A clean business, and that's no lye

Many of the names Liz Clouthier has given her hand-crafted soaps sound like deserts, but don’t be fooled.

The amaretti, chocolate mint and brown sugar, and spice-scented bars drying in her humble basement workshop smell delicious but are meant for washing, not eating.

Clouthier has transformed her soap-making hobby into a career, and the former computer programmer recently expanded her business to include soap-making supplies.

Clouthier started out marketing 12 varieties of Brown Bag Soap online at Her specialties include cucumber splash, lilac love, oatmeal cake and sweet grass and sage. She also sells oils, fragrances and lye needed to make the sweet-smelling bars. She charges $3.75 per bar or $1 for 10 sample bars.

“I have 10 soaps I make all the time, and at least one or two seasonal ones,” Clothier said.

Clouthier buys the coco butter, coconut oil, olive oil and palm oil needed for the process in 55-gallon drums and distributes them to other aspiring soap makers.

“There is a huge soap-making community here,” said Clouthier, who started Peninsula Soap Makers in October 2001.

This year, she hopes to focus on marketing her products locally — going to craft fairs and summer farmers’ markets.

“I sell over the Internet, predominantly, but there is some word-of-mouth locally,” she said as she stirred oils simmering in a dutch oven.

Making soap is a delicate process, and any miscalculation can result in a ruined batch.

“When you add the fragrance you have to be careful because it speeds up the reaction,” Clouthier said.

Combining fatty acid and lye creates four by-products: soap, glycerine, water and heat. Because making soap involves an exothermic reaction, once the liquid is poured in the mold it will continue to generate heat for hours before cooling.

“It’s supposed to look like instant vanilla pudding when you pour it,” Clouthier said, dumping a batch of oatmeal soap into a wooden mold.

The soaps dry for three weeks before she cuts the rectangular hunk into bars, grooms the edges with a vegetable peeler and wraps them in brown labels.

Clouthier had an artsy streak from the time she was a child, she said, and she is thrilled to be making a go at doing what she loves. She also enjoys knitting, and designs and sells knitting patterns on the side.

“When I was a kid I would steal plates from the kitchen and paint them and carve designs in pans filled with plaster of Paris,” Clouthier said.

Clouthier also hopes to expand to sell lotion-making supplies, she said.

For more information, call 307-8335.

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