Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tangent: Soap Making

One hobby I picked up a few years ago when I was living in California working at a bakery (or I should say slaving at a bakery), was making soap. I have memories of my crazy Aunt making her own and giving it as gifts. My mom and I loved it and I think it's a great hobby to get into; it involves working with many different ingredients with different properties, it's slightly dangerous, and it keeps you from buying something else overpriced at the store. I choose the hot process method as it's much speedier and doesn't require you to dry/cure the soap out for weeks before use.
Here's a little primer for making soap using my process:
Using the web and books, you can find info on what quantities and percentages of certain vegetable oils to use. I keep notes on each recipe just like beer so I can reference it and how each soap turned out for further recipes.
Recipe for today:
13oz Pure (not extra virgin) Olive Oil
10oz Coconut Oil
7oz Safflower Oil
7oz Sesame Seed Oil
2oz Castor Oil
.75oz Lemongrass essential oil
152gm Sodium Hydroxide (lye)
12oz Water
-Disclaimer: Lye is pretty dangerous stuff to work with; I've only been burned with it as a dishwasher but never making soap. Just be careful and don't make soap with kids around.
1) First I mix up the lye and water by adding the lye to the measured water. Stir for about 30 seconds and then walk away. You'll see some smoke produced and a pretty caustic smell; make sure you have good ventilation. Return to the room in a few minutes and continue.
2) Measure out all your oils and either premelt the solid ones (coconut, shortening, most nut/veg butters) or melt them in your crock pot.
3) Warm up the rest of the oils in your stock pot with the setting on low (being sure all solid fats are melted), and stir in your lye solution being careful not to splash.
4) Use a hand held or burr blender and mix the solution moving around slowly until it becomes opaque and thickens like pudding. At this point, put a lid on crock pot and cook, stirring every so often for 1 hour. (always keep track of what utensils touch the lye solution/soap as they need to be cleaned thoroughly. Most folks claim you need a separate set of spoons and mixing utensils for making soap, but I don't bother)
5) Once the soap looks like it's separating, with the liquid glycerin floating on top, stir it back in. You'll notice it looks just like apple sauce in texture. Give it another 15-20min of cooking.
6) And now for the old-school method: pull some of the soap out with a spoon and cool it off. Touch a little to your bottom lip and taste it: if it burns or really stings, continue to cook. If it just tastes like soap, it's done.
7) Let your soap cool for a 10-15min and then add essential oils and any other additions (oatmeal, flaxseed, sesame seeds etc) and pour or scoop into a mold. I use my utensil organizer as a mold lined with wax paper (or parchment if you have it).
8) Give it a good 24-48hrs and pull it out. At this point you can slice your soap and use it but I find if you slice it and let it cure for another couple weeks it will be harder and will last longer.
Give it a shot, make up your own recipe, it's great fun and a very useful skill. I haven't bought soap in over 4 years and have enjoyed the variety and quality of homemade all vegetable oil soaps.

Lye Calculator
Basic Instructions

1 comment:

  1. Nice work! My wife makes soap and we love it. Her last batch was grapefruit, rosemary, tea tree, and shea butter. Great stuff!

    Maybe I'll bring you a bar to trade when we fill the bourbon barrel.