Is Your Soap Natural?


People often ask me…Is your soap natural?

That is a difficult question.

I want to say yes to this; to reassure people that my soap doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. I use ingredients that are common, minimally processed and you don’t need a degree in chemistry to pronounce the names. I use mainly essential oils to scent my soap, I use pigment colours to colour them and I don’t use preservatives like parabens.

In reality, I have to say no. Strictly speaking, they are not natural. In fact, no soap is.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term natural as ‘Existing or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind’

As soap does not exist by itself in nature, it is not natural. It is made by humankind.

That is not really what my customers are talking about. Natural has come to mean something different than the dictionary definition. I think everyone accepts that even things that are derived from nature need to have a bit of processing by humans if just to remove impurities or to standardise concentrations. Natural has become a word overused in advertising and marketing which really doesn’t mean much anymore. Each person has their own idea of what is natural whaich may be different than another.

People are really asking if the soap is safe for their skin.

So let’s go through the ingredients we use here at Hazelrock House and I’ll tell you all about them.

 Sodium Hydroxide aka Lye.

Yes, we do use this caustic and very harsh substance in our soap. It is definitely not natural. However, it is a key component in the chemical reaction that creates soap. Soap cannot be made without it. Once the chemical reaction of the Sodium Hydroxide is completed there will be none left in the soap. In fact, we add extra oils to ensure this is the case.

The traditional way of making a lye solution was to wash wood ash with water and keep the resulting liquid.  There was no way of accurately judging how much Sodium Hydroxide was actually in this solution and the resulting soap was generally quite harsh and drying. Nowadays because our Sodium Hydroxide is made in a chemical production factory, we can be sure of the concentration and make sure there is no extra Sodium Hydroxide in the soap. And we can be confident that there are no other impurities contained in it. We are better equipped to make a safer soap that way. And it is a lot more convenient to use!

 Soapmaking Oils.

Soapmakers generally use a wide variety of oils in their soap and each will have spent many years developing their own recipe.  Oils can be extracted from plants and animals in a few different ways. At Hazelrock House we prefer to use plant oils as they are easy to source, easy to use and will appeal to everyone including vegetarians and vegans. We don’t use organic oils at present due to their high cost.

We do use palm oil in our soap as we have a reliable source of sustainably farmed palm and so we don’t affect the habitat of the Orang-Utan. We support the palm oil workers by demanding sustainably produced palm oil rather than not using it at all. We would like to see reform of the palm industry rather than the industry destroyed and many local workers out of work with no way of supporting their families. We feel that palm adds a fantastic quality to our soap which cannot be replaced by any other oil even after 8 years of testing.

We use around 8% extra oils in our soap. This is to ensure that all the Sodium Hydroxide is used up in the reaction. The extra oil also leaves a protective film of oil on your skin after washing, like a lotion, which moisturises, nourishes and protects the skin.


Many people ask if we use synthetic fragrances in our soap. We mostly use essential oils but for some types of fragrance there are no essential oils, so we use skin safe fragrances instead.

Yes, it is true that essential oils are more ‘natural’, by that I mean they are at least derived from nature. It does not follow that essential oils are better for your skin. Essential oils can be very potent and can contain a large number of allergens which may irritate the skin. Synthetic fragrances too may contain allergens but we stay clear of the allergen-heavy ones. In fact, some of our synthetic fragrances contain no allergens at all. Less likely to irritate than many essential oils.  

All our fragrances and essential oils are sourced in the UK, tested to ensure that they contain only skin safe ingredients. But never tested on animals.

If you do find you are irritated by handmade soap, it might be worth finding out which allergen you are sensitive to. That way you can stay clear of that allergen. All allergens in Europe must be listed on the packaging and all are only allowed in tiny quantities. If you inform yourself you can still enjoy handmade soap even if you have sensitive skin.

We always carry at least one soap which is fragrance-free just in case!


Soap can be coloured in many different ways, both with ‘natural’ or synthetic colours. When we refer to synthetic colours we are really talking about dyes made in a factory. Some of these are in small enough particles to penetrate the skin, which isn’t really desirable in your soap.

 ‘Natural’ colours can be clays or plant extracts and infusions.  Some plant extracts fade over time in soap. Some morph into different colours. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Clays are fantastic and we use them a lot in our soap. Other semi-naturals we use are oxides and ultramarines. Traditionally these compounds would have been mined from the ground but now are made in a lab or factory.

Making them synthetically ensures that there are no impurities like the mined ones would have contained. So not natural but nature identical.

Other things we use are spirulina, seaweed, cocoa powder, herbal infusions and spices. All the colours we use have particles too large to go through the skin barrier and so just get washed down the sink. They don’t stain your skin or your shower. Or your conscience.


We don’t use them because we don’t need them. So you won’t find any parabens or other preservatives in our soap.

The Cold Process.

Commercial soap is made in a very automated and harsh way, with the soap being boiled and filtered and all the glycerine produced as a result of the reaction drained away. This can result in a harsh, drying soap.

We use the Cold Process Method where our soap is reacted at much lower temperatures, so as to keep as much of the properties of the oils, herbs and essential oils as possible. We keep all the glycerine in the soap so it can soften and soothe your skin.

All of our soap is made in small batches which means we are present for the making of every single one and we can then ensure the absolute top notch quality of each bar.

Each of our bars is cured for 4-6 weeks before being packaged, to finish the chemical reaction that has taken place and also so some of the water used can evaporate making a harder and longer lasting bar.

Other ingredients such as Tetrasodium EDTA, Propylene Glycol, SLS, SLSA and much more.

We don’t use them because we don’t need them. We don’t need any fillers or artificial detergents, everything we use has a reason to be there and we don’t need to pad them out with other cheap ingredients. Our soap is only made from quality stuff!

So back to the original question.

Is your soap Natural?

My soap is made with care, using quality, responsibly sourced ingredients, in a gentle way, with naturally derived and minimally processed ingredients where possible. When we use non-naturally sourced ingredients, we do so because they are the best and the safest.

No soap is Natural.

Make Your Own Lemongrass and Tea Tree Foot Scrub


It’s well into May and soon the school kids will be eyes deep in their end of year exams. As soon as this happens it seems we get the best weather possible. Poor things…exams and missing the good weather!

For me, it means it is time to get rid of the winter boots and expose my poor weary and hardworking feet to the sunlight. To tell the truth they could do with some TLC.

This recipe is fantastic for taking those tired, flaky, cracked and slightly smelly toes and turning them into catwalk worthy tootsies!

You won’t need anything too complicated to make this; everything you need is probably already in your own kitchen.


This recipe is enough to make 400g of foot scrub which is perfect for a small jam jar or plastic tub.

200g Coarse sea Salt

150g fine sea salt (or Epsom Salt if you prefer)

30g Coconut Oil

20g Almond oil (or Grapeseed, Rice Bran, Avocado, Wheatgerm oils)

10 drops Lemongrass EO

10 drops Tea Tree EO

10 drops Lime EO



 Weigh out all your ingredients and arrange them in a handy place.




 Place your coarse sea salt into a mixing bowl




 Add your fine sea salt (or Epsom salt)





Melt your Coconut Oil in a microwave or double boiler




 Pour the coconut oil into the salt mixture




 Mix well. Make sure you mix well each time you add something





 Pour in your almond (or other) oil and mix well




Add your essential oil and stir well




This mixture should be left for a few hours to solidify a little. You can put it in the fridge to speed it up. This means that the oil will coat the grains of salt much better and the oil will not be in a slick at the bottom of the jar. Give it a final mix and pop it in a jar or plastic container.


Of course, you can use any essential oils you want and you can experiment with your liquid oil portion. I have chosen almond oil as it sinks into the skin really easily. You can use whichever oils you like. You could melt some cocoa butter into the mixture instead of a small part of your coconut oil.

You could even add some lemon or lime peel to make it a bit more colourful but I wouldn’t recommend this if you are going to store it for a long time.

To use, just take a small tablespoon sized portion into your hand and scrub your wet foot with it. It’s best to do this over a basin or bath. Scrub until your foot feels tingly and refreshed and then rinse off with some warm water. Your foot will still be oily at this point. Pat your foot dry with a clean towel and let the oil sink in. Think of it as a lotion for the feet. The oil will absorb directly into the skin and begin softening the hard bits and it will make your skin feel gorgeous.

Wasn’t that easy? A simple recipe using simple, easy to find ingredients. So very effective at pampering tired and neglected feet.

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How to Set Up A Fused Glass Studio – Fused Glass Equipment


 I’ve been making soap for well over 8 years now and it has become my full-time job. But as so often happens…once your hobby becomes your job, you need a new hobby!

Spending a lot of time at craft fairs selling soap also opened my eyes to the possibilities of fused glass.

I tried to resist for a long time, knowing once I started I would be hooked. I instead bought countless pieces of glass for friends and family as gifts but also for myself. Yes, I love shiny things. For a while, that was enough, until a good friend suggested we go to a fused glass jewellery making class.

Well, that was that. I knew I had to begin glass making.

So here are some tips for setting up a small hobby level fused glass studio based on my adventures in glass so far.

The kiln is the key piece of equipment you need to get started with fused glass (of course you can’t fuse glass without one). You can rent space in a kiln if you are lucky enough to live near a glassmaker that offers such a service. I did, but as I was only making small pieces of jewellery this wasn’t really cost effective for me.

 Microwave kiln, Glass kiln (element in lid), Ceramic kiln (element in the kiln body)

 I tried a microwave kiln first. On paper, it seemed like a good idea. But one melted microwave later and I sent it back to the store. I wouldn’t recommend them.

Eventually, I found a kiln going second hand. It is a paragon 7 and is still working perfectly today. I find it great as it is just the right size for me. Although I am considering buying a larger one now that I am branching out into bespoke glass panels.

Some things to consider when buying a kiln (new or second hand)

Are you going to be making only fused glass or do you want to make ceramics as well? Fused glass kilns generally have the heating element in the lid whilst ceramic kilns have heating elements in the kiln sides.  Fused glass is generally created flat(ish) so a heating element in the lid heats the surface evenly. Glass kilns heat up high enough for some of the low fire clays but not high enough for all clays for example porcelain. So if you also want to fire ceramics you should choose a ceramic kiln as you can fuse glass in it as well. If you are only making fused glass then choose a glass kiln as the temperature will be more evenly distributed over the surface of the glass.

Manual or programmable kiln? 

Manual kilns have a power switch and a dial to control the temperature. Inside they have a pyrometer to detect the internal temperature. But you are the one who gets to have the control. During a firing schedule, there may be 4 or 5 different temperatures so you will need to be with your kiln throughout the firing to change the temperature when required.

A programmable kiln has a temperature controller which automatically changes the temperature for you and even turns the kiln off when it is finished.  You can go about your day as normal or run your kiln while you sleep. You can usually set a few different firing schedules in each programming unit. I would recommend this one.

What size will you need?

If you only intend to fuse small pieces of jewellery in your kiln you will need a much smaller one than someone who wants to fuse large pieces. Or do you need to produce a large number of pieces to sell?

Larger kilns tend to need a dedicated electrical supply to function. Smaller kilns can use the normal electrical sockets in the house.

You should also have a think about where you will place your kiln. You should make sure it sits on a heat resistant surface and is clear of any curtains, fabric or other flammable materials. Make sure there isn’t a shelf close above that would be affected by the heat and make sure you have plenty of ventilation.

Tools for cutting glass.

For a beginner, the only tools you will need are some tools for cutting. You need a glass cutter which has a small wheel inside which scores the glass. There are a wide variety of designs and shapes available depending on which you prefer.  Most use oil for lubrication and some don’t.

Examples of glass cutters

Once the score is made you can use a pair of breakers or running pliers to separate the two pieces. Breakers/runners exert a pressure either side of the score line which makes the glass split along that line. This works best with straight lines on flat pieces of glass.

 If you are cutting curves or circles you can use a pair of grozing pliers instead. With grozing pliers, you are pulling or twisting the piece you want to remove after you have made a score. Mosaic nippers are also very handy if you want to split very small pieces or nip small sections from a glass rod.

Breaking / Running Pliers, Grozing Pliers, Mosaic Nippers

Cutting Surface.

You will need a surface to cut on. You can use something as simple as a piece of cardboard to protect your table. Many people use a crafters self-healing cutting mat. Once you are cutting large pieces of glass you may want to invest in a cutting surface such as the Morton system. This is a plastic surface with spaces in which allows any small fragments of glass to fall away so you don’t cut yourself with them. It has a variety of handy attachments which aid your cutting and a ruler to help measure. There are many other cutting systems such as the G-manu, Cutters Mate, and the Beetle Bits system.

 Morton System, Taurus Ring Saw, Dremel Drill

 Once you have got the hang of this you might consider investing in a larger cutting device such as the Ring saw. They are a reasonably large investment but allow very specific cuts to be made. Definitely very useful if you plan to sell your work.

Other useful pieces of equipment you may find you need around the place might include a Dremel style drill for cutting holes in glass. You can use this along with a diamond drill bit to make holes which you will need if you make glass jewellery or hanging pieces such as suncatchers. You can then insert the wire or whatever you are using directly through the glass.  

Cleaning up.

Cutting glass results in tiny splinters which will fall onto your cutting surface. You need to be able to clean these up quickly to avoid cutting yourself. A dustpan and brush will do. You could use a handheld vacuum cleaner (one with a HEPA filter is useful if you are working with glass powders). Or I find wiping the surface with a damp wipe or disposable kitchen towel picks up any glass fragments then it can be thrown away in the rubbish bin.

Coldworking. Grinding and Polishing.

For an absolute beginner, you might want to try coldworking by hand using diamond hand pads. These are pads which are encrusted with diamond fragments in various sizes. They come in 60, 120, 220 and 400 grit and you would start with 60 grit (the coarsest) and then work your way through each one in order to achieve a smooth finish. To be honest this work is so tedious and time consuming that most people don’t bother. It is a much better idea to invest in a tabletop grinder. These are relatively inexpensive and are worth every penny in my opinion! They are cooled by water and enable you to quickly and easily smooth any edge.  

 Diamond hand pads, Benchtop grinder, lapidary grinder

If you decide to go on to larger things you can invest in a wet belt sander or a flat lap (lapidary) grinder. Both of these options would be for the serious enthusiast or professional glass artist as some require a dedicated electrical supply (although you can get some smaller ones which run on a domestic supply). They are also very messy pieces of equipment and would be more suited to an outdoor shed or workshop. (You wouldn’t want one in your house!) You would also need both of these to be connected to the water supply and have some means of disposing of waste water containing glass powder.

The flat lap grinder is very useful for grinding flat surfaces or straight edges. It is particularly useful for grinding the edges of dropout vessels.

The wet belt sander is a little more versatile as it is able to smooth rounded or curved edges as well which is useful if you make large glass plates or bowls.

Don’t forget these methods of grinding would also require the pieces to be fire polished if you are looking for a really smooth glossy edge.

In concentrating on the equipment I nearly forgot a few other important things for your studio. Something to sit on, a table to work at, storage for your glass and maybe a radio or mp3player. And don’t forget the glass itself…but I think that’s an entirely different blog post!

So there you have a brief rundown of some of the equipment available for setting up a small fused glass workshop. It is not an exhaustive list by any means but it will get you started on the road to your first glass workshop. I have been adding these pieces of equipment over the last couple of years so you don’t have to go out and buy all these at once. Start with the basic glass cutting equipment and a kiln and go from there. Have a great time doing it!




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Making Fused Glass Swizzle Sticks

There is nothing more pleasant on a hot day than sitting outside with a cold drink. A cool glass, condensation trickling slowly down the side and the tempting clink of ice cubes. Whether you prefer gin or lemonade, iced tea or prosecco, you’ll love to have a handmade swizzle stick to bling up your glass.

They are very easy to make so they are perfect for beginning fused glass makers. Even experienced glass artists will love them because they are an excellent way of using up your scraps. Even tiny bits are useful.

I usually buy my Tekta in 30cm by 30cm sheets. To start, cut one of these in half. This will give a piece 30cm by 15cm.


Cut 1cm wide strips from this piece giving us lots of thin pieces of tekta 15cm x 1cm. I can fit 22 of these in my Paragon 7.

Put these directly on a lined or kilnwashed kiln shelf as they are too fiddly to move once they are made. It’s much easier to carry the whole shelf across.

We need to make the handle next. Get all your little pieces of glass left over from other projects.

You can make stripes by cutting scraps into 1cm wide pieces and arranging them on top of the strip of tekta. We want a handle around 3cm long. Or you can make a collage out of tiny pieces.

We do the same at the other end to make the little blob that stirs the drink. This is much smaller around 1-1.5cm long. You can use very tiny chips of glass and pile them on. The arrangement is up to you.

Selecting the colours is the best bit. You can make them in all sorts. I love to use contrasting colours which really make your swizzles pop. Or you could use shades of one colour. You can load them with your favourite frit combination. I love to make multicoloured ones but you could make them from one colour if you like.

Once you have the glass arranged the way you want it, you can stick it down with glastac. If you prefer you can use white glue but you will need to put this on first.

There is usually plenty of space around for a few pairs of earrings. I like to use up every tiny bit of space before I run the kiln.

Carefully bring them over to the kiln and place inside. The schedule is as follows. It is the standard Bullseye schedule for a full fuse.

Runtime = 12 hrs

RATE – Degrees/hr TEMP – Set point HOLD – Soak
Segment 1 222°C/hr ( 400°F) → 677°C (1250°F ) 30 min
Segment 2 333°C/hr ( 600°F ) → 804°C ( 1480°F ) 10 min
Segment 3 999°C/hr ( 999°F ) → 482°C ( 900°F ) 60 min
Segment 4 83°C/hr ( 150°F ) → 371°C ( 700°F ) End


Once they are fired they are ready to use (after a wash of course!) You will see that the handle (with 2 layers of glass) has rounded at the edges and flattened. The smaller piece on the bottom has rounded up into a blob which is perfect for stirring those drinks. The single layer of glass forms the stick and this will pull in at the sides and become thinner and rounded on top.

You can make these as a set with each one the same or a variation on a theme. Sometimes I make sets which have the same design but differ in colour so each friend in the group knows which glass is theirs.


These are fun to make and a little bit different. I love them because they use up all my scraps and I’m a little bit obsessed to be honest! And of course my friends and family love them too… because it usually means I’m making the drinks!


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How To Make Bath Bombs

Don’t you just love the fizzing, sparkling and bubbling of a gorgeous bath bomb. For those who have been hiding under a rock for the last few years, a bath bomb is a ball of fizzing scented goodness which releases scent and colour into the bath.

There are many things you can put into a bath bomb but the two main ingredients are Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) and Citric Acid. Both are easily available in your local grocery or oriental food store. Or you can order them from one of the many soap making online shops.




The other main ingredients are fragrance and colour. Additional goodies could be oils, clays, glitter, botanicals, salt grains, oats, aloe powder, honey powder, seaweed or herbs. As you can see the potential is almost endless.





A word about colour before we start. You should use a water soluble colour for your bath bombs. Those that are soluble in oil won’t work as they will not disperse in the bath water. The best are the kind that you can use in melt and pour soap. Pigments used in cold process soap also can be used but they must be used in very small amount or they can stain the bath tub quite badly. I have only used enought to give a light pink tint to my bath bombs. Food colours work as well.



You will need a mould to put your bath bomb in. The most recognisable mould is the round two part mould which makes a spherical bath bomb. You can easily buy these online. But you can use anything you want. I often use silicone moulds for baking although you do have to be careful with these. They can distort in shape when you are packing your mixture in tightly. I have used muffin trays, cupcake silicone moulds (both with and without the cupcake liner) and the little cardboard cupcake or mini loaf cases are perfect. Have a look around the house and see what you have to hand.
So how do we make them?

Here is a basic recipe which you can customise yourself.
400g Bicarbonate of Soda
200g of Citric acid
6g of fragrance (1%)
A tiny drop of colour.
You will also need a spray bottle with some water in (or you can use witch hazel if you prefer)




Place your Bicarbonate of Soda and Citric acid in a large bowl. A large bowl used for baking is ideal. Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly. You can use a spoon, spatula or your hand.




Add a few drops of your colour and mix. Then add all of your fragrance. Stir until they are all well mixed.




This is the tricky part. Start spraying your water in with one hand while mixing with the other. Use only a very small amount to begin with. Keep stirring and adding the water until the mixture looks like damp sand.




You know the type that is perfect for building a sandcastle? It should hold together when squeezed into a ball but not be wet. If it gets too wet, the mixture will start to react and fizz and bubble and your mixture will be ruined. You can squeeze the mixture in your hand. It is ready if it holds together and doesn’t crumble with slight pressure.




Once you have the correct consistency, it is time to press into your mould. You need to pack it in quite tightly so that it all holds together. If you don’t it will have too many air pockets and will crumble when it is removed from the mould.




I recommend leaving the bath bomb in the mould for a few hours or even overnight. It is possible to remove them from the mould but unless you are perfect at getting the wetness right your bath bomb may flatten or go out of shape. Best to leave it in there.



The best idea is to make these bath bombs only a few at a time. If you make a big batch of mixture it can start to harden in the bowl before you can get it all in the moulds.




Extra additions (to the dry mixture)

1 tablespoon of any oil you like or butters that have been melted and cooled a bit (too much heat will cause it to fizz)
A tablespoon of rose petals, lavender buds, calendula or any other botanical that takes your fancy (but remember that although they look great, they are messy in the bath).
A tablespoon of powdered seaweed, honey, aloe or any other powder you like
A tablespoon of oatmeal
A tablespoon of clay eg bentonite or French green clay. This makes a very hard bath bomb too
You could add a tablespoon of Epsom salts, dead sea salts, or sea salt. Himalayan pink sea salt is very pretty in a bath bomb too.
If you want your bath bomb to produce bubbles that last you can add a tablespoon of SLS or SLSA (do remember to wear your mask for this)
And of course you can add a sprinkle of glitter. You can mix it in or you could sprinkle it on the surface of the mould to make it glittery on the outside!
The most tricky part of the process is getting the wetness right. If it is too dry your bath bomb may crumble when you take it out of the mould. If you don’t pack it in enough it may be crumbly or split down the seam when you take it out of the mould. If it was too wet then it might stick in the mould or if you have added much too much water it will fizz right up before you put it in the mould.



Here is what happens when your bath bomb is too wet!







And this is what they look like when they go right!

So good luck with making the bath bombs. If you would like to share your version of this recipe we would love to see them. Head over to the facebook page and pm your picture to me. I’d love to share them here … Hazelrock House Facebook

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Why You Should Make (Or Buy) Handmade Soap

Why Make (or Buy) Handmade Soap


It’s confusing, isn’t it? So many different products for washing your skin these days. Liquid soap in a pump, soap from the main commercial providers and now over the last few years there has been a big resurgence of handmade soap makers all over the world. So many different types of soap and it’s so difficult to choose the best one to use.

You should use handmade soap.

‘But you make and sell handmade soap’ I hear you cry…’You are biased!’ Well, actually I am but for very good reasons.

I first started to make handmade soap because I have psoriasis. I don’t have a serious case but I found that when I use products that moisturise my skin the psoriasis is much better. I use a lot of moisturiser on my knees and elbows and on my hands. But when you have a young family you are constantly washing. I found my hands were very dry and this was causing more frequent outbreaks.

At that time I was using liquid handwash. I did some research and found that it wasn’t actually soap. It was a mixture of other detergents which were playing havoc with my hands. So I stopped using that immediately.

I switched to bar soap which I bought in the local supermarket. Well, that was just as bad. My hands were really dry and the skin was cracked and broken.

At last, I read an article in a magazine about making handmade soap. But here in the West of Ireland back then, there wasn’t any available locally. So I decided to make my own.

You can read all about it in the Just Do It post.

Turns out that handmade soap is made in a completely different process than commercially made soap.

Commercial soap is made by boiling all the ingredients together until the saponification reaction is complete. Then the solid soap is sieved off. The remaining liquid contains the glycerine produced in the chemical reaction. This is removed, the glycerine recovered and sold to the cosmetic industry.

Handmade soap has a much lower reaction temperature than this. Most soap makers soap at around 30-35 degrees C. This allows the properties of the oils used to have a better chance of being retained.

Of course, handmade soap makers don’t remove the glycerin from their soaps. They keep all that moisturising goodness in there. And that’s one of the reasons that handmade soap is more expensive.

Because the soap is boiled and then sieved off, there is no extra oil in commercial soap. Handmade soap contains up to 10% extra oil…called the superfat. This is to ensure all the lye is used in the reaction but also so your hands are left soft with a thin layer of nourishing goodness after washing. Commercial soap can strip oil away from the skin without replacing it, leaving the hands dry. The superfat in handmade soap replaces the oils washed away with the dirt and leaves you hands feeling like you have used lotion on them.

Commercial soap makers are trying to make a lot of profit so they tend to use cheaper oils. Handmade soapmakers are worried about making the best bar they can and they love to experiment with different oils. So you tend to get luxurious oils in handmade soap formulations. As new oils become available, the possibilities are endless. My particular favourite is cocoa butter.

Handmade soap may also contain lots of other lovely additions like milk, honey, oatmeal, botanicals or seeds. You won’t find these in commercially made soap.

Handmade soap makers do not use preservatives. It’s just not needed. So there aren’t any nasty preservatives hidden in there.

Commercial soap sometimes contains a lot of other harsh detergents besides the soap. These can be drying and may not agree with some skin types. Handmade soap only contains soap. No other detergents.

If you use handmade soap you can make sure all the ingredients are sustainably produced. The big one I’m thinking of here is palm oil (more about that in another post later). Most commercial soap uses palm oil as it makes a hard bar of soap. But we have no way of knowing if the palm oil used in commercial soap is sustainably farmed. N on sustainable farming of palm oil destroys the habitat of the Orang Utan.

Commercial soap sometimes contains other ingredients to add bulk. These are fillers and don’t add to the efficiency of the soap. They are just there to make it heavier and bulkier…and worse value. No need for these in handmade soap. Everything in it has value and is worth putting in.

If you make your own handmade soap you can customise it to contain the ingredients you love. If you only use essential oils, put those in. If you are vegan, only use plant oils. If you love cocoa butter (like me) you can use lashings of it in your soap. You can tailor any recipe to suit your own needs. How’s that for power over your own skin?

Lots of us soap makers run our own businesses. We strive to make a living out of the craft that we enjoy (and that benefits others) often at a very small amount per bar. When you buy from a handmade soap maker you are supporting small business, not the big guys. You are helping to put food on someone’s table, helping with school books, paying the bills. Not adding to the riches of a faceless company.

If you buy your soap locally, your money stays local. The soap maker spends money locally too. That’s got to be good for your town and your area.

Handmade soap is gorgeous! Whether it is a simple bar or something more intricate, handmade soap is so much more decorative than your plain bar. Much better for giving as a gift. Everyone loves getting something handmade. It’s much more thoughtful than something made in bulk.

I love handmade soap. It’s unlike any other kind of soap available. If you don’t already use it I urge you to give it a try. Find a supplier at your local farmers market or in your local gift shop. Search online…or even buy from me! Once you try it you won’t use ordinary soap again. And it’s really fun to try making it. In fact, it can get you hooked.

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Saponification (For the nation!)




Saponification (for the nation)!


For all you non scientists out there who are currently inwardly groaning at the mere mention of chemistry, I’m here to make it simple (or at least a bit simpler).

You don’t really need to know all this to follow a soap making recipe but it really helps if you would like to design your own recipes later. I always like to know what is going on in a chemical reaction because that way it can be controlled. And that means there is less chance of something going wrong that you can’t explain.

What is soap and how does it work?

First we need to understand exactly what soap making is. In a nutshell it is the chemical reaction between a sodium or potassium hydroxide with a triglyceride (fat). This reaction is known as saponification.

We want to make soap because it is a surfactant. Soap helps to hold oil particles in suspension with water in much the same way as egg yolk does with the oil in mayonnaise. In effect a surfactant is an emulsifier. It helps oil and water to mix.

We need surfactants to help water clean our clothes and bodies because water is not very efficient at cleaning on its own. Water has a high surface tension which allows it to form droplets instead of spreading out when it hits a surface. It also does not dissolve oil well and this is a problem because the oil particles are where the dirt usually is.

So how does soap help?

It is down to the structure of the soap molecule.

There are two distinct areas in this molecule, a negatively charged head and a long tail which is uncharged. On one end there is a negatively charged head which is hydrophilic (mixes with water). On the other there is a long chain tail which does not have a charge and this is hydrophobic (doesn’t mix with water).

Having a molecule which has water loving and water hating ends allows the soap molecule to form a bridge between each of the oil and water layers.

The hydrophilic charged end mixes with the water and the hydrophobic end mixes with the oil. Eventually enough soap molecules combine with the oil and water that they hold the oil in suspension within the water.

These spherical complexes are known as micelles. In this way the oil particles cam be separated from the surface, held in suspension and then washed away.

Soap is an anionic surfactant and other detergents such as SLS are cationic surfactants as they have a positively charged head.


The reactants of saponification

The Sodium Hydroxide (lye)

In our case we are using NaOH (lye) as the hydroxide. Once this is dissolved in water, it separates into two parts, a Sodium ion and a Hydroxide ion. We call this a strong base because it almost totally breaks down into its constituent ions. It is really very reactive.

In order to pull the positively and negatively charged ions apart, energy must be added.  This is called the Lattice Energy. As the water molecules are attracted to and surround the ions, energy is released into the solution. This is called the Hydration Energy.  The hydration energy released is more than the lattice energy taken in to break the bonds and that is why the solution heats up. It is an exothermic reaction.

The Fats

Fats or triglycerides are made up of fatty acids and glycerol

The fatty acids are the part that combines with the Sodium to make up the soap molecule. Fatty acids come in two types depending on the structure of the carbon based tail. Saturated fatty acids (like lauric and myristic acids) have a long straight chain whereas unsaturated fatty acids (like oleic and linoleic acids) have a bend in their chain due to a double bond.

Each Triglyceride contains a glycerol molecule with three fatty acid tails.

In the saponification reaction, the glycerol side of the molecule splits off and forms glycerine. This leaves 3 fatty acid tails. Each of these reacts with a Sodium ion and forms a soap molecule (which is actually the salt of the fatty acid).

Each fatty acid requires one Sodium Ion to react with it so each molecule of fat needs three sodium ions.

The different fatty acid tails are different weights. You get more molecules in one gram of an oil with shorter (and lighter) chain fatty acids and fewer molecules in a gram if the fatty acid chains are longer (and heavier).

Scientists have worked out the proportions of lye (NaOH)required for each oil, depending on the fatty acid composition of the oil. These are called SAP values.

This way we can ensure that each molecule of lye is reacted completely with an oil molecule and there are no free lye molecules left in the soap.

We can test for free lye molecules in the soap we make using phenolphthalein. If there are no free OH- ions, the soap will remain colourless. If there are free OH- ions, the soap will turn a vibrant bright pink.

So there you go…It wasn’t that bad really! As I said at the start of the post, you really don’t need to know all this if you are just following a simple recipe but it does come in handy if you are formulating your own recipes.





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Safely Working With Lye

Safely Working With Lye

Many people who want to make soap are put off by the use of Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) in the making of it. The fact is that you need lye in order to make soap from scratch.

Just a note. In this post I’m going to refer to solid Sodium Hydroxide as lye and Sodium Hydroxide dissolved in water as lye solution.

If you really don’t want to handle lye, then you can use melt and pour soap, which is great, but you don’t have the same level of control over the ingredients you put in. It’s like using a store bought mix to bake a cake…It tastes fine but you can’t vary the recipe. And creative people like us…let’s face it, jiggling the ingredients is what we are all about.

I’m here to tell you the best ways of dealing with lye so it is safe to use. After all you wouldn’t be put off making a cup of tea or coffee because you need to work with boiling water. You wouldn’t want that on your skin either. It’s all about managing the risks.

Safety Equipment.

This is a must. Goggles and gloves are absolutely necessary for safe lye handling.

I know you don’t want to wear them and they get in the way but they really could save you from a nasty burn or significant eye damage.

Keep the goggles on until after your dish washing is finished. It seems like overkill but I personally have been splashed in the eye with caustic fresh soap whilst doing the dishes.

It’s important to wear closed toed shoes so you don’t get any on your feet if you do have a spill.

Some books advocate the use of long sleeved tops but I find they can hold lye solution or fresh soap next to your skin so I prefer short sleeves. You can then wash any splashes off straight away.

If I am doing a complicated procedure with the soap eg piping or layering, I use the plastic sleeves that scientists use. I tend to be messier whilst piping and they are easily available on amazon if you don’t fancy the bare skinned route.

Lye storage.

Lye awaiting use should be kept in an airtight box as it absorbs moisture from the air. Some books say that absorbing water weakens the lye, but it just means that your chosen weight is composed of both lye and water, so there isn’t enough actual lye in your soap at the end. And more water than you wanted.

Label the box well and keep on a high shelf out of reach of children or pets.

If you are storing lye solution, this advice goes double. You must keep the jug out of reach of children and pets.

Make sure you keep it in a non-leaking container with a lid once it has cooled down. Hot solutions should not be kept in closed containers in case the pressure builds up inside.


Make sure children and pets (and maybe partners!) are well out of the way and won’t come into your soap making area during the soap making.

If you want you can turn off your phone or TV as well if you find them distracting.

Leave that lovely glass of wine until after the soap making session, you’ll need a clear head. Reward yourself after you are done!

Mixing the lye solution.

This is best done in the sink so any spillages can be easily contained.

The dissolution of lye in water creates a huge amount of heat, and plastic jugs sometimes are not up to the job.

You can test your jug beforehand by filling it with boiling water (in the sink) and seeing if the plastic resists this kind of heat. This is a similar level of heat produced by the chemical reaction so it’s a good indicator of how your plastic will perform.

Many soap makers use stainless steel jugs instead to be sure but avoid aluminium jugs as they will react with the lye solution.

When you are ready to mix the lye and water make sure you add the solid to the liquid. The reaction is exothermic, it releases heat.

If you add liquid to the solid slowly, the small amounts of liquid will heat up so fast that they could evaporate explosively and spray out of the jug. Adding the lye to the liquid will avoid this as the larger amount of liquid will be able to absorb the heat.

Add the lye slowly and mix well with a spoon. If you don’t mix well enough you will end up with a layer of undissolved solid lye at the bottom of your jug. It’s almost impossible to get this to dissolve, and you don’t want to have lumps of solid lye in your soap. You should always strain your lye solution through a sieve even if your lye has dissolved, just in case.

When the lye is mixed, it can give off some pungent fumes. Don’t breathe this in. Make sure you work in a well ventilated area. I have a window above my sink which I always open.

Some soap makers mix their lye on the hob under the extractor fan. Some mix their lye outside. All of these are fine but if you aren’t using the sink you can put your jug in a basin instead.

I always cover my lye immediately with a layer of cling film (saran wrap) so no fumes can escape.

Splashes of lye.

Some soap makers advocate the use of vinegar on lye splashes and burns, but this isn’t the best plan. The idea is that vinegar (a weak acid) will neutralise the lye solution (a strong alkali) but it’s really not enough. In addition, they will react together with the possibility of creating more heat.

The best advice is to wash any splashes under a running tap, just as you would do for any other type of burn. This will wash the lye away and cool the area.

Purity of lye.

If you are making soap you really need to be ordering your lye from a reputable supplier. There are many soap making websites around the globe that would be happy to supply you with lye that is suitably pure for soap making. You could go to a hardware store to buy it but you risk buying a contaminated product.

Lye is usually sold as a drain cleaner but not all drain cleaners are pure lye, some are other things entirely and some can be a mixture of multiple chemicals. Best to buy the pure stuff.

Protect your surface.

You can use a plastic tablecloth or newspaper. Lye and freshly made soap will most likely react with the varnish on your table.

And finally, the soap making cleanup.

The not so much fun bit. Once the soap is made it is still very caustic as the chemical reaction hasn’t been completed yet. Washing up these caustic dishes can present a few problems.

You will need to wear your goggles and gloves for the clean up as well. Even better, get out your heavy duty washing up gloves.

You can wash your dishes in the conventional way in the sink. You’ll need a lot of dish soap to cut the grease, lots of hot water and the patience of a Saint. There are easier ways!

Many soap makers wipe their dishes out with paper towels first and dispose of these in the bin. This makes it much easier to wash as there isn’t a lot of soap residue left on the dishes.

Some use clean rags to wipe their dishes which they then wash. The rags are put away overnight and washed in the washing machine the next day when the mixture has almost completely turned to soap.

Others put all of the soapy dishes in a box or large plastic bag and leave the whole lot in the shed or garage until the next day. Then they can wash the soap residue off much more easily and you don’t need any dish soap at all.

It’s not a good idea to put freshly made soap in the dishwasher as it can react with any aluminium inside as well as the rubber seals around the door.

Whatever way you choose to clean up, you can now have that glass of wine!

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Soap Making Equipment

Soap Making Equipment

Soap Making is one of the most cost effective hobbies to start because it doesn’t require much specialised equipment to get started. Many things you’ll need can be found in your own kitchen. Leave the expensive stuff until you find out if you love soap making (I think you will!)

Weighing – Scales are a necessary piece of kit. It’s not possible to use measuring equipment instead because all the ingredients for soap making are measured by weight. This is due to the need for accuracy. I would recommend spending some money  on them if you don’t have a set already. They are not expensive and can be bought online or in your local electronics store.

Chopping – You’ll need to do this to break up any oils such as palm or coconut oils which generally come in large blocks. A suitably sized knife is perfect for this. Soap additives such as petals, leaves and herbs may also need to be chopped up before adding.

Melting – Your hard oils will need to be melted before you can use them. You can put them in a stainless steel pot on the stove or you can use a microwave (obviously use a plastic bowl in the microwave). You’ll need to let them cool a bit before they will be at the correct temperature.

Measuring temperature – It’s really handy to have a thermometer as a new soap maker. You can easily make sure the temperature of your oils and lye mixture is within the recommended range before you start. All soap makers have their own preferred temperature at which to soap. I prefer just above room temperature so I don’t really use a thermometer much anymore. But it is useful to have one until you find your own preferences. You can get them in any kitchen store or online if you don’t already have one.

Stirring and scraping – Spatulas are perfect for this! I love to get every last drop out of my soaping bowl. Plastic is best as wooden spoons tend to react with the lye as does aluminium. You can use stainless steel spoons as they don’t react but they are not as good at scraping.

Bowls and jugs – Anything big enough to fit your soap recipe is perfect. Again plastic is best but you can use a ceramic bowl too. Stainless steel pots can also work but make sure your pots are not made from aluminium or they will react with the lye present. Make sure the jug you use for the lye mixture can resist a fair amount of heat. Mixing the lye with water is an exothermic reaction, so glass is not the best plan. Heat resistant plastic is best but many soap makers use metal jugs. You will need smaller jugs for mixing colour into portions of your batter. Small bowls are very useful for mixing powdered colour with water or oils

Mixing – You can mix by hand in which case all you will need is a long handled spoon or a whisk to stir…but this can take a very long time. Most soap makers use an immersion (or stick) blender. This allows very fast mixing without the addition of bubbles to the mixture. Electric mixers…the type with beaters, are not the best as they add too much air to your soap mixture causing air bubbles in the finished soap.

Moulding – just about anything can be used for a mould if it is lined. My first soap was moulded in a plastic lunchbox. Or you can use an empty milk carton (washed first of course), a Pringles carton or a yoghurt pot. Silicon cooking moulds are very convenient as they don’t need to be lined and are easily removed from the soap. The variety of moulds you can buy once you are ready is quite staggering.

Swirling and patterning – Once you have made your new batch of soap you might want to swirl the colours together. Chopsticks are perfect for this, small spoons are great, a wire clothes hanger can be bent into a swirling implement, almost anything you can think of that will move the soap around can be used. Patterns can be made on top of the soap to give it texture. You can be as creative as you like.

Insulation – If you choose to insulate your soap you will need a few old towels or blankets to wrap around it. You may also want a piece of old cardboard to cover your soap if your mould doesn’t have a lid.

Table protection – Soap mixture is very likely to damage your table surface as it is very caustic to begin with. You can use a paper tablecloth, an old piece of fabric, newspaper, a layer of cardboard or anything similar to protect your table.

There are so many things that you can use you’ll find yourself looking around thinking ‘Can I soap with this’ !

So now that you are all set up you are ready to visit the article on Working With Lye.

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A Drop of the Black Stuff

A Drop of the Black Stuff.

I live in the West of Ireland in a gorgeous seaside village called Kinvara. It’s beautiful here…not only do we have the Wild Atlantic Way on our doorstep but we have the dramatic backdrop of the Burren too. That mysterious slab of limestone provides a lot of inspiration for me as a creative person.

Of course visitors from around the world arrive here to enjoy the delights of our surroundings and they all have one thing in common. They are all excited to try a drop of the Black Stuff here in Ireland.

Many people find it very strange that I would use something like a pint of stout in my soap making but actually it is very common to use liquids other than water. Milk, beer, tea and coffee are common as well as an endless variety of herbal infusions.  Each of these liquids adds something to the soap. Milks and beers are full of conditioning proteins. Herbal infusions carry the properties of the herbs used. Some extracts may add colour to the soap.  But Guinness is one of my favourite. Of course any brand of stout will do.

If you haven’t made soap before please check out the soaping 101 or Soap Queen  youtube sites for all the instructions you need. This recipe is a little more advanced and I recommend you try a few simpler recipes before you attempt this one.

You will need

  • An assortment of plastic jugs and bowls
  • A stick blender
  • A thermometer
  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • A lined soap mould
  • An ice bath

The recipe

  • 500g of stout frozen into ice cubes
  • 500g Olive Oil
  • 450g Coconut Oil
  • 400g Palm Oil
  • 100g Cocoa Butter
  • 50g Shea Butter
  • 100g Canola Oil
  • 226g Sodium Hydroxide
  • Cocoa Powder dissolved in water or glycerine.
  • Lemongrass, cedarwood and Patchouli

The first thing you need to do is put on your safety goggles and gloves. Always. Every time. Even keep them on until the washing up is done. It’s just not worth it. Keep children, pets and any other distractions out of the way.

Start by melting your solid oils in the microwave or on the stove and leave to cool. Add your liquid oils to this.



Place your ice cubes in a plastic container and put this container into and ice/water bath. Slowly and gradually add your sodium hydroxide whilst stirring. The reaction of the sodium hydroxide with the water is exothermic…It releases heat. We don’t want our stout to heat up too much or it will denature the delicate proteins contained within. Too much heat and the stout will scorch resulting in a very smelly liquid. Don’t worry too much if this does happen as the smell will reduce during the cure time. It is best to try and avoid it though.



Once all the ice cubes are melted and the sodium hydroxide is dissolved, it is time to combine our liquids. For those new to soap making this is the crucial moment when the magic begins. The chemical reaction of the oils and the sodium hydroxide is what creates the soap. More about chemistry in another post.


Add the sodium hydroxide solution to the oil. Stick blend until trace happens. Add the fragrance blend and stir well.




Separate one quarter of the mixture into a separate jug. To the larger portion add the cocoa powder mixture and blend well. Pour into the mould.



To the smaller portion add the titanium dioxide and blend well. Carefully layer this on top of the brown soap in the mould. You don’t want the layers to incorporate. It sometimes helps to pour slowly onto the back of a spoon to slow the mixture down.



Wait until the soap has firmed up a little and then form peaks on the top.  I use a chopstick to make this look.



Spritz with alcohol and cover with cling film (Saran wrap). Leave for 24 to 48 hours before unmoulding. One the soap is out of the mould you can cut into slices and place on a shelf and leave to cure for 4-6 weeks.



So there you have it. A little slice of the Black Stuff from the Wild Atlantic way.

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