About Our Ingredients and Processing
We mix and cook our soap in a stainless steel pot, with the help of a plastic and steel stick blender, and various metal and wooden spoons, all over a natural gas stove. The bar soap is poured into stainless steel molds. The molds are unlined and we oil them with the same olive oil used to make the soap.
We wear nitrile gloves to protect ourselves from the lye but these only have incidental contact with the soap. Our nitrile gloves are latex-free, powder-free, and registered as a medical device. We strive to reduce exposure to plastics and other unnatural things as much as possible.
Handcrafted means you won't get a sterile factory making your products. But it also means you won't get standard factory materials, cleaning products, and practices. In our case, handcrafted means homemade. And homemade means made in a home. Cyndi's home to be precise. But we should be moving soon to a facility with its own kitchen. And then we'll apply for organic certification.
This is an MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity)-safe house with no perfumes, air fresheners, smoke, toxic cleaning supplies, or pesticides. It's also a home people live in; the soap kitchen is the family kitchen, the family cat roams the house. We take every precaution in keeping our products safe for you but we can't guarantee they will be 100% from contamination with something you can't tolerate.
We offer samples of most of our products so you can try them inexpensively before committing to a larger purchase. You are also welcome to contact us and ask detailed questions to see if our products might be safe for you.
But I don't want lye in my soap!
Why can't you make lye-free soap?
I won't buy soap with lye in it!
We've heard all these comments and more. And we've lost plenty of sales because people see lye on our labels and refuse to even try our soap.
The truth is that ALL SOAP IS MADE WITH LYE.
There is no such thing as lye-free soap and anyone telling you there is is misinformed. Soap is the product of fat plus a strong base. In theory that strong base doesn't have to be lye but, in practice, it's the only substance available.
Old-fashioned soap was made with a kind of lye commonly known as potash. The chemical formula is potassium hydroxide (KOH) and the way to make it at home is by mixing wood ash with water. When you make lye this way it's very hard to get the strength exactly where you want it. And if you don't measure your lye content just right you can end up with soap that's too harsh (lye heavy) or too oily (too much free fat for the amount of lye). Neither is desirable.
Potash is still used today but for making liquid soap (and the modern product is standardized so you know exactly how much lye you are using). Potassium hydroxide doesn't make a hard bar of soap unless you use animal fat. If you want a vegetable oil bar you must use sodium hydroxide (NaOH aka caustic soda). Pretty much all hard soap, whether commercial or handcrafted, is made with sodium hydroxide.
Sodium hydroxide used to be manufactured commercially as a derivative of trona. Trona is a mined mineral which also gives us baking soda and washing soda. No toxic chemicals are needed; just trona and lime.
Today, sodium hydroxide comes from the process of running electricity through seawater. This produces lye and chlorine. Both are widely used in industry. Chlorine of course is a toxic chemical and its use leads to all sorts of problems in the environment and for people who use or manufacture the products or live downstream from the factories (dioxin being one of the biggest problems).
The lye produced by this method is uncontaminated and as nontoxic as lye produced from trona. But any method that produces chlorine is environmentally untenable. We at Tikvah do not wish to support this method of processing. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to find lye derived from trona. There is one company in the United States that makes it and they are happy to sell to us...with a minimum order of 100,000 tons. We are trying to track down a supplier who will sell us more reasonable amounts. In the meantime we do use standard commercial lye (NaOH for bar soap, KOH for liquid soap).
Lye is very caustic and you must respect it. Soapmakers wear gloves, safety glasses, and long pants and sleeves when handling lye. A splash in the wrong place can be very dangerous. But lye is not toxic in the usual sense of the word. It's just a strong base (the opposite of a strong acid).
It's easy to confuse lye with some of the products it's known for. But these products usually contain far more than lye. Drain cleaners and oven cleaners, for example, don't just have lye in them. Sometimes they also have petrochemicals.
Most of us come into contact with products processed with lye every day. Lye is used to make many foods, including pickles, olives, and hominy. Lye doesn't deserve the reputation it has as a toxin. It's synthetic and it's very very strong, but it is nothing to worry about in the final product.
All soap uses lye when it's made. But if you make it right, there is no lye left in the final product. That is because soapmakers take care to add enough fat to use up all the lye plus leave a little leftover for conditioning your skin or hair. This is called superfatting (if you are making the soap for laundry or household cleaning then you aim for as low superfatting as possible).
In the United States, soap manufacturers aren't required to list lye on the label directly (actually soap doesn't have to be labeled at all, but that's another story). But it is there indirectly.
Look at the ingredients of your favorite bar of soap. Does it say "saponified olive oil?" Well saponified means fat mixed with lye. To saponify something is to turn it into soap! Does it say "sodium palmate?" The sodium comes from the sodium hydroxide which is lye. Sodium palmate is saponified palm oil. Sodium tallowate is saponified tallow (beef fat). And so on...
If you're not seeing ingredients like these listed then look again more closely. Does the label say "beauty bar" or "bath bar?" If it doesn't say "soap" loud and clear then it's not soap, it's detergent, which is a synthetic usually derived from petroleum. Most products you think of as soap these days are actually detergent.
Our olive oil is certified organic cold-pressed extra virgin made from Mission olives. Although cold-pressed extra virgin is the healthiest (and best tasting) olive oil for eating, it's not necessary for making soap. After all, the heat involved in making soap counters any benefits from the cold press.
So why do we use it? Because it's the only kind you can get organic. Organic growers take such good care of their olives that they almost never get the "off" results that lead to oil being marked as virgin. And organic olives never gets to the point where it needs to be refined and deodorized (as in "pure" or "lite" olive oil...some pure olive oil is blended with higher or lower grades).
The lowest grade of olive oil is pomace which is extracted with solvents (usually hexane) from the dregs of the olives leftover from mechanical pressing. Most olive oil soap is made with pomace because it's the cheapest and because most soapmaking instructions insist that it's the best type of olive oil for soap (it's not; they're pretty similar). Pomace oil often (but not always) has a green tint which comes through in the soap.
Tikvah - 735 Gossage Avenue, Petaluma, CA 94952. 707-775-4475 (10am-8pm PDT only) - firstname.lastname@example.org