About Soap Cure Times
The longer the cure, the harder (and more gentle) the soap.
That's the short answer to the question, "Why do we have to wait so long to buy this soap?!"
It takes time to plan, formulate and design a good soap. We formulate all of our own recipes, and that also gives us a general idea of how long it will need to cure to create the perfect soap. The softer the oils, the longer the cure, the better the soap. The harder the butters, the shorter the cure, the better the soap.
It's all about how long it takes for the saponification process and cure to complete.
And so, when you're working with the highest-quality ingredients, you want that soap to cure out for a good long time and become mild, soothing, and gentle.
How Soap is Made
We use a cold-process technique that is more time consuming than other methods. Basically, it means we don't apply external heat to rush the product along. Rather, we let nature take its course.
Soap is made by melting our oils and butters, combining them with our alkali solution, creating our visualized design, and then we "tuck the soap in for the night" to saponify.
Generally, that means we cover the soap and make sure it's fully insulated so that the heat process can fully turn the colors into rich, complex tones. During the insulation process, soap can reach some pretty high temperatures (sometimes as high as 120 degrees!).
But if we're using a lot of sugars (like raw honey or avocado or goat's milk), we have to keep careful to keep the soap temperature below 90 degrees or the sugars can scorch, so we may put those "soap loaves" in the freezer to keep the saponification temperatures low.
Saponification is the process of oils and fats combining to become soap. Within 24-48 hours, the saponification process has occurred. But it will take anywhere from six weeks to a year to be the best soap it can be!
This is our favorite part because we never really know what's I'm going to get until I've unmolded and cut a bar or two. We can unmold the soap anywhere within a few hours (for straight coconut bars or salt bars) to a few days (for Castille soaps).
During unmolding, the soap is partially "saponified" (meaning the saponification proces, which is the alkali and nonalkali products joining together and solidifying has only partially finalized).
Just because we can unmold and cut the soap doesn't mean it's finished. The full saponification process takes time as the alkali solution transforms those fats from the oils into a rich, moisturizing soap. We almost always allocate 6-8 weeks for this process to complete (but we're probably going to tease you with a lot of photos on Facebook during this time!)
The process isn't always very pretty. Sometimes you have to trust it will work out and spend some creative energy visualizing the end product (like with our very unattractive Monsoon soap).
We were pretty worried about this batch of soap until we completely unmolded it and began cutting. Then it all came together beautifully.
After cutting the soap, we have to let it sit for a few days to harden, then we spend time individually hand-beveling the edges and trimming. Did you know we even wash the soap? It's true. We test the lather, dip it in distilled water, then let it air-dry so we can remove the "crumbs" from cutting.
As the soap cures, the natural colors begin to stand out. This is especially true if we're working with all-natural colorants (like cocoa powder, indigo root, annatto seed and others). You can see these in our Khamsin soap.
Other times, the soaps are beautiful from start to finish (like with our First Water soap).
During the cure, we are careful to make sure the soaps are receiving plenty of air flow, fairly cool temperatures (or as cool as we get in the desert), and we enjoy breathing in the amazing scents that permeate the air.
We're lucky to live in such a dry climate because the desert's arid environment is quick to cure our soaps out here. We also don't have to worry much about soap misbehaving due to humidity like other locations might.
When is it ready?
As soon as we clean the soap a bit, we weigh it. This gives us our initial weight and helps us see how much water it will lose over the curing process.
We can safely test the soap lather and overall qualities after just a few days. We also check the pH levels to make sure it is moving in the direction we want it to move. But this early in the process, the soap will be ultra cleansing and leave you feeling "squeaky clean". That's not a good thing, because you want soap to cleanse and nourish your skin, not strip your skin of natural oils.
The goal is to achieve a pH balance that is perfect for your skin - and that can be difficult since every person is different. Soapmaking is part art and lots of science.
As the bar cures, it becomes much harder and will lose a lot of weight. We weigh them once or twice a week to see how they're progressing. They may lose up to 15% of their weight during the cure. That's another reason we don't sell them before the cure has completed - we want to make sure you're getting a full bar of soap that has lasting power
We weigh our soap every week until it stops losing water - that's when the cure is finally done. This can take anywhere from weeks to months - even up to a year for Castille soap!
Be patient with the process. It will result in an incredible, long-lasting bar of soap that will change your skin for the better and make you a believer in the incredible, rejuvenating power of nature!