Monday, 26 May 2008

Home made soap

I am having some trouble typing tonight. Not a problem with my computer but with Lulu (chief cat) being in attention seeking mode. She is walking back and forth across me and my laptop. She knows that something is going on. She always gets restless when she sees suitcases about the place. She is adorable though and is mummy's girl so I put up with it.

A friend sent me a recipe for soap. I don't know where it came from but it looks really good and easy to follow. I love the photos too. Nice and simple. I really want to make soap but I am nervous. This looks like the recipe I can follow though. Now I am on the look out for a suitable thermometer.

Note: these are weight, not volume measurements
6 oz distilled water
2.25 oz lye (sodium hydroxide)
10 oz olive oil
6 oz coconut oil
1 tbl/0.45oz Castor oil

The tools you will need are:
- safety goggles to protect your eyes
- thick rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms from the lye (wear long sleeve shirt, long pants, and socks if possible so none of your skin is exposed in case there’s a splash/spill)
- a good scale for weighing the water, lye, and oils. it should measure down to 0.25 oz, and preferably have a “tare” function which allows you to reset the reading to 0 after putting a container on the scale, or after you add each ingredient so you have a clean reading of how much of the next ingredient you are adding
- a instant read digital food thermometer to measure the temperature of the lye water, oils, and the soap mixture
- two heat proof 4 cup/32 oz glass measuring cups (e.g. Pyrex or Anchor brands), one for the lye & water solution, the other for the oils
- plastic, ceramic, or glass bowl for measuring the lye
- plastic or silicone spoon for stirring (wood is not recommended because lye will “eat” it away over time)
- stick/hand blender or stainless steel whisk (if you use the whisk be ready for a good arm work out)
- small cardboard box or plastic container to pour the soap into
- plastic bag, plastic food wrap, or wax/freezer/parchment paper for lining the container so the soap is easy to remove
- knife for cutting the soap after it solidifies

Caution: do NOT use nonstick, aluminum, cast iron, or tin pots/pans, containers, or utensils because they will react badly with lye and ruin both the soap and the tool. Also wood is not recommended for repeated use because over time the wood will eventually break down from coming into prolonged contact with lye.

The instructions for this basic recipe is for cold process soap making, which doesn’t require cooking the soap after mixing the oils and lye water together. This method takes less time while making the soap, but requires longer curing time (3-4 weeks minimum) before the soap becomes neutral and mild enough to use. In contrast, the hot process involves cooking the soap mixture in a stock pot or double boiler for a few hours which speeds up the neutralization process but also takes longer to make the batch

At a high level, cold process soap making is pretty simple - mix lye with water, mix lye water with oils, pour mixture into container, cut solidified soap, and let cure for a few weeks. Below are the detailed steps:

1. line the container with plastic bag/wrap or wax/freezer/parchment paper

2. put on your protective gear - goggles and gloves
3. weigh the lye - pour 2.25 oz of lye into the bowl
4. weigh the water - pour 6 oz of distilled water into one of the glass measuring cups
5. pour the lye into the water slowly and stir to dissolve - this generates a lot of heat and will give off fumes (just stand back a bit or hold your breath while stirring). Never pour water into lye as this will cause a strong reaction and the splash/eruption can incur serious injuries. Set aside the lye water to cool. You can reduce the amount of cooling time by sitting the measuring cup in a cold water bath in the sink, or by freezing the distilled water into ice cubes beforehand, which also seems to reduce the fumes generated when lye is added.

4. weigh the oils - scoop out 6 oz of coconut oil into the other glass measuring cup, follow with 10 oz of olive oil, and 1 tbl/0.45 oz of Castor oil. Melt the oils in the microwave - start with 1 min, then 30 second increments if needed. Avoid overheating the oils because it will take longer for the oil to cool than the lye water.

5. measure the temperature of the lye water and the oils - if they are within 20 degrees (usual range is 90-110 degrees), then it’s OK to proceed. If the oils have cooled down too much, you can warm it up a bit in the microwave - use 30 second increments and avoid overheating. I’ve never had the problem of the lye water being too cold…

6. pour the lye water slowly and carefully into the oil while stirring. measure temperature of the mixture.

7. use the stick blender or the whisk to stir the soap mixture until it reaches a thin pudding or gravy like consistency - when you lift the stick blender/whisk out of the soap mixture, the drippings should leave patterns on the surface of the mixture instead of disappearing completely. Another way to confirm the soap mixture has “traced” is to check it’s temperature - if it has risen a couple of degrees Fahrenheit, you are there (this is a great tip from the book “Smart Soap making” by Anne L. Watson). The stick blender will take a few minutes if not seconds (depending on the power of the blender), the whisk might take up to an hour if you have weak arms like mine.

8. pour the soap mixture into lined container, cover with plastic wrap. let it sit for 2 days.

9. 2 days later, check the soap with your goggle and gloves on (because the lye is not fully neutralized yet and may cause some skin irritation). if all went well, it should look solid and relatively smooth. take it out of the container and cut into bars with a stainless steel knife. if the lye water separated out of the soap mixture and is floating on top, or if the soap is crumbly or has shiny crusts - something went wrong and it’s lye heavy - do not use. I’ve only read about these issues, since I haven’t had a single batch of lye heavy soap having followed the recipe exactly.

10. cure - let dry for 3-4 weeks, turning daily to ensure even drying on all sides.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely! I saw those photos and recipe on a blog somewhere too a few weeks back. I'm trying to find that blog again. Would you be able to ask your friend where it came from?

    Thanks! Keep up the great work!


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