Sunday, 22 November 2009

Demystifying Soap Making for Beginners

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hi everyone!

I'm feeling quite pleased with myself today because this weekend I made soap from scratch for the first time!

Soap making from scratch has always felt very daunting to me. Simply because it just sounds complicated.

Firstly, one doesn't measure but weighs. So rather than the usual 1 cup of (say) olive oil, one has to weigh the ingredients.

Secondly, almost every instruction out there seems to be full of caution about the use of caustic soda. I had half convinced myself that if handled incorrectly, it would explode.

And finally, there seems to be a huge emphasis on being precise. (And once again, I somehow got the impression that by being imprecise, then the whole thing could explode.)

All of the above combined can be very daunting for a newbie like me and prevented me from trying it out. Instead, during my no buying brand-new year, I made my existing soap supplies last longer by adding oats. (Instructions for this can be found here.) Much later on, I bartered for homemade soap in exchange for some sewing repairs.

All this is very well and good - indeed, by adding oats or by bartering, I managed to last 3 years of not buying soap and only using homemade soaps. However, after a little bit of encouragement, a friend of mine finally convinced me that I *can* make soap from scratch.

So here's a little thing about demystifying soap making.

Firstly - the weighing thing. My friend brought over her kitchen scales and we weighed our ingredients that way. It is a little different from baking or cooking but not that hard.

You need two medium to large saucepans - one to make lye water and another one to mix oils.

To make lye water

Lye water is just water and caustic soda. I poured 330 grams of cold water into the saucepan and took the saucepan outside. I then slowly poured 130 grams of caustic soda.

Now to demistify, the caustic soda.... I had forgotten that I actually have handled this in the past - to clean drains! We bought caustic soda from the local grocery shop (Woolworths) in the cleaning section. Caustic soda can be dangerous - but no more dangerous than handling any very harsh cleaning product. The soda is not a fine powder - it actually has the consistency of rock salt.

When you first pour the caustic soda in the water, nothing seems to happen. As I stirred the mixture (using a plastic spatula), I noticed that as the caustic soda slowly dissolved, the saucepan and spatula got hotter. Not burningly hot (mind you, I didn't put my hand in it) but the saucepan was noticeably hot to touch (think of toast when it first pops out of the oven - that hot).

As it dissolved, it also gave off a chemical burning smell. It was a good thing I was outside! The smell only lasted a minute though. Once the caustic soda has dissolved, then the smell pretty much disappeared.

And once its dissolved, then that's it! You have lye water. Set the saucepan aside.

To blend the oils

In the other saucepan, we mixed together 300g of macadamia oil, 400g olive oil and 200g of avocado oil. (Reminder - like the lye water, weigh the oils - do not use the measurements). We heated this mixture up on low heat for about 5 mins.

Turn the heat off and make yourselves a cup of coffee (or beverage of your choice).

The purpose of this step is to make sure that the lye water and the oils are the same temperature. Our instructions said both mixtures should be between 30-40 degrees celsius (86-104 degrees Farenheit).

Now we started off using the thermometer but in the end, we just used our hands (not directly into the lye mixture of course! just touched the outside of the saucepan).

Once we felt that the mixtures were about the same temperature, we poured the oil into the lye water. Note that the recipe said to pour the lye water into the oil mixure BUT we thought using the larger saucepan (the one that the lye water was in) was the better way to go.

Mix lye water and oil mixture

Next we used a bamix (stick blender) to blend the lye water and oil mixture.

As we mixed, the lye water and oil mixture started to bond. When the consistency turned into that of whipping cream, we added our essential oils.

Here we didn't measure as precisely. We added about 15 mls of sandlewood oil and 10 drops of tea tree oil.

When the mixture's consistency was that of a light custard, we stopped mixing and poured the soap into molds.

We covered the mold in a plastic wrap and stored it in a cool dry place. We now need to let the mixture sit for 24 to 36 hours.

This is a photo of mine after 7 hours (it was already hard to touch on the outside):

The full recipe with additional notes are here:

So there you go - no explosions and best of all, I realised how easy it actually was. Really, soap making is just 4 steps....and one of those steps involved sitting down and having a chat over coffee!

Anyway, I'm sure my first batch of soap won't be perfect (after all, we started off being precise but kinda went downhill after that) but I'm hoping that it will do the job!

I hope you have all had a lovely weekend.