Lancaster County Soapworks, Etc. is truly a family business. Its owner, Maryanne Schwartz, has been manufacturing quality soaps and other body care products since 1992. Originally a sideline of a retail shop, soapmaking evolved into a wholesale business in 2000.
Maryanne develops and makes the actual products, as well as designing packaging and advertising materials.
Her husband, Bob, takes care of the “engineering department,” building molds, displays, cutters, and actually transforming the shop itself into a great workspace. He’s also our occasional outside salesman and the credit goes to him for starting us off in wholesale. He sold to our first wholesale customer who is still, after all these years, one of our most consistent buyers.
Maryanne and her sister, Tina, have developed what seems to be a kind of dance for soaping days. They have always worked well together and now cooperate in most of the business activities.
Their children (although both are grown and on their own) help out when they’re home. Maryanne’s son, Harry, is our long-distance webmaster. Tina’s daughter, Molly, is more hands-on, often taking care of the heavy lifting and prep work when she’s around.
How is our soap made?
Our process is similar to the soap that was made on the farm each fall to carry the family through the year with a few important differences.
We use all vegetable oils and are fortunate that our ingredients are available to us in a purer form than was available years ago and so our measurements and formulas are quite accurate. The resulting soap is much gentler than Grandma’s was.
So that there will be some extra oils remaining unsaponified, we always err on the side of gentleness and this results in what is called a “super-fatted soap” which is why our soap doesn’t leave skin feeling dried out. Also adding to the moisturizing effect is glycerin which is produced as a serendipitous by-product of the process.
We try to use natural ingredients whenever possible and although we sometimes incorporate herbs and oils traditionally thought to have special healing properties, there is no proof that these properties carry through the saponification process. They certainly don’t do the soap any harm!
Our handmade soaps are also called “lye soap” or “cold process soap.” What many people call “lye soap” is simply soap made with lye. No true soap can be made without lye or another strong base being involved in its manufacture.
The process is correctly called saponification and involves mixing fats (acid) with lye (base) to form soap (a salt). Bring back anything from high school chemistry class?
When soap is made properly, there is no lye left in the soap, however, any “true” soap will be slightly alkaline.
“Cold process” simply means that we melt our all vegetable oils, mix in the lye and add no further heat. There are many processes and this is the one we have chosen.
Our soaps are cured for a period of time after they are made to finish the job of saponification and to allow the excess water used in their manufacture to evaporate.
To extend the life of our soaps, they should be stored on a draining soap dish after use so they can dry between uses.