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16 October 2009

The soap making question

I had a question from a reader the other day regarding cleaning soap making utensils and equipment. She wanted to know if it was okay to wash the soap making equipment and use it for other kitchen tasks that involve food. If you thoroughly wash all your utensils and equipment it is fine to use it all for other food making tasks. However, if you use a wooden spoon for soap making, you should dedicate that spoon to that task and store it with your soap making ingredients, rather than keep it in the kitchen. Wooden spoons are porous and might absorb some of the caustic elements of the soap making process and, if left to sit in a pot of stew, might contaminate the stew. I didn't read that anywhere, I thought of it myself.

So when you go to wash your plastic, glass and metal utensils, use your common sense, think about all the cracks and crevices that might hide soap. Soak them in the sink for a while then get a brush and scrub all the areas that might hold soap, or put it all in the dishwasher. When they're thoroughly clean, they're ready for your kitchen tasks. I know there is advice out there that says have a separate set of everything for soap making, but why?

We used to be a society that followed in the footprints of our parents. We had mothers and fathers who set the rules, were role models for their children and who taught by example. Sadly, that is not so common now. Often young people have to ask these questions because they have never seen, first hand, a lot of the things they want to do, like soap making, and they don't trust their own judgement to think it thorough themselves.

Common sense has a role to play in almost everything we do on a daily basis and yet many people don't trust themselves to make safe and sensible decisions. I have often wondered about that and I think it's because many decisions aren't ours to make any more. We are over protected. We have governments and local councils who make rules and regulations about such a wide variety of things, and corporations whose products line our shelves, that we don't really have to think about our own circumstances; we know there is a rule for it or a product we can buy.

I guess that is fine if you want to live a sheltered life, but I don't. I have decided to step outside what is "normal" for my class and age and I want to rely on myself more and others less. Now let me first say that I am not advocating anarchy or even civil disobedience, I am merely saying that I make my own decisions and, if there are any consequences for a wrong decision, I suffer that, and make sure I don't make the same mistake again. I am horrified when I see councils and governments setting regulations and making laws about all manner of things. You can't legislate against stupidity, they should have public awareness campaigns about taking responsibility for ourselves and reviving common sense.

One of the problems is that often we don't even know we are making a decision. For instance, if you buy those antiseptic kitchen wipes, and you haven't thought of the consequences of that, you will be wiping out the normal yeasts and bacteria that should be in your home. Yes, you will get rid of the bad bacteria, but those wipes don't discriminate, they wipe everything out, and then you wonder why you can't make ginger beer, sauerkraut or sour dough. Soap and water, or even a few drops of tea tree oil if you have a bad problem, will get rid of most bugs - the wipes used on a daily basis are overkill.

There are many examples I could come up with but let me just say that your life is the sum total of all the decisions you make, allowing someone else to make too many of those decisions for you will result in a one size fits all society that I don't want to be a part of. All the young mums out there pregnant with their first baby. I know you want to do the best for your child, but the best doesn't necessarily involve buying all the products you see out there. Think about the consequences of those buying decisions, both for yourself and your baby. Making more and buying less will not only put you in a better financial position it will also give your baby a greener future. Instead of being guided by advertising, be guided by your mother or your local mothers' group.

I love variety, change and difference and that is not a bad thing - you have seen how I live, I am not a radical, I am just advocating that you question, be sceptical, and decide for yourself. And even these words I'm offering to you now, you should question what I say, make sure it suits you and if it doesn't, keep doing what you're doing. But if you question, use your common sense and make decisions based on self reflection, consideration of consequences and how you want to live, you will make a life unlike any other.

I mean no disrespect highlighting this soap making question. I actually do understand why it was asked - skills are not being passed on, and being multi-skilled develops self confidence. But I hope to use the opportunity to highlight what I see as an underlying problem of mass dependence on needing, and sometimes wanting, others to think for us. There is a lot to be said for taking responsibility for one's self, questioning the way things are done and making your own way. My way might not be the right way for everyone else, but it suits me fine and it is like that because I think about my decisions, ignore rules that don't make sense to me and use my common sense. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.


  1. I do have a separate set of tools for soap making. I bought bits and pieces from the op/thift shop. Everything is kept together in one tub so when I want to make soap I just grab the tub. Its convenient for me.

  2. Rhonda, everything you say in this post rings so so true to me! Some of it is exactly what I've been thinking about in the last few months.

    Making choices and taking responsibility for those choices is something that I totally agree on and something that I don't think we generally do.

    On the other hand, I wish that I had someone to ask advice of. I don't want to reivent the wheel all the time. I think it can be wise to ask for guidance from someone who knows. The problem is, that many from the older generations, particularly in my life don't have the skills and knowledge that we used to pass down.

  3. Hi Rhonda;

    I so agree with you on this subject. I think that the young people in our society are very used to the media telling them the way they should and shouldn't do things that they have forgotten how to use good, old fashion common sense. I sometimes wonder what our ancestors would think about the things we do these days! I'm sure they would sit back and scratch their head in surprise! Wonderful post!

  4. Thanks for telling us we can use soap making equipment for other cooking and cleaning around the house. Everywhere you read (or where I do anyways) it is always telling to not use it for anything but soap making. I use mine for many things other than soap making. I do agree though that wooden utensils might not be good for using for anything else. Thanks again Rhonda - you are very practical and I like that!

  5. very interesting and thoughtful perspective.
    I agree, we have become so sheltered. It's time to step beyond and do for ourselves and share the knowledge of how to critically examine again.

  6. Hi Rhonda, I'm cheering from my seat. We must decide for ourselves, simple living takes guts.

  7. great post Rhonda, I think today in society we can get bombarded with so many things media, technology and the age of instant gratification. As a whole we are also living further away from family and the way everyone is so busy! Skills are generally not getting passed down. Neighbourhoods are no longer what they once were and I personally feel we are more in isolation.
    So thank goodness for blogs like yours Rhonda they offer so much common sense and guidance and I agree not everyone has that

  8. I also agree. Seems common sense & personal responsibility is something some folks forget.

    Your point on the kitchen wipes is well taken. I came across another blog the other day that posted a vid done in Canada about the problems with commercial cleaners, especially in regard to children. The links are listed here:

    The vid is about 18 minutes long, but well worth the time to watch.

    Thank you for your uncommon common sense & sharing with the rest of us! :)

  9. What a great post! As I'm learning new skills, I just can't understand why these skills have not been passed down. Many are just so simple it makes me feel stupid I have been doing things the "commercial" way my whole life.

    The lady who asked the question about soapmaking tools is not the only one with that same question. I had the same thoughts on the soap making tools, but could never prove that it was ok. Common sense said it was ok, but I've never made soap before so maybe there was something I didn't know about. But the internet is my only source of learning skills of the past. You are the only one I've come across that came out and said yes. Many others have hedged around it but wouldn't come and say it. The last of my supplies arrived today so I am working on it tomorrow (hopefully nothing unplanned comes up!).

    Thank you, Rhonda! And also, thank you for the many things learned on there already!

  10. I too use a separate set of utensils and pans for soapmaking...
    I keep it all together and just get it out when I make soap...

  11. right on, rhonda. been thinking of this a lot lately, a 29-year-old who grew up on a microwave and mcdonald's and chemicals for everything, trying to reverse it now with not much to fall back on for guidance, thank god for all the simple living blogs for their invaluable help. i want to be the resource for my own children someday!

  12. Well they do like to say that common sense isn't that common. And you have just nailed the reason why.

    Congratulations :-D

  13. Exactly. This reminds me of a post I read about the death of common sense
    here's the link if you are interested.
    Luckily there seems to be a revival of common sense.

  14. I do use the antiseptic wipes when I really have a nasty mess on my hands (no pun intended), but most of the time it is soap and water.

    The American society as a whole is way too sterile. Your body needs germs to survive. I think the children today are sick so much more than my generation was because their little bodies are not use to getting dirty, and are exposed to many, many more chemicals than we ever were!

    Has any one ever noticed that poor children are sick less often than the well off?

    OK, off soapbox, but we are, not me, sterilizing ourselves out of existence with way too much "chemical clean".


  15. Soap making is something that i am still yet to try.... i'm so paranoid i'll mix it wrong.

    Thanks for the post, its given me a few things to think about.

    I totally agree with you in regards to the "cleaning overkill". Living in a sterile house just seems plain unhealthy to me ;).

  16. There is a really good book Big babies by Michael Bywater, he explains how and why we are treated like big babies, and the results are seen everywhere... Rules and laws, more rules and laws, lack of confidence in yourself, on and on, as you said.

  17. Actually Rhonda, you are being radical. Your government (and mine - UK) is encouraging us to spend and wants us to spend.

    In USA it was practically non patriotic not to spend post 9-11 and I think that attitude still persists to some extent.

    I think we do live a radical life by breaking away from our dependance on what we are being told we need by big corporates. Just think if everyone acted like we are all trying to do then we would over turn the big corporations and force them to rethink.

    For me, the slight taste of anarchy on a daily basis - stretching away from patriarchy and corporations gives me a thrill.


  18. Hi Rhonda,

    I was just writing my Aunt an emai lthe other day on this exact subject. I am a 27 year old new Mum and I have only just started to realize what it is you were talking about here's an excerpt from the email

    " We live in a society that is obsessed with the new. I often think there are huge generational gaps between parents and children that are really unfortunate. My parents grew up having to see their mothers and fathers physically working hard everyday, doing things from scratch and having a lot less time to relax. Then the 80s and mass consumerism hit and they were able to provide us with quick and convenient alternatives to things which used to take time and patience. As a result a lot of valuable lessons were lost. I never learned to sew, cook or clean. I never really had to budget or be frugal or really learn to pay attention to sales or coupons or food waste in the kitchen. Which I suppose most people would be grateful for, and I am, but in the end a lot of it has ended up kicking me in the butt. I have had to teach myself these simple tasks and break bad habits that I was born and raised with. I don't think my parents intentionally did this, in fact I believe they think you don't really have to "learn" these things, they should just come to you, because they never sat down to learn those things from a book... but they watched their parents and family's by example and learned all of those things without realizing it. "

  19. I so agree with you. Our lives do not look like the typical. We have made and are still making many decisions based on how we believe the Lord is leading us. Many times the way He leads us look nothing like our counterparts. Still we press on. We don't publicize what we do we just do what we do. We are better for it. More at peace and healthier in spirit, soul and body.

    We have gone away from most store bought medicines, we have ceased using many of the cleaners and disinfectants, we have eliminated most of the processed foods, we homeschool, I stay home. In our country we are far from the norm. If we were not ministers of the gospel maybe many would accuse us of being Rastafarian because of our habits.

    We just thank God that we are able to follow Him and be better off for it. Our hope is that we would help others to experience a more abundant life as well by observing our example and finding their way in the Lord, taking the courage to step out and be different.

    Whew! This comment was long but it is something I'm passionate about - accepting what is known as normal when it could be harmful for you.

    God bless you dear Rhonda. Keep on sharing. Many are learning and are being blessed including myself. Have a wonderful day.

  20. Agreed. People should do more thinking for themselves.

    About cleaning up after making soap:
    If you set aside all the messy stuff for 24-48 hours, all the residue will turn to soap and not be greasy anymore. Still, wear gloves when washing but make use of all that nice new soap and wash your other dishes in it. Just put it in the water until the soap residue on the pot and utensils has dissolved.

  21. Thank you so much for this guiding post. I used to use commercial cleaners and wipes, but I found the chemicals left behind, especially on my floors, actually help accumulate more dirt than would natural, green cleaners. And when you think about baking a pie on a counter cleaned with a lysol wipe? It's quite horrifying! You are quite right- we need to be able to judge for ourselves what is sensible and what is not.

  22. I really appreciated your post today. My family (seven kids!) have always been unusually healthy. I can't help thinking part of that is not being afraid of dirt. I have friends who are always wiping down with anti-bacterial wipes and they are noticeably less healthy. I've always suspected they were killing off all the good guys along with the bad guy bacteria.

  23. Great post Rhonda, critical thinking needs to come back, and people need to learn to accept the consequences of their actions. My MIL was always worried about our woodstove burning the baby, suggesting that we change our heatsource - the baby figured out that the woodstove was hot, and it would be unpleasant to touch. Our child heeded our warnings, and never even came close to getting burned.

  24. Ha, Ha! I love the
    "You can't legislate against stupidity"
    comment. You should make it into a bumper sticker :)

  25. I totally agree with everything you are saying. It is a sad state these days when young people are not taught certain things. Hmm, wonder what would happen if things went haywire. I have seen where power has been out and people do not even know how to make change! It is good though that there are blogs out there such as yours and others that will still teach things. A person can always learn if they set their mind to it.

  26. Very thought provoking. It makes me think about my mother, who possesses a wealth of homemaking knowledge passed down to her by her grandmother. However, my mother did not have the patience to teach, so I've had to learn those skills on my own. Maybe it would have been easier if my mother taught me. But maybe I'm better off having learned on my own. It forces me to step outside my perfectionistic tendencies and try things I don't already know how to do well.

    Maybe I can find some balance with my own daughter. Teaching but allowing her to develop her own way as well.

  27. Rhonda well said and I do agree whoelheartedly.

    There is no such thing as a stupid question - until you have to ask it twice!!!

    I am not sure how you go about training the generations that follow us to rely on their common sense , but I think encouraging them to use it - to fail - sometimes spectacularly - might help......just not with caustic soda in the stew!!!!!


  28. Truly, your blog should be part of the school curriculum! Common sense is also a skill that is sadly lacking these days.

    Thank you soooo much for your blog, it inspires me so very often, even though I don't comment much.

  29. I heard a friend mention the phrase 'independent thinker' the other day. Something our society has put by the wayside for too long. We tend to rely on 'them' to fix or come up with solutions to everyday problems.

  30. The problem with antibacterial cleaners is not so much that they kill good bacteria as that they don't kill 100% of the bad guys and the ones left are the most resistant. These pass on their resistance to new generations until the cleaner becomes ineffective. Bleach and alcohol work differently and don't loose their effectiveness. You may not want to use them regularly but they are useful in serious situations.

    Someone said that poor children are sick less than richer ones. I have worked in poor city neighborhoods and I ddn't find this to be so. I have read, however, that rural children have fewer allergies and less asthma than urban children, possibly due to exposure to animals and soil.

  31. I agree with you, Rhonda. So many skills are not passed on anymore. My own mother was not (is still not) a confident cook or craftsperson and didn't pass those skills down to me. She's amazed when I'm willing to try things I've never done before, things that have always seem "too hard" to her.

    I'm also always preaching independence and problem-solving to my kids, who, because of the times we live in, often don't get the experience of fending for themselves and learning from what comes up. On the one hand, protecting them can be good (I don't want them doing all the things I did at their age), but on the other, it can deprive them of experience.

    I was heartened to see that a teacher at our school has started a knitting club. I'm going to go through my supplies to make a donation, and I'll see if they need any volunteers to help teach.

    I took a soapmaking class from a woman who has made soap for about 20 years. The question about equipment came up and she said it was fine to use your regular kitchen stuff. She doesn't use wooden spoons herself, though, because she finds that they sometimes leave little wood fibres in the soap.

    I'm so happy to be able to make my own soap now. This fall is the first time in years that I don't have eczema starting as the weather gets colder.

  32. Great post, Rhonda! It's incredible to read your post and realize that you're half a world away (hello from Texas)! And it's disturbing to realize that governments around the world are pushing to regulate every aspect of our daily lives.

    It's really sad to think that people are losing these simple, satisfying skills. DIY is one of the best ways to keep our independence. It adds a richness and sense of achievement to life that money cannot buy.


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