Sunday, August 4, 2013

I Made Soap - Finally!

Waaaay back in February, I purchased oils and lye from my friend RK who buys such things in bulk (she's a semi-professional soap maker and a beekeeper!). Last week, I finally made a batch of soap! We'd used the last bar from my previous soap-making a few weeks ago, so my friend was kind enough to sell me a half dozen of her bars to get us through until my fresh soap is ready to use. I employ the cold-process method of soap making, which means the soap must "cure" for several weeks before using. Hot-process soap can be used right away, but it's much more difficult to get into a mold quickly enough.

The stage is set....ready to make soap!

I have used the same recipe for the past several years for my everyday soap, altering it slightly if one or more of the oils is unavailable. But it's pretty much the same soap each time. It is a moisturizing, mild bar that suds well and smells clean and fresh. The fragrance is a combination of spearmint, jasmine, lavender and vanilla. RK has been after me to name my signature fragrance, but I have yet to think of a good name. 

Wearing my great-grandma's smock - and safety glasses!

As I was out on the porch mixing the lye and water, my neighbor T walked thru the front gate. She didn't know I was in the porch, so when I called out to her and she saw me with these buggy-eyed glasses on my face, she was quite startled! Poor T!  One thing I learned this time: it takes a lot longer for the lye-water to cool down in the summer. It sure goes much quicker in winter!

Looks kind of like vanilla pudding, doesn't it?

After the melted oils and the lye-water have both come to a temp of about 100°, they are combined and mixed with an immersion blender (the MOST used tool in my kitchen! - altho this one is dedicated solely to soap making). The mixture is nearly at "trace" in the photo. Tracing is when saponification occurs - the chemical reaction that turns a dangerous substance into something helpful. It will look like thick pudding at trace. This is the point at which I usually "super-fat" my soap, adding 2 oz of melted shea butter, which makes the soap extra-moisturizing. But....I forgot to melt the shea, so had to leave it out this time. And, if you like, color can be added at this point as well. I prefer to leave my soap the natural color.

(At this point, if I were to hot-process the soap, I would continue to cook it and buzz the blender in it occasionally until it got very thick. I only did hot-process one time, and decided it was not much fun. The soap was too thick to get it all out of the pan and into the mold, so I ended up having to make balls out of what stuck to the pan. And a lot of the mixture got wasted in the process. Cold-process is simpler, easier and more efficient, I think.)

Spreading the soap in the mold.

Once the soap has traced, the fragrance/essential oils are added, then the mixture is quickly poured into the prepared mold. Depending on the recipe, you may not have much time before it becomes too stiff to spread. This recipe stays soft quite a while. 

Cutting the soap into bars.

About 24 hours later, the soap can be cut into bars. In reality, I use a straight-edge to ensure I don't get wiggly lines, so this picture is kind of deceptive. I did not free-hand it! And I wore gloves. At this point, the soap should not be touched with bare hands, as the lye is still somewhat active and can burn the skin. Usually, once the bars are cut, they are removed from the mold and left to "cure" for 3-4 weeks. Due to the combination of oils in my recipe, however, my soap is still too soft - even after four days! - to remove. 

Why go to all this "work" to make soap when you can purchase Lever 2000 or Dial at the store for a considerably lower cost and effort? First of all, playing chemist is quite fun! Especially when you can startle your neighbor with your buggy-eyes! (Sorry, T!) Also, the stuff you buy in the store is NOT real soap. It is detergent. On me, store-bought cleansers make my skin itchy and irritated. Homemade, lye-based soap has cured my dry skin problems. I am so very glad I learned to make my own soap!

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