On the Drying Rack 10/31

Take a look behind the scenes at Old Town Suds to see what is curing. These are some of our newest soaps and will be ready in a few short weeks. Want to check out the soaps in person? We’ll be at the Mosaic District Market on Sunday from 9-2!


Behind the Scenes – Soap Kitchen Tour

soap kitchen

This is it! This is the main area of our soap kitchen. It was designed with the help of our contractor who did an excellent job building everything for me. (if you need a recommendation in Northern VA, I’ll send you his info!)

I still need a few more shelves to help control all of the oils I use. You see those brown bottles on the shelves and the far right counter? Those are our fragrances and essential oils. Once you start collecting them….it is very hard to stop!

We’ve almost had this new kitchen a year now. I’m learning what works and what needs a bit more improving. You can never have enough lights and I’m in desperate need of a paper towel dispenser. Details, right? I’d also like some of those shock absorbing mats they use in professional kitchens. A few hours of standing on tile and you feel it in your back!

Next time I’ll show you our soon-to-be-built shelves in the drying room. My husband is supposed to be making them for me as my birthday present. My birthday was in September…Maybe I’ll get them by December? I hope. I really don’t want to learn how to build shelves.

3 Myths About Handmade Soap

3 Myths about Handmade Soap There are many myths floating about when it comes to handmade soap. I’ve already debunked the myths about how one can make soap without lye and that lye soap is harsh and here are 3 additional myths that need to be set straight.

Myth #1: Antibacterial soap is better than regular soap.

Soap is a surfactant – it helps water to disperse on the skin and then propels dirt, oil and grime away from the skin. Antibacterial soaps are marketed as germ-killing, and therefore are touted as being better than regular soap. The reality (which is backed by scientific studies) is that regular soap is equally effective as antibacterial soap at removing bacteria and preventing illnesses.

Furthermore, long-term exposure to triclosan and triclocarbon, which are the active ingredients in most of these antibacterial soaps is considered to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria and even lead to hormonal imbalances. This has lead to the recent (December, 2013) rule proposal by the FDA for the makers of these antibacterial soaps to prove that their soaps are safe for daily, long term use and that they are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections. If the proposal is accepted and companies cannot prove these points, then the products would need to be reformulated or be relabeled in order to remain on the market.

Myth #2: Handmade soap doesn’t create as many bubbles as mass-produced bars, so it can’t clean my skin as well.

We’ve already established in the myths above that mass produced bars are actually detergents, with synthetic chemicals that can, among other things, boost lather. There is a big misconception that lather = clean, and there is no scientific proof to support this idea.

It is true that some handmade soap does not bubble as much as other handmade soap, and that is a result of the ingredients used. For instance, soap made with mostly olive oil will not be extremely bubbly – it’s more of a gentle, creamy lather.  Compare that to a soap made with castor oil, which creates an abundance of large bubbles, and the resulting lathers will be quite different. The ‘bubbliness’ of handmade soap will depend on the ingredients used, but either way, bubbly or not, soap will clean your skin.

Myth #3: Handmade soaps are expensive and overpriced.

Compared to a synthetic, mass-produced detergent bar found in the store, yes, handmade soap will often cost more (and should!) But when you stop to think about what goes into the production and the end result, the price is well worth it. For instance:

  • High quality oils and butters are selected to create a gentle, soothing bar of soap
  • The glycerin that comes from saponification is kept in the soap (not removed as it is with commercially produced bars) to make it even more moisturizing
  •  Premium essential oils and fragrance oils add scent
  •  Natural herbs and botanicals add color, soothing properties and even exfoliation
  •  The labor for an artisan to handcraft their soap, versus a machine cranking out thousands of uniform detergent-based bars

Also, most whom use handmade soap do not have to use lotion after bathing with natural soap, whereas those who use commercially made soap often have to slather lotion on at least once, if not more often during the day. So consider the cost of lotion when you’re comparing that bar on a grocery store shelf to a natural bar of soap from a handmade artisan and you’ll see that it’s a much better investment to go with the handmade soap.

How Soap is Made Part 2

Just starting out on our How Soap is Made series? Check out part 1 here.


This method involves using pre-made soap (cold or hot processed). The biggest draw for soap makers to use this method is that they can buy pre-made soap for rebatching and do not have to come into contact with lye if that’s a concern for them. The lye has already been chemically transformed during saponification. It also means they can add additional ingredients such as essential oils or herbs and not have to worry about them reacting with lye.

To rebatch soap, the pre-made soap is grated like cheese and to this a small amount of liquid is added. The mixture is gently heated until melted and then pressed into molds. It must then cool and harden before it is suitable for use.

Melt and Pour Soap Making

This process involves purchasing a premade glycerin soap base (or making a glycerin soap base on your own, which is much less common, but possible), and melting it down, often in a microwave or on a stovetop. At that point, colorants, fragrance and possibly some additional oils (no water or milk can be added) are added to the melted soap base. The mixture is then poured into molds and left to harden – usually just a few hours. At that point, the hardened soaps can be removed from the mold and are ready for immediate use.

Some soap makers prefer using this method because the chemical process has already been done, so they don’t have to worry about using lye. Melt and pour soaps are also fluid enough to be poured into a variety of molds which results in more intricate designs and shapes compared to the other types of soap making.

That’s it! You can’t get true soap any other way. Next time you are shopping for soap, be sure to ask with method the shop uses.

How Soap is Made Part 1

How to make Soap part 1There are many ways to make handmade soap, and each soap maker tends to have a preferred method. We have our preferences on what we believe makes a better bar of soap. Technically, no one method is better than another, simply different, but that doesn’t stop us from our opinions!

Cold Process Soap Making

In this method, oils are melted and combined with a lye and liquid (water, milk, etc) mixture. Mixing these ingredients creates a chemical reaction called saponification. The mixture is then stirred either by hand with a spoon, or by using a stick blender until the soap mixture has thickened (called ‘trace’). There is no cooking (using heat to speed up the saponification process) with cold process soap. The mixture is poured into a mold, covered and left to cool for 24 hours. At that point the soap can be removed from the mold and cut into bars. The bars are then left alone to cure for 4-6 weeks. This ensures a harder and milder bar of soap. This is the process that Old Town Suds uses.

Hot Process Soap Making

In this method, melted oils are combined with a lye/liquid mixture and are ‘cooked’ by using heat. Many modern soapers make hot process soap in a slow cooker/crock pot. The mixture is brought to trace and then cooked. The cooking time varies depending upon the ingredients used, the size of the batch and the heat setting on the slow cooker. The end result is a thickened, gel-like looking soap mixture that must be spooned into the soap mold. It is covered and left to cool for 24 hours, at which time it is removed from the mold and cut into individual bars of soap.

This method is often used to reduce the 4-6 week cure time required by cold process soap making. By the time the soap cools and is removed from the mold (usually within 24 hours), the soap is safe for use. Leaving it to sit for a couple of weeks may allow additional water to evaporate and become harder, but it is not necessary. Hot processed soap may have a more rustic, handmade appearance to it, compared to the smooth texture of cold process soap.

Stay tuned for two more soap making methods!

Take care of your holiday presents in 2 hours

It really is super simple. In 2 hours you can create handmade gifts that are practical & guaranteed to impress the receiver. On November 1st, Old Town Suds will be offering its Soaping Making 101 class! It’s part hands-on, part chemistry lesson and part demonstration style. It rocks actually.

What are you waiting for? Register today!


What You’ll Leave With: You’ll leave with a full pound, 4 bars, of fresh lemongrass or Japanese Citrus soap (your pick) in a take-home mold that will take 4-6 weeks to cure – plus a bar you can use right away. By purchasing you are agreeing to our Class Policies.

Date: Saturday, November 1, 2014

Start Time: 11 a.m.  (if there is enough interest, a class at 2 p.m. on 11/1 will be added)

Cost: $75

Location: Warrenton, VA – right next to several vineyards!  Exact address sent to registered students.

The Soap: Lemongrass or Japanese Citrus Cold Processed Soap – 1 full pound (4 bars) plus 1 bar of your choosing from our stock.


On the Drying Rack

Take a look behind the scenes at Old Town Suds to see what is curing. These are some of our newest soaps and will be ready in a few short weeks. Want to check out the soaps in person? Visit us at the Mosaic District Market on Sunday!

How to Save the Lives of 600,000 Children Per Year

Myriam Sidibe is a warrior in the fight against childhood disease. Her weapon of choice? A bar of soap. For cost-effective prevention against sickness, it’s hard to beat soapy hand-washing, which cuts down risk of pneumonia, diarrhea, cholera and worse. Sidibe, a public-health expert, makes a smart case for public-private partnerships to promote clean hands — and local, sustainable entrepreneurship. – TED

To Lye or Not to Lye

Lye There are many myths surrounding handmade soap, but two of the biggest are about the use and safety of lye in soap. I am going to tell you the truth about lye and why you shouldn’t believe the myths. You’ll see why handmade soap is indeed safe and even superior to the synthetic detergent bars found in the grocery store.

Myth #1: Soap can be made without lye.

In the most simple terms, no lye = no soap. Soap is a combination of lye, (Sodium Hydroxide or NAOH) and fatty acids that creates a chemical reaction called saponification, creating salts of the fatty acids (soap) plus glycerin. Without lye, saponification cannot happen, so you cannot have soap without lye. Each molecule is converted during saponification, so there is no resulting lye in the final bar of soap.

If you look at bars on grocery store shelves, you’ll find that the word ‘soap’ does not appear on these bars. Instead you’ll see ‘cleansing bar’, or ‘beauty bar’. These bars cannot be labeled soap, because they do not fit the definition – instead, these products are detergents, which are synthetic cleansers. They’re often made with harsh cleansing agents and petroleum by-products, and have the resulting glycerin (a moisture-attracting ingredient that helps soften skin) removed.

Some crafters will claim that they make soap without lye. They may be uninformed, or unintentionally misleading the customer. These crafters often use premade ‘melt and pour’ bases that are simply melted in a microwave, poured into a mold to cool and then sold. The crafter may not have personally used lye in the crafting of that soap, but either the manufacturer used lye to create the original base or the base was made with synthetic detergents and therefore cannot be considered a true soap.

Myth #2: Lye soap is harsh and will ‘take your hide off’.

There are tales from those who remember their grandmothers making soap outdoors in a big kettle. To hear those stories, the resulting soap was strong and dried out their skin, hence the phrase ‘It’ll take your hide off.’ Since I don’t know the formula that was used, I cannot speak to the gentleness or harshness of the ingredients included or the lack of adding additional fats to the formula to make it milder, but I do know that it was not the lye that made it harsh. In most cases, the soap of their memories probably did not have additional soothing oils and butters added to the formula and was not set aside to cure for 4-6 weeks, which helps produce a more mild soap.

As debunked in the first myth, lye is needed to make soap. Properly made soap that is fully cured is mild and gentle to the skin. There is no remaining lye in the finished bar of soap, and it has a high glycerin content (much more than mass-produced glycerin soaps), which helps to attract and lock moisture into the skin. Depending on the extra fat (oils or butters) in the formula, the soap may be even more moisturizing and soothing. The process of adding additional fatty acids above and beyond what the lye needs for saponification is called superfatting, and is often done in the 5-7% range by soap makers to ensure their soaps will be gentle. In fact, many will find that they don’t need to use lotion after using handmade soap because it is that moisturizing to their skin.

There you go. Two of the biggest myths about handmade soap. Stop by Old Town Suds’ site or booth at our next event to experience the luxury & benefits of handmade soap.

What Qualifies as Vegan Soap?

Vegan Soap I’ve been getting this question a lot at markets lately. 99% of our soaps are vegan. We don’t use animal fats (tallow) in our soaps. It wasn’t actually a conscious choice on our part. Then, once I got to thinking about it, I didn’t really want to be playing in lard all day long. I’m perfectly fine with my veggie oils thank you very much!

So what about that 1%?

Part of the 1% I warn people about if they are vegan is our First Street Shampoo bar. It has free-range egg and Tussah silk in it. We get the eggs at our farmers’ markets so we are certain they are free-range and not just a label. Plus, we like to support local businesses/farmers. The silk is 100% all natural and harvested in a way that is not cruel to the silkworms. According to our supplier, it is a protein byproduct of the silkworm. Our other shampoo bar, Luscious Locks, has beer in it but no egg or silk. The rest is in our beer soaps in the form of yeast. If you aren’t consuming yeast, then these soaps wouldn’t be appropriate for you.

Outside of those few instances, and how strict you are with your diet, a majority of our products are vegan-friendly!