Customer Review

101 of 109 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not just the same ol' thing., May 9, 2000
This review is from: The Natural Soap Book: Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps (Paperback)
I really enjoy the straight forward writing style of Ms. Cavitch. She speaks to you like you're having a conversation with a good friend.
In the Introduction she gives some basic chemistry of soap lessons which are very easy for the non chemist to understand. Then she goes on to explain different types of soap, different fats and oils what when you might want to use each. All through the beginning are charming, little stories about real soap makers and their businesses. What a nice touch.
This seems to be a very well thought out book with just oodles of information on just about every aspect of making soap. She's even included a small section on blending essential oils and give some suggested blending for certain scents.
The coloring section isn't as lengthy as I think it could be, but it is a good start for the beginner, especially for those who want to start using herbs for coloring soaps.
I can't say I agree with Ms. Cavitch on her temperatures explanation. But that does seem to be more of a preference thing. She feels that vegetable soaps made over 95 degrees F are problematic, but I have never found that to be the case. Actually... I have found the opposite to be true.
Weighing your essential oils in advance as she suggests you do in Step 1, is going to give you a problem unless you tightly seal it. I learned right away that they will evaporate into the air. What you weighed out before you started stirring will be partly gone by the time you use it! She does however, later in another section, mention that you should tightly seal the container.
A picture, an actual photograph, of what 'trace' means would be nice. Would it kill these authors to say something like, "thick like pudding"? No one can ever figure out what is meant by the word trace. Newbees sort of freak out about it, and I can understand that.
There is one thing that I really don't like about her recipes. That is, some of the items are in pounds and some of the items are in grams. Unless you're good at converting or your scale does both, you're going to have a problem. It would have been much nicer had she offered all items in both grams and ounces and then you could use what you use. I can see why she's doing it. Grams offer much better accuracy with those items like lye and grapefruit seed extract. But many who aren't interested in doing conversions, won't use the recipes. :(
Cavitch is working with that old, bothersome method of matching your lye solution temp with your oil temp at about 80 degrees F. I don't recommend this method as it causing a soap separation many times when the temp drops and saponification slows to a crawl. But a good many people still use this method.
Her suggestions that a mostly olive oil soap can trace in about 7 minutes I don't agree with at all. I have hand stirred more like 3 hours for mostly olive soap. I wouldn't want anyone to think that they can actually accomplish this and not have under stirred soap. Pomace (a lower grade of olive) will trace quickly, but I don't think that can be done in less than 1/2 hour with hand stirring.
I guess the really big problem people have with Susan Cavitch is her method of figuring lye. What she does works, however, soap makers don't 'discount' lye, they add more fats/oils. It is quite confusing if you talk to someone who figures things with her discount method. It is just one of those annoying things. Some say the glass is half full, others half empty. Well, for Cavitch alone, the glass is half empty.
There are many recipes in this book and also a section on things you can add to the recipes and how to add them, such as herbs, superfat oils, etc., to make some varied soaps. There is a chapter on suggestions on wrapping soaps decoratively which is fun too.
All in all, I think this is a high quality book. I think the actual method of making soap is outdated now, but aren't they all? We have finally gone beyond the Ann Bramson book, but the authors have not caught up yet.
I have my little pet peeves about the book, but I think everyone should have a copy. All that chemistry is good to have so that you can talk to Dr. Bob later and actually understand him! :) . . .
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 2, 2007 11:17:49 AM PDT
M. Tayon says:
"Cavitch is working with that old, bothersome method of matching your lye solution temp with your oil temp at about 80 degrees F. <B>I don't recommend this method as it causing a soap separation</B> many times when the temp drops and saponification slows to a crawl. But a good many people still use this method."

I totally agree with getting lye temps and oil temps close together, and room temp works fine, I'm not sure why you have had separation, to the contrary, I get separation using too hot of temps! Even if only one or the other is too hot get separation, as the chemical process heats the batch up to 180 degrees plus. I strongly suggest any one that makes soap from scratch using lye and oils keeps temps to about 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Posted on Apr 13, 2008 6:06:21 PM PDT
Marie says:
"Her suggestions that a mostly olive oil soap can trace in about 7 minutes I don't agree with at all. I have hand stirred more like 3 hours for mostly olive soap. I wouldn't want anyone to think that they can actually accomplish this and not have under stirred soap. Pomace (a lower grade of olive) will trace quickly, but I don't think that can be done in less than 1/2 hour with hand stirring."

I make 100% Olive Oil (Grade A) soap, and all my batches trace in about 7-10 minutes using a stick blender, and I don't use grapefruit seed extract.
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