Updated: Jun 27
Have you ever hesitated buying a bar of cold process (CP) soap because of the horror stories you've heard?
Stories of how the soap melts into mush and literally goes down the drain in just a week?
If that was ever your concern, it will no longer be after you finished reading this.
We decided to write this blog after receiving several queries from buyers, friends and even family on what is the best way to make their soaps last. Honestly, it is really not difficult if you just know a few easy tricks. And we are here to share all that we know with you.
This is a complete guide based on our own experience and experimentation. We hope that armed with this new knowledge, cold process soap users everywhere can extend the lifespan of their cold process soap and enjoy every bar for a longer time.
And any new CP soap users can have the confidence to try it out and finally experience all of its goodness.
First off, why does a cold process (CP) soap melt?
A cold process bar soap is essentially made of a combination of acids (plant/animal oils) and a strong alkali (Sodium Hydroxide). It gets its physical hardness from the "hard oils" it contains such as coconut, palm or butters such as shea or cocoa. On the contrary, the more conditioning oils such as olive and sweet almond adds to the softness of the bar. Hence the formulation of a CP soap considers not just a balance of its cleansing power and skin conditioning benefits, but also its physical hardness.
With just a few easy tricks, you'll be able to master how to extend the lifespan of your cold process soap, and enjoy its goodness for a longer time.
After a CP soap is made, it has to be cured for a minimum of 4 weeks before it can be used, to allow the "excess" water to evaporate into the environment, thereby producing a harder, more lasting bar.
During the crafting of the cold process bar, glycerin is produced as a natural byproduct which we often call the 'gem' of the soap as it helps attract moisture from the environment to our skin. For the same reason, when a cold process bar is exposed to constant high humidity or is allowed to sit in a pool of water, glycerin attracts the moisture turning the bar gel-like which subsequently melts into mush.
A commercial bar on the other hand doesn't quite "melt" as they may contain additives to harden the bar, have gone through machine press or have had their glycerin extracted for other purposes. In some cases, the commercial bar is not a real soap but a detergent (similar to our shower gel) formulated into a bar form hence glycerin was not naturally produced.
This probably explains why so many soap dishes without the draining holes can still be found on shelves today even though they have the tendency for water to pool.
Handmade or commercial, it's rather disgusting for the soaps to sit in a pool of stagnant water or soap mush.
So let's dive in now to see how we can extend the usage of your CP soaps.
TIP 1: SHIELD IT FROM WATER
No, we are not joking.
How in the world do you shower without water then, you ask?
We are not saying, no water....we're just saying, don't let the strong gush of water hit directly on your cold process soap for a long time. Cos a lot of water + cold process soap = melting soap. Sorry.
So enjoy the water massage on your body but keep it away from your soap.
TIP 2: LATHER IN YOUR HANDS
We know shower is a time for relaxation and many love to rub the soap directly on the body. But if it isn't for any exfoliation purpose, then try working up a good lather in your hands, put the soap back on the dish, then spread that lather all over your body and indulge in your self-care time.
Cos what you really want is the lather, not the soap itself. And having less contact with the soap naturally makes it wear down slower.
Even the smallest piece of cold process bar can still lather easily.
TIP 3: YOU DON'T NEED MUCH WATER
How much water does it take to lather for one shower? The answer - not much.
A well formulated and well cured cold process soap actually needs very little water to work up a lather. Just a pair of wet hands is often sufficient to get enough lather for a whole shower.
Depending on the actual formulation of the soap and the type and proportion of oils and additives it contains, the lather will vary across different soaps. But as long as it is a cold process bar, less water is always better than more.
Take the first few showers to understand a new bar, and very soon, you'll be able to have a good gauge of how each soap interacts with water to sufficiently give you the luxurious shower you desire.
TIP 4: USE THE RIGHT SOAP DISH
OK, so now you've mastered how to handle the bar DURING the shower. Let's talk about AFTER the shower.
At this point, you'd probably think using a soap dish that drains water well is just pure common sense. Despite knowing that, we ourselves had made the mistake of buying many wrong ones.
Below are some examples of soap dishes that you might want to avoid using for cold process soaps, for the following reasons:
This is probably a no-brainer. It looks pretty, is really easy to clean and maintain, but there's simply no drainage. So no matter how much you like the design, or how confident you are to keep your bar dry, never never buy a dish with no drainage. It just doesn't work.
Again, a pretty dish, with drainage, but not enough. The drainage holes are simply too small, and with so much direct contact with the soap, the drainage holes are bound to clog up when the soap melts as the water collects.
Now, this one has LOTS of drainage, it must be the dream soap dish right?
WRONG. So what's the problem this time?
While there's good drainage, there is a plate below that collects water. Many people like this feature to make sure their bathroom vanity top below the soap dish is always dry. But this exact feature makes the soap dish a potential disaster for cold process soaps.
What's likely to happen is that water drains from the top to the bottom plate, and as more water is collected, the soap ends up sitting in the pool, just in an elevated position.
What's more, the design of the dish potentially cuts into the soap especially when it gets softer, and as the soap melts, the mush gets between the crevices of the complex dish design, making it a mess and rather hard to clean. This is a design that looks like it holds a lot of potential at first glance, but is the most likely one to make many first-timers give up on cold process soaps.
This soap dish has relatively more drainage with a simple design that is easy to maintain.
It would be better if there is even more drainage, less contact with the soap and more room to air the soap on all sides.
So then, what does the RIGHT soap dish look like? Well, we've hunted high and low for a while and here's what we landed. First, our carbonised bamboo soap dish.
A good soap dish for cold process soaps needs to have lots of drainage, yet holds the bar securely with minimum contact.
What do we like about this soap dish?
- Slightly tapered design allows bar to sit securely on dish
- Wide gap allows full drainage of water to prevent bar from sitting in water
- Elevated design facilitates airing of bar even from underneath
- Simple wide design minimises soap being trapped in crevices
- Carbonised Bamboo minimises mildew formation, makes cleaning easier and withstands usage over longer time than raw bamboo
So the ideal soap dish is one that has lots of drainage, holds the bar securely, yet with potentially minimum contact with the soap.
However if your bathroom is very humid and you have an issue with bamboo soap dishes turning mouldy, here are two options. First, one trick we've learnt from the international soap community is to have 2 bamboo dishes and rotate them. Once a bar is used up, wash the dish well, sun it a little and let it dry completely.
Alternatively, consider our new Avant Garde soap dish, our dream soap dish that we finally found after hunting for over 2 years. We were almost going to design our own when we chanced upon this brilliant design by a US crafter @propsandpop and he very generously gave us the permission to sell this design @mynakedbar in this part of the world.
We can't stop raving about how smart this design is and how grateful we have the chance to bring it to our community to help more people transition to cold process bar soaps.
- Perfectly angled slope allows water on bar to drain off easily.
- Foothold lets bar sit securely on the dish.
- Generous grooves minimise contact with soap, allowing more surfaces (even the underside of the soap at the grooves) to dry between showers.
- Grooves are wide enough for our fingers, for easy pick up of bars even when they are stuck on the dish when wet (which actually doesn't happen often with silicone)
- Simple lines and absence of through cavities make cleaning a breeze after a bar is used up.
- High durability material.
- Contemporary, sleek design.
This dish ticks off every design requirements we had on our list....so that we can help users enjoy every bar of soap longer. What's more, we are totally thrilled that this one soap dish can last them for a long long time. A fundamental accessory for every bar soap user.
Regardless of how pretty a dish is, don't be tempted to buy if it doesn't fit the criteria we listed above. Never believe that you can win the war of water vs. CP soap.
And if you do not have access to a soap dish, look for a soap saver bag so that you can hang the soap up to dry after your showers. Just be mindful to hang the bag in a place that doesn't get direct contact with water, and ideally has good air flow.
While many believe that a soap bag can help prolong the lifespan of a bar, that only happens when your bathroom environment is so well ventilated that by the time of your next shower, the bar is totally dry. Since the soap bag encompasses the bar from all sides with constant contact, we believe a well designed soap dish is still a better option.
TIP 5: Let your soap do yoga.
How do you usually place your soap on the dish? Possibly 90% or more people will say "lie flat of course". That was our first impression in the past too, cos commercial soaps sometimes have curved silhouettes making it difficult to place them any other way.
But a bar of cold process soap is often rectangular. So there's really no reason to put it on its back after every use. Why not put it in a mountain pose one day, a triangle the next, and a headstand the day after?
Engage your bar of Cold Process soap in different yoga poses so it has the opportunity to dry on all surfaces.
Your bar can do the standing pose even on our Avant Garde dish. A week into use when the bottom of the bar has somewhat rounded, try it out!
The simple reason is to let all surfaces have a chance to air dry, instead of leaving the back perpetually wet all the time.
TIP 6: CHECK IN ON YOUR BAR SOAP
Whenever you visit your bathroom, take 2 more seconds to "check in" on your soap and transition it to the next 'yoga pose'.
This simple action helps to minimise the chance of any side getting stuck to the dish, thereby lengthening the lifespan of the soap.
TIP 7: DO THE TWIST
You checked in often on your soap but it still got stuck to the dish? Inevitable. It happens. Ours do too.
So what is your first response to the situation? Flash out your claws and clench it away from the dish? How difficult can that be right? We've been there, done that too. Outcome? A permanently deformed bar of soap complete with 'claw' marks, and chunks of soap stuck under our nails.
Hold OFF your 'claws' when your cold process soap gets stuck to the soap dish.
Gone will be the beautiful bar and now you might secretly wish for this bar to melt away so you can start on the next one.
This could be a dream scenario for a profit-minded soap maker, but for a less-waste advocate, this is a horrific situation. Our aim is to help you maximise the enjoyment you can get out of every bit of your CP bar, so that every bit of resource that went into it is put into good use.
So what do you do? Easy.
Instead of yanking or pulling, try twisting the soap sideways if you have enough grip.
If this does not work, turn the soap dish upside down to see if gravity will do the job and loosen the soap dish's grip on the bar. Try twisting the bar again.
If the hold is really strong, use your finger or any other blunt object like the back of a toothbrush to gently probe the soap off with the dish still upside down. Check out how we did it for ours in the video below.
This is when a soap dish with a big gap is really helpful. There could still be some damage to the soap, but it will be minimal compared to your tiger claw.
TIP 8: LET THE AIR FLOW
If you have the option of opening the window to let the bathroom ventilate better, do that, especially after the showers. Your CP soap will dry out faster and by your next shower, the soap will be nice and dry and ready for you.
Not only will your CP soap be drier, you will have less mould in your bathroom too.
You are now fully 'skilled' to manage any cold process bar and enjoy it fully.
Challenge yourself to stretch each full @mynakedbar to one month or more. Your bar of soap should simply reduce in size over that one month, but still have full resemblance to the bar it was before you started.
And when the bar becomes too small to lather without dropping to the floor, simply pop it into a sisal soap bag so you can use it to the last bit.
A cold process bar can and should be used until absolutely nothing is left.
All these might sound like it's a lot of work, but it really isn't. Cos once you understand how a CP bar of soap works, it becomes second nature to limit the water you use to lather it up, and to go a few extra steps to keep it dry.
Cos that all-day smooth feeling on your skin, naturally moisturised with no skin irritant is totally worth the while. You've got to try it to know what we mean.