Today I took my maiden voyage into soap making.  My goal here is not to tell you how to make soap, merely document my experience today.

I was given some handmade soap which I found to be quite luxurious.  I then became curious as to how soap was made; I did my internet immersion (and I would suggest you do so as well); purchased basic supplies from Bulk Apothecary; and did other things to make time for this project.  Today, I found enough time to make the soap.  As I don't want my first batch of soap to be ready in 2+ months using cold process, I elected to use a hot process vis a vis the crockpot.

There are lots of recipes online for soap.  I wanted to do something with oil that I had on hand:  coconut oil (76deg), grape seed oil, olive oil, canola oil.  I also had some yellow beeswax for another project that I'll tell you about some other time.

Soap making is like baking--it is a science and requires basic ratios of stuff to make it work.  Old hands will say they wing it, but when you wing it, you are successful because you've got lots of experience. SoapCalc is an easy interface (a marvel really!).  It is a measurement and diagnostic tool that will allow you to dial in your ingredients to get a 'soap bar quality' that meets your needs.

After an inordinate amount of time futzing around with percentages of oil yielding sub-par overall qualities, I laid out all of my oil ingredients in Excel and input the profile of each ingredient so that I could eyeball where changing proportions would move the needle on the profile elements.The table shows the qualities of the oils that I had planned on using(from SoapCalc). SoapCalc also has a downoadable Excel file that you can find here. I messed around with the ratios until I was able to get within the recommended ranges.  I'm high on cleansing and low on creamy.  The INS is at 160 as an ideal (according to the calculator), so I feel that I'm okay.  This is after all a maiden voyage.

Once you have your percentages to get to the ideal soap profile, you have to decide on your yield.  I decided 3 lbs.  It turns out that is about 2 loaf pans worth.  Below is the SoapCalc recipe using the ingredients I selected. As a note:  I think that I have too much coconut oil and that this percentage might be overall drying according to which I think has a great overview of soap making. lbs, ounces and grams!

 I have an electronic scale, and I measured everything precisely. The scariest thing about working with this stuff is the lye. (I've worked with many noxious chemicals, but not one that burns instantly through your skin). Here's a good recap of precautions to use.   I used a clear, plastic cup, but I noticed that the static electricity made some of the granules (little that they are) jump about onto my table. Much like those little beads in bean bags--they have much static electricity in them.  That was a surprise. (Note to self--use a different measuring vehicle!)

I mixed my lye to water in a stainless steel container (an asparagus cooker which is very tall and narrow--perfect for keeping the noxious elements nestled below casualty level!) sitting in snow outside.  Lye to water  or "L" before "W" is a necessary step.  Otherwise bad things can happen.  Noxious fumes were released, and I stood well away.  No breeze today, so no danger there. It began to boil and the container got very hot and started sinking in the snow.  Yep....that hot. I have a post on the container.....

After mixing my oils together, including my beeswax grains which were floating around whole,  I realized that I had no idea what the melting temperature was for beeswax. is higher than the oil melt point at 144.  My crockpot temperature was much higher (235F) than the 170F top end recommended for bees wax.  However, I don't think that there were any ill effects from this.  Why did I used wax?  I needed it as a hardening agent.

To determine if saponification, the process of the lye turning the oils to soap  (why isn't this word "soaponification"?!), has been reached there is something called a zap test (touch tongue to cooled sample).  Personally, I would prefer a less 'tongue on' approach.  I bought some pH strips just now on Amazon.

I see admonitions about not using your soap making tools as anything else.  However, I used stainless steel tools, and I can see no way these could be compromised. What was left in the crockpot was soap, so I'm unsure how this is a problem.  Silicone based spatulas or molds and any plastic items should be fully reserved for soap and nothing else.

I had some annatto seed powder, so I dumped a couple of teaspoons in for color.  I ladled the soap into silicone loaf pans that I put inside glass loaf pan for stability.  I bought these at a salvage store, so they were very cheap.

All in all it was an interesting project.  I'm looking forward to making more batches--and developing a feel for doing it naturally v. having to ape the directions.  Below is a picture of a finished bar up close.  It really is a lovely color, and I will certainly use this again.  I have a concern that the whitish spot on the lower third may be a spot of incomplete saponification. 

It was a cool day and I put the containers on the deck to cool.  They hardened quickly, and I cut them withing 4 hours of making them.  I did a test run of a piece of soap, and I'm very happy with the lather and feel. 

Update:  I've been using this soap to clean--yep clean!  It has very good cleaning properties.

Other post-post comments--safety thoughts.  I have my safety monitor vest on--

  • Pouring lye mixture into oils:  pour lye over a spoon to prevent plopping. (Of course you have your safety glasses and gloves on.)  I've seen this done in many videos, but no commentary about it.
  • Immersion Blender:  One should use great care in using the immersion blender.  I have a larger crockpot, so my mixture was shallow.  I used the lid as a shield between me and the blender until it thickened.
  • Fumes:  Beware of the fumes from a covered crockpot that you uncover (as well as your lye mixture initially).
  • A watched pot does not burn: 3rd soap batch boiled over.  Enuf said.


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