This morning, with its chilly rain, my friend and I made soap together. It was her first experience with this chemistry experiment, but I have made soap for my family for several years now as I prefer it to all commercial soaps available.
Using non-food grade olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable shortening and lye you can make a basic, moisture-rich, scent free soap. Please be sure to use sodium hydroxide with no additives, you may need to use an on-line supplier for this ingredient. There are several soap making supply companies on the web for you to purchase from if you do not live in a populated enough area to have a large supply store.
To give your soap some character you can add: scents with essential
oils or fragrance oils; color with powdered herbs, spices, cocoa, or synthetic solid or liquid colorants; grit with oatmeal, corn meal, pumice, etc. These ingredients can cause skin irritation or allergy reaction in sensitive people, so be sure to read up on the specific ingredients you want to add and its effects to recognize a potential reaction. Discontinue use of that soap for that person. Being aware that it can happen is important.
Use stainless steel bowls, stainless steel whisk, and slotted wooden spoons as they will not react with your soap. Rubber scrapers are fine for the oils and at the end to move the soap into molds; I do not use it on the lye solution. Lye is a caustic alkali, it has the ability to cause severe burns. Vinegar should be on hand to neutralize a splash or spill of the lye. When you pour the lye into the cold water do so in a very well ventilated area or outside, be sure to keep your face away from the solution. The smell and any splashing are dangerous! Place the lye solution in an ice water bath to cool it to the same 95-98 degree temperature range. When both bowls reach this temperature, you are ready to proceed.
So this morning’s soap making wasn’t as straight forward temperature wise as that description belies. The lye cooled down so fast I was shocked. The oils heated nearly half again the temperature they needed to be, so they had to be cooled as well, which took time and allowed the lye solution to cool even more. After several rotations of oils and lye between the ice water and the stove top (double boiler) we were finally ready! Oh, your scenting oils should be as close to the 95-98 range as possible too; using the water bath to warm it is the simplest method.
So, how can this be fine to use on our skin? Chemically, the oils and the lye combine or saponify and create soap. By stirring the combined ingredients you encourage emulsification and the changes to color and consistency ensure you are on the right track.
You can add the warmed scenting oils, colorants and coarse fillers by removing 1.5-2 cups of the liquid soap and adding the items to this, then pouring it back into the main pot, stirring to combine. Much like gravy I am told – that is a food I have not made – so those of you that are expert gravy makers should have no trouble with this step.
We were making peppermint scented soap. Last night I went out to the garden to pull about four cups of mint, dehydrated it over night and crushed it to about 1/2 cup of dried leaves. The stems would have been too coarse for what I wanted, so I removed them prior to drying and used just the leaves. Through the years I have used lavender flowers, calandula flowers, and a variety of herb leaves from my garden to color and identify my soap. Be sure what you add is completely dry as it could have an adverse affect on your soap if it isn’t fully dehydrated. Your soap should begin to ‘trace’ when you are ready to pour it into the mold. This is the visible line that is left behind when soap is drizzled onto the top of the mixture.
There are fancy plastic molds and large, commercial-style molds you can get to make hold your soap while it finishes becoming soap. Or, you can recycle square or round empty containers, most of which are plastic, to do the job. Either way, I grease the mold and line it with a plastic grocery store bag to prepare it. (Should I relate it to baking a cake and greasing a pan or do you see it for yourself? Yes, we are really just cooking here.) My favorite molds are the rectangular bins from baby wipes as they are a great size and easy to use.
Uncover your soap, let it sit for another day or two and then remove it from the mold, pulling the plastic bag carefully to avoid pulling apart your still moist soap. I have a dedicated knife in my supplies to cut the bars while they are still fresh. Sometimes I will make soap balls (just like making snow balls, but warmer) to vary the look of the soap.
Living clean has never been better. There are many recipes on-line to give you ideas if you don’t know what you want to start with. Over the years I have made bath salts and candles to go with my soaps. They make fun, distinctive gifts. One friend has a husband that makes and hunts with bows. We created a woodsy smelling soap that he uses for a couple of weeks before heading out to hunt as it seems to allow him to get closer to his prey. There are many reasons to try making your own soap. I am interested in making my own lotions and chap sticks soon.