Soap Making & Living Simply after Cancer Strikes

This week I am so pleased to bring you a guest post from artisan soapmaker of more than ten years experience, Ros Wathen of Larkrise Soaps, about her inspiring journey to more natural living.

My family had always lived a fairly healthy life, cooking from scratch, growing our own vegies, keeping chooks, making bread, preserving and bottling fruits and vegies.  We lived this way because it made us happy, and it was the way my parents and theirs had always done things.

Then ten or so years ago my eldest son developed cancer while in his mid-twenties.  How could this be?  No-one in our family had suffered like this before, and the only difference I could see between the way my children grew up and lived and the way my parents did was the amount of artificial stuff present in the environment, in processed food, in cleaning products, in makeup, in plastics, everywhere!

So I decided to try to live without as many of these substances as I possibly could.

As our food was fairly chemical free anyway, I started by teaching myself to make soap.  I was amazed firstly at how much fun it was to make – handling natural ingredients and combining them to make a beautiful product was like a miracle.  I remember squealing with delight and dancing around the house as my first batch started to saponify.  The soap was such a revelation, and loved by family and friends alike, that soon we had a small business going, selling at farmers markets in our little town and those nearby.

I continued experimenting with natural cleaning products for around the house.  We haven’t bought toilet cleaner for years because bicarb soda and vinegar are perfectly good.  Neither have I used shampoo or conditioner. Natural handmade soap followed by a rinse with apple cider vinegar does an excellent job of keeping our hair clean and shiny, and our scalp healthy.

I love experimenting with ingredients and so eventually mastered all the variations of soapmaking. I tried transparent soap.   I learnt to make liquid castile soap.   I tried hot process soap, making little balls, layered with different colours from various herbal ingredients, sometimes from our garden.

Soap balls from Larkrise Soaps | Sustainable Suburbia

Once I dug up my rhubarb plant and ground the root to soak in olive oil for a few weeks, straining the resulting mess through a cloth. The outcome?

Gorgeous pink soap.

From this:

Rhubarb Roots |

Came this:

Pink soap making from Larkrise Soaps |

Experiments with purple cabbage, (failure), grated carrot (limited success), parsley (ditto), beetroot (failure).  As you see, I’ve had a succession of witchy messes in what is laughingly called the laundry.

I noticed after one of my experiments that the stainless steel pot I was using was always startlingly gleaming when I’d cleaned up.  I mixed some of the new soap with some bicarb and tried it on the old kitchen toaster.  Amazing!  I could see my face in it with only a few rubs.

Toaster cleaned with cleaning paste from Larkrise Soaps |

This was a very exciting development for me, because I realised that now I could really clean the house without buying any commercial products at all.

And so that’s what we do.

We have natural handmade soaps for personal use in the bath and shower and as shampoo.

We have home made spray cleaner for the shower glass, the toilet. and the ring around the bath.  If there’s accumulated grime, we use cleaning paste. We have liquid castile soap for handwashing.  We use general purpose liquid soap for almost everything else.  I won’t use conditioner.  I can’t make it myself (it’s not soap) and so-called natural conditioner bases always seem to contain something dodgy.  Anyway, the apple cider vinegar does an excellent job.

I couldn’t be more pleased with these products, and have just recently added them to the list of items we sell on our little farmers market stall.  They contain no toxic substances at all, and not even anything called ‘plant derived’.  We’ve decided to offer them fragrance free, or perfumed with essential oils.

A footnote to this story – my son is now cancer-free.  Modern chemicals do have their application for ‘good’!


As usual this post will be shared over at the Lovely Jess’s I Blog On Tuesdays.

  16 comments for “Soap Making & Living Simply after Cancer Strikes

  1. May 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I’ve always wanted to make my own soap. I usually buy a few bars from my husband’s boss who makes it regularly and sells them at markets. I need to get back into making homemade cleaner. It saves money and is so much better for you.

  2. Sarah B
    May 13, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Loved reading this post and hearing of your journey Ros. The pink soap via your rhubarb plant is gorgeous!

  3. Ros
    May 13, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Oh thank you! Nothing in my garden is safe from experiments 🙂

  4. May 13, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Wonderful news to hear your son is now cancer free. You really have a talent there for soap making. I’ve always wanted to try making it. It looks like fun 🙂

    • Ros
      May 13, 2014 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks Renee. You should try it. It’s quite exacting and challenging, but very rewarding. The end product, truly natural cold process soap is superior in every way to manufactured soap, and with the added satisfaction that you’ve made it yourself and you know exactly what has gone into it!

  5. May 14, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Great to hear that your son is now cancer free. I think living in this modern world is a balancing act between using modern and old style approaches to living. I use 90% natural products at home but it doesn’t always work, medically I will always try natural remedies first but always have the backup of modern medicine when needed. Your soaps look divine!

    • Ros
      May 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks Eleise. You’re right I’m sure. It is a balancing act. And no matter what we do we’re going to come into contact with chemicals we don’t want on or in our bodies just through our everyday lives. But using the most natural products in our homes as well as consuming the least processed foods must help a lot I think. We’re so lucky to have the advantage of modern medicine and when I look at my healthy family I know I have a lot to be grateful for. It’s a matter of having as little of the unwanted chemicals in ours and our children’s bodies as we can possibly manage I think.

  6. Nicole
    May 14, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Inspiring, funny, strong story. The mess and experiments sound like great fun. Happy to hear you are all healthy and living a rich homemade life.

    • Ros
      May 14, 2014 at 6:22 pm

      Absolutely right Nicole. We only get one chance, don’t we? Thank you for your lovely comments 🙂

  7. May 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Oh this makes me want to try making soap. Especially if I can get rid of shampoo and conditioner.

    • Rs
      May 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      It’s certainly fun and rewarding. Give it a go!

  8. Ros
    May 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    …make that Ros of course!

  9. Antoinette Santoro
    May 14, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Ros, Great to hear your son is ok. Have just found your website and love it. Love your home made soap. I think I will try to make some.

    Take Care

    • May 24, 2014 at 8:52 am

      Hi Antoinette, Thank you for your kind words. Making your own soap is so rewarding. It’s fun to do but the main thing for me is the beautiful end product, which is so much nicer than store-bought soap. Good luck!

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