First off, I'd like to give my friend and fellow soaper, Ann Rein, special thanks for taking time out to volunteer some minor editing to this post for me. I definitely appreciate her support, as well as that of many other soapers who continue to encourage me to experiment and write.
So, after a long wait, I finally received my copy of Jackie Thompson's first book, Liquid Soapmaking, released roughly 2 weeks ago. From my understanding, she's taught several workshops at the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild conventions on the topic, and finally put her knowledge on paper to share with the rest of us. This is a remarkable thing, because the last, well, only book that came out on strictly the topic of liquid soap, was Catherine Failor's Making Natural Liquid Soaps, back in 2000. That's 14 years between updates!!
This book is most certainly a breath of fresh air, as many of us know, Failor's book left us a little wanting. The easiest description is that the book is rough around the edges. Some will go so far as to say it's completely outdated (it really isn't). Its formatting was definitely displeasing to many. It's still a great book, and it definitely helped me in my journey. I can definitely say that my improvement began solely because of her book, which I finally broke down and purchased a year after I began soaping. I've been soaping for 3 years now, I believe..give or take a few months. I began right around the time my son was born, and he'll be 3 next month, in January. So anyways, her book still has relevance. And it is the book that pioneered hand crafted liquid soap making. So it's always good to have around and learn from.
Failor's book touched on a few things that she never further discussed in any subsequent chapters, or even in her minor Kindle reader updates (for those who get the digital version). She mentions additives like potassium carbonate and rosin. She confusingly breezed over the use of proper doneness testing, i.e., the use of phenolphthalein solution drops (phenol-p). And then of course, we all realized she was calculating her potassium hydroxide (KOH) amounts with a 10%, with very little reason as to why. The latter was actually beautifully explained by David Fischer in his About.com blog, 'Candle and Soap'. Honestly, his entire LS section is great for those who want a beginners approach on the subject without a lot of scientific jargon to mentally digest. However, Thomson explains and utilizes some of the prior mentioned additives in her book, which in the end, should make LS making so much easier for noobs and experienced alike. Among many other things of course. Her book brings to the table new techniques for making nice, clear, THICK liquid soaps and gels, without the use of synthetic ingredients such as HEC (hydroxyethylcellulose), which Thompson sent a sample of and briefly discussed in her book, or HPMC ( hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose). So, I guess without further adieu....
Jackie Thompson's book, Liquid Soapmaking, surprised me starting out. While I did expect a major update on the topic, what I did not expect was the scientific approach she took in this book. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for that, in case you haven't already read my other blog posts or seen my videos. But I wasn't ready to have to digest the approach she took, in general. I had to read the book twice to process it all, much like when I read Kevin Dunn's Scientific Soapmaking. Only his book was more like a science textbook for soapmaking, with a little how-to thrown in, whereas, Thompson's book was the reverse. A how-to book with a little science. I'm not sure if I want to say that this book is noob friendly. If you can find a way to filter out the chemistry aspect of the book, then yes, it's noob friendly. Once I sat down with it the second time, and took my time, it all made sense. This book definitely utilizes a lot of math. Though basic, it is still not my forte and my brain tries to shut down every time. Not good when trying to understand the chemistry behind all of this, since chemistry is one part math, and one part practicality. Anyways....
As with any book on soapmaking, she starts off with safety, equipment and PPE. No need for details there, right? Pots, stick blenders, gloves etc. We are easily taken into a brief chemistry lesson on the basic composition of oils and saponification. She then goes into pH, acids, bases, etc (obviously my favorite topic), but it was kind of a stab in the eye as she discussed it. Why? Because in the end, she says, "Attempting to artificially lower the pH will change the chemical structure and it will no longer be just soap". (SCCRREEEAAAACHHH!!!!!) I came to a dead stop on that part. Then shook my head and giggled to myself. If you have been following along, or this is your first visit, you'll see that I've discussed this topic numerous times with fervor. It can be done. Soap can be acidified to a much closer to neutral pH, with the right additives that won't cause the soap to break down, and "not be soap". I encourage you to take a look at those posts when you have the time. They are lengthy, and have a few accompanying videos linked to my YouTube channel. Just to warn you, Jackie doesn't discuss how she came to this conclusion. So there's no telling if she ran any experiments herself, or if she just chanting the same old same old. And before I forget, she said that a 100% Castile soap carries a lower pH than a 100% Coconut soap. Da hell?? Maybe she's confused? From the numerous batches of castile and coconut soaps I've made for experiments, their starting pH has always been around 10 (Castile w/ 2% superfat) and around 9 (Coconut w/ 0% superfat). Superfatting affects pH in that it can lower it slightly, so it was important to indicate that detail. I always measure a soap’s starting pH before I continue an experiment. So, again, her statement had me scratching my head.
As I mentioned, she talks about phenolphthalein (phenol-p). She attests as it being the most accurate method for testing soap for doneness, or 'neutrality', and attempts to compare it as above using a pH meter. I actually find her thoughts on that confusing, and amusing, because she says a meter can only test for a specific pH. What exactly does that mean? pH meters test full range, whereas phenol-p only tests a specific range, which she confirms as being between 8.2-10. As I've stated in my post on testing pH of soap, the drops go from clear to pink in the presence of an alkaline solution that falls within its range. Then back to clear when it's outside that range. The varying shades of pink roughly correspond to a pH scale: faded light pink being on the low end of its range(8.2) and bright fuchsia, almost red at its high end (10). Again, it goes back to clear outside of those ranges. She explains that "because soap pH is dependent on the pH of the oils used (which is true), it has a pH range, not a specific pH". OK, I can see her point there. But most of us already know this. That soap falls within a range, and so we aim for that range. Having a meter ensures absolute accuracy within that range. Thompson also lets on (as an undertone) that the need to calibrate a meter is tedious. To be honest, her method of titration phenol-p drops is way more tedious. But that's just me. We all will have our preference. So long as it's used accurately and provides accurate results each time, it shouldn't matter. Speaking of which, she not once mentions Zap testing. That should say a lot to those who inquire about it still. Her method of testing for free fats and alkali kinda hit a neurotic nerve for me. In my previous post, I indicate the use of a 1 or 5% soap solution for testing cloudiness as well as pH, by dissolving the appropriate amount of paste in lukewarm/room temp water. I prefer this because it ensures consistency in results; making sure that the same concentration of soap is used each time. I also prefer tepid water because warm water tends to produce a false clarity on the clarity test. Warmth temporarily helps solubilizes excess fats. For those of you who have already made LS, have a beautiful clear diluted soap bottled, thinking you're done, only to turn around hours after it's cooled and find it cloudy, you know the struggle. She covers 3 methods of neutralizing, and none of them involve borax. Most of them quite tedious, if not downright scary to the new liquid soaper.
I don't want to divulge much on the potassium carbonate. That's the big player in her book, as it does make the soap easier to stir, but also provides other benefits as well such as consistency, detergency, and clarity. So, you'll need to get the book to find out more. Sorry guys!
She goes deeply into SAP values and what affects those as well as what affects lye in soap making, i.e. quality. She doesn't press on the use of distilled water like many others, which is a good thing, to a degree. She instead says to use distilled or softened water ( the latter which I use due to the ion exchange filters we have for our drinking water tower). She's very clear to emphasize throughout the book that the use of hard or tap water is not good for the soap.
And now the good part: her new methods. Again, I'll only briefly touch on them because they are the stars of this book, which means you need to get it to get details. She goes old school and talks about paste method, which is good to cover for noobs. And she encourages proficiency of this before moving onto to her other methods. Within that, she goes over double boiler, crock pot/turkey roaster, water bath, oven, and no-cook process methods. No mention of direct heat stove top processing like in Failor's book. She then has her No-Paste method of LS making, and a section for making gels and Jellies.
Her discussion on dilution irked me. She makes it seem as though the soap is diluted twice. Maybe there was some language barrier that I hit, but when it starts out with this line:
" The soap paste recipes in this book are made with approximately 33% water, and the rest is understood as anhydrous soap (soap plus alkali). Depending on the oils, some soap pastes may be made with (bold for personal emphasis) up to 60% water."
..I got confused. I've NEVER made a soap paste with 60% water. Nor have I ever heard of anyone who has. She then goes on to calculating dilution rates and ratios. And even indicates that the oils used will determine how much water is needed. I hate those, with a passion. I can't tell ya how many new people have used these charts and ratios and come back saying their soap is too thin. My rule of thumb: Add water in 4-8oz increments until you reach your desired consistency. Document the amount, then use that for next time. It's more tedious. But it's better than having watered down soap to correct. And this goes back to her statement of dilution amount being dependent on the recipe. So, why use a chart of ratios, when no 2 recipes are alike? But that's just me. It may work well for others.
Jackie of course, goes into additives, like colorants, herbal extracts, pearling agents, sequestering agents, fragrance, etc. She goes into GREAT detail on the use of essential oils. Not only blending, but government accepted usage rates as determined by the EU Cosmetic Directive and the International Fragrance Association (IFRA). If you're in the US, obviously the EU regs don't apply, and the standards are voluntary here. Sorry EU! A chapter is dedicated to this and contains tons of EOs and their restrictions under these regs. There's also learning how to blend them, as well as help enhance their scent. There's also discussion on alternative liquids such as aloe, milks and teas, how to use them and when it's best to add them. More detail is put into milk soaps. Though I'm left disappointed here, yet again. She indicates yet again, that something can't be done, when I know differently. Cold processing milk LS so as to not burn it. I happily witnessed a wonderful soap maker named ByrdiJean Zoric who one week just felt like trying to cold process milk LS. It came out this wonderful light creamy color. And while not clear, it was PERFECT for a milk soap. The downside is that it took several days for full saponification. But, she did it. You can find her on YouTube, as well as many different Facebook groups, such as Hot Process Soapmakers. Hmm....maybe Jackie should get on board with joining a few groups. She'll find folks like myself and ByrdiJean all over and could possibly learn a few more things.
Of course, what good soap making book isn't complete without a discussion into preservatives. She's great on providing the different individual preservative constituents found in many broad spectrum chemical preservatives, that actually are affective in the alkaline environment of soap. That has always been a topic of discussion for many of us, because there aren't many available to those of us who insist on using them. She was very quick to discount the fact that antioxidants are a type of preservative, which I've discussed in a previous post. I like how she addressed whether LS even needed a preservative system or not, without actually saying yay or nay. She provided information and left it up to the reader to decide. But from what she wrote, it's clear on how she feels about it.
She discussed how to formulate. Which I don't think many soap making books do this, let alone Catherine Failor's book. She goes about it in very mathematical manner, so be prepared. Then again, it is simple multiplication, once you have the SAP values. But she does admit that those values can vary. She goes back into how lye purity can affect the calculations. But what she doesn't distinctively indicate, as David Fischer did in his blog, is that KOH is about 90% pure straight out of the bottle. But she does manage use mathmatics to indicate this. Her mention of Summer Bee Meadow (SBM) the lye calculator, who's liquid soap calculations bare the 90% impurity in mind, threw me off. Actually, it was the creator of SBM, Steve Mushynsky, who shed light on the impurity aspect and had this to say :
"The crystal structure of KOH actually intrinsically contains about 10 to 11% water bound up in its structure, along with about 1% other impurities (mostly potassium carbonate)"
Again, their calc is calibrated to reflect this. So if you were to do a 0% superfat, you would need little to no neutralization, theoretically speaking. SBM is calibrated to the SAP values of the oils that they used to sell in their shop, prior to Steve becoming permanently disabled. It's been almost 2 years since I last spoke to him and his health was going to hell back then. Anyways, if you scrape through their website, you'll find this:
"I programed our calculator to have a very small excess of lye. When using our own oils and with careful measurements of lye and oils amounts, it will produce liquid soap that is usable without further 'neutralization'.
This was done by taking into account the water content that is always present in KOH flakes and by verifying the sap values of our oils by making single-oil liq. soap batches with each of our oils. Oils from other suppliers may have varying sap values (notably so for coconut oils), so I can't guarantee accuracy every time when using oils from other sources. Best to do a test batch to judge the result. "
And this is found on the top paragraphs of their basic and advanced calcs:
"Calculations take into account the typical impurities percentage found in NaOH and KOH supplies."
Jackie indicates in her book that their calc uses a 4-6% excess. That's not small at all and memory tells me that somewhere else on the SBM website, it's said up to a 2% excess is built in, which would coincide with what Fischer concluded with in his blog:
"Make sense? What he's saying is that the potassium hydroxide (KOH) we use is only 90% KOH - the rest is water and other impurities. So the 10-12% lye excess is only a 0 - 2% excess. Now that I can live with...and understand how a bit of borax or boric acid could neutralize!"
0-2% is a big difference compared to 4-6%! What I'm sure Jackie failed to realize is that all their calculations were based on THEIR oils' SAP values. Not the industry average. Does this make SBM less accurate? Not really. Honestly, it calls for less lye than the most popularly used lye calc, SoapCalc.net, in both KOH and NaOH soaps. According to Jackie, using her calculation method outlined in her book, compared to SBM, SBM produces discrepancies, or some sort of lye excess. But comparing SBM to 2 other major calcs available, it would seem that it is almost on par with Brambleberry, and LESS than SoapCalc. I'll leave it up to you to decide what that will mean to you as a formulator. Do a comparison for yourself. I had examples here, however, the pictures keep disappearing, and now I no longer have them on my drive to re-upload. Just remember, the SAP value is the amount of KOH is milligrams it takes to saponify 1 gram of fats. So convert these numbers to metric for a better picture.
Throughout the book, Jackie uses glycerin to help speed up the process, and provide clarity, as is indicated in Failor's book as well. But Jackie seems to do what is called a 'modified glycerin method', instead of full glycerin for lye solution, you do 50/50 water/glycerin. I don't think her recipes are quite that ratio, but the modified method is still there. She indicates that too much glycerin dampens foam and leaves a sticky feeling on the skin. I've seen 1 or 2 complaints about the latter. But the dampening of foam is far from the truth! The biggest aspect of doing glycerin method is to have the increase in bubbles! Castile soaps finally have bubbles using this method. I swear by it. Oh gods and using it with coconut oil soap?...serious bubble blowing potential for the kids. I think that is one thing I wish she had covered, as it had become a trend in the last year, and I know it was "discovered' prior. I guess she finished the writing aspect of her book by the time it became a fad in the LS community. Another thing I wish she discussed was Rosin, or Colophony. She said she used a Failor bubble bath recipe that included Rosin, but did not say anything more. There is almost NO info on its use in soap. I'd found a few things a while back. But it would take some serious digging to find them again. I do remember the SAP value being around 183. The one thing I didn't want to see in her book was very brief snippet at the beginning of her formulating chapter, where she told of a soaper who needed troubleshooting help. The soaper was however reluctant to divulge her recipe, as it was her "trade secret". Of course, we can't help troubleshoot without knowing the recipe, and Jackie told them this, under the confidence that she would not reveal the recipe. Jackie did, under the excuse that it was a very basic recipe, therefore nothing special. While yes, it was in fact pretty basic, it was this person's recipe. And Jackie assured them that she wouldn't tell it. Quite the opposite, she printed it in her book. As an Asatru Heathen (Norse Pagan), we firmly believe and live by honor. Our word is our bond and we hold each other to it. Being an "oath breaker' is not taken lightly, especially amongst kindreds. The soapmaking community is somewhat like a kindred. And Jackie disclosing this soaper's recipe, regardless of the reason, is dishonorable. And that is all I will say on that.
Anyways, it looks like I've summarized enough of the book. Like I said, it's quite a bit to digest due to her use of chemistry. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing (like myself). But for a noob, it's intimidating. I think, this book, paired with Failor's book, would do great together. Using Failor's book as a baseline, then jumping to Thompson's book for deeper explanations once a soaper is ready. Either way, I feel both books are integral parts to liquid soapmaking as a whole, and no good LS maker worth their salt should be without them. It's funny, many times this year I've been told I should write a book on the topic. Maybe. Let's give it 5 years and see how this new addition to our soaping arsenal works out. Then 'mayhaps' I'll get into putting my ideas on paper. Until then, I look forward to working on these new technique, and to see if I can employ them with my own somehow, once I get supplies replenished. So, stay tuned. I know I don't write much. But when I do, I try to keep it meaningful. So until next time, HAPPY SOAPING!!