We receive a lot of feedback from site visitors, including some frequently asked questions. We try and address the most common questions or concerns here. If you would like to submit a question, please complete our Feedback Form. The feedback form can also be used to suggest a URL for our links page. You will receive an e-mail confirmation when your link has been added to the Mortar and Pestle site. (Note: We have been traveling and have not been timely in responding to our “feedback”. Our sincere apologies. On the interim, I hope we can answer some of your questions on this page.)

Where do you purchase Mulberry Paper for wrapping soap?
You can buy Mulberry Paper at any Crafts store or at any of the Scrapbook stores that are so popular nowadays. You can often even find mulberry paper at the grocery store or at Walmart. Conduct a search for an online supplier using Google if you prefer to order, but you might find that it would be cheaper to run to the store rather than pay the increasingly high cost of shipping.

Why make soap when it is more convenient to buy it at the grocery store?
When you announce that you are making your own soap, people look at you as if you’ve lost your mind and we can understand that. After all, it is definitely easier to pick up a bar of Dove, Caress, Dial, or another popular brand at your local grocery store than make your own. However, a well-crafted naturally handmade bar of soap is far better for your skin than any commercial bar and once you try it, it is doubtful that you will ever want to use anything else.

We purchased and used the same commercial brand for years – in fact, my favorite was the bar with one quarter cleansing cream. We honestly believed we were using one of the most gentle, moisturizing soaps around until we tried just one homemade milk-based bar of soap ordered from an internet merchant. It wasn’t even the best handmade soap we have ever tried, but the effect on our skin could not be ignored.

As you continue to use handmade soaps, you find that you no longer require bottles and bottles of lotion to soften dry rough skin. In fact, we make a wonderfully, nourishing goat milk lotion that is used quite sparingly since piling it on is no longer necessary. While using the one-quarter cleansing cream bar, we were spending a great deal of money on a rather expensive brand of lotion that had to be applied “heavily” every day because the moisturizing effects were not lasting.

The idea of working with lye scares me. Isn’t it dangerous?
This is a very common fear and we understand it well. Make no mistake, sodium hydroxide, NaOH, or lye is a highly dangerous and caustic substance. However, there are proactive safety measures you can take to make it a much safer and more pleasant experience. See Working with Lye Safely. Modern techniques have also reduced the time it takes to craft cold process soap to about an hour of preparation and processing. In short, at about the time it takes to prepare an evening meal, you can craft enough handmade soap to last you 6 months to a year or longer.

For those who want to craft their own soaps without having to work with lye, melt and pour processes are a more attractive option. This is where an already prepared soap base is melted, desired ingredients are added and it is poured into a mold. This is a method preferred by many crafters because you can use almost any additive without worrying about how the reaction of the lye will affect the properties you are trying to take advantage of. If you want soaps that have the added benefits of dried herbs, coloring, or fragrance – to name a few, melt and pour is much more forgiving than cold-process.

How much lye is required to make a batch of soap and what is the average price of lye?
Lye can be purchased through an online supplier at about $6 for two pounds, enough to craft approximately 70-80 bars of soap. We make soap in 20-bar batches, which requires approximately 9-10 ounces of lye per batch. Red Devil brand lye is also available at your local grocery store in 12 and 18 oz cans. Check the label to ensure that you are purchasing 100% sodium hydroxide (no additives). If you purchase lye from any source other than a soapmaking supplier, read the label to make sure you are using lye that does not contain other additives that might adversely affect your soap.

What about oils? Where do you get them and aren’t they expensive?
You can order oils and additives from various soapmaking suppliers over the internet, especially if you live in an area where local options are limited. Our first soapmaking endeavor came in the form of a soapmaking kit consisting of two seven-pound tubs of coconut and palm oils and 4 pounds of lye. The initial cost was a little over $50, although we recommend that you shop around. This particular “starter kit” had a potential of producing approximately 160 bars of soap weighing in at approximately 4-4.5 ounces each, with some oil left over. Normally, we use about 63-68 ounces or 4 pounds of oils to make a batch of 20 good-sized bars. See our links page for a list of online suppliers.

In soapmaking, you also have the option of using more common, less expensive oils including tallow, lard, shortening, canola, sunflower and olive. You can obtain these oils at your local grocery store and they are perfectly good soapmaking ingredients. Using these oils will not compromise the quality of your finished product. In fact, many expensive luxury bars are crafted using common ingredients alone. More expensive specialty oils are used if you are crafting soap specifically for the added benefit of a property it contains.

Why do you need lye calculators?
Each oil is assigned a value that is used to determine the amount of lye it will take to turn it into soap or “saponify”. If you are crafting soap with 3-4 different oil ingredients, each oil will have its own value. Once the total values have been determined for each oil, they are subsequently added together for the total amount of lye you will use in your formulation.

The amount of lye it takes to saponify a particular oil can depend on factors over and above the brand or type of oil you are using. How the oils are extracted and processed, along with the climate conditions in the area of the oil’s origin can also affect sap values. The most accurate “sap values” are those recommended by the manufacturer or supplier. However, even with the recommended sap values from the manufacturer, it is advisable to you use a 5-10% discount – meaning 5 to 10% less lye than if you were to use the original sap calculations. From experience, we have learned that this discount range leaves room for error and is almost always successful. On the other hand, using lower ranges has almost always resulted in a bad or less than quality batch.

Calculating lye is not difficult by hand if you understand the formulas used and we’ll explain them later. However, we have had the greatest success using values derived from the online lye calculator available at Cranberry Lane. The batches don’t always turn out perfectly, but that can be attributed to a number of factors including the addition of scents or other additives added at trace. For the most part, the use of this calculator has not failed us and we use it religiously.

I’d like to add coloring to my soaps, but I’d like to continue using all-natural ingredients. What do you suggest?
We’ve had a lot of inquiries on this subject, so we put together a small page on colorants, complete with links to sites that have a great deal more information and experience coloring soaps. 

Do you offer soap for sale?
Not at this time. We are however, working on perfecting specific formulations to market in the future. We hope you stay posted.