Happy, Lappy, Licky Dog

I am probably as sick of the words “dog” and “soap” as everyone around me is of hearing them, but I’ve just got to record this venture in our lives.

There are two versions to this story. I will start with the happy one.

Somewhere around a year ago I had a doggie company ask me about making a dog soap on a rope for them. It sounded really fun and I created two bars of dog soap that they really liked. They took the samples to some trade shows and mentioned that a national retailer was interested. My mind couldn’t comprehend at the time what that meant… 500 bars of soap? 1,000?? When the economy looked perilous, evidently this retailer’s interest waned and the entire project was put on the back burner.

Meanwhile, we renovated the soap room and I got pregnant. Really, really pregnant.

About three weeks ago I got an email that this national retailer (anthropologie) was ready to go and needed 2,500 bars of soap in three weeks. At the time, I was working on building up my own stock of soaps so that I wouldn’t need to worry with making much at the very end of my pregnancy and shortly after baby came. It’s important to know that soap takes at least 4 weeks to cure after it’s been made. If you are really tricky you can make it 3 weeks, but a minimum of four is best. They drove a hard line and said three weeks or not at all. My mind quickly calculated the profit, the time, the supplies I would need to order. Then I wrote it all down and talked it over with Brent. We knew we’d be crazy to miss this opportunity. We estimated that with enough soap molds I could manufacture 2500 bars of soap in about 4 days.

Brent began making the molds.

Each mold was comprised of three log cavities. Each log cavity held a 5 pound recipe and would produce 15 bars. So, each box would produce 45 bars of soap. We already had 2 boxes, and Brent made 16 more for a total of 18.

My mom came to help tame the kids… more like they tamed her!

In case you didn’t realize, it takes about 1000 pounds of vegetable oils to make 2500 bars of dog soap, and slightly under 100 pounds of essential oils. Throw in about four pounds of ground oats, 2 pounds of spirulina, almost 150 pounds of lye, and about 4,000 feet of rope and you’re all set!

Orders started rolling in. I swallowed hard when one person on the phone asked if my neighborhood could accommodate an 18-wheeler.

Folks, THAT is what 1300 pounds of vegetable oil looks like. There’s a 55 gallon drum of coconut oil hidden behind those boxes. It’s still on the front porch until we figure out what to do with it! My mom and grandmother had to help the trucker tote the pallet up the driveway, which sits on a slight incline. Now you know where I get my super human abilities.  My mom hoisted each bucket and box of oils (each weighing between 35 and 50 pounds) onto a little red wagon and together we toted them back to the soap room. I really can’t think of anyone else who would be willing to do that for a crazy pregnant lady! Thanks, Mom!

Surprisingly, it all fit into my work space. We had to purchase shelves for the soap to cure on and began putting those together.

We  immediately ran into our first problem. My supplier for rope was not able to accommodate my urgent need for (what I thought at the time was) 2500 feet of rope. I went with a new company and paid big  bucks to have the rope shipped in from Chicago. Big mistake, but we’ll go more into detail in my follow up posting on this adventure.  The rope they sent me was horrible quality and frayed everywhere, like giant cotton balls. In other words, it was not going into the soap. After an entire morning of talking to rope guys who clearly thought I was insane, I found a local rope company that had enough rope and a rope cutter on hand for what I needed. A short 45 minute drive brought me to rope paradise. Ya’ll. I know a LOT about rope now. If you’ve got rope questions, I’m your girl. So, we bought this handy dandy rope cutting machine that sears the edges all nice and stuff. 

We had to make a couple more trips for rope after that, and I think the grand total was 4,000 feet that got cut up into around 18 inch strips to be inserted. This was a group effort. I cut a little, Brent cut a LOT, my mom cut a little, and Brent’s aunt Ellen cut some too.

Next it was time to start making the soap!

Once all the oils, lye water, and other additives made it into the pot, it weighed somewhere around 25-30 pounds. After making around 500 bars of soap (filling 11 boxes) it was becoming clear that I could not make all this soap on my own. Aunt Ellen came to save the day…actually about four days, hefting those big jugs and boxes of oils and measuring them all out for me. All I had to do was stand up, mix, pour into the molds, and sit back down to insert the ropes…one by one. Thanks, Aunt Ellen!!!

pouring into molds.jpg

Each filled box got stacked on the floor and pretty soon we had some pretty tall towers going. It’s best to insulate the soap in the molds for at least 24 hours to make sure that it has thoroughly and evenly begun to saponify.

soap molds filled and stacked.jpg

Once the soap cooled, usually around 36 hours later, it was unmolded and ready to slice.

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Eventually, we had to buy some more slicing supplies and Brent and I sat and enjoyed many hours of each others company while slicing soap.

We ended up fitting almost all of the green soap (1250 bars) onto one rack, but the lavender oatmeal soap got spread out pretty much everywhere…

soap man.jpg

Some of it got to sit and cure for a while, and some of it just had to be shipped raw. It will have plenty of time to cure as it goes through the packaging phase and the shipping phase and the warehouse phase, I’m sure. We really weren’t that comfortable with such a short deadline, and for sure won’t do it again!

We rolled stacks of soap in bubble wrap and brown paper and packed it securely in boxes. Brent spent several hours getting it all onto the pallet and ready for the 18 wheeler to come back to pick it up.

finished pallet.jpg

This project literally took over our lives for 3 weeks and we are so. relieved. it’s. done.

We made a lot of mistakes, did a lot of troubleshooting, and learned a lot of lessons (which will be maybe tomorrow’s post). There should be an awful lot of clean and pampered pooches out there though.