Soap maker listens to customers, keeps product simple, fresh, natural

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What started as a hobby 21 years ago has become a thriving business for Kris Laszlo.

“I made soap for Christmas gifts one year and it became my obsession,” Laszlo said. “I didn’t really like my job. I was working at OSU and I was bored with paper pushing.”

Laszlo, 67, left working for OSU in 1998, and began her business the following year.

“I’m retired now, but not really because this takes up all my time,” Laszlo said.

When she moved from Columbus to Rockbridge in the Hocking Hills 10 years ago, Laszlo even built a soap-making room in her basement. Her business, With Nature in Mind, sells soap to local southeastern Ohio retailers and online.

The process of soap making can be quite dangerous, as the maker has to add oils and then add lye, or sodium hydroxide. Lye can heat up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit when added to room-temperature water, but will burn the skin at any temperature. It must be the same temperature as the oil solution to be mixed in and form a reaction, Laszlo said.

After mixing, she adds essential oils to the soap and continues to mix it to thicken the consistency. Once it is “at trace,” or ready to be poured without becoming too thick, Laszlo pours the soap into a mold.

It takes about an hour to make a batch of 64 bars. After 24 hours, they can removed from the mold. Then the soap must be cured for four to six weeks to fully set the lye.

Many chemicals are used in soap making, Laszlo said, but the maker determines whether they are organic. Large manufacturers often add detergent to soap, which can be rough on the skin.

The difference between natural and manufactured soaps, Laszlo said, is that manufactured soaps often remove glycerin, a chemical that makes the skin soft.

“I don’t want to work with the chemicals, so I know the people don’t want them, either,” Laszlo said.

She said there are quite a few other soap companies in southeastern Ohio, but they come and go.

“There are big peaks where the competition is crazy and then dies down again,” Laszlo said. “I’ve ridden it out.”

Laszlo said her soap is all natural, which is pretty common in the handcrafted soap industry. The quality of additional chemicals varies, however, as Laszlo said she uses only essential oils in her soaps and tries to make it as organic as she can.

She works on her business every day and produces soap two to three days a week. Natural soap has a shelf life of about two years.

Patchouli and lavender are her best sellers. Other scents include calendula carrot oil.

Each soap bar sells for $5.50, but the price might go up soon because the ingredients are becoming more costly, Laszlo said.

She makes other natural products, including “body butter” and lip balm, but prefers making soap.

“I still give out soap for my Christmas gifts, and my family loves it,” Laszlo said. “I just have a love for the natural world and the outdoors, and it just fits into what I love to do.”

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