Bremerton woman recycles cooking oil into soap

12/9/2013 1:00 PM
By Associated Press

BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) — Laura Kneib's handmade soaps might smell like rosemary, spearmint or lavender.

They start out smelling a little like lunch.

"You'll get a whiff of french fries here at the beginning," Kneib said on a recent morning, as she set about making a batch of goat milk-infused soap in her Ostrich Bay home. Kneib poured a bottle of amber-colored oil through a strainer on her counter. A faint odor of fried potatoes drifted across the room.

Like many craft soap makers, Kneib uses vegetable oil as a base ingredient for her products. Unlike other makers, she collects her oil from local family restaurants, where it has already been used for cooking.

Kneib carefully filters the oil and mixes it with lye, water, essential oils and other natural ingredients to create a variety of cleansers. She calls it FROG Soap, an acronym for "From Recycled Oil & Glycerin."

Despite their culinary origins, the finished bars look, feel and smell like something you'd want to rub on your body. Any oily odors have been replaced by herbal scents.

"You get past the whole 'yuck' factor of the french fry oil," Kneib said. "This is proof positive that just because something is earth-friendly, and you're reusing stuff, doesn't mean it has to look ugly and smell bad."

Kneib has built a small business around FROG Soap, but she sees global potential in the concept. Each packaged bar she makes includes more than a quarter-pound of reused material, counting the oil and recycled cardboard wrappers. She estimates she's reused more than 2 tons of material since she started selling soap this year.

If her soap-making methods were replicated nationally or internationally, she believes it could prevent massive quantities of resources from being dumped in landfills.

"The implications of being able to make soap out of waste vegetable oil are amazing," she said. "This can be done on a grand scale."

Kneib, who retired recently from a career in graphic design, has tinkered with soap making for most her life. A trip to a restaurant about two years ago inspired her to try making soap with used veggie oil. She refined her techniques through trial-and-error, searching for the right consistency. Her bars gradually became more appealing and friends urged her to make more.

"And here I am," she said.

FROG Soap operations have since taken over her house. She mixes up soap in a downstairs utility room, pouring it into molds she makes out of old shipping pallets. Her repertoire has grown to include shampoos, dog soap, shaving soap, laundry powder, lip balm and creams. Recently, she developed a fast-acting soap for caregivers to use on clients or loved ones who are difficult to bathe.

Kneib sells the soap through a website, and at farmers markets and holiday bazaars. Her products also are available at a handful of West Sound stores. She's already converted an upstairs guest room into a packing and shipping department, where her one part-time employee helps her keep up with orders.

FROG Soap prices range between $4 and $6 a bar. Kneib declined to share her costs, but said the business earns a healthy profit.

Demand is already strong and growing, she said. On her own, she can produce about 224 bars of soap per day. She expects sales to eclipse her production capabilities within the next year.

Kneib isn't sure yet how much she'll expand her fledgling business. More than anything, she'd like to see the recycled veggie oil soap concept catch on and go mainstream.

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Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/


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