SMF Culture and Tone

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Feb 11, 2008
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Right here, silly!
Our Forum Culture or Tone here at SMF:

Every forum community has it's own specific culture/tone, complete with specific ‘hot-button’ issues that can elicit passionate responses from amongst the general populace, and SMF is no different. We soap-makers are nothing if not passionate about our craft, and are very protective of it (for very good reason). If you are ever wondering why a seemingly innocent question or comment that you have posted in all sincerity seems to have elicited a surprisingly passionate response- before taking personal offense, please take a moment to read the following list of hot-button issues most common to our community. Oftentimes, passionate responses can make one feel they are being ganged up on, when in actuality, the responses were only meant to steer someone out of the path of oncoming danger:

1) "I just unmolded my first successful batch of lye-based soap yesterday, and a local shop in town has already agreed to sell them! I'm delivering them to the shop tomorrow!" ....Why the passionate (negative) response?:

The answer is 2-fold:

A) For the same reason a new cheese-maker would elicit a passionately negative response from the cheese-making community (and also from the buying public) for delivering their freshly made Parmesan cheese to market for immediate sale; or for the same reason a new wine-maker would elicit a passionately negative response from having placed their freshly pressed and bottled Madeira on the shelf for immediate sale. Parmesan and Madiera are not anywhere near their best when so young, and must be aged for a period of time to mellow before they reach their peak/best.

As it is with Parmesan and Madiera, so it is with lye-based soap. When lye-based soap is allowed to age for 4 to 6 weeks (or longer, depending on the formula/method used), several things happen: 1- the pH lowers slightly; 2- evaporation occurs which makes the soap harder and less soluble/longer-lasting; 3- the ongoing micro-chemical processes that are still occurring within the crystalline matrix of the soap for weeks after unmolding are helping to stabilize and mellow the soap, and to bring its optimal lathering abilities to full maturity. In short, an aged soap lathers better, is more mild, and is longer-lasting compared to their un-aged selves.

B) The nature of lye-based soap can be very temperamental, depending on certain factors. Problems such as DOS, color and/or scent morphing or fading, etc... don't normally show up in lye-based soap until weeks and sometimes even months have gone by, which is an important factor to consider when it comes to selling, since it's very possible that your soap might sit the shelf for many weeks before being sold, not to mention that those who buy your soap might not use it until months later. Due to these factors, if one is considering to sell lye-based soap, the importance of spending an appropriate amount of time to test one's formulas, colors, scents, etc., under different conditions cannot be stressed passionately enough. A period of one year of testing is the considered by many experienced soap-makers to be the optimal amount of time. As many a soap-maker has discovered- soap-making is not for the impatient.

2) "I make HP instead of CP so I can sell my soap the next day.".....Why the passionate response?

Please see answers A and B to question #1 above. Also- special mention should be made that a batch of HP soap that has been cooked to tongue-neutrality is basically not much different than a newly-made, tongue-neutral CP soap that has been fully gelled. Cooking an HP batch, or fully gelling a CP batch only serves to speed up saponification, not the cure. While it's true that tongue-neutrality is a prime indicator that the main part of saponification is complete and that the soap is safe to use, one should never confuse 'safe to use' with 'fully mature/ready-to-use or sell'. And in many cases, HP soap may actually need a longer cure than CP soap because of the excess water typically used in the making of HP batches, which causes such soaps to melt away much quicker when not allowed to fully age.

3) "I've been making lye-based soap for 6 months now and I'm so excited because I just opened up my Etsy store to sell them!".....Why the passionate response?

Please see part B in answer to question #1.

4) "I mix my lye solution in a glass/Pyrex measuring bowl.".......Why the passionate response?

For the same reason that a loving mother might shout and frantically yank her young child off the street who has run out into oncoming traffic- to protect the unsuspecting one from danger.

Glass is strong, especially tempered glass, and it can withstand many assaults, but like Superman, it does have it's kryptonite. Glass's kryptonite comes in the form of highly alkaline substances such as lye solutions, and also highly acidic substances such as hydrofluoric acid, and concentrated phosphoric acid (when hot, or when it contains fluorides). These substances will chemically attack and corrode glass gradually over time to such an extent that the glass will actually shatter when even the most minute amount of stress is put upon it. For a time, all might proceed fine as you mix your lye solution in your glass pitcher, but as with Russian Roulette, it's only a matter of time until, KABLOOIE! One too many a soap-maker has had this happen to them- even one soap-maker who used her new Pyrex pitcher in which to mix her lye solution only twice before it shattered- so if we seem a bit passionate against using glass, it's only because we don't want the same to happen to you.

5) "Vinegar is great for neutralizing lye splashes on your skin."......Why the passionately negative response?

This is probably not the best, most fitting analogy, but suppose someone's sleeve is on fire, and sitting on the floor within arm's reach of that person is a red can of gasoline and a blue bucket of water......and not knowing any better, the person who's sleeve is on fire decides to reach for the can of gasoline instead of the bucket of water to douse the fire. I'm sure that if you were observing this little scenario take place from afar that you would be passionately jumping up and down and frantically yelling out a warning to the person to put the can down and grab the blue bucket instead. It is the same way on our forum when we hear the advice being given to douse a lye splash on one's skin with vinegar.

Admittedly, the reaction of gas on fire is not in the same league as vinegar on a lye splash, but warnings will be yelled out nevertheless, because whenever lye and acids mix, a chemical reaction takes place that involves an exothermic heat exchange to some degree and length of time before any neutralization from the acid can take effect.

Now, if the splash of lye occurred on the floor or on the counter and you poured or sprayed vinegar on it, that would not be an unacceptable course of action, because the heat exchange would most likely not be a major enough factor to cause any calculable damage to those kinds of sturdy surfaces. But, if the lye splash occurred on something more delicate like your skin, or heaven forbid the mucus membranes of your eyes or your mouth, and you doused it with vinegar, the heat exchange may be just enough to do a fair bit of damage to those areas depending on the severity of the lye splash. Dousing it with vinegar would be like adding insult to injury.

That's why we will always always, always passionately recommend reaching for the water instead of vinegar when you splash yourself with lye. Besides, that's what the safety instructions state in the MSDS for lye when splashes occur on one's self.

6) "I'm able make neutral lye-based soap. My pH papers confirm this."....Why the passionately skeptical response?

For the same reason the claim that straw can be spun into 24 karat gold would draw a passionately skeptical response - it's just chemically impossible.

The reason for this is because of the chemical makeup of lye-based soap. By chemical definition, soap (lye-based soap, that is, as opposed to chemical detergents) is "an alkali salt of fatty acids", which means that the pH of soap will always come to rest on the alkaline side of the pH scale.

If lye-based soap were truly ever to test out as being neutral, it would actually cease to be soap by virtue of its having lost the ability to cleanse. That's because the sole source of power behind lye-based soap's cleansing ability resides in the alkaline salts of the fatty acids, meaning that if the alkalinity is absent, it's power to cleanse is also absent.

The only way to achieve a pH-neutral cleanser is to make a syndet (synthetic detergent) cleanser, whose cleansing ability is derived from detergents such as SLS or SLES, etc...

In regard to pH papers, they are highly unreliable when it comes to testing the pH of lye-based soap. The problem stems from the surfactant nature of soap, which can play havoc with the indicator chemicals on the strips to the point of throwing the readings off as much as 2
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