Previously on SomeSoapWorks, we looked at the explanations for the 1630 and 1842 on my labels. And now, on to the thrilling conclusion! 😉
In all processes, especially those which involve some measure of trial and error experimentation, you are going to have some failures. I’ve had plenty, including one early in my soap making experience, when I didn’t insulate a mold properly (the chemical reaction which turns oil, water and lye into soap puts out a lot of heat and you have to keep it warm until the reaction concludes). The resulting loaf of soap looked horrible! It had a thick rind on the top from where it had cooled faster than it had cured, and though it was chemically fine (the reaction had finished and the resulting soap was only just slightly more basic than neutral in pH), I had no illusions that anyone would want to actually use it.
Doing some research on what to do with my ‘failed’ batch, I discovered the process of “rebatching”, or remelting and remixing a finished batch of soap to try to fix errors or problems that come up in the initial cold process reaction.
I was surprised to find out during this research that many ‘soap makers’ do not in fact produce their own soap base. Granted, the idea of working with lye can be daunting for some people, and plenty of folks only want to make a small amount of soap customized for themselves or to give as gifts, and so they buy a premade soap base, grind it up, melt it down, and mix it with a customized recipe of ingredients (colors, scents, and other elements) before pouring it into molds. This “melt and pour” process does have advantages: since the ingredients you will be adding don’t have to survive the cold process reaction (which can produce heat in excess of 200*F) you don’t have to worry about the scent being “cooked out” of an ingredient, or having the color changed by exposure to heat.
The limitation of buying a premade “melt and pour” base is that you can’t change, and might not even be able to know, what is in that soap base. Soap is rather loosely regulated by the FDA, and many companies who produce soap bases follow the letter of the law, rather than its spirit, and provide very little information on their labels.
Again, there is nothing necessarily or inherently wrong with this. Companies are allowed under the law to protect their recipes as trade secrets. The only trouble you get into is when you have allergies or sensitivities and have to be doubly and triply sure not to come into contact with something that will trigger a reaction. I’m in favor of an exhaustive listing of components because I’m one of those people who reads and researches labels carefully, and I have still been burned (literally!) by a product whose manufacturer did not list all the ingredients.
My soap “failure” provided me with the perfect opportunity to try making melt and pour soap on my own terms, using a base that I could feel absolutely confident about. I started with my own pure olive oil castile soap, ground into flakes, and tested a variety of added liquids to see which provided qualities I liked. It’s been a lot of fun to experiment, and provided me with an amazing range of new possibilities that I’ll write about here in future posts.
The simple key I use to refer to these remilled soaps is 1872, the year that the residents and government of the town of Somerville decided to mix everything up and reincorporate themselves as a fully fledged city. I could think of no better analogy for this decision to take what the process gave me (the good with the bad), put in a bit more hard work and inspiration, and reintroduce it to the world as brand new and better than ever!