Hello again! Look at me on a blogging roll! It feels awfully nice to be here with you again, and I do so appreciate you hanging around to chat with me.
Okay, so I have been wanting to make soap for ages and ages but every time I started looking into it I’d get to the cautionary statements about lye and think… well…. maybe not.
And then some time would go by and I’d see rows upon rows of gorgeous, creamy, smelly-good soaps at farmers markets or craft fairs, or I’d see that another blog friend had given it a whirl with gorgeous results, and I’d think…. well… maybe.
I’d read up on it all again, get to the lye and…
Finally though, this last time that I got that soap-making itch, I traded a few emails with my very talented and kind friend, Alice. She kindly shared a recipe with me, along with some videos, and links. She answered my questions and most importantly gave me encouragement. I could do this.
And so we jumped.
The method we used is called “cold process” soap. That just means that you don’t bake it and so it has to cure for several weeks after the making.
We bought three 1X4s and built a couple of molds like these (only ours are half the size). This is where my children learned that mama can wield a saw and make a box, but no one said she could cut a straight line or make a box that had no gaps in the corners. Ahem.
No matter. That’s why you line the dern things with freezer paper. Alice pointed me to this video and it helped greatly in getting nice tight liners.
Mind, I didn’t say they were pretty.
Next we set out to find all the supplies for Alice’s recipe, which was mostly olive oil, coconut oil, distilled water and a little beeswax. And… LYE!
The first bits were easy to find. If you’ve got a COSTCO nearby they sell big honkin’ jars of coconut oil for a reasonable price. I got my beeswax from Hobby Lobby and it melts beautifully and smells divine. I could bathe in it. Really. Ha! I will tell you though that beeswax is not the easiest thing to cut. It’s pretty hard actually. I’m sure it’s for this reason that they sell something online called “Beeswax Pastilles,” which is just beeswax already in little bits that you don’t have to cut up.
The lye threw us a bit. If you buy it online you have to have a valid passport, a clean criminal record and sign away your first born. And then you end up with 87 pounds of stuff that you can’t store or throw away and you have to live with it forever and ever amen.
Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not much.
If you call around asking people for lye they will worry that you’re starting up a meth lab in the neighborhood, and they’ll also tell you they don’t have it. For the most part, they’re speaking the truth (about the not having lye part, I mean). Sometimes though, they just don’t KNOW that they have it because the jar doesn’t do a good job of coming out and SAYING that it’s lye.
After driving all over creation and irritating a whole bunch of people with our weird request, we found it at Lowes (which, by the way, is in walking distance of our house). Look in the plumbing section for something called “Roebic Crystal Drain Opener”. On the side of the can it says 100% lye. Bam!
At this point, all we needed were the tools: a 2 quart glass measuring cup that you won’t ever use for anything else, plastic solo cups, 2 big hard plastic spoons (like for serving), a big metal pot that you will never use for anything else, a kitchen scale (Target, $24), a stick/submersible blender that you will never use for food, a kitchen thermometer that will heretofore be dedicated to soap-making (note: I used a glass candle making one and during clean up it fell apart. I don’t know if this was the lye or just a faulty thermometer, but next time I’m using a metal one).
We had all of that but the scale and I’d been meaning to get one of those anyhow, so I feel like we got going pretty frugally.
At this point, there was no turning back and nothing at all to do but go for it.
According to Alice’s directions, we carefully measure out the ingredients saving the lye for last. I measured everything but the lye in plastic cups.
We donned bandanas over our faces, goggles, and rubber gloves. We may or may not have also worn rain boots.We measured it on a table outside, directly into the big glass measuring cup. Poured in the distilled water, stirred until the crystals had dissolved and then ran back inside before it ate off our limbs or the neighbors took our pictures in that get up.
We mixed up the rest of the ingredients in the big metal pot on the stove. When everything was melted together nicely we took it off the burner and waited a while. We started testing the temperature after a few minutes and when it came down to 120 degrees when put on our safety gear and went out to test the temp of the lye. It was a bit higher so we waited a while longer and prayed no one called the cops. We certainly must have looked VERY suspicious. Eventually, both pots were in the neighborhood of 110 -120 degrees.
We took the oil pot outside, stirred in the lye and then took it back in where we mixed well with the stick blender.
It was like magic watching it go all creamy and smooth. Saponification! Chemistry! An excuse to call craftiness “homeschooling”! Hooray!
Eventually it looks like cake batter. If you hold up the blender and wiggle it, it makes lines on the top that take a while to sink in. That’s called “tracing.” Once it’s doing that you can add color and scent.
I added lemon to that first batch and while it smelled like lemon cake as we poured it into the molds, you can hardly smell it at all in the finished product. Apparently we either didn’t add enough, or it’s just a case of citrus oils not “fixing” real well in soap without some other ingredients. Oh well. The oils and wax smell great all on their own.
At that point, we poured it into the mold, covered with a cutting board and piled on the towels and blankets. The stuff heats up some and it needs to retain that heat to work properly. We kept sticking our hands in there to feel the sides of the mold getting all nice and warm.
Now you have to walk away for 24 hours.
Once you’ve paced and hoped and prayed and crossed everything you’ve got for all those long hours, you open it up, lift it out and slice.
This was such a proud moment. And the cutting? Oh people, it is satisfying in the most elemental kind of way. Like being a kid again with a brand spanking new tub of playdoh in your favorite color.
It was so very satisfying that we gave it another go with a different recipe (originally found here)
7.9 oz Coconut Oil, 6.3 oz Lard, 15.9 oz Olive Oil, 1.6 oz Castor Oil, 10.5 oz Distilled Water and 4.5 oz Lye.
We added several drops of Jasmine and Lavender essential oil to this one, and it smells faint, but so good, like the vague scent of flowers on a breeze through the window.
This time I had to share the cutting privileges. They caught on pretty quickly to how fun it is.
These bars will have to sit for 4-6 weeks and I don’t know how on earth we’re going to keep our hands off them for that long!
The lard batch turned out just as lovely as the first. We really can’t decide which we like better. The earthy rich beeswax scented first batch or the creamy white second. I guess we’ll have to use both! Work work work!
Honestly, I think we’re going to have to figure out new ways to get dirty so that we can use all the soap that we’re planning to make next.
I hope that helps those of you who have been wanting to try to get into soap making. Feel free to ask questions!