How you do make soap? Is it like Fight Club?

Schoon soaps are made by the cold process method using oils and lye (sodium hydroxide), which, yes, is how they made soap in Fight Club. (I owe Chuck Palahniuk a drink; his book and the movie based on it have given a wide range of people solid baseline knowledge of what’s involved with making soap.) We start by measuring the oils—coconut, olive, sunflower, avocado, and castor oils, plus shea butter—precisely by weight, then heat them gently to melt them together. Powdered lye is also measured precisely, then dissolved in water. When the lye and oils are combined and agitated, a chemical reaction called saponification occurs, producing soap. Essential oils and any additional ingredients are added at this point. Then the raw soap is poured into a mold and left undisturbed for 24 hours. After it’s cut into bars and stamped with the Schoon logo, the soap cures on a rack for four weeks, during which time water evaporates and the soft bars harden. Then each bar is wrapped in glassine, which protects it from air and moisture, and a patterned paper sleeve.

Lye? Isn’t that dangerous?

It’s important to take precautions when working with lye (wearing gloves and protective eyewear, avoiding breathing in the caustic fumes, never leaving it unattended around children or pets), but it isn’t any more intrinsically dangerous to be around than boiling water or hot oil. There’s a terrific post by Marie Rayma here that debunks a lot of commonly held misconceptions about lye. The important thing to remember is that no lye remains after the saponification process—just pure, clean, happy-making soap.

What does it mean for soap to be vegan?

Almost all commercial soaps and many handmade soaps use animal fat for some or all of its oil content, since it’s cheap and readily available and produces a very hard, long-lasting bar. But there are other ways to achieve that result, and Schoon Soap opts to use a combination of vegetable oils instead. We also eschew the use of any other animal product or animal byproduct, including honey and colorants made from insects.

But I saw you on Twitter rhapsodizing about cheese! You’re not a vegan! J’accuse!

Rob and I do not follow a strict vegan diet (though we do eat that way by default a fair amount of the time), but all of our soap-making equipment is used exclusively for that purpose and has never been in touch with animal products. We make vegan soap because it’s easy to do so without compromising the quality of the final product and it makes us happy that our soap is an option for our vegan friends.

Why do you avoid using palm oil?

Because we’re terribly fond of orangutans, mostly. Most palm oil is produced in an unsustainable fashion that involves clear-cutting pristine rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia and planting palm plantations. While there is sustainably produced palm oil on the market, identifying it as such can be a sticky wicket and we prefer to steer clear of the ingredient altogether.

How did you choose the scents you offer?

We decided early on that we only wanted to use essential oils since so many people have sensitivities to synthetic fragrances. Many popular scents, such as lilac, are not available as essential oils, while others, such as rose or chamomile, are prohibitively expensive. We wanted to offer a range of scents that included woodsy and spicy and floral and citrusy options, as well as several unscented varieties for people who prefer no added fragrance at all. Developing the scent combinations was a lot of fun, like combining the best parts of being a mad scientist and a wise, witchy woman in the woods.

Your labels are fantastic! Did you design them yourself?

They are, aren’t they?! Our logo, package designs, and website were all designed by Anna Dorfman.

How can I make handmade soap last longer?

Since our soap does not contain the preservatives or stabilizers found in commercial soap, the way you treat your soap will affect how long it lasts. Handmade soap will last a long time if kept dry between uses. For best results, please keep the bars out of direct streams of water and use a draining soap dish.

I’m interested in giving soap as a favor at my upcoming wedding/baby shower/dog’s birthday party. Do you do custom orders?

Absolutely! Drop me a line and let’s talk!