home grown soap
Long Winter Farm started in 2007 when my youngest daughter, Lucy, was born with red hair and the skin to go with it. Everything made her break out in a rash, which led me to seriously distrust commercial products and revert to my soaping skills to create a recipe she could touch.
Five years later, it's a full time gig. I get up at 6, make coffee, answer convos, get the kids to school (sometimes on time!), answer more convos, pack orders, make stuff, pack more orders, hit up the post office, make more stuff, pack more orders, make peanut butter and jelly sammies, answer more convos, take a pee break, make more stuff... You get the idea.
How is this stuff made? I think the most interesting is the soap. I use the cold process method, which means I take sodium hydroxide (lye), mix it with a liquid, then mix the lye + liquid with a special blend of vegetable oils. I mix all of that until it thickens, add scent and color and all that fun stuff, then pour it into a big long mold. The soap sets up overnight, then is cut into bars and allowed to sit for 4-6 weeks until it's nice and hard and the pH is nice and chill.
Owner, Maker, Head Mommy
(I'm not gonna type in the third person, you can forget it.) I'm a soaper in Maine with two little girls and a bunch of cats. I like pesto. One of my feet is bigger than the other. Sometimes I mix up Ryan Seacrest and Seaquest.
--What is soap?-- Soap is a surfactant (cleaning agent) that works by emulsifying surface oils with water and holding dirt in suspension. The emulsified fat is then easily rinsed away.
--How is soap made?-- All of my soaps are created using the cold process method, which, without getting too technical in my description, is done by mixing a lye (sodium hydroxide) and water solution into a mixture of oils. The sodium in the lye hooks up with the individual fatty acid molecules in the oil, creating soap! See tutorial here: http://longwinterfarm.com/blog/?p=25
--Lye? Isn’t that bad?-- On its own? Before being turned into soap? Yes! Very scary stuff! You should see me when I mix it, I look like one of the bad guys in E.T. But, in properly formulated soap, it disappears completely. Its very composition is changed, and the result is good clean fun.
--What's the difference between cold process and hot process?-- Basically, the difference is that at the point when cold process soapers would pour their custardy soap into a mold, hot process soapers instead cook it! This eliminates the cure time by speeding up the process of saponification (turning into soap). Both leave you with a gorgeous bar of soap, but there's a slight difference in texture, and cold process pouring makes it easier to play with swirlies. I like swirlies. :)
--What’s glycerin and where does it come from?-- When the sodium hooks up with the fatty acid molecules, the glycerin which was holding them together is released as a byproduct, usually removed by producers for use in high end bath products. It’s a humectant, which means it draws water back into your skin from the air long after you step out of your towel. I wouldn't know how to remove the glycerin if I tried, so it's still in there. It’s also produced synthetically and as a byproduct of biodiesel.
--What do the commercial producers do with all that glycerin?-- Well, back in the day, the biggest use for it (and I think the reason why big soap production took off) was to produce nitroglycerin for making dynamite. These days though, aside from cosmetics, it’s used more for sweeteners, fillers, and thickeners in food, all kinds of pharmaceutical applications, and possibly even in making alternative fuels in the near future!
--Why should I use traditional lye soap? What’s wrong with the regular stuff from the store?-- Well, the first question’s easy, and the second gets complicated. Why use lye soap? Because you know what’s in it! The ingredients are renewable, much more easily broken down after they pass through your drains, and there are no crazy synthetic alkalis or preservatives in there. Even lye’s a naturally occurring substance, though the pure stuff we use is made in a lab. What’s wrong with the stuff from the store? Well, I’d use the old “soap” vs. “detergent” argument, but it’s not entirely accurate, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Soap and detergent are really just words with vague definitions, and they’re too easily thrown around as marketing devices. What you should really be looking at are the ingredients lists on the backs of your boxes and bottles. A lot of commercial products contain ingredients derived from the oil industry, which means not only are they non-renewable, they’re also not so great on the environment in the post-use sense. Or on you for that matter! Petroleum jelly (aka petrolatum) is one of these, as is any other petro- word. So, it’s a good idea to stay away from those. Another yucky one is sodium lauryl (or eth) sulfate, aka SLS. It’s a foaming surfactant, and it’s found in just about everything from toothpaste (even Tom’s!) to baby shampoo. It’s already a known and accepted irritant, found to penetrate skin and organs, cause children’s eyes to develop improperly and cause adult eyes to develop cataracts, but the powers that be are still debating whether or not 1,4-dioxane, something contained in SLS, is carcinogenic. The American Cancer Society denies the danger, the EPA considers it to be a probable carcinogen, and the FDA wants it gone completely. I dunno about you, but the debate alone is enough for me to freak out! Besides the base ingredients, the synthetic dyes used in the industry are just gross. Lots of people are allergic to them, and one is even being linked to autism. Awesome, right? Eesh! So please, pay attention to the labels, and if you don’t recognize something in the ingredients list, do your research before deciding to put it on your family’s skin!
--Superfat? Um, what?-- I superfat all of my batches, which means there's a little extra fat in the fat/lye ratio, which means they won't strip your skin of its moisture, just of its filth. Most of my recipes are superfatted by 5%, which means I figure out how much lye I need to react with the mix of oils I choose to make the amount of soap I want, then add an extra 5% of oil, usually shea butter.
--What does goat’s milk do, and how does it get into soap?-- Some of my soaps contain goat's milk. Goat milk can do great things for the texture of soap lather. It contains every amino acid known to man, and is jam packed with vitamins, and the lactic acid in there is great for loosening dead skin cells in leave-on products. Goat’s milk is closer to human milk than any other milk, which is why so many moms swear by it as a drinking milk for their kids, and why so many soapers choose it over cow’s milk. (People are less likely to be allergic to it than to cow's milk!) Plus, it gives me an excuse to keep some of the most adorable animals on the planet! I don't use powdered or reconstituted goat's milk, only fresh and local. Pretty soon I’ll be using my very own goat’s milk, and I can’t wait! So how does it get in the soap? Well, remember when I talked about mixing lye with water back up at the top of the page? When I’m making a goat’s milk soap, I just replace half of that water with milk! It’s a little tricky to keep the temperatures low, and a little stinky at first, but well worth it when the result is some of the creamiest soap ever.
--I keep seeing other soapers make soap that fixes skin problems, why don't you? -- Because that's a bunch of boohonkey. Soap is a wash off product! It doesn't cure anything but stink! If I were to make something designed to fix a medical problem, I'd make a salve, tincture, or poultice, and then I'd have it FDA tested before making any public claims. Because that's the law. And even then the FDA would probably reject the claims because they always choose drug companies over traditional herbalism. Careful what you believe, kids!
--Why can't I find the lavendar?-- Because it's spelled lavendEr.
--Do you make lye-free soap?-- Nope, there is absolutely no such thing as soap made without the assistance of lye or some other kind of crazy intense alkali. (Well there is, but it's called the oil cleansing method, not soap.) Anyone who tells you different is either lying, confused, or leaving out the explanation about the transformation of lye and oils into saponified oil which I spelled out above. Even melt and pour soap is made with lye--it just happens to be added well before it gets to the hands of the artist. I don't make soap with fairy dust, either. I wish I did, but unfortunately fairies are just as fictional as lye-free soap.
--What does curing mean, and why is it important?-- Curing is just letting the cut soap sit out in the air for a period of four to six weeks. During this time, the lye and fat reaction continues a little bit, but mostly curing is important to let the soap dry. As the water evaporates, the soap becomes hard, and this adds a great deal to its longevity in use.
--Will cold process soap melt in the mail on a crazy hot day?-- Um, no. You're thinking of melt and pour!
--How long will my soap last?-- In the shower? Depends almost entirely on you as a shower-taker. You can keep it around longer if you avoid holding it in the shower stream, and make sure you store it on a well-draining soap dish, not sitting in water. Cure time and hardness will make a big difference. The longer it cures and the harder the bar, the longer it will last. Palm oil helps a lot here! As far as shelf life goes, a bar will usually last about a year or two before the fragrance fades and the oils spoil. It's still usable soap, it just won't smell as pretty. Some fragrances fade quicker than others, like citrus oils and lavender.
--Where should I keep my soap before using it?-- Any dry, cool, well ventilated spot out of direct sunlight will work. So, don't keep it in your bathroom, even if that's where you'll be using it eventually. The humidity will melt the glycerin, which will then evaporate, and we don't want that. Also, you want as few germs to settle on it as possible, right? Ew. My favorite spot is in my undywears drawer. Cool, dry, dark, and I get sweet smelling skivvies! (No, I don't keep ALL of my soap in there, how much underwear do you think I own?)
--Some of your soap is labeled as vegan, what does that mean?-- The soaps marked "vegan" are made with no animal products whatsoever. No animal fats, no animal milk, no beeswax, and no honey. None of my soaps contain animal fats, but some of my non-vegan soaps do contain things produced by our animal friends.
--FO? EO? What are you talking about?-- FOs are synthetic (but perfectly skin-safe) fragrance blends, and EOs are natural essential oils distilled from the plants and fruits themselves. FOs tend to last a little longer, and are generally less expensive, but there's nothing like the true scent of essential oils. Why do I use fragrance oils if I'm such a hippie? Well, first of all, I wouldn't use or offer these artificial fragrances if they were in any way harmful to you, your family, or the earth. Many essential oils, contrary to popular belief, can be very irritating to the skin. Some can even aggravate lots of serious medical conditions, and the thought of this scares me to death. On top of it all, the harvest of many essential oils is having a devastating ecological effect, and I really want no part of killing off the last of the sandalwood trees in the name of smelling pretty. I'd much rather get my stink from a clean, conscious, animal-free lab.
--Your ingredients list includes palm oil, isn't the harvest of that stuff bad for the environment?-- Fortunately we were able to find an amazing supplier of sustainably harvested palm oil, but yes, conventional palm oil production is having a devastating impact on our world. See, palm oil is made from the fruit of Elaeis guineensis trees, but instead of just taking the fruit, they clear cut entire forests. This leads to mass deforestation and habitat loss, and because these trees are taken from parts of the world where peat bogs sleep under rain forests and orangutans live above, we're talking major carbon emission and species loss. Who uses palm oil? Well, most of the world uses it the way we use Crisco. It's in your Kit Kat bars, your dish soap, even that stuff the movie theater puts on your popcorn which you thought was butter.
--Will handmade soap sting if it gets in my eyes?-- Sure it will. It's soap! My advice is to keep your eyes closed when washing your face. If you do happen to splash some in your eye, wash it out with plain water, and that should do the trick. 99% of the time, any temporary damage that occurs from getting cosmetics in the eye comes from all the rubbing and poking we do, not the cosmetics themselves. But yeah, soap is for external use only. No need to be cleaning the eyeballs!
--What should I do with all these little bags?-- Anything you want! I chose this packaging so they could be recycled! You could turn them inside out and fill them with lavender for a sachet, or fill them with catnip and sew them closed for a kitty toy. They're great for seed saving, too. My dear friend and customer, cuddlebugprints, uses her soap without taking it out of the bag, and she says it makes a great scrubber. :) If you have any more ideas, I would LOVE to hear about them, and so would the rest of my customers. So let me know, and add to this list!
Accepted payment methods
A 5% sales tax will be charged on Maine orders.
All international customs are the responsibility of the buyer, just like any other form of sales tax. The cost will vary by value and location, so it's also your responsibility to research and be aware of what to expect. Try your local post office! There's no possible way for me to pay your country's import tax upon shipment, even if the cost of product and shipping included it. No, I won't consider lying on customs forms, because I'm not a fan of the possibility of jail time and thousands of dollars in fines. Sorry! Seriously, marking "gift" instead of "merchandise" on a US customs form is considered mail fraud and a felony offense, and the request of such action is considered conspiracy to commit tax fraud on your end. Not to be taken lightly. If you are in the states and would like to have a parcel shipped as a gift to someone oversees, then you will have to have it shipped to yourself, then you will have to reship it as a gift to your party. I, as a commercial entity, cannot legally drop ship gifts for you.
My shipping label software is rather unsophisticated and prints only western characters (한국 loosely translates to "??" in Dymo-speak), so please be sure to give me an address that is accurately translated into western characters. Unless you'd like to teach me Korean. Oh, the adventures we'd have!
I only ship via the USPS. Orders under 13oz ship first class mail (2-5 business days in transit within the US) and orders over 13oz ship priority flat rate. All small orders go out in bubble mailers, and I've had great success in safely shipping orders this way. If for any reason you'd prefer yours to arrive in a box, just let me know and I'll be happy to upgrade. Just a heads up though, the invoice may very well double the shipping charge due to the weight of the box and packing material. (See why I ship in mailers?)
If you order enough to warrant a box instead of an envelope, please be aware that I recycle whatever packing materials I've horded from supply orders as cushioning in USPS priority flat rate boxes. If you'd prefer to not introduce Styrofoam (recycled as it may be) or krinkle paper into your home, just let me know, and I'll use crumpled paper instead.
A note on emergency Unicorn Farts. Please understand that we operate at an extremely high volume of sales for our size, and for us to drop everything and ship your last minute order Express is asking quite a lot. It's not that we don't love you and want Suzy to have Unicorn Farts on her birthday that you forgot about until this morning, it's that we love the 100 people who ordered before you just as much, and don't believe they'd appreciate a line-cutter. Would you?
Refunds and Exchanges
If you are an international buyer, please note that your order may take a long, looong time to arrive, and unless you want to spend an exorbitant amount on upgrades, we won't be able to track it. I've seen priority boxes make it to Canada 29 days later, and that's an upgraded shipping method. And we share a border with Canada. If I could teleport soap to Singapore I totally would, but until I obtain my super powers, we'll just have to rely on a world of postal workers. On the bright side though, in three years of international shipping, only two packages ever really went missing (and didn't show up 2 weeks later as predicted), according to the would-be recipients.
Due to the nature of my product, it is a violation for me to accept returns under any circumstances. I also can't promise that a perfume will smell the same on your skin as it does in the bottle (since pH affects scent, and everyone's pH is different), and I can't promise that everything will smell the same to you as it does to me and the majority of those who have smelled my scents in testing. You may just be that one person out of 300 whose nose smells pickles instead of pink grapefruit. It's obviously not likely, and I do my best to describe things as accurately as possible for the majority of sniffers, but rarities do happen. It's like me and cilantro. Everybody else (apparently) tastes this delicious green herb, I taste inedible dish soap mixed with grandpa's pit sweat. It's me, not cilantro. Clearly.
Additional policies and FAQs
A little note on confirmation emails: Unfortunately due to volume we can't send thank you and order will be shipped and order shipped convos for every transaction because if we did, Etsy would shut off our convo ability for spamming. Yeah, we really do have that big of a workload. You will be getting a shipping notification with tracking information from Paypal if you're ordering from the US, otherwise you can check your invoice to see the date your order was packed. It's usually shipped the same day, unless we're packing orders after postal hours, in which case it will be shipped the next business day. Also? Thanks for your order! We really do appreciate it, even if we can't let you know with a convo.
Got beef with your order? Please, for the love of God, let me know about it in a convo! I know I've got lots of sales and may appear to have this thick skin, but it really does rip my heart right out to hear about it in public feedback. It may be a $4 lip balm that spent too much time in a mail box to you, but to me, it's my life. Seriously, making my customers happy is how I feed the kids, so please let me have that chance!
All text and images copyright of Long Winter Farm, Inc., "Unicorn Farts" is a registered trademark owned by me.