Saturday, May 31, 2014

How Long Does It Last?

I get asked that question all the time – about the soap bars, the lip balm, the healing salve, even the soap dishes.

Ok, two things.  When you’re talking about how long something lasts there are two different questions packed in there.  One is expiration date – meaning how long until this thing goes bad and can’t be used any more.  Basically we’re talking shelf life, like how long can I let it sit on the shelf in my bathroom gathering dust before it starts to smell bad. 

Two is longevity of use, meaning once I start using this thing, how many days, weeks, months will I still be using it before it’s all used up.

So. The first question is easy.  Some of my products do have a period of time when they are fresh and best used before they start to lose their scent, or possibly the oils will go rancid if stored in such a way that they get hot and/or moist or just forgotten for too long.  These are not set in stone, like a grocery store “use by” date.  Much of it depends on where you are keeping it – the environment.  Just for example, if you are keeping your lip balm in the drink holder of your mini-van during mid August, it will not have the same shelf life as the lip balm that sits on your bedside table all through the winter months.  Common sense mostly, but certainly a reasonable explanation may be helpful.

The second question (once you start using it) is a little more difficult.  If this was a game show, you would definitely be awarded more points to get this one right.

Again, the response sorta starts out with “it depends” and goes from there. Thus we begin the q & a session.  So if this is a question about the soap, then how many people are using it?  How long are your average showers? Do you have a soap dish that lets the bar dry out in between?  Because if both you and your husband use it, and he’s especially hairy and takes half hour showers and then dumps it in a little water-filled dish and it sits all day and night in a little puddle, then guess how long it’s going to last?  But if it sits in a perfectly coifed dish in the guest-only powder room and gets used only for hand-washing on rare social occasions, then it will last a really, really long time.

Same goes for all the other things. Usage and storage is everything. And I’m sure everybody understands all those things up front. Still, they just want a quick one-sentence average reply so that they are assured it isn’t going to be a waste of their money to buy it – like it will disappear in a week, or go bad before you can get it home.

I can’t imagine ever creating or trying to sell something that wouldn’t be the best quality possible, but I do want to give my customers a reasonable answer and expectation of my product. So I give a sort of “average” answer, with the standard common sense qualifier. And for the soap bars, it’s generally two to three times longer than a commercial soap bar. It’s best if used within 6 months.  And will do better if it gets a chance to dry out between uses.  Voila.  Everyone gets it.

And if you need a short, general rule-of-thumb answer on one of my other products? Here ya go.

Balms (all of them: Healing Salve, Shea Butter Balm, Lip Balm): Basically never go bad before they get used up.  There are no water ingredients to grow bacteria, mold or fungus.  However the oil ingredients may go rancid in high heat, drastic temperature changes (that Amazon jungle trek) or if you just stuff it in a drawer and forget about it for three years.  A few years down the road it might start to smell just a little “off” – as rancid oils do.  Not bad for you, but just not pretty. 

I might mention that truly high heat will melt any of that stuff.  The glove compartment of your car in August?  The metal tin gets hot.  And the insides will be liquid.  And it will probably not be in good shape when you open it next.  Um, you probably knew that.

Aromatic Sprays – These are pretty much ditto from above.  Lots of people have these in cabinets or on shelves in the bathroom for years and they are still good.  Although they are primarily water, they are not going to mold or grow stuff.  But some odd years down the road they might start to turn a slightly “off” scent – not the lovely one you started with.  Fragrance and essential oils are officially good for about a year, but I’ve found them to usually last much, much longer without fading or slipping.  Best if used in the first year or so, and don’t expose to heat or bright light.

Dead Sea Bath Salts – Couple of sides to this one.  The salts themselves if left out of the bottle will very quickly absorb moisture from the air and begin to dissolve or melt or otherwise fall apart.  Being 100% natural and only air-dried, they are more fragile than your average table salt which is processed and preserved and chemicalized.  Inside the bottle, they are good for a year, maybe more.  However, the high mineral content of the salt crystals will affect the fragrance elements pretty quickly.  Three months is fine.  Six months and the fragrance begins to morph a little bit, sometimes not much, sometimes sorta weird.  It all depends on the exact minerals of the salt grains in that bottle, and it’s not entirely predictable.  I advise against storing these for a long time.  Just use them up – get soaking already.

Lavender Sachets – These will be fresh and fragrant for a solid.  After that point, they begin to fade, although you will still have scent for even another year, especially if you squish the bag.

Accessories: Dishes and Brushes – These are made of beech wood, which is one of the hardest and most durable woods.  The dishes are additionally coated with a tough poly finsh that keeps them waterproof.  They are not going to get water-stained and moldy right away, but this is much less predictable and more dependent on storage and usage.  Brushes will soften and deteriorate with more scrubbing.  And if you find that they are beginning to collect a bit of black mold from sitting in your shower wet for a year or so, then they should probably be replaced.  I’ve had both dishes and brushes last for years (like 3+) – but it’s only me, not a whole clan in the bathroom.

Accessories: Washcoths, Mitts, Soap Sacks – All of them are machine washable and dryable.  They will go and on.  People tell me that their Great Aunt Millie used to make these washcloths for them and they still have them 2o years later.  All I know is that I haven’t thrown one out – they might be a little bit shabby at some point, but still holding together and working fine.

I think that covers pretty much everything – care, use, storage, shelf life, and whatnot, but if I’ve missed anything or you have specific questions about anything, I’m happy to ‘splain more. Just leave a comment below, message me on FB, ping over an email . . reach me whatever method you like best.