Coming clean on how to make soap at Farm Show

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By J.T. Fey

Dakota Media Group Staff Writer

Penny Adler’s desire to raise goats and a chance stop in Nebraska a few years ago have combined into a hobby that’s become much more.

Adler’s business card calls her a soapmaster and animal narrator. And although she talked about her animals during a demonstration on Feb. 8 at the Watertown Winter Farm Show, she was really there to explain soap making.

Her recipe starts simple — mix together lye and an oil such as coconut or olive and wait four to six weeks for the product to cure. When ready it will clean well and should leave your skin in better shape than commercial soap, which she said is really a detergent.

During the demonstration she poured her lye/oil goo into four separate plastic squeeze bottles, each with a different color at the bottom. She mixed up the contents of each bottle and then started squirting each of the bottle contents into the four corners of a plastic mold.

As she talked, she filled the mold until it was a colorful block of what someday would be soap that would be cut into useable sizes.

Be cautious when mixing lye and oil, however. Adler said the mixture quickly reaches 200 degrees for a short time.

Depending on the oil used, soap is judged on five qualities:

• Bubbly — this gives the soap’s ability to lather.

• Cleansing — the ability of the soap to trap the dirt on the skin and wash it away.

• Hardness — the firmness of the soap bar.

• Conditioning — the amount of moisture that is left on the skin.

• Creamy — the measure of stability and creaminess of the soap lather.

What complicates the soapmaking process, she said, are the two factors most people are seeking when they buy soap — appearance and fragrance.

“Fragrances are a big deal as far as getting reputable sources,” she said. “And there is a science behind fragrances, both from a safety perspective and how to use them effectively in soap.”

Two of the more popular colorings are oxides and micas, two substances regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Knowing the correct mixture for proper colors is where mathematics come into play, and Adler is relieved that a woman on Facebook has developed a formula that any soapmaker can use.

The FDA is the regulator of soaps in part because they’re advertised as having cosmetic properties.

“That’s a bit of an over-generalization,” said Adler. “But as soon as I say my soap makes your skin feel soft, I’m selling a cosmetic.”

She did say her soaps will leave a film in the shower. She advises anyone who buys her soap to make sure the last person in the shower squeegees the walls.

Adler’s demonstration was listed as ‘The Making of Goat Soap’, which is how she got started in the business. She wanted the goats for her and her husband Jay’s hobby farm, but the stop in Nebraska is what brought about soap making.

“We stopped at a gas station and there was a gift shop in it,” she explained. “They sold sheep’s milk soap, and I thought if they can make it with sheep I can make it with goats.”

Adler won’t say any of her soaps, even the creamy feeling goat’s milk, will fix dry skin because it’s a “wash off” product. But she does point out that her soaps contain something that commercial soaps, whether solid or liquid, don’t.

“When you mix lye and oil together you get two things — soap and glycerin,” she said. “Commercial soaps make money by selling off the glycerin, so the good thing that’s in soap is what they remove.”

According to the website, glycerin’s benefit is that it attracts airborne moisture onto the skin.

For dry skin she recommends her wax-based hand lotion, which she says will remain on the hands despite washings, something that water-based lotions won’t do.

“The air is so hungry for moisture it’s zapping the lotion that you’ve put on your hands. Wax-based lotion is really superior for people who have dry, dry skin.”

She also pointed out that unlike commercial bar soaps, her soap will produce cleansing suds until the bar disappears.

All of Adler’s products are available for order from her website,

Some of the colorful bars of soap displayed by Penny Adler during her soap making demonstration at the Watertown Winter Farm Show. Dakota Media Group photo by Grace Ramey
Soapmaker Penny Adler holds up a small bar of soap while giving a demonstration on Feb. 8 at the Watertown Winter Farm Show. Adler and her husband, Jay, live on a farm near Grover. Dakota Media Group photo by Grace Ramey