Friday, January 20, 2012

The Duped Project 2/50: Detergent vs. Soap


To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what got me started on making my own soap. My family has super sensitive skin, and I love to make a gift for someone that they can actually use. Maybe that was it. Either way, last mothers day, I hit looking for a supplier for my newest project: Soap for mom.

First I looked at making soap on my own, but making the base for the soap is complicated, labor intensive, and can release some not-so-great fumes, which presented a problem since I was pregnant at the time.

Then I found Lather and Lotions, with a whole array of "melt-and-pour" soap bases that totally eliminated the need for me to do it myself. I also found some spectacular photography of some artisan-quality soap (I've included some of my favorite shots - soap for every season!). I was convinced. I messaged the shop owner, and Christine responded. It was a great customer service experience. I asked questions and told her what I wanted, and she put together a wonderful array of supplies that would include everything I could need - all for less than $10 per gift.

I knew I wanted to talk about soap when I did the duped project, so one of the first things I did was contact Christine again and ask her if she would lend this blog some of her great knowledge. Specifically, I asked her what the dupe is in soap. Here's what she said.

"...Commercial soap is a detergent with the glycerin stripped out. That is why commercial soap is so "bubbly" The melt and pour soap I sell is made out of oils and has a creamier, foamier feel to it. It does bubble nicely but feels much richer. "
She goes on to explain what makes difference. "When real soap is made the lye reacts with the oils to make glycerin. This process is called Saponification. Glycerin is a humectant, meaning it attracts moisture to your skin (instead of it just being in the soap), that is why so many people feel a big difference in their skin when using handmade soap. The glycerin creates a thin layer on the skin and is absorbing moisture."

Wait, so when I buy commercial soap, I'm not getting soap at all? I'm getting detergent that has the moisturizing part stripped out of it? No wonder I need lotion.

And don't just take her word for it. Take mine (after all, you are reading my blog). Last month, I finally replaced my bar soap in the shower (in the middle of winter, when my skin is usually cracking-dry) and not only does it feel better, it makes my skin feel completely different.

Unfortunately, I ran out of soap. Perfect timing! Now I can show you how easy it is. After the jump, of course.

I had a half pound of a honey soap-base left over from my Mother's day Project. You can tell the difference in this soap from the second you touch it. It's so smooth and soft.

First I chopped it up into smaller pieces. I'm going to use 3-4 of these small pieces (about 2 oz ea.) to make a bar.

Throw it into a microwaveable container (I like that this one has a spout) and cover with plastic wrap.

Microwave? That's right! 30 seconds to start off, stir, then add 15 more until it's fully melted.

What does bamboo smell like? Apparently, it smells like attractive men. At least that's my take. Add 1 mL of fragrance and stir while hot. 

I added some color. This red is a gel color, as you can see in the soap. 

I also had some awesome shea butter base left over. Not a lot, but enough to do half a bar.

If you think it looks delicious, you should smell it. My kitchen still smells awesome.

I scented this one with "Martha's Vineyard" and tinted it lavender. The purple color was liquid, not gel.

One of my favorite toys from Lather and Lotions: a silicone simple square soap mold. That's a lot of alliteration. Pour and let cool (about 2 hours).

Makes a woman proud. Too bad L&Ls did all the hard work for me. It feels a bit like putting take-out on your nice china, but I'm totally ok with that.

I'm sure I did something wrong, but it turned out great for my second attempt. It truly is easy. I am sure that if I stick with this, it will eventually save me some money, but honestly, that's not what I'm after. I'm just happy to know that the stuff I'm using to clean my body isn't pulling moisture out of my skin. I'm also happy to know that I made it. Because I like to make stuff. Don't you? Yeah. You do.

What I learned: 
  • Commercial "soap" is not actually soap, but detergent. Real soap contains glycerine, which pulls the moisture in water into your skin
  • Melt-and-pour soap base is the easiest (and most economical) way to make soap at home, or just have a good supply of the real thing for your family
  • Bamboo smells like Ryan Gosling

Note: I didn't receive a thing from Lather and Lotions for this promotion. Feel free to shop around. But I had a great experience, and I wanted to pass that on. Shop small folks. You'll never get better service than from the product's maker.


  1. Erin, great post. Thank you for the mention and kind words! This is a great tutorial too. I love your "duped" project!

  2. Detergent doesn't have the Glycerine stripped out, it never had any, soap did. The most common detergent is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and I believe that it is made from Palm oil. Granny's Lye Soap is made from fat, which is Glycerin with one, two or three fatty acids (Mono, Di and Tri-Glycerides, if you're looking at your blood workup). The lye breaks the bonds between the Glycerin and the fatty acids. Sodium (or Potassium) in the Lye bonds with the fatty acids to make soap and the Glycerine separates out. Mixing some of that Glycerine back in makes the moisturizing soaps. Soaps and detergents have the ability to bond with both oils and water and that is why they dry your skin out. My preferred hand soap is Dawn dishwashing detergent (it used to be Palmolive, but I use Dawn for everything now). I find that it gets the dirt and grease off as well as anything, but doesn't leave my hands too dry. I get really dirty, from gardening to mechanic work, so I need something strong, but not as harsh as mineral spirits. I've enjoyed reading these posts and hope to see more.