One of our goals for the year was to make soap and not buy any for the rest of the year. Well we thought that it was appropriate to begin on Australia Day and we had a great time on our urban farm. However it probably wasn’t the same sort of celebration that everyone else participated in. No BBQ, no beach trip, no parade. Just two wonderful things. Soap Making, and Cheese Making!
So we embarked on the giddy world of lye, vegetable and essential oils, with half a hand of botanicals thrown in. We bought a cold press soap kit from Simply Natural Soap Making Supplies for $45 that had everything in it to make the first 20 odd bars. I am a bit of a kit bloke, mainly because I like to have everything supplied to start with and then find the cheap alternatives afterwards. This is similar to my cheese making hobby. I started off with a simple kit and it grew from there.
There are two types of soap making methods that we researched, melt and cold press. We choose cold press because you do not have to keep going back to a specific supplier to get the necessary ingredients. Most of them you can buy from local suppliers, like the supermarket in the case of oils and the lye, or caustic soda from the hardware store. Here is the process we followed.
500gm Olive Oil
250gm Palm Oil (I know, I know, we didn’t know it came in the kit. Never again)
250gm Coconut Oil
145gm Sodium Hydroxide (lye/caustic soda)
25ml Rose Geranium Essential Oil
2 teaspoons of yellow china clay
Firstly, make sure you have your recipe and ingredients all together and lay some newspaper on your bench-top to stop any mess.
Weigh all your oils and place them in an old stainless steel pot. We bought one from the op shop as well as a spoon and tray to place the mould on.
Measure the water and weigh the caustic soda in separate containers.
Do not mix them yet! Put on your gloves, goggles, and apron. Caustic soda is very corrosive and will burn your skin if you are not careful. You can use a face mask if you wish, however I mixed the caustic soda and water outside and therefore negated any fumes during mixing.
Heat your oil on the stove to 50-60C.
Caution: Then slowly pour the caustic soda into the water. NEVER, EVER POUR THE WATER INTO THE CAUSTIC SODA AS A VIOLENT REACTION WILL RESULT. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. It is quite save if you do it the right way. Also beware that once mixed correctly, it gets up to about 75C all by itself. Carry the lye mixture carefully.
Now you can mix your lye into the heated oils.
Stir the mixture until it reaches trace.
Trace is when it looks like runny custard and you can pile a little on top of the surface and it stays there for a few seconds.
Now, depending on what you mix it with depends on how long before you reach trace. I started off with a whisk and after 10 minutes had enough and broke out the stick blender (immersion) and it took about 5 minutes. Make sure you give the blender a rest every minute to avoid burning it out. We got a bit excited and went past trace to a thicker stage. As it was our first go, we expected a few glitches.
We then added the essential oil, china clay for colour, and rose petals for prettiness (Kim insisted). As we were well past the pouring stage, we had to use an old spatula and fold in the ingredients.
I then scraped it all into the mould that came with the kit, which we lined with cling wrap to stop it from leaking out. In hindsight, we probably didn’t need to do this. You can use any silicon cake mould or even a 1 litre cardboard milk carton. Just make sure that any mould you use is sprayed or wiped with oil before you pour in the soap or you won’t be able to get it out cleanly.
Wrap the mould in an old towel so that it cools slowly. Leave it in the mould for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours depending on how thick your trace was.
Break the soap out of the mould. It will be quite soft, but will harden as it dries. Kim cut the block of soap into 11 bars and said it was quite easy and was like semi soft butter or the flesh of a melon.
Our instructions say to leave it to dry on a rack for at least 4 weeks and to turn each block over daily. I have read on other blogs that the longer you leave them to dry, the longer the soap lasts when you are using it.
When you walk past the laundry where the soap is drying, you really get a wonderful fragrance waft up your nose. Not the over powering type when you walk past the perfume counter in a department store, but a nice soft smell. I can see that soap making will be as addictive as cheese making. Kim will be doing all of the chemistry next time, with me doing the supervision!
We are going to make a basic soap next time with oatmeal in it, and maybe a different colour. As soon as we were finished, Kim went on-line and bought some more essential oil and a 5 litre bottle of coconut oil. We will never be using Palm oil again and will be substituting it with Rice Bran Oil. You can use many different types of oils using the cold press method but you will need a soap calculator to determine how much water and lye you will need to use because each oil have different properties that you have to take into account. Here is the link to a good calculator which also determines how hard or lathery your soap will be. Just follow the sequence and have a play around and you will be amazed at the combinations you can use.
Well I hope you enjoyed our little soap making expose. It was great fun to make, and reminded me of chemistry class back in high school. The lye was quite easy to mix, just give it the respect it deserves and be careful. Kim was paranoid about the lye part, but once she saw how careful I was, she got into the swing of things. Other than that part, the rest is a breeze. Even washing up is fun, because everything is self soaping!
Update (2013): Kim and I now teach Soap Making classes in Melton, Victoria, and have also filmed a video tutorial. You can find course dates, and the video at our workshop website, Little Green Workshops.