Soap making status

August 3, 2010

I’ve had a few of you ask me what’s going on with the soap making, so I thought that I would give you an update.

My attempts to find ethically produced refined palm oil have been pretty fruitless. I heard back from Fearless Planet, Dr. Bronner’s supplier. Dr. Bronner’s has taken over their palm oil plant. At this point, they don’t have excess refined palm oil to sell me. But, the good news is that I heard directly from the director of the palm oil project at Fearless Planet, and then I heard from Dr. Bronner’s directly. This was good news because I’ve had issues with people not even responding to my e-mails in the past. I’ll take what I can get. I’ve had a bit less luck with Jungle. They forwarded my e-mail to Blue Marble brands. They have organic palm oil, but they only sell in very large quantities (2000 lb parcels). And, I’m not sure that it’s Fair Trade. My contact at Blue Marble said that he would see if he could find a supplier who worked in smaller amounts. We’ll see.

For me to be comfortable with a product, I need to make sure that it’s Fair Trade. I also need to know where it’s produced. I’m dying on the hills of Fair Trade and Environmental Sustainability. I’d rather the soap business die at the starting gate than buy unethical ingredients. After all, what I’m hoping to do is to use soap as a way for more people in the developing world to make a living wage. And, Charlie and I want to have work that is redemptive.

So, on we go (atleast at this point) without refined palm oil.

It’s a challenge. As I’ve said in the past, unrefined palm kernel oil has a strong odor. It’s sort of earthy, nutty smelling. Ditto with unrefined shea butter. So, I’m playing with the amounts of these fats. I’m trying to use enough of these fats to give my soap the hardness and lather that these fats provide, but not so much that they are smelly in the soap. I could walk you through every step of what I’ve learned, but frankly it’s a bit tedious. In the end, I’ve had more success with shea butter than with palm kernel oil. So, I’m thinking of giving up on the palm kernel oil and putting all of my energy into making shea butter soaps. I’ve been able to make some really nice, hard bars with shea butter. It traces (gets thick) well enough to float pretty things on the top of the soap (think chammomile flowers, ground mint, ground sage, etc). But, in the end, it all goes back to what my testers think. We’ll see what I learn in the next round of testing.

Oh- and I’ve found that making soap with only olive oil is REALLY difficult. Why? It doesn’t trace (get thick) well. It also takes a long time to cure (twice as long as other soaps). And, while curing, it’s prone to developing soda ash on the surface. From what I understand, the soda ash doesn’t harm your skin, but it’s very unattractive. As a consumer, I certainly wouldn’t buy it. And, I want the people who buy my soap to feel like it’s a treat.

So, onward I go. I’m ordering more olive oil and lye today so that I can keep going. I’ll keep you posted.


2 Responses to “Soap making status”

  1. Sandra Craig Says:

    Hi Robin,
    I am very interested in your email. I do volunteer work in Maskelyne Islands, up off the coast of Queensland Australia. I have done workshops showing the women how to make soap from NZ Manuka Oil, as the island people all have headlice/scabies and several other health problems. There is no money only bartering, and would be good to find someone to extract coconut oil, so the women could sell and make some money for the families.
    My story is on my website under Vanuatu.
    Keep up the good work.
    Kindest Regards
    Sandra Purple Camel Soap Co. New Zealand

  2. I recently stumbled on your blog. Its amazing to me to see the different processes and creativity each one of us use when making soap. I look forward to hearing about whats next.

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