As a result of two completely disparate events, I decided to try my hand, once more, at soap making. When Peter and Ashley were here last week (with the boys), Ashley and I talked about soap making. She’d made some and we talked a bit about that. I still have some books here, including one given to me by my mother, bought when she used to make her own soap with reclaimed animal fats (it was good stuff!), and since it had been years since I’d made soap, I gave her a couple of the books. I still have other books here on the subject and the ones I gave her won’t be missed.
The second event was the fact that I had a couple of days off this week. Our conversation about soap making led me to go hunting online, where I found a couple of simple soap recipes for which I had most of the ingredients.
Making soap always sounds incredibly intimidating to people. When I posted on Facebook that I’d made a couple of batches of soap, the comments were interesting: “Are you going to share the recipes on your blog? You make it sound easy – but – then you make knitting look easy too!” and “It’s only easy for someone with your talent”.
When you stop to think about it, though, the process of making soap is all about the chemical reaction between oil and lye. The process involves, at its very basic, using a water and lye mixture to turn the oil to soap. Yes, you have to be careful because lye is caustic. Simply, all you do is add the lye to the liquid (never the other way around), stir it until the lye has melted, then adding the liquid mixture to the oils and stirring it all together until a custard like mixture has formed. At this point, colourings and scents may be added and the entire mixture poured into molds until firm. Really, that’s all there is to a basic soap. Those creative souls who make artisan soaps take it further and add all sorts of lovely things to their creations (my favourite is made with vanilla and oats). I decided to start with basic soaps as they can be used for anything, from washing your hands and hair (yes, the Cococnut Milk Soap is suitable for using as a shampoo bar) to washing your windows and mirrors (and they won’t fog up when you shower).
I did need to pick up a few supplies because any utensils used for making soap shouldn’t be used for anything food related. I have bowls and pots galore but use them regularly so I decided to make a trip to my local second hand store, Bibles for Missions, to search for the perfect vessel for mixing the lye and liquid, as well as an immersion blender. I managed to find both, and both were on sale!
The immersion blender is an Oster stick blender; the blender attachment separates from the body for easier cleaning and only cost about $5.00. It was marked at $8.00 but, as I said, was on sale. The popcorn pot is like a large flower pot and heavy enough to withstand the temperatures of the lye/liquid mixture (and it does get hot!).
The first recipe I tried sounded very rich and almost decadent. For this one, I did have all the ingredients at hand. Coconut Milk Soap uses one can of full fat coconut milk and refined coconut oil along with olive oil. The recipe directions are very easy to follow and the soap came together very quickly. In the picture below, the bottom pan, with the foil, is the Coconut Milk Soap; the two loaf pans and the muffin cups are the Castile Soap, which I write about below.
The second recipe I made is from the same website — Castile Soap. Castile soap is said to be the mildest soap available, made with only olive oil. It is suitable for all skin types, including baby’s delicate skin, and is great for cleaning as well. Again, the recipe was easy to follow and came together quickly. Within one hour, I had both batches prepped and made.
The batches were made on Thursday and left to sit for 24-36 hours, when they would be ready for cutting. Yesterday, I spent almost the entire day in bed with a migraine but I did manage to check on the batches. By then, they had cooled and hardened sufficiently that I could cut them into bars. Then, I went back to bed.
Now, my soaps need to cure. The Coconut Milk soap should be ready to use in about two weeks while the Castile soap should cure for about six weeks. As with all soap, the longer they can dry, the harder they become. As a note, with handmade soaps, you should always keep them somewhere that gives them the opportunity to completely dry between uses (not in your shower soap dish, for instance). The dryer they are, the longer they last.
In the foreground, 16 bars of Coconut Milk Soap; in the background 20 bars and 5 cupcakes of Castile Soap – enough for a few years, I’d say.
I will need to turn these daily to give them the opportunity to dry evenly and, once completely dry, and white, they’ll be stored in a dry place, each wrapped in tissue paper. Perhaps, they’ll even be given as small gifts to appreciative recipients.