Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With environmental and allergy sensitivities continuing to rise, the market is awash with demands for alternatives to chemically laden commercial soaps and shampoos.
Debbie J. Wamboldt of Milton is working at shaving off a portion of that market with her homemade soaps.
The Queens County mother herself has product sensitivities and began making her own soap six years ago. She's since turned her small production into a full-time business.
"I used to buy natural soap," says Wamboldt. "One day I decided to make my own, and after a bit a friend of mine said I should sell my soap, because it's really nice."
Since then, she's expanded her product line to include salves, bath salts, bath bombs, laundry soap, dishwashing bars, shampoo bars, dog shampoo bars, lip balm and teas.
She sells the product under the brand name Mini's Soaps, chosen because her nickname is "Mini".
Most of her products are vegan and organic with the only exception being those made with honey.
Wamboldt credits growing up on a farm with developing her interest in herbs and natural remedies.
She, her husband, Chris, and their two children now live on a 27-acre plot of land that includes mainly woodland., with some area cleared for their home and gardens.
Most of the ingredients for her products come from their land, and are combined with essential oils.
"I've always kind of had a knowledge of natural medicine because that's how I was raised, and so I decided to incorporate that into my business," she said.
She learned the actual process of making soap by watching YouTube on the internet. But her recipe comes from an old book about a Mediterranean homestead that contained instructions on making soap with olive oil.
"I'm always researching what plants are good for your skin and things they do to your skin," she said. Ocean water and sea salts are good moisturizing agents for example.
"I'm always looking for ingredients to incorporate into my soap that is healing or that have different properties to help your skin. It's a constant experiment. I like to say that my kitchen is one big science lab."
One of her most popular soap creations is called Driftwood, which blends geranium, Ylang Ylang, cedar and wild rose. Wamboldt describes its aroma as akin to being on Queens County's Summerville Beach on a summer day.
While the products may stand on their own merit, she wasn't taking any chances with the home business and undertook a business course to help her with her marketing. And as her youngest child heads off to school this fall, she'll be looking for wholesalers and ways to expand her distribution economically.
Wamboldt acknowledges there's a lot of competition in the home soap industry, but she's confident she's been able to set herself apart from the others, basing her business around her lifestyle and what she herself uses the products for.
She points to a recent camping trip as an example.
"I was able to bring along a dishwashing bar so I don't have to carry a bottle of dish soap, and I have a shampoo bar so I don't have to carry a bottle of shampoo," explained Wamboldt.
"All of it is environmentally-friendly, so we don't have to worry about it. All of the things I make, I use myself," Wamboldt said.