About a week ago, roughly, I received a private message from a friend's mom, who is also a soap maker. I was outside vacuuming the inside of my truck after I'd just changed it's oil. I glanced at my phone to see the notification, so I checked it out. She asked me if I get the Saponifier Magazine, because Dr. Kevin Dunn, author of Scientific Soapmaking, had mentioned me in an article. I was sick with apprehension. Why? Welp, why would a gentleman with a PhD in chemistry mention me, a stay at home mom and hobbyist soap maker, in a nationally, or possibly internationally, known soapers magazine, that I don't even read? It HAD to be about my experiments, and somehow he came across them. I posted about it in my favorite soap group and a few of my soapy friends who had the recent issue of the magazine posted screenshots of the pages. From those shots, every thing looked good actually. And my apprehension waned, while plenty of congratualtions went up. But, something seemed off. I could tell lthere was more to the artocle, so I went ahead and purchased a subscription including the current Sept/Oct issue in question. If you haven't already, and would like to, you can do a full subscription of the magazine, or purchase individual back issues, including the Sept/Oct issue, here . Welp, I read the full article and realized, in some odd way, I'd been set up for some sort of public rebuttal, by another soap maker, Rae Ellyn Alexander of Celestial Balance Body Products. I've come across this lady in a few groups, and to be honest, She's very snarky and prude, not only to myself it seems. I'd also been shown where she wanted Dr. Dunn to "school me' on my experimental claims, when she took my YouTube link and posted it on his private Facebook page. I can't get too upset over that, I did post it in a public group. But still, her reason behind it seems a little malicious to me.
In the article, Dr. Dunn summarizes my video on acidifying soap. At first he seemed to be applauding my efforts. There almost seemed to be a bit of admiration coming from him. But just as quickly as that applause came, so came the rebuttal. To summarize, because of my use of polysorbate 80 to solubilize the free fatty acids that were released during the whole process, it is questioned as to whether it was my soap that truly did the cleaning, or if it was just the polysorbate. Further, he calls poloysorbate a detergent, which, for a soapmaker, is a stab in the eye with a stick blender covered in raw soap batter, since we strive to get away from detergents. However, my research on polysorbate does not say that this product is a detergent. Simply a surfactant that acts as a solubilizer. Please keep in mind, surfactant does not means detergent. There are many different types of surfactants, but I won't be getting into that here. The point is, polysorbate 80 is not a detergent. If anyone would care to argue differently, you're more than welcome to. just please site reliable resources so that I may be able to have them at my disposal for future use. But to put it simply, Dr. Dunn gave me the proveribal pat on the head and "nice try but no, you're still wrong". He however, did not offer any reason as to WHY soap can't be acidified.
Anyways, I know where I messed up. I did my final testing AFTER adding the polysorbate, rather than before. So, rather than quitting soaping, which I'd actually said I would do if that article turned sour for me, I put my mind , and camera for video evidence, to work and reconducted the experiment, changing a few elements. You can watch the full video here . Instead of using castile soap, which I was out of, I used an 8oz sample of coconut oil soap I make to clean with. I found the coconut soap was a good idea as well since it's very bubbly, as we all know, and it was a great way to note any changes. And of course, i nixed the solubilizer all together. I used only citric acid to lower pH. It's really simple: using my pH meter, I measured the initial pH of the soap, which was 8.86. I noted in the video the condition of the soap, how bubbly it was, viscosity, etc. Then, i proceeded to add 0.25oz of citric acid directly to the soap. In the video, you'll see the soap go from clear to very white and milky. You'll also see it froth up as foam builds from mixing it in. I blew a few bubbles, and then test pH, which stabilized at 7.77. Then when washing my meter's probe, i noted how the soap felt and show that it produced a creamy lather. It rinsed off my probe and my hands very well. I added a final dose of 0.1oz of citric acid to the mix and repeated those same observations. Final pH was 7.03 before I discontinued observation of that. Foam was reduced but still present and I couldn't blow bubbles anymore. When washing,small bubbles formed when washing my hands, and everything rinsed squeaky clean. I even tested on a wine glass to see if any residue or film would form and be difficult to remove. That also came up squeaky clean. The reason why the squeaky clean aspect is important to me, is because the free fatty acids are very sticky and difficult to remove. I've needed a scrubber brush to scrub it out of my sink. So being able to wash the soap off my hands and out of the wine glass easily was a treat. I honestly didn't know what to expect with this experiment. If it didn't work, well, I'd have admitted to it with full tail between my legs. In this case, based on evidence at hand, it still worked.
The experiment got me thinking some more about how soap works. It would seem that the more alkaline the soap it, the better is cleans. The alkalinity helps break up the surface tension of oils. In testing run by researchers in Sri Lanka, they found that the higher the pH of a cleanser, the more it strips away the acid mantel of the skin, a protective layer of the skin which is comprised of naturally produced oils, sweat, resident bacteria, etc, and thus making it more difficult for that layer to regenerate. The higher the pH, the more oils are stripped away. It's why it's suggested that lye heavy soaps be shredded into laundry soap, which is easier than trying to rebatch to correct the issue. But, lower pH does not mean it won't clean. It's just not as well as higher pH. But that's one way to look at it. When we're talking about acidifying soap, using basic citric acid, we are essentially having the citric acid swap places with the fatty acids in soap, thus bonding with the hydroxide, creating either sodium, or potassium citrate, and fatty acids. You basically lose soap content. But how much soap, is undetermined. You'd have to filter out the fatty acids that emerge with each addition of citric acid. And that has proved a tad bit difficult. It's not impossible to do, but it is a little frustrating. So, i can see where folks say it's no longer soap. As I've proved, there's still soap left, even after lowering to a pH of 7.03, and it seemed to have done it's job well. I just couldn't tell you how much soap was left. That may be another experiment for later, but I'm pretty sure like with all things in soap making, it's recipe dependent.
Now what if i used some other acid? What if, instead of citric acid, which we know basically replaces the fatty acids when combining with the hydroxide, and thus reduces the actual soap content, I used an MCT, (medium chain triglyceride). In brief, an MCT is a fatty acid chain with 6-12 carbon fatty acid esthers of glycerol, found in it's raw form. They are some of what make up the oils we commonly use in soap making. You'll know them commonly as Lauric and Myristic Acids (Coconut and Palm Kernel), Stearic and Palmitic Acids( Palm and Tallow). Stearic is also highly common in Coco and Shea Butters. Of these, most soap makers use Stearic Acid for various reasons but most common is producing a harder bar of soap. It can be used to thicken liquid soap as well. Problem with using Stearic is, becuase of it's carbon chain length, 18 carbon atoms, it isn't very soluble in water, and therefore causes clouding in liquid soap. So for this endeavour, I chose Lauric Acid, which has a carbon chain length of 12. Bascially, the shorter the chain, the more likely it's soluble in water. Which in turn means less likely to cloud. Here's where my train of thought is going: Citric Acid, along with all fatty acids, are essentially weak acids. But, of those, citric acid is the stronger, which is why when it's used, fatty acids are released and seperate out of liquid soap in white sticky, oily mess. The stronger acid reacts with a potassium salt of a weaker acid to free up the weaker acid. Hands down. There's no way around that. But, if we were to use an acid of equal strength, ie, another fatty acid, as mentioned prior, wouldn't that essentially prevent the 'breakdown' and loss of soap, but still allow the pH to lower? In my first experimental video, I noted that i used a combination of citric and lauric acids to lower the pH. In another instance of playing around with pH, I used the lauric acid alone, 2oz in an 8oz soap sample to drop the pH from 9.08 to 7.35, according to my notes. In Jackie Thompson's HCSCG conference presentation, she indicates the use of stearic acid to neutralize her liquid soap. So it would seem that MCT's are another viable option at pH adjustment without the potential to lose soap I think the only downside is amount needed vs cost compared to those factors for citric acid. Citric acid, being the stronger acid, needs less, no more than an ounce for an 8oz sample of soap, to do it's job, and is considerably cheaper compared to lauric acid, which is more fatty than acid, where I needed 2oz of that for an 8oz sample of soap.
Just now, I'd literally completed another test for my last theory, of using lauric acid to lower pH in a 4oz sample of coconut oil soap. 0.5oz of lauric acid lowered the pH immediately from 8.87 to 7.1. The flakes dissolved fairly easily in the heated soap, using a bit of a modified double boiler; measuring cup in a pot of boiling water. Per usual, when hot, the soap was clear, then when cooled, very cloudy. Not quite milky, in that the soap was on the cusp of translucent and opaque. My guess is that is was saturated with lauric, in that like sugar dissolved in hot water, it looks clear while hot. You can keep adding until no more dissolves, and it remains clear. But when the saturated sugar solution cools, it becomes cloudy, like with the soap when it cooled. According to a few resrouces, lauric acid is soluble in water at the rate of 55mg/L @ 20*C(68*F). That's really not a lot of lauric, so I assume that at temperature, attemting to dissolve anything more than 55mg will cause the solution to cloud. And this is all specualtion, since I'm still trying to understand the chemistry at play here myself. But in any case, the clouding can easily be remedied later on. But, overall this was the most successful of experiements, in that the soap remained very bubbly compared to any other attempts, and of course, it cleaned, yet attained a very low pH. I'm beyond pleased; and now wish I did pull out the camera for this. And to note, this principle can easily be applied to bar soaps, using stearic acid, which will help harden the bar.
So, you see, you can acidify your soap, and there are many ways to do it. Again, this requires trial and error to see what works for you, and of course, your willingness to think outside the box. I'm really not keen on being put on blast the way I was. I don't see the point in Rae trying to tear down a fellow soap maker. It's not like I'm competition. And I don't appreciate having my name and YouTube channel link printed in a magazine that I'd never heard of before without my permission. I've even come across the managing editor, Beth Byrne, of the magazine many times in Facebook groups. She could have easily contacted me for my consent. My YouTube channel actually doesn't have my real name on it either, as is the same for this blog. I only shared that channel link twice, receiving very few views to it afterwards, as I was actually very hesitant, and for this very reason. Looks like it won't matter now, will it? I appreciate all the new YouTube hits and subscribers that this stunt produced for me though. So no, Dr. Dunn, it's not an impossible dream, as your article was so wistfully titled. It's a reality. Maybe you could take the time to try out some of my experiments, or even try a few of your own? Or, in the least, share exactly why it's impossible rather than writing a rebuttal and giving the proverbial pat on the head to some unknown soap maker in a magazine she never knew existed until recently. K? Thanks!!