Awhile back, I unearthed a plain, white ceramic soap dish from the back of a cabinet, filled it with stones and soap pieces, then set it next to my kitchen sink for post-cooking wash-up. I've been genuinely surprised at the many inquiries about it since.
Many people find natural soap care a mystery. The little display I put together - born of a repurposed dish, decorative stones, plus natural soap pieces - was a clever, if unconscious solution: the stones provided both aesthetics and drainage if you are mindful of surface area (more on that, below).
Since then, I've observed how many of my customer friends didn't quite know how to store their Aroma Art soap for maximum display and longevity. This post, then, is an educational outreach.
Friends, let's first acknowledge that natural, hand-crafted soap - especially Aroma Art - is an investment - pricier than commercial bars for many reasons: higher quality and craftsmanship, of course, but a higher percentage of glycerin in the softer soap oils (ie: avocado, sweet almond, castor, etc.) than your usual, mass produced soap. Commercial bars tend to skim off glycerin for more expensive products (such as moisturizers) and use a higher percentage of cleansing oils (coconut, palm, etc) - generally cheaper, more bar hardening, but more drying.
Though artisan soap has many benefits, the higher percentage of softer oils does result in a bar that takes longer to dry. If you've ever left any bar of soap - especially one with a higher glycerin percentage - in a ill-draining soap dish, you're left with mushy soap.
Or, perhaps you've had the unfortunate experience of innocently placing wet soap directly on a surface without drainage (often glass, metal, or a granite counter) only to find it has effectively "fused" to the surface, such as in the photo (L). Ugh.
Below are a few tips that have helped preserve my soap - the hand-washing soap pieces in that ceramic soap dish at the start of this post have lasted for months. Try a few methods out and comment below on how they work for you.
In my experience, surface is the most important factor in soap longevity. For example, I generally place my soap upright (as opposed to flat) and switch around which edge I store it on for as long as the soap can stand up, because an upright position allows more air circulation for drying. Then there's the surface itself: some soap makers swear by these basic unfinished cedar platforms - I'm still testing them out, so I'll keep you posted.
(UPDATE 4/26/18: Alas - I have NOT been able to get these soap platforms to work well. If laid flat on the surface of the wood, the soap fuses right to it. Bummer - I really their look.)
(UPDATE 4/30/20: I found this Optimally Draining, Wooden Soap Stand that seems to work a lot better.)
Glass and metal look lovely but wet soap generally sticks to them - plus soap reacts to certain metals, which can cause rancidity. This soap holder to the right would seem to be great for draining, and I liked the contemporary look of the design and material, but it's a bear to wrestle the bar off of the metal after it's dried. You can see how the dish "lifts" from the left side as I try to remove the soap.
Plastic works better, but admittedly lacks aesthetic appeal. Still - the slots in this kind of dish come in handy for my purposes - to both organize and prop up various soap piece test samples for maximum drying. (Husband: "Can't we please have a full bar of soap?" Me: "No room - we must test eight different formulas.")
One reason the stones in the soap dish (L) work so well is that my arrangement allows for air space between the soap and the stones. If a tiny soap was lying directly on a flat rock, the limited air circulation would interfere with drying and likely cause the soap to stick as well.
Note - I recommend draining the water runoff from the dish after using the soap (simply lift the dish, cradle the soap/stones with your hand, and pour off water in bottom of dish. Takes moments but does a lot to preserve your bars/soap pieces).
In the surface area dep't, I've had the best luck with the aforementioned soap stones, and soap lifts - porous, bio-corn pads that come in a variety of colors and can be trimmed, if necessary, to fit the soap dish of your choice. Notice how the soap easily releases from the Soap Lift (R). It's a great option - you can keep a dish that matches your aesthetics and decor, but still be able to display and use your soap.
In the shower, gym, or camping I've liked using Soap Nets, a clear netted pouch with a built-in wrist/wall strap that allows soap to hang - and dry - more quickly.
The netting of the pouch provides airflow from all angles, coupled with a gentle, non-abrasive scrub for a rich lather without synthetic foaming agents: a plus for those who buy handmade soap to forgo excess chemicals in their body care products, but like a robust lather.
Obviously, the more soap is immersed in water, the quicker it will melt away. An alternate way to preserve soap is to simply cut a bar in halves or thirds and use a section at a time. This not only saves the unused portion from being exposed to more shower spray, but you'll have a more manageable size for travel or guests use. (Soaper's trick: bevel your cut soap by running a carrot peeler along all edges.)
Some soap makers recommend using a dry wash cloth to wipe down soap after use. I've never actually done this - perhaps this makes sense but I gotta wonder - doesn't the bar wear away as you wipe it down? (Must ponder.)
Did I miss anything? If you have a recommendation for soap longevity that I missed or have tried out any of these methods, comments below on how they worked!
Lisa (aka: Shaman Lisa)