Steffanie’s Old Town Suds
Soap-making is a true DIY venture, one we’ve talked about before on DIY Del Ray. We’ve seen different techniques from soapers like Mellenie from Truly-Life and Rachel from Wessex Soaps (all locally sold), but what makes Steffanie’s version stand out is she includes ingredients you can both eat AND drink. Beer soap? Wine soap? Yes, it’s a thing!
I visited Steffanie at her Alexandria condo to learn about the soap-making process, something Steffanie first learned about by watching YouTube videos. In addition to bar soap, she also makes produce wash, bath bombs, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaners and disinfecting spray — all eco-friendly and homemade in her small kitchen workshop.
Today, she walked me through the process of making bar soaps. Each recipe is a precise science — you must have the correct ratio of lye, water and oils. Why? Because one of the most important ingredients, lye, or sodium hydroxide, is extremely caustic and the wrong amount could lead to dangerous results. It’s such a volatile ingredient that in order to purchase it, Steffanie has to sign documents stating she is using the chemical for soap (and not other illegal activities).
Once lye is mixed with the water and oils, the chemical reaction causes lye to lose its flesh-burning properties, thereby making it safe to use.
Using protective gloves, she mixes the lye with distilled water (you cannot use tap water). The water and lye sit on a digital scale to measure the exact amount.
Then she measures a melange of oils — palm, coconut and olive, each one with unique soap-making properties. She has to order the large 28-pound tubs of solid palm and coconut oils but the olive oil usually comes from Costco.
She melts the solid oils using either the stove or microwave and then mixes the trio along with the lye and water in a large pot.
If she’s making beer or wine soap, she substitutes beer or wine for the water in the water/lye mixture. She uses locally brewed beer including Port City — the brewery is conveniently located just a short walk from her home. Before use, the beer and wine are cooked down to remove the sugars and carbonation.
In the demo, Steffanie shows me how to make a 3-layer lemongrass soap. After mixing all the ingredients with your run-of-the-mill immersion blender, she divides the thick liquid into three containers, one for each of the layers. To get the lemongrass scent she adds essential oils, but she has also used dried herbs from friends’ gardens for other soaps.
The dyes start out in powered form and are mixed with water.
She gives each color a final blend and now the soap is ready to go into its mold. Today she uses a plastic mold, first adding the almost neon green layer. This type of mold is expensive, so her father-in-law is in the process of making her some wooden ones, which will help her make more batches at the same time and keep production costs down.
Over the neon green she gently spreads the black, then white. At this point this soap has started to harden, so it’s easy to spread each layer without mixing into the colors below it.
To add a decorative touch to each bar, she gently pushes down a bent wire hanger into the soft soap, similar to how you might make the design in a swirl cake.
Finally she covers the mold in plastic wrap and a bath towel and lets it sit for a few days. After it hardens, she removes the long solid bar from the mold and slices it with a tool similar to a pastry cutter. Here’s how it looks — lovely! (This was a sample from a previous batch, you can see the vein lines from the hanger.)
Each bar needs about 4-6 weeks to fully cure before it can be used. Then it’s wrapped in her custom-designed paper and sold at craft shows, local shops (like 529 Kids Consign in Old Town), farmers markets and on her website.
Steffanie is one of the revolving vendors at the Four Mile Run Farmers Market. I stopped by last Sunday to see more of her products. Here’s her signature beer soap.
Just because her soaps are made with edible products doesn’t mean you can actually eat them, but they smell and look so good! If you have stainless steel appliances, you’ll be interested to know her all-purpose cleaning spray work great on that surface too.
You can check out Steffanie’s Old Town Suds this Sunday, September 1 at the Four Mile Run Farmers Market or visit her website for upcoming craft shows around the area. The soap has a very long shelf life so who knows, you could even get all your holiday shopping done months in advance.