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Science Experiment with Hard to Lather Soaps

About a year ago, I bought a puck of Mitchell's Wool Fat (MWF) soap and was not able to get the soap to lather. I researched the crap about of the soap and tried every technique I could find, but the soap would just not lather. I have very hard water. I ended up using the soap in the shower - but even then it was hard to lather.

Then, about six months ago, I bought a tub of Myrsol soap when visiting my daughter in Barcelona and again I just could not get the soap to lather. And after thoroughly rinsing my brush, the soap left a film on the hairs that felt like your hands do after petting a lamb. Myrsol soap is contains no tallow but does contain lanolin.

I kept telling myself it's got to be the water. So, a few days ago, I devised a science experiement - I used the Myrsol soap first with just seltzer water (which just contains carbonated water) and then a second time with club soda (which carbonated water, potassium bicarbonate, potassium citrate and potassium sulfate). For both shaves, I was able to whip up a very satisfying lather and enjoy an irritation free shave. I used my $9 Omega 10066 boar brush.

20200516_185805878_iOS.jpg

20200516_182007651_iOS.jpg

So my hypothesis should be obvious - it's the water.

Because I don't have any MWF, I am looking for volunteers to participate in a second phase of the experiment - this time with MWF. Here are the instructions:
  1. Let a (preferably boar) brush thoroughly dry
  2. Procure some plain/unflavored club soda or seltzer
  3. Fill a glass with a few inches of the club soda or seltzer
  4. Use your MWF with only the water in the glass
  5. Report back your results
Any takers?
 
About a year ago, I bought a puck of Mitchell's Wool Fat (MWF) soap and was not able to get the soap to lather. I researched the crap about of the soap and tried every technique I could find, but the soap would just not lather. I have very hard water. I ended up using the soap in the shower - but even then it was hard to lather.

Then, about six months ago, I bought a tub of Myrsol soap when visiting my daughter in Barcelona and again I just could not get the soap to lather. And after thoroughly rinsing my brush, the soap left a film on the hairs that felt like your hands do after petting a lamb. Myrsol soap is contains no tallow but does contain lanolin.

I kept telling myself it's got to be the water. So, a few days ago, I devised a science experiement - I used the Myrsol soap first with just seltzer water (which just contains carbonated water) and then a second time with club soda (which carbonated water, potassium bicarbonate, potassium citrate and potassium sulfate). For both shaves, I was able to whip up a very satisfying lather and enjoy an irritation free shave. I used my $9 Omega 10066 boar brush.

View attachment 1100996

View attachment 1100995

So my hypothesis should be obvious - it's the water.

Because I don't have any MWF, I am looking for volunteers to participate in a second phase of the experiment - this time with MWF. Here are the instructions:
  1. Let a (preferably boar) brush thoroughly dry
  2. Procure some plain/unflavored club soda or seltzer
  3. Fill a glass with a few inches of the club soda or seltzer
  4. Use your MWF with only the water in the glass
  5. Report back your results
Any takers?
I would try but I don't have any club soda or seltzer in the house...
 
So why the carbonated water? Did you also try just distilled or nursery water?
No - just the club soda and seltzer. I actually let both types of water go flat before shaving. I don't know much about hard/soft water. I just figured that club soda and seltzer would be fairly uniform in pH. I do, however, wonder if club soda might be softer. Perhaps someone else knows more about the chemistry. And I figured that spring water might be too hard. I should have clarified this - sorry.
 
Just my 0.02 USD, but I suspect any commercially sourced water carbonated or otherwise, will probably start out as distilled water and have things added to it to aid in flavor (look at a bottle of drinking water from Wally World for example). That means any issues with hard water that affect lathering (excess calcium) will be reduced or eliminated.

As mentioned above, try your test with distilled water and I suspect you will have the same results.
 
I just found these two threads:


I will next try distilled. Looks like this is a well known solution. Not sure how I missed it in the past.
 

BigJ

Ambassador
I just found these two threads:


I will next try distilled. Looks like this is a well known solution. Not sure how I missed it in the past.
Good move! :clap: :clap:

(Bet this will fix the problem.)
 
Actually, it would be interesting to know what the PH level is on club soda and distilled water. Anyone out there with an aquarium and a PH tester?
 
Two different factors are being discussed here: hardness and pH. Many folks in the past have correlated hard water with difficulty in lathering shaving soaps. That's not much of a surprise as one of the common characteristics of hard water is difficulty in lathering any soap - hand, shower, dishes, etc. In fact, when my water softener stopped working, I knew it as soon as I started showering.

pH, on the other hand, is neither obvious nor have I seen it linked to lathering issues. Our well water has a low pH, which means that it is acidic, and we have had to use a neutralizer to counteract that. When it was acidic, I didn't notice lathering issues, but it did leach lead into the water which is a bigger problem than poor shaving lather.
 
I did a little more digging and found a few articles about the difficulty of lathering soap with hard water - like Water Hardness And Its Effect On Lather - Sharpologist - https://sharpologist.com/water-hardness-effect-lather/. Use distilled water for maximum lathering and pH does not seem to be the issue.

There is a story in the Sharpologist article about a person who claims to be able to lather MWF with hard water. Perhaps this is true but my best guess is that for those of us with hard water, distilled water is the way to go.

I would still love for someone with MWF to give it a go with distilled water. At some point I am sure that my curiosity will get the better of me and I will try, but I sure would like to know the answer before I fork over another $13.
 
I did a little more digging and found a few articles about the difficulty of lathering soap with hard water - like Water Hardness And Its Effect On Lather - Sharpologist - https://sharpologist.com/water-hardness-effect-lather/. Use distilled water for maximum lathering and pH does not seem to be the issue.

There is a story in the Sharpologist article about a person who claims to be able to lather MWF with hard water. Perhaps this is true but my best guess is that for those of us with hard water, distilled water is the way to go.

I would still love for someone with MWF to give it a go with distilled water. At some point I am sure that my curiosity will get the better of me and I will try, but I sure would like to know the answer before I fork over another $13.
I tried lathering MWF with soft filtered water and that didn't make a difference. However, I am getting a sample of another MWF to compare so I'll be able to test it out soon.
 
I live in a town with very good soft water- on the shores of Lake Superior. MWF lathers as well as any other soap I have, better, in fact than some. I do not have to do anything differently than for other soaps like B&M, WK, Stirling, although Tabac and Arco do whip up faster. It does not matter what brush I use, MWF is my favorite soap, so I am convinced that the water makes all of the difference. This is the only soap I have that every time I use it, I think that I could never used another soap and would have been happy.
 
My water has a hardness of 220 and I can lather mwf easily. Just use more soap to bind the extra water minerals/particles and soak your brush in soapy water, use that water to hydrate the lather. If it works for me it'll work for you.

I suspect the problems with mwf are poorly stored/shipped soaps going rock hard and much less to do with the water. From what I've read on it people appear to struggle the most with loading enough mwf on their brush to actually begin the building up of the lather. With everyone chipping in telling them to 'add more water' they essentially end up with not enough soap that's getting drowned into some bubbly runny mess.

i haven't bothered with bottled water as my tap water works. Maybe if I use it the lather will be even better? I doubt it, my pre lather methods nullify any hard water issues but for the sake of back up my statement next time I use mwf I'll use distilled water and report back in. ;)
 
I have a very good filter and use that water for lathering.

Seltzer....well specially now that it's hard to go and buy stuff.....I rather save it for whiskey....:eek2::straight:
 
My water has a hardness of 220 and I can lather mwf easily. Just use more soap to bind the extra water minerals/particles and soak your brush in soapy water, use that water to hydrate the lather. If it works for me it'll work for you.

I suspect the problems with mwf are poorly stored/shipped soaps going rock hard and much less to do with the water. From what I've read on it people appear to struggle the most with loading enough mwf on their brush to actually begin the building up of the lather. With everyone chipping in telling them to 'add more water' they essentially end up with not enough soap that's getting drowned into some bubbly runny mess.

i haven't bothered with bottled water as my tap water works. Maybe if I use it the lather will be even better? I doubt it, my pre lather methods nullify any hard water issues but for the sake of back up my statement next time I use mwf I'll use distilled water and report back in. ;)
This is a very good point too. Need a nice saturated puck of MWF, so soak it overnight and let it expand to fill the dish. Once hydrated it will load easier.

However, if you have hard water using a soft water source will certainly make things even easier:)


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
I use this trick if travelling and water is horrid. Just grab a bottle of water and you are good to go. I am a cold water shaver so that helps as well, JM
 
I had a similar issue with MWF.. couldn't get to lather so I shelved it. later I had a tub of TOBS sandalwood that was almost (80%) gone so I took out the old MWF and chopped into pieces.. I had been adding water to it while stored in an effort to get it going but that didn't do much more that soften it a bit.. I pressed all of the pieces into the TOBS and it nearly filled the tub. I let it sit for a few weeks and viola! I now have a very usable soap that smells nice and works great!
 
i haven't bothered with bottled water as my tap water works. Maybe if I use it the lather will be even better? I doubt it, my pre lather methods nullify any hard water issues but for the sake of back up my statement next time I use mwf I'll use distilled water and report back in. ;)
That would be great - can't wait!
 

steveclarkus

Goose Poop Connoisseur
I have very soft water and both Williams and MWF lather wonderfully. I am moving to another part of the state this summer and you guys are getting me a bit paranoid 😆. I would hate to lose either of those two.
 
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