Top critical review
Good book... invest in the hard copy, and don't be afraid to experiment!
on December 13, 2015
Rather a challenge for a first-time soaper, but very informative and a good overview for anyone serious about making liquid soap from scratch (and willing to slog through a lot of reading and arithmetic!). This book is about making real oil-and-lye soap, not about enhancing a commercial product, which seems to be quite common in "soapmaking" books - something to be aware of. Always check to see if you're getting from-scratch or from previously-purchased-product instructions!
The reviewers who say it can be confusing have a point: the book goes through the "basics" and then into the details and specific issues (sequestering, neutralizing, additives, troubleshooting) while referring back to previous parts of the book - it's quite confusing until you've read through it and tried a few recipes. Once you get the hang of the overall layout of the book, it's workable, and when you accumulate some highlighting, post-it flags, and detailed notes from previous attempts, it becomes quite good. Yes, I have a coil notebook with notes on every single one of my soaping sessions and the results, and it's absolutely invaluable when it comes to this book!
A few caveats: first, I started with the Kindle edition. Given the back-and-forth nature of the book, the Kindle version is monumentally useless. Invest in the hard copy! (update 10 months later: still having to flip around and find stuff in the index at times. Really, don't bother with the Kindle version!)
Second, all the recipes are for about 6 lb of soap... this is a HUGE amount (way too much for learning, personal use, or testing) and it's all in imperial units to boot (lbs and oz intermixed - not even just one unit, so it's very difficult to scale). My solution was to convert the recipes and instructions to metric units and percentages... . a lot of work considering the book was supposed to provide "recipes", but this did make it a lot easier to use the book.
Some of the information in the book may be a bit dubious: the two most notable ones are the shampoos (while they look really nice, apparently soap can be very hard on your hair - and really, this is "soap", regardless of the oils you choose... according to most of the sources I've seen the issue is the pH on human hair and that doesn't change with the oils). I would be cautious about using any of these formulas as shampoo. It may be just fine but personally I'm not jumping on that wagon just yet. The other big one is the ambiguity of using the term "preservatives" for antioxidants; this is misleading to someone new to making soaps and cosmetics, and unfamiliar with the distinction (and Ms Failor's use of the terms)
I also would have liked more photos of what I'm trying to avoid. The photos are lovely: there are lots of beautiful pictures of perfect soaps, fancy bottles and perfectly elegant bathrooms and beautiful people, and that's nice, but what I really needed for my first try was the pictures of what to expect if I'm doing it right, and what has "oops!" written all over it. The beginning of the book includes pictures of what the soap stock should look like at every step, which I found VERY helpful. But - there's so often a "but" - there are no pictures of what you DON'T want to see: cloudy soap, separated soap stock, that sort of thing. So when I tried my first recipe I really didn't know if that swirly stuff in there was "cloudy" or just normal. It turned out it was fine, but I didn't know that until the soap was completely finished... making for a tense several hours! This could have been pre-empted with a few pictures or even a word about what to expect.
Also, I'm still having to be super-careful to get things right: it is often not clear whether a "percent" is a percent of oils, oils + lye, total stock etc... whether "borax" is the powder or the solution, that sort of thing. (you simply don't have time, in the middle of a soaping session, to flip back to the beginning of a section to double-check: "rats! was that percent of stock or percent of paste?" ) That said, I have produced quite a few batches of soaps, using Failor's methods and my own preferred combinations of oils, and so far have not had any failed soaps. I also have not found another resource for making liquid soaps.
Also, it would be nice to know what other sort of things you can do and alternative methods to deal with less-than-perfect results. For example, can "cloudy" be turned into the pearly look of some commercial soaps? Can you turn the milky look of lanolin or shea into a design feature (e.g. as a base for the shimmery pearlized look)? What other colourings can be used in liquid soaps? Micas? Ultramarines? other things that would be useful to know about? What are the effects you can achieve or might want to avoid? How DO you get the purple soap on p. 81 (paperback, not Kindle)? An awful lot of questions unanswered.
Bottom line: I liked it enough to have ordered a hard copy after I got the Kindle... It's a basic reference with a lot of the information you need to get started. Whether it's the BEST book out there, I don't know. I haven't found another book either specifically about liquid soap or other resources that include instructions for liquid soaps. So if I had to do it again, yes, i would purchase this book. With a calculator!