1235 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee FL •  850.942.2557

Local Spotlight—Mangrove Soap Company

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Natural Times, July/August/September 2014

By Bridget GuruBeant Welch, LMT

Michelle Palmer, owner and creator of Mangrove Soap Company started in early 2012, didn’t always make soap. She was a computer programmer and product manager. She got into making soap because she was looking for something active to do which would get her away from her computer desk. She loves crafts, cooking, and exercise, and likes to know how to do things herself.

When she thought about teaching herself a new skill, Palmer initially thought of baking, but was worried that it would yield too much extra food at her house. She jokes, “Making soap is kind of like baking, but no calories.” It resembles baking, in that chemistry is involved and precise measurements are important. She uses quality ingredients such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, shea butter, and goat milk.

Soap making started out as a hobby for Michelle. But once her soaps received a good reception at some craft fairs, she thought, “Hey, I’d like to do this full time.” She still contemplates how big she wants the business to be. Currently, Palmer continues to work with computers as well; she owns a software company with a few employees.

Mangrove Soap Company is a family business. Michelle creates soaps with her two daughters. Her older daughter, Jeannette, helps make, package, and deliver soaps. Her younger daughter, Taylor, who is still in college, helps out with the soap-making on the bigger orders.

When I asked if she has any favorite soaps, Palmer answered, “It switches all the time.” Her current favorite is Lavender-Mint, which contains essential oils of spearmint and lavender. I sniffed the many Mangrove Soap Company soaps at New Leaf Market Co-op and found I also loved the Lavender-Mint Goat’s Milk Soap. I tried it at home and found its scent invigorating, and the soap was cleansing without being too drying.

Palmer offers a vegan option in her shea butter soaps. She started that line because, “not everybody wants goat milk.” She wanted to appeal to a larger market. Her soap line is about half vegan shea butter and half goat milk soaps.

Her soaps can be found at three locations: New Leaf Market Co-op, Christie’s Cottage Living on the coast, and Stone Age at Tallahassee Mall. Three of her soaps are co-labeled with New Leaf Market Co-op’s 40th anniversary logo. Palmer says it’s really neat to be in the community and meet people who use her product.

I asked Michelle Palmer to describe the soap-making process. She begins by mixing water and lye (sodium hydroxide). A chemical reaction causes it to get really hot.

While the water-lye mixture cools, she puts together the oils in the soap recipe, and melts them down.

Once the lye cools to the same temperature as the oils, goat milk is added to the lye, if she is making a goat milk soap. Then, the oils are mixed in, which also react chemically to lye. She stirs until “trace” happens, when it thickens.

Fragrance is then added. Scents are provided by pure essential oils with some soaps, like lavender, spearmint and peppermint, and a few contain fragrance oils, like sandalwood and patchouli. Some soaps contain a combination of essential and fragrance oils.

Add-ins, like calendula flowers, oats, or espresso, are included. She also may add sugar, which increases lather. If she is coloring soap, she takes some of it out, mixes with mica, then adds it back in.

The mixture is poured into molds lined with freezer paper where it solidifies. It’s covered and insulated as the lye continues to react with the oil and keep it warm. This heat is what hardens the soap. The hotter it is, the harder the bar. The soap cools within 24 to 48 hours, after which it is cut. Finally the bars are placed on racks where the water evaporates out of the soap and it gets even harder.

Palmer enjoys the creative aspect of soap making, playing with the colors, the molds, and the recipes. The handmade soaps are packaged attractively and make nice gifts. She wraps them with tissue with decorative perforation so one can sniff the soap. The love of her craft comes through in the finished product. See for yourself!

 

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