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!

History of Soap Making

Soap has a long history that includes both truth and legend.

Alexandria Beer Soap

Alexandria Beer Soap

The best-known legend is how soap making began. It is said that the word soap comes from Mt. Sapo, which was the location of animal sacrifices by the ancient Romans. Rain washed the mixture of animal fat and wood ash from the fires upon which the animals were sacrificed down to the banks of the Tiber river, where local women would clean clothing. The women discovered that the soapy water cleaned their clothes much easier.

The ancient Babylonians are credited with recording the first soap recipe on a tablet back in 2200 B.C. The first mention of soap for personal hygiene was by the Greek physician Galen, around 2 A.D.

In the 13th century, the French began making soap from olive oil instead of animal fats. Around that time, Castile soap was produced. It is named for the Castile region in Spain where it originated. Castile soap is very mild and known for its soothing properties. It used to be that castile soap was 100% olive oil and no other vegetable oils or butters, but now that term is used more loosely, to include formulas that are mostly olive oil.

In the early 1700s bacteria was identified and the notion that cleanliness by using soap could help reduce or eliminate germs was gaining traction.

In 1791, the French chemist Nicholas LeBlanc patented a multi-step process to create soda ash from table salt. Soda ash is the alkali that is obtained from ashes and that combines with the fats to form soap. This new process eliminated the need for wood ashes. This process was eliminated around 1823 when a Belgian chemist, Ernest Solvay developed a shorter, less expensive and more environmentally friendly process to transform table salt to soda ash.

In 1832 the French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul demonstrated that saponification was a chemical process that turned fat and lye into soap plus glycerin.

The development of factories and standardized formulas helped to create a booming soap making industry, which turned soap from a luxury item to one available to the general population.

World War I created a variety of supply shortages, one of which was animal fat. This led to the development of synthetic detergents to create cleansing bars. These detergent bars are what is commonly found on grocery store shelves today.

There haven’t been many changes in the industry since that time, though there has been a resurgence of the art of handcrafting soap. These handmade soaps are crafted with gentle oils, butters and herbs selected specifically for the benefits they have upon the skin. More and more are learning about the benefits of handmade soap and are turning to these natural cleansers to care for their skin instead of harsh, synthetic detergent bars.

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? We’ll be at Art on the Avenue in Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA on Saturday!


How To Get Strong Nails Naturally

Old Town Suds’ Nail Strengthener ROCKS.


Nail StrengthenerA few years ago, I started using this oil paint on strengthener and it worked. One day, I looked and the ingredient list and I was shocked. It was just soybean oil and fragrance. And I was pay $30 for this tiny little dram. Needless to say, I was not happy with this discovery.

Enter in our well-reviewed Nail Strengthener. It is filled with butters and oils that LOVE our nails. Plus, it helps our dry cuticles look much nicer. All you do is rub on a very small amount of the balm daily.

Some days, when I am washing my hands more often than normal, I’ll use the balm twice a day. It really couldn’t get any simpler. Plus, it is purse friendly. Check out its reviews over on our site & facebook page.