Adventures In..., Slow Making

Adventures in…S.L.O.W Soap Making

I blogged at the end of last year about my fabulous day learning to make soap with Sarah Harper at Rowan Tree Studio.
I said in that post that I thought I would be making more.
And I have.
LOTS more!

Soap Curing2

I’ve been having lots of fun playing around with recipes, and trying to work out a sustainable, and S.L.O.W approach and recipe.

Sustainable Soap Making
Cold process soap making is an ancient art, and involves mixing fat (oils) with lye. The fats ‘saponify’ and the caustic lye is neutralised, forming soap. It’s magic.
The very first soaps were made using animal fats and the ash from wood fires. And I think a few hardy souls may still make it like this, but for the rest of us, the options for oils and fats to use is now many and varied.
Each type of oil lends it’s own qualities to the finished soap: some providing large bubbles, some providing a nice stable lather, and some adding moisture to the soap. Most basic soap recipes now contain a mix of palm oil, coconut oil, and olive oil, a mixture which provides a good firm bar with a nice lather.
BUT palm oil has been widely reported as a cause of deforestation, and when I went to visit Sarah I said that I didn’t want to use palm oil. The palm oil that Sarah uses is certified as sustainable, and the people who supply it have even been and visited the place where it is produced, and are happy that it is not contributing the the destruction of valuable rainforest, but even so, I wanted to explore other options.
But then I got thinking….
At least with the palm oil, it’s been checked out, and every measure has been taken to ensure that it is sustainably sourced.
The coconut oil and olive oil were another matter entirely.
Given the ‘boom’ in coconut oil, I can’t help but think that similar issues may be arising. Although coconuts are more sustainable because it is the coconut that is harvested rather than the whole tree, the massive upturn in demand must have resulted in more land being turned over to it’s production, and I would imagine, exploitation of the farmers and workers harvesting the coconuts. I hold my hands up and admit that I have done only the briefest of Googling into this, but it makes sense to me that if I am going to reject palm oil on sustainability grounds, then I need to replace it with something more sustainable, not less!
Soooooo, I started looking around for alternative recipes, and discovered that some recipes use rapeseed oil in place of the palm oil. And it just so happens that 10 miles up the road from me is a rapeseed oil grower, who produce high quality, cold pressed rapeseed oil. Hurray!

So I had a go at a couple of recipes replacing the palm oil with rapeseed oil, and made a basic soap, a shampoo bar (added castor oil for more lather) and a moisturising version with added shea butter.
They have now ‘cured’ and I’ve been trying them out, and so far so good. So that’s one S.L.O.W ingredient, and I wanted to investigate how to incorporate more S.L.O.W into my soap.

Then I stumbled across a soap made from 100% rapeseed oil.
This company uses local rapeseed oil and their own goats milk to make their soap, and they look really lovely!
I decided to have a go at my own 100% rapeseed bar, and did one small batch just with rapeseed, and one small batch with 100% rapeseed oil, but using Earl Grey tea in the place of the water.

Rapeseed Earl Grey
The rapeseed oil gives a fabulous yellow colour!
This soap is still ‘curing’ (it has to dry out for 4-6weeks, and this time also ensures that all the lye has saponified and turned to soap), but I did get impatient and try it after a week or two. And I was really disappointed-it seems quite ‘slimy’ and there wasn’t a huge amount of lather. I’m not writing it off completely, but I’m also not holding out a huge amount of hope for it.

So with the 100% rapeseed oil looking like it might not be ideal, I hit Google again looking for fairtrade coconut oil and olive oil.
I found Lucy Bee coconut oil which seems to tick all the boxes, but is more expensive than buying organic coconut oil in bulk online.
And the only fairtrade olive oil I could find was this one here, which again is way more expensive. For soap, it’s actually better not to use extra virgin olive oil, but there doesn’t seem to be any option for fairtrade oil that isn’t extra virgin.
I also discovered a British olive farm, but it doesn’t look like they have got into full swing with oil production yet.
I’ve just tried out a soap with 50% local rapeseed oil, and 50% fairtrade coconut oil-I’m keeping my fingers crossed and will let you know how it is when it’s cured.

Rapeseed:Coconut soap

And then there’s the essential oils too. It seems kind of wrong to be using tea tree oil that has been shipped halfway around the world from Australia.
I’ve been doing some (yet more) research into this, and there are UK essential oils, but obviously the range is somewhat limited.

Anyway… this is turning into an epic post-sorry!
I’m trying to find a recipe that uses local and/or sustainable oils, and that produces a really lovely soap. And it’s proving harder than I first thought!
This is one of those examples of where trying to be sustainable/conscious/SLOW seems to making things much a little harder than if I’d never given these issues any thought.

Does anyone else worry about these kind of things and find that life suddenly becomes a lot more complicated?!

Despite the angst over local/sustainable ingredients, I’m really enjoying soap making, and have been using the soap to make homemade laundry powder, liquid soap, and dishwasher tablets, and it has spurred me on to overhaul all of our cleaning products to homemade versions.
Laundry powder
I’m planning to post all of these recipes if people would find them useful?
And I’d love to share some basic soap making recipes and tips too.
Do let me know if this is something you’d be interested in (leave a comment here on the blog, or let me know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) and I can get creating!


(Visited 979 times, 1 visits today)


  • Reply gina caro March 10, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    I’d love to see the recipes. I’ve always wanted to try and make my own soap but just wouldn’t know where to start!

  • Reply Claire March 8, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Yes! I get completely bogged down in the detail over sustainable materials and practices, but I think making something yourself is always going to be more sustainable than not, and the process can be tweaked as you go along. (although I tend to get stuck worrying about it then not even start!). I’d love to hear more about your soap making and recipes 🙂

    • Reply Jen March 21, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks so much Claire-pleased to hear it’s not just me!

  • Reply Jeanette Bruffett March 7, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    This is a timely post for me! I am just about to use up the last bit of handmade soap in the house and since the local woman I used to purchase from has moved and no longer makes soap I promised myself that I would make my own. I’ve made soap with a friend one time but for some reason Im still daunted by it. I’d love recipes and tips! I sure could use the encouragement. Love your blog btw! I just recently came across it while researching ways to be sustainable.

  • Leave a Reply