This spring my daughter and I made soap. We’d wanted to do this during winter break but weren’t able to, so in the interim we planned our formula and gathered our ingredients. When spring break arrived, we finally had everything ready and found the time.
We hadn’t made cold process soap in a long time, and the last time we did, we rendered our own tallow from beef suet. That was a lot of time consuming messy work! This time we made an all vegetable oil soap. The oils we used (in order from highest to lowest percent) are:
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Palm Oil
- Almond Oil
Cold process soap making is accomplished by mixing a pre-determined amount of oils with the correct amount of lye in relation to the oils’ weight, to achieve a chemical reaction known as saponification. In the pre-internet days, one had to use a calculator to figure out the correct amount of lye to add to the oils. I learned the math from a book called The Natural Soap Book . These days there are online lye calculators to do the calculations for you, which makes things a lot faster and easier, and allows for quick changes to a formula. We used the calculator at Bramble Berry. We also purchased our lye from them. They have it in a new, safer to handle flake form which doesn’t carry a static electricity charge like the older pelleted form did. As you can see in the following pics, lye is a dangerous chemical, and all appropriate caution should be taken when handling it. We have no small children in the house but we still put up a warning sign. Protective gloves are an absolute must, and the lye must be placed in a well ventilated area away from people. Lye heats up a great deal after water is added, to almost 300 degrees, and is mixed with the oils when cooled down to around 100.
Some of the basic necessary tools for soap making are:
- a scale
- a thermometer
- molds in which the liquid soap can harden
- Stainless steel, glass and ceramic utensils and bowls
There are many online resources for learning about soap making. Brambleberry has educational videos and sells most of the needed items.
Here are some pics from our soap making day:
It’s a fact that making an all vegetable soap is a little trickier than using fat rendered from an animal. Olive oil in large amounts can cause trouble in the soap pan, and we did experience that on our soap making day. We calculated for a 10% super fatted formula, meaning that a certain amount of fats will remain unsaponified in the pan, which makes for a very mild and moisturizing soap. It also means that a smaller amount of lye is used in relation to a large amount of fats, which can arguably slow down the soap making process. The fact that our scale isn’t digital, which means a certain lack of precision in weighing the lye and oils, could also be a contributing factor to the problems we had getting the mixture to “trace”. Tracing is a term used in soap making that describes the condition of the oil/lye mixture when a spoon full of it is scooped up and takes a few seconds to sink back into the rest of the mixture. It’s basically a thickening that signifies that the mixture is turning into soap and is ready for additives such as essential oils and oatmeal, and that it’s ready to be poured into molds very soon.
Our mixture never traced, which was worrisome. We had some ground oatmeal that we wanted to add to the soap, which we didn’t because of this problem. We also had some fancy molds that we wanted to use, but didn’t. We did add honey to the mixture, which is supposed to speed up saponification but didn’t in our case. We re-heated the mixture on very low and poured it into the some basic molds that we lined with freezer paper and hoped for the best. Part of the soap making process is that it requires heat to complete saponification. For this reason, the molds are covered with heavy blankets and insulated as tightly as possible in order to build up and conserve the heat from the mixing process. At this point I didn’t think the soap would solidify, based on the lack of tracing during the mixing. I really thought it would still be liquid when we took a peek at it 24 hours later. It was solid! What a relief! Here’s some pics:
And here’s what the bars looked like after a couple of weeks:
The soap turned out good after all! It’s very mild and makes a good lather. We’ll probably carve them into smoother, more conventional “bars”, (which should be fun!) and melt and re-mold the rest.
We probably won’t be needing to buy soap for the next 2 years, and since we got an amazing deal on the olive oil, (it was on closeout: a $16 bottle for 4.25!) this was also an economical endeavor!
Thanks for reading 🙂