I remember growing up in California and seeing all of the super tall (200+ feet!) eucalyptus trees near my grandparent's house. They told me once that the trees were imported to try to also import koala bears to California. I've never found evidence of that, but koala bears or not, I've always liked eucalyptus.
When most people smell the strong, camphoraceous scent of eucalyptus, they think "cold remedy." And rightly so. Eucalyptus leaves and oil have been used to treat respiratory ailments for ages. All by itself, it's probably a bit too strong and medicinal to use in soap or candles. But blended with other softer scents, it is a wonderful green top note. It's crisp, refreshing, penetrating and earthy. It's also very affordable (generally about $15 a pound) so it's a great oil to try your hand at essential oil blending.
Photo: Getty Images / Tom Brakefield
Whether you envision water and clouds...a distant vista fading in the haze...or think of some other way for this gradiated layered soap to isnpire, this is variation of a colored soap that uses one main color in multiple layers...with white as an accent. It is similar in ingredients to my two-color swirl soap, but in this project, the color is layered in a gradated or "ombre" fashion going from dark at the bottom to light at the top.
While there are zillions of different variations in soap making - there really haven't been any fundamental new developments in soap making for decades. While our methods and supplies may have been refined, we're still making soap pretty much like it was in Anne Bramson's 1972 book Soap.
However, I came across a Facebook post about a soap making method that I had never heard of or tried. It's called soleseife - which translates from German to "salt water soap." Now I've made salt bars...and added a bit of salt to the lye water to make the soap harder quicker, but this process puts a LOT of salt into the water before adding the lye.
As you would expect, I had to try it!
Here's the report on my first batch. It hasn't cured but a couple of days...so I'll report back on it soon. Let me know if you try it as well!
One of my favorite and most popular soap recipes is my Citrus Honey Bock. It's made with honey, a blend of citrus essential oils and of course, dark "bock" beer. Does the beer really add anything to the soap? Well...probably just a little bit of extra lather from the sugar content (which the honey does as well.) But it certainly captured the imagination of shoppers and was an excellent soap for men!
Now candle makers don't quite have this as an option. I don't know of any waxes or wicks that benefit from the addition of beer. But you can certainly use beer as an inspiration for your candles! Candle makers make candles that look like apples and cinnamon rolls and pies, so why not make ones that look like beer? The beer candle project uses a combination of candle gel and candle wax. I like the gel better for these because it stays clear and actually does look like beer - bubbles and all. Substitute in a little green candle color for the amber - and you've got green beer candles - in honor of St. Patrick's Day - or any Irish or otherwise green-loving person you know.
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At the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild Conference in Miami, soap making guru Kevin Dunn, the author of Scientific Soapmaking talked a bit about "ash." Through extensive testing, he has concluded that "ash" is indeed sodium carbonate, which occurs when the free lye in the raw soap comes in contact with the air. One of the several tips he suggests to combat "ash" is "Do not unmold the soap until it is tongue-neutral." But what does that mean?
A tongue-test is an unscientific, though popular, method to test to see if the lye-oils chemical reaction is "done." If you have really raw soap, or soap that has too much lye in it, if you touch the soap to the tip of your tongue, it gives you a "zap." If it's done saponifying, and is balanced correctly, you get no zap - just the taste of soap.
Now, what Kevin's talking about is not exposing the soap to air until all of the lye has reacted out - until all of the lye has combined with the oils to make soap. If you cover the exposed surfaces of the soap with plastic wrap as well, you can greatly reduce the occurrence of ash. Anne-Marie from Bramble Berry suggests spraying the top of your soap with rubbing alcohol to reduce ash. Lots of variables...and ways to reduce this pesky issue.
Check out previous questions I've answered in the Mailbag Monday Archive.
Sounds to me like Democritus would have gotten along well with soap makers, though we would have convinced him that honey was good on both the inside and the outside! Honey has a long and romantic history - it is one of the oldest "ingredients" known to man. And...it's also a great additive in soap. It imparts a light, warm, sweet scent, adds a bit of lathering capability, and acts as a humectant. Try some in your soap or in other bath and skin care recipes.
If you're looking for a great basic book on candle making that covers pretty much everything from A to Z, you can't go wrong with The Complete Candlemaker. Everything from container candles to hand dipped tapers to specialty finishes is covered. Here's a new Guide Review of this classic candlemaking book.
Why do some people have allergies and some not? This article, entitled The Hygiene Hypothesis, suggests that our modern obsession with cleanliness may actually be counterproductive - by making us TOO sensitive to the bacteria and other icky stuff in our world. They also believe that excessive washing with harsh soaps and abrasive skin care products can cause allergic problems like eczema, by stripping away the protective layers of the skin. Web MD reports that there is No Advantage to Antibacterial Soap. Now while there is certainly a place for antibacterial soaps and cleaners in our lives, it seems that just washing with good old real soap (and washing long enough to sing your ABC's, I'm reminded) is as good at keeping us clean, safe and healthy as anything.
Photo credit: Steven Puetzer / Getty Images
If you're looking for a unique Valentine's token, these petite rolled beeswax candles are a lovely option.
They don't burn long, but they are easy to make, smell nice and can be decorated with ribbon or raffia.
Stephanie Dalton Cowan / Getty Images
Today is the Lunar or Chinese New Year - and 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Full of fun, charm, popularity, sunny disposition and just a bit of surprise, the Horse is a marvelous animal totem for this year. So, to embrace some of this Horse energy, Maggie Hanus from A Wild Soap Bar and I created some essential oil blends inspired by the Year of the Horse. They're great blends for any time of the year...or any year...but are especially resonant in this forward moving, fun and cheerful year.