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making soap  RSS feed

 
master steward
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Anybody tried this?  Is it a viable business model?

 
                    
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My grandma has a thriving soap making business: Bare Necessities Homemade Soap (LLC) - "Handmade all natural soap made with goats milk, oatmeal and tea leaves" (from the label on the bar I'm holding in my hand).  She and a friend make the soap three months ahead of time (they've dedicated a small garden shed to this process) and sell the finished ones at weekend craft fairs.  On a good weekend they expect to make a few thousand dollars, and it's definitely worth the time and effort for them.  They also have fun!  Most of the varieties use goats milk, I don't know if it's local, but I imagine it would be?  She lives in a pretty rural bedroom community, this is her retirement 'job'.  

See EDIT below
 
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Hey Marina,

I just clicked on the link you've posted and it wasn't valid. Could there be a misprint involved?
 
                    
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Huh, I did spell it wrong the first time, but the page just isn't loading even though it's supposed to be right.  I'll have to call her tomorrow to let her know (it's too late in colorado now).  Thanks for the heads up!

EDIT : They no longer have a website because it wasn't worth paying for the server when the overwhelming part of their sales came from these weekend markets.  I guess you don't "need" a website to have a small local business. 
 
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Is it a viable business model? I don't know. I think it is much easier in the US than in the EU where soapmakers are plagued with regulations. According to professional soapmakers in Germany/Austria, to do official business entails up to 10000 Euro upfront investment for custom rooms, equipment, separate toilet, recipe approvals, safety precautions, and a mountain of paperwork. Having said that, I know a few soapmakers here in Ireland who sell at farmers markets and simply ignore the red tape. Myself, I started making some goats milk soap a couple years ago simply because I liked the idea. I experimented a bit, bought a bunch of soap molds, read a lot on forums to learn from other people's experiences and mistakes, and have made 14 or 15 small batches so far. We haven't bought soap or shampoo in 2 years now, I have had oodles of little presents for Christmas, as little 'Thank you's' etc. and have sold some direct and about 100 bars through a lady specializing in goat-derived products, earning me about 350 Euro back. So it's a fun little sideline, if somewhat located in the grey zone of legality. I do so little of it that I'm not actually making money on it, just about break even. But it may be an interesting little fall-back one day.
It should be much easier to set up business in the US. I see a lot of it on ebay and etsy.com and if you have access to regular farmer's markets I'm quite confident it provide or at least contribute to a modest living. Since there seem to be quite a lot of people doing this I think it would be important to set yourself apart in some innovative way, e.g. organic, or 'no artificial colours and fragrances', 'no palm oil', local/regional ingredients only, quirky colours or shapes etc.
My advise would be to look at soapmakers websites, etsy etc. to get an idea of what's out there in terms of products, ideas, prices. Then try it out for yourself and give some away to family and friends for feedback, see how much time goes into developing recipes, making, curing/storing, packaging, labelling etc. and take it from there.

HTH
chook
 
                              
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Location: North Central WA
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Friends make a living for their family of 4, years ago they both quit their other jobs to do this full time, it's not an easy income but it's something they can do at home. They sell at farmers markets plus a number of stores from Seattle to Spokane carry their soap. They have a large variety of soaps.
http://store.stormysoap.com/servlet/StoreFront
Click Categories to see what they carry and the list of ingredients.
 
                              
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Location: Zone 6a/b - London Ontario
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In Canada and the USA, as long as you don't make any claims about your soap other than, "it will get you clean" it's just soap and no really serious regulations.(in canada the labeling regs are same as cosmetics.) 

Just don't go around saying stuff like your soap cures acne(medical claim) or smooths wrinkles(cosmetic claim) and no worries.
 
                        
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Location: Iowa, border of regions 5 and 6
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I'd recommend going to "The Soap Making Forum": http://soapmakingforum.com/forum/index.php This has forums dedicated to both the hobbyist and to the business person.
 
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I had a peice of homemade soap from the village here it was a brownish colour and crystals grew on the outside of it and my sister deicded i had an old bit of cheese going mouldy in the bathroom cupboard, she was very scornfull of me for such a bit of filth. rose.
 
                      
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I'm very interested in the notion of goat's milk soap. I am concerned about using lye in my soap recipie & it's affect on any greywater system that goes out to the ground to water gardens. Are there recipies for Lye free soap or is the amount of lye in bar soap an amout that is great enough to be of concern? Thank You.
 
Mother Tree
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If you weigh your ingredients accurately, *all* the lye will be used up in the reaction to form soap.  If there's any left over, the soap will be too harsh to use in any case, so it's best to be really accurate when you measure your ingredients.  Once the lye has reacted with the oils and turned to soap, there's no problem as it's completely biodegradable. 

It is possible to make soap using wood ash instead of lye, but I haven't tried it yet, and I don't think it will give you a nice bar of soap, more of a gloopy liquid type soap.  It's on my 'to do' list...
 
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Location: Eastern Shore VA
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MsMinuette wrote:
I'm very interested in the notion of goat's milk soap. I am concerned about using lye in my soap recipie & it's affect on any greywater system that goes out to the ground to water gardens. Are there recipies for Lye free soap or is the amount of lye in bar soap an amout that is great enough to be of concern? Thank You.

Burra Maluca wrote:
If you weigh your ingredients accurately, *all* the lye will be used up in the reaction to form soap.  If there's any left over, the soap will be too harsh to use in any case, so it's best to be really accurate when you measure your ingredients.  Once the lye has reacted with the oils and turned to soap, there's no problem as it's completely biodegradable. 



Burra Maluca is correct.  The lye changes chemically through the process of saponification and wouldn't pose a problem and lye is neutralized with an acid.  So when cleaning up after a batch of soap making, vinegar is often used to remove the danger of the unprocessed lye.  It should not be a problem for greywater.  I don't think it is easy, or maybe even possible, to make a soap without lye on the home scale.  Using wood ash is basically making your own lye.
 
                                
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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  I've thought about making and selling soap.  I've made it for myself before.  I do think it's a viable business but would add that it depends on the market your in.  I ruled it out because there are already so many people making soap where I live.  At most farmers markets around here  there are at least half a dozen people selling primarily soap or as part of other things they do.  Most stores that would carry handcrafted soap lines already do and I've seen dozens of different brands and companies.      I would have a lot of competition to deal with and decided that it was better to look at things that a lot of people weren't already doing. 
 
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If you are making an usual product like shampoo bars or baby soap or beer soap (made from the left overs from beer making) or clay soap for shaving etc, I think there is a market for you. You need a gimmick to make it in a competitive market and soap is no exception. I think it helps if it's one of a few items too, candles, other body products, etc.
 
                                
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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craftylittlemonkey wrote:
If you are making an usual product like shampoo bars or baby soap or beer soap (made from the left overs from beer making) or clay soap for shaving etc, I think there is a market for you. You need a gimmick to make it in a competitive market and soap is no exception. I think it helps if it's one of a few items too, candles, other body products, etc.



Those are all great things which is why expect people are doing them.  I've seen all those types of things for sale around here.    It's just really saturated with all sorts of herbal and natural cosmetics and body stuff.  Candles too.    It's great that so much is available.  That's not to say I couldn't make a go of it a find some niche that is covered well but it's just not something, after doing market research that I can see flying as a primary business because of all the competition.  It would take a lot of work.    I could however see me doing that type of thing later on once other things are established and the farm name is established because if people are already buying some things from you it's easier to get them to buy other things. 

    I am going to be doing things with herbs, straight herbs, mostly culinary as surprisingly their is no one in the area concentrating on doing that sort of thing.  Greens as well.  I've already got a couple of restaurants who say they'll buy from me and I'm working directly with a couple who want specific things but find them hard to source locally.  I've also got one cafe who is interested in trying out some not so typical foodstuffs, like nettles and other 'weeds'.  Another possibility is growing some of the plants and flowers that all the soap and body product people use.  Some grow their own and some buy their materials from other people. 
 
  There is no doubt that a soap and body product is a viable one in and of itself but with any business knowing the market both if there is a demand for whatever it is and whether there are already others doing stuff in the same area is important to deciding what is viable and what isn't.    If the area wasn't already saturated with soap and other related products it's something I would seriously consider. 
 
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If you look at a home business effort as a polycrop instead of a monocrop then it does not matter how saturated the market already is with soap products. That is clear as mud.

If we are not going to plant a whole field of corn for sale, why would we fill a whole building with soap to sell?  If you have a food forest you can, gather your food, eat your fill, fill your cupboards, and sell the rest.  If you make your own soap you can, use some now, save some for later, and sell the rest.

There are two ways to look at having more in life:

Earn more money - either by working for someone else, or self-employment
Save more money - either by stretching what you have, making your own, or going without

On my list of things to acquire is a good milk goat, for food and soap.  We will use every bit of food and soap that we can from her, thereby saving money.  If we have any leftover food or soap we can then sell it, thereby making money.  There was no extra investment to make the money, so there can be no losses for failure to sell.

Just my thinking.

 
Posts: 184
Location: Mineola, Texas
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For my daughter's science fair project, due tomorrow, she asked the question whether homemade soap could work as well as commercial soap. We've been making all out own soap for the past 3 years, so it was fun to find out.

We make a shea butter/coconut oil/olive oil/ lye soap that we have really been happy with. We use it to shower with, to wash our faces with. It is great stuff, and leaves your skin feeling great.

She tested a local artisan soap, Dial, and our own concoction. Turns out the Dial cleaned the worst, and ours cleaned the best. Proof that homemade can work better than the leading brands.

Avg cost per homemade bar is about $.55 in the quantities of 2 qts of soap per batch. Still cheaper than the Dial, I think. 90% of the cost here is in the oils, fragrence and the Shea Butter. If you had some rendered fat instead of coco oil, you could cut the cost.

But I would love to know how to make goats milk soap...
 
                        
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Location: Iowa, border of regions 5 and 6
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hastingr wrote:
For my daughter's science fair project, due tomorrow, she asked the question whether homemade soap could work as well as commercial soap. We've been making all out own soap for the past 3 years, so it was fun to find out.

We make a shea butter/coconut oil/olive oil/ lye soap that we have really been happy with. We use it to shower with, to wash our faces with. It is great stuff, and leaves your skin feeling great.

She tested a local artisan soap, Dial, and our own concoction. Turns out the Dial cleaned the worst, and ours cleaned the best. Proof that homemade can work better than the leading brands.

Avg cost per homemade bar is about $.55 in the quantities of 2 qts of soap per batch. Still cheaper than the Dial, I think. 90% of the cost here is in the oils, fragrence and the Shea Butter. If you had some rendered fat instead of coco oil, you could cut the cost.

But I would love to know how to make goats milk soap...



How did the judges like your daughter's project?  As for making the goat's milk soap, you can check around on some of the soaper's boards, but I believe you just substitute an equal weight of the milk for water, then freeze the milk before mixing with the lye.  Otherwise, the heat of the lye will burn the milk.
 
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I know several folks who raise goats and make soap from the milk, for the simple reason that it's the only way they can locally sell the milk without running athwart of the authorities, who won't extend approval to a dairy unless it meets criteria which are prohibitive to small operations.
 
R Hasting
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She made a "B"

Still, it is a great and easy skill to use, and we give these things away as Christmas gifts, and we haven't bought soap in two years. It isn't a huge difference, but every bit helps.
 
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I am rushing through right now and haven't gotten to read all replies, but yes - I sold organic homemade soaps last year and did very well at festivals and faires as a vendor

 
R Hasting
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tyffdavi wrote:
I am rushing through right now and haven't gotten to read all replies, but yes - I sold organic homemade soaps last year and did very well at festivals and faires as a vendor




Awesome! Was there a particular favorite soap?
I like a Shea Butter/Olive oil/ Coconut oil mix myself with tea tree and lavender. It makes a great soap. But then, I've only made four different types of soap in my three years of doing it:-)
 
Savannah Thomerson
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hastingr wrote:
Awesome! Was there a particular favorite soap?



You know, they all seemed to be favorites actually. I made them using coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils and herbs (and sometimes special/benficial oils like flax and sunflower were added).
My best-selling ones were: coffee, oatmeal, lavender and rosemary, pumpkin, sage-patchouli, and at Christmas time once I made a balsam-fir that everyone really liked (though I think I got a little carried away with the herbs in that one!).
When I got busy with the move and stopped making them, I was about to make a grapefruit-basil by request from customers who wanted something fruity/springy...still sounds like a nice idea!
 
R Hasting
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tyffdavi wrote:
You know, they all seemed to be favorites actually.



Awesome, thanks!

Richard
 
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I haven't tried selling soap yet, but it seems like it would be a pretty easy way to make some extra money.  just recently made a huge batch of soap that turned out really awesome!  we used bacon grease, water and lye and put in some dried lavender for exfoliation and some essential oils to balance the smell of bacon.  A friend of mine works at a breakfast restaurant, and she started collecting tubs of the bacon grease for me.  it surprisingly works really well in the soap.  it no longer smells like bacon (although I wouldn't mind smelling like bacon...) and it lathers really nicely.  I highly recommend that if people are able to find a hook-up like this that they take advantage of it.  free grease is awesome!
 
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Once you've made your own soap, you wont want storebought.
Commercial soaps have a lot of Unneccesary ingredients like Titanium dioxide, artificial fragrances, colorants - all making the case for "handmade" soaps stronger.
We make some at 6month intervals and give some as gifts - people always ask for more once they have used it.
A batch of soap, 3-4lbs lasts a couple months and just gets better as it ages.
Once really dry the bars last even longer.
Find a source of beef fat and learn to render the fat for a
very good base to your soaps - cheap!
Buy a large pail of lye and see the price come down.!
Bulk coconut oil is pretty cheap too.
An old crockpot works very well. (you could use a rocketstove)
It can be a good profitable cottage industry. Rocketstove Soaps!
 
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One of my mom's best friends started making soap as a hobby, it grew into a business... and grew some more. Every now and again she send mom some freebies -- there is nothing better smelling than a box of soap!

www.denalidreams.com
 
                            
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Where do you buy the goat?
 
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Odonata wrote:
   There is no doubt that a soap and body product is a viable one in and of itself but with any business knowing the market both if there is a demand for whatever it is and whether there are already others doing stuff in the same area is important to deciding what is viable and what isn't. 



I have made soap for a few years, sold some at farmer's markets and in my shop. It's basically pocket change. You have to balance doing it by the risk of hurting yourself while using lye. One good burn could wipe out a year's profit.

If you can "graduate" up to a system where you can make large batches, 20, 40 pounds - which means you need automatic systems, and a winch for tipping/ pouring very heavy pots of hot liquid soap into molds, you might make a living, but 12 pound batches, which is what my large pots will hold, are not going to cut it. I don't feel safe working with anything heavier. You MUST have a dedicated, closed off soap kitchen if you have pets/children.

I've found that "dollar store" stainless steel stockpots are going to sprout holes quickly. You really need good, thick pots. Your startup costs will be at least $600 and possibly more. That's a lot to recoup $5 at a time. And yes, regulations and labeling...
 
                          
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I've been making soap for 30 years for our own family's use.  Soap doesn't go bad and in fact improves with age.  Soap that's over a year old has a vintage and can be marketed that way.  They do that in Lebanon and Syria. 

You need to establish your own market.  If you make a good soap, word gets around and people will chose your soap over others.  We've been making and selling goat's milk soap in many "flavours" for 8 years.  It is about 1/3rd of our homestead income. 

In the 8 years that we've been doing it, our ingredient costs have tripled.  You really need to watch your costs and your pricing.  Selling wholesale means we lose money if anything changes -- vegetable oil prices double, postage cost rise, etc, -- because the margins are so tight on wholesale.  

We are in Canada and have to comply with both cosmetic labelling and French labelling.  Also in Canada you have to register your product labels with the government (no cost) and get approval within 30 days of beginning to sell a "cosmetic" in Canada.  But once you are compliant there is no problem, no inspection. 

In 30 years of soap making no one in this household has had a serious burn.  We keep vinegar close by, wear eye protection and gloves.  Keep the soap making area well ventilated.  Don't make it when we are tired.  It takes 3 hours to make and clean up 2 - 12 lb. batches. That's 88 - 5 oz. bars of soap that we sell at $6 a bar.  Packaging costs us 50 cents to 75 cents per bar -- its high end and memorable.  There's about 2 hours extra time per 44 bars for cutting, drying, packaging and labelling.  We sell on consignment in the local art gallery and in 4 local gift shops.  We used to do the farmer's market but it takes time away from getting in our wood supply and hay for winter, so we've stopped that due to opportunity cost.  We'd rather spend our time on the homestead than at the market right now.

We make cold processed soap so once the oils are melted you can make it in any room where you have access to cold running water.  We have an outdoor "kitchen" area with a barbecue sink and propane stove/grill.  But I've also made it in the farm kitchen away from food. 

Although sodium hydroxide is a caustic, it becomes benign over time when mixed with water.  There is no sodium hydroxide left in properly made soap, and no residue that will be a problem in your grey water.  Add a bit of citric acid to the rinse water if you are worried. 

But I would make soap even if it didn't sell.  Commercial "soap" isn't soap.  Its detergent, made with petrochemicals.  It isn't good for your body.  Detergent is what is used to do DNA extractions in a lab, because it denatures protein.  It strips your skin of its protection and allows other toxins that you are exposed to to penetrate your skin barrier.  They use detergent to cause dermatitis in lab experiments in order to test the effectiveness of moisturizing lotions.  I don't want that on my body.  Natural soap cleans without destroying the protein of your hands. 

Shampoo is detergent as well.  Your hair and scalp are protein.  By denaturing protein, commercial shampoos contribute to baldness.  Switch to soap-based shampoo bars and you will arrest baldness.  I make 3 different shampoo bars and they sell really well.  Most people who have used our shampoo won't use commercial shampoo again.

 
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I have made a lot of soap.  I have a degree in chemistry and biology.  It is impossible to make soap without a strong base, like lye.  Wood ashes is just another source for lye.

As mentioned, if soap is properly made, there is no lye left in the soap when it is done.

We were very close to starting an internet soap business, but decided against it.  We were afraid it would take off, and we both work 50-60 hours per week at our day jobs (for now).

Home made real soap is WAY better than commercial "soap".

troy
 
ellen kardl
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Agreed, home made is 1000 times better and I'd make it for myself even if I wasn't doing it to sell. I still stand by my statement about it being a relatively low wage income for the time and materials investment, but since I can't even find a minimum wage job right now, I'm in production again — as of yesterday.

Like any business, you really need to track the time you spend in it. Everything! Labor, from researching recipes, to ordering/acquiring materials, lining molds, trimming, wrapping, labeling, marketing, website maintenance, fulfilling orders, packing. Materials — not just the raw soap materials, but costs like pots, cutters, mixing equipment, molds, lining paper, bags, boxes, shipping on those heavy tubs of oils, etc. Track every penny.

I'd love to be able to scale up production to 24 - 40 pound batches, but 12 is the maximum I can physically deal with by myself. For the folks here who make soap by themselves, what size is your typical batch?
 
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