It's funny how some things seem like chance but then end up being the thing that sets your life in a new direction. Twenty years ago, Crystal Decker belonged to a book-of-the-month club, where she received a new book each month in the mail. One of those books was all about how to craft homemade soaps and the benefits to using a handmade soap over a commercially processed product. She thumbed through the book, intrigued with the idea. But when she read that soap making was not a craft to make with small kids underfoot, she shut the book and stuck it on a shelf. She had three kids under the age of four. Forget worrying about lye on the kitchen counter -- Crystal simply didn't have time to get into soap making, though she did love the idea of it.
But the idea stayed with her. As her kids grew, Crystal began collecting books about soap making. She devoured book upon book upon book. For years she read all about the craft, dragging her ever-growing pile of books off the shelf, poring over pages, until she'd think to herself, "I have no time for this!" and then she'd put the books back on her shelf, only to repeat the process a few months down the line.
About 12 years ago, her sister Pat put an end to the charade. "She asked me if I was ever really going to make a batch of soap," Crystal remembers. That proved to be the catalyst for Crystal finally delving into the craft. She went back to her books, picked out a recipe, and set about crafting her very first batch of homemade soap.
The results were disappointing. "I wouldn't even try it," she said laughing. "It was ugly and it didn't smell nice." She had used an all-liquid recipe utilizing olive and canola oils, and she remembers thinking she must have done something wrong because the soap just looked awful.
Thankfully, Pat wasn't ready to give up on her sister. She took a bar home and tried it out. Pretty soon, she called Crystal and told her that it was, hands down, the most amazing soap she had ever felt on her skin. "She told me to figure out how to make it look better and smell nice," Crystal said. She once again hit the books and the internet, redoubling her research efforts. "I realized there was a much larger soap making group out there than just me," she said. "Educating myself and research consumed my life." She still had her kids at home, though they were older now, and she still worked part time, but soap making became her creative outlet. "I was hooked from that point on ... researching and finding new scents and essential oil blends to make it smell better, trying different oils and butters to make it firmer, and testing a few minerals to make them 'pretty,' " were all part of her her creative process.
Eventually, she ditched the recipes she found in her books and created her own formula through a lot of trial and error. She moved away from an all-liquid recipe and experimented with a variety of oils until she found a recipe that all of her friends and family members raved about.
She uses three main formulas, including a goat's milk soap and a sea salt soap. She uses an old-fashioned cold process to create her soaps. "I make the same kind of soap people have been making for hundreds and hundreds of years," she said proudly. Each batch of soap is made in small batches, hand measured, hand stirred and hand poured. Her soaps are made up of easily recognizable ingredients, so you know exactly what you're putting onto your skin: avocado, castor, sunflower and coconut oils, beeswax, cocoa and mango butters, lanolin and oatmeal, coconut shell powder and poppy seeds for exfoliators. "I use the highest quality, earth-based ingredients I can find," she said. She doesn't use synthetic dyes and all of her fragrances are paraben- and phthalate-free.
Her soaps are what she calls "super fatted," which means her end product contains way more moisturizing and healthy oils than a store-bought, commercially processed bar. Her bars also contain 25 percent glycerin. Glycerin attracts moisture to your skin, and is a natural byproduct of soap making. However, commercial manufacturers remove the glycerin so they can use it in other, more profitable products, or sell it. "When they pull out the glycerin, you're basically left with a detergent," she explained. And that detergent-like bar of soap is very drying on your skin.
Lots of people make homemade soaps in their kitchens, and lots of people sell those soaps at area craft fairs and farmer's markets. One thing that sets Crystal apart from other homemade soap crafters is her commitment to being a Colorado Proud soap maker. To bear the Colorado Proud label, 50 percent of the product must use ingredients grown and processed in the state of Colorado. After more research and after learning that Colorado is one of the top producers in the nation for sunflower oil, Crystal settled on using a sunflower oil that is manufactured on the Front Range. "I very much believe in supporting local as much as possible," she said. Sunflower oil is chemically very similar to olive oil, which is the ingredient most often used in homemade soap recipes, but sunflower oil produces more of a sudsy lather in the finished product, she explained.
While the biggest benefit of her soaps is an ultra-rich moisturizing cleanser for your skin, Crystal's soaps have the added bonus of looking and smelling amazing, too. Many of her friends say her soaps are like "art for the shower." Her most popular scent is ginger lime, a soothing, calming soap that features gorgeous swirls of orange and green. She has a killer Tahitian vanilla bar, and a zesty, sweet, refreshing mint lemonade soap. Her Cold Snap is a spicy blend of orange, clove and pine; Grumpy Grampa features a delightful blend of lemongrass, ylang ylang and patchouli. Her Bare Bones is a creamy, natural-colored soap that features absolutely no added fragrances, colors or exfoliants.
A few years ago, satisfied with her soap creations, Crystal decided to try her hand at other products. She has a line of moisturizing lip balms in fun scents like root beer, pink grapefruit and peppermint. She has a line of solid lotion bars made with beeswax, which coats your skin in a layer of super silky, deeply moisturizing hydration. She also makes bath bombs, which feature mango or cocoa butter and sunflower oil, plus aromatherapy scents to make relaxing in the bathtub an extra special treat.
A while ago, Crystal decided to take her hobby to the next level and try her hand at making a business out of her craft. She came up with the name Dirty Water Soap Works, and has been crafting her amazing homemade products ever since, to the delight of an ever-growing fan base! Her products are available locally in limited supply at Ace Hardware and Rocky Mountain Hair Designers in Delta, or at www.DirtyWaterSoap.com. You can also follow her and her soap-making adventures on Facebook and Instagram.
Thanks to the efforts of state Rep. Millie Hamner, House District 61, Colorado State University plans to re-open the Rogers Mesa research site.
The facility was taken out of operation in 2011, due to budget cuts throughout the CSU system.