For one thing, the study was based on an analysis of 50 shower heads from nine U.S. cities, and the bacteria of concern was found in just 30 percent of the shower heads tested.  Significant, but not exactly cause for panic.  For another, healthy people have nothing to worry about. 

The article goes on to say, however, that people with compromised immune systems due to HIV or immune system-repressing drugs or medical treatments are the ones who may be at risk.  That's critical information, and it should have appeared within the few paragraphs of the story.  But you have to go about two-thirds of the way through it before you find that out. 

I understand that journalists need to sell the story to the widest possible audience, but they also have an obligation to inform the public.  Or in this case, to target the message to the segment of the public that most needs to hear it.

Having said all that, however, it seems to me that there's a very simple solution for anyone who is or should be concerned about this, which was not even mentioned in the story.  Every few months take your shower head off and rinse it out thoroughly with bleach.  Problem solved, right?  Or am I missing something?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Urban wildlife

Pic of the day. Sixteen years living in Edgewater, and maybe three times -- always at night of course -- I've seen an opossum on our back porch deck. They're very unnerving, as they look at first like enormous rats, and the Lord gave them the ugliest tail of any animal on earth. They're relatively benign creatures, though, so I've always just let them be.  But this is a first.

This one was apparently feeling a little too tired to go home last night -- maybe a few too many cocktails? -- and decided to crawl up into one of our potted purple fountain grass plants to sleep it off.  Been there all day, too, completely unfazed by the workmen who are going up and down our back stairs all the time as they rebuild our chinney. Kind of cute, in a way, but find somewhere else to crash tomorrow, buddy!

There's another part to this, however, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Chicago's urban environment is overrun with animals that have no natural predators.  Squirrels.  (Rats with bushy tails.)  Pigeons.  (Rats that fly.)  Opossums that spend the day sleeping in people's potted plants.

But on the other hdand, if natural predators were around, that would be a huge issue.  Foxes in the park?  Coyotes in my back yard?  No way.  We've got peregrine falcons for pigeon control downtown, but that's clearly ineffective.

So we have a quandary.  We have animal pests we need to control but we don't have an acceptable natural solution.  Suggestsions anyone?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I just love this video.  It's an ad, but it's very clever and fun.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Milling soap

At one of my markets the other day, a woman politely but firmly told me that she only uses triple milled soap. 

I wanted to ask whether she had any idea what milled soap really is. But instead I smiled politely and a little wistfully, as if to say, "Oh well, I guess you've got me on that one!  I only make natural handcrafted soap!"

Milling soap is one thing for a handcrafted soapmaker, and a very different thing for a commercial soap manufacturer.

For a soapmaker, milling or hand milling soap is rebatching.  You take soap you've already made, grate it up, add some liquid, heat it until the two have uniformly combined, add whatever extras you're going to put in, and pour it into molds. 

Personally, I've never seen the sense in making soap twice, but rebatching has its uses.  Its greatest asset is that you can add certain ingredients without exposing them to the chemical reaction between the lye and the oils, or the heat that the reaction generates.  Milk added to rebatched soap will not discolor it.  Rose petals will retain their color instead of turning brown and ugly.  Essential oils (eucalyptus, for example) whose fragrance would otherwise be evaporated by the heat during saponification will be unharmed and delightful to the nose.  And you can pour rebatched soap into individual molds that would be difficult or impossible to use with standard cold process soap.

(Rebatching is also a technique for salvaging a failed or improperly formulated batch of soap, but I'm not even going to touch that.  If it's bad soap, dispose of it properly.)

Commercially milled soap is an entirely different matter.  Briefly, french or triple milling is a manufacturing process that involves extracting the moisturising, skin-softening glycerin that's naturally in the soap, and drying the soap into pellets.  Inexpensive chemicals are usually added to make up for the loss of the glycerin, and the pellets are then passed several times through a rolling mill, producing a paste that can be compacted into nice hard bars.  The extracted glycerin is much more profitable to the manufacturer when used in lotions, creams, and other cosmetic products. (And if you have any doubts, check this out!)

In essence, the notion that triple milled soap is somehow better or of higher quality than soap that's milled twice or -- oh my god! -- a soap that is NOT EVEN MILLED ONCE is simply advertising spin.  A process that adds to the manufacturer's bottom line and significantly decreases the benefits to the consumer is touted as one that increases it.

It's . . . what was that phrase that caused such a flap during the 2008 Presidential campaign . . . ?

Also, check out our December 2009 update, Milling soap part II.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The joy of making liquid soap

I just have to say this: I LOVE making liquid soap. I love it!

Bar soaps can be so touchy. The temperatures of the lye solution and the oils need to be within a certain range before you can combine them. Depending on the oils used, trace can happen quickly or it can take forever. ("Trace" is the soapmaking term for the point at which the soap batter is sufficiently thick to pour into molds.) Adding certain essential or fragrance oils can dangerously accelerate the saponification process and result in soap batter that thickens so quickly it can't even be poured.

In short, there are a number of problems one can run into when making bar soaps, you can't always predict them, and you've always got to be on your toes.

Liquid soap, on the other hand, is wonderfully low-maintenance and very forgiving. The oils just need to be very warm to moderately hot.  No thermometers necessary.  Just touch the side of the stockpot. And the potassium hydroxide solution doesn't need to be cooled down before it's mixed with the oils. As soon as it's dissolved, pour it in. None of the potential or unanticipated problems that can happen with bar soapmaking are applicable to liquid soapmaking.

Having recently made a number of small batches of bar soaps to test new fragrance blends for the fall and holidays, all of which were touchy and nerve-wracking, it was a particular joy yesterday to make a no-fuss, predictable, and wonderful batch of liquid soap. 

Just wanted to share with this one.  Thanks for indulging me . . . !

Friday, August 28, 2009

How to find out whether chemical ingredients pose health risks

Ever wondered or tried to find out what sodium lauryl sulfate really is? Or dipropylene glycol? Or any of the other mysterious chemical compounds on the labels of personal care products?
If not, I can hardly blame you. Researching things like this is normally pretty low on my to-do list.

But there are times when I do want to know, and one of the best resources I've found is the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. You can search it for information on any and every ingredient used in cosmetic and personal care products. I have a link to it on my website's Links & Resources page. Each ingredient is rated for it's level of toxicity and potential harm, which is useful for people who are interested in reducing their level of exposure to some of the more more questionable chemicals found in everyday household products.

One caveat. Keep in mind that the toxicity ratings are often based on tests that involve substantially higher exposure rates than one would experience in normal use of whatever the product is.

But that said, I think it's a useful resource for consumers and an especially valuable resource for soap makers who use pre-made soap or lotion bases or add chemical detergents, surfactants, preservatives, and so on to anything that they make.

And the site has the most beautiful soap bubble image! Isn't this gorgeous?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edgewater Soaps has been Yelped!

I must thank my good friend Julie for Yelping Edgewater Soaps. As you may know, Yelp! is one of those websites like CraigsList that's national but has local sub-sites for cities and towns across the country. Yelp! enables anyone who wants to submit their own personal review of anything from a restaurant or retail outlet to an event or just about anything else.

So when my friend Julie, who loves my soaps and is just a terrific person, offered to write a testimonial that I could use on my website or in an e-mail newsletter, I said "You are WONDERFUL! And if you really will do that, I'd love it if you would do that as a review on Yelp!"

And here's why, I told her: just type the words handcrafted soap chicago into Google, and what's the very first site that comes up? Yelp! And if your testimonial is on Yelp!, I can link to it on my website or from an e-mail newsletter. Kill two birds with one stone, as they say. (But please don't tell the PETA people I used that horrible expression that treats violence toward innocent creatures so casually and ought to be stricken from the English language! I have never killed even one bird with a stone.)

If you'd like to read the review or add your own, just Yelp!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Welcome to my blog! It's named Life and Soap because the two intersect in many ways. A perfect example is this article, which I e-mailed to everyone on my Edgewater Soaps list and posted to my facebook page.
It's about triclosan, which is the primary ingredient in practically every commercial antibacterial soap product. It's in nearly 1,000 consumer products, according to the Skin Deep database. Tons of it are washed down the drain every day, and it's now showing up in the ocean food chain.
And what really gets me is that it's totally unnecessary for any normal cleansing need. You don't need to kill germs and bacteria, you just need to wash them off. Plain old soap does that very effectively.
Regrettably, people think they're actually doing something healthy when they use these products, not realizing that they've been sold on a need that doesn't exist . . .