December 9, 2008

Soapmaking Report

No telephoto lens here...this is how close Mama gets when we give her peanuts. She sometimes wraps her little needle claws around our fingers as she is taking her treats.

After searching, unsuccessfully, for a way to make a soap without lye, I finally decided to go for it and attempted two batches. The first batch was an "uh-oh" batch and the second batch was a "yes!" batch. For the first batch, we used a combination of olive oil and coconut oil, scented with orange blossom essential oil. Neal helped me with the first batch, and even though I read and reported to him that all ingredients should be weight measures, not volume measures, we still goofed. We measured the oils in a liquid measuring cup instead of as dry weight because....well, because it just seemed the instinctive thing to do. We did measure the lye properly, in a kitchen scale borrowed from our neighbor, but not the oils. Duh! They write those directions for a reason, you know?

I don't know if it was the combination of oils, the way we measured our ingredients, the way the sun and moon aligned or what, but I just could not get the first batch to come to a full trace. I don't have an immersion I stirred by hand for over an hour. Being too proud to toss the batch and too tired to start over, I poured the mixture into a Tupperware container with a waffle-like pattern on the bottom, covered it with a towel and set it in the guest bathroom. The next morning, the towel had settled in the middle, sticking to the soap, and lo and behold there were little kitty footprints on top as well! And to make matters worse, when I went to release the soap from the mold, it still seemed soft and broke into various sized pieces, instead of coming out in one big block. Here is the finished product curing on my car in the garage. The waffle patterning looks neat and the orange blossom smell is divine.

After doing some more reading and calculating, the next day I tried another batch...alone...this one 100% coconut oil (because I bought a gallon of it!), lavender essential oil and ground oatmeal. This one came to trace in about 30 minutes and when I saw what a full trace looked like, I knew that the first batch had not gotten to that point. I don't know if it's because I only used coconut oil this time, or the way we measured the ingredients the first time, but it definitely traced and hardened like I expected a successful batch to do. This is my "yes!" batch.

For this batch, I used a shoebox lined with wax paper as a mold. It made a nice, uniform block of soap that could be cut easily into squares. Since I cut my bars by hand, they are not perfectly shaped, and one of them split on me. Can you tell which one?

Both batches will need to cure for about six weeks, so I won't really know how successful my attempts were until then. In the meantime, I ordered a digital kitchen scale on Ebay and plan to get the immersion blender so that I will be more adequately prepared for the next batch. Overall, I am quite satisfied with my experimentation, especially the second batch, and I hope to perfect a basic recipe enough that I can continue making soap not only for us, but for friends and family, too.


Suzan said...

Lilla! This is way cool! I have only a bit of a clue about what you are describing ie "trace" and such. I'm gonna try this come quiet January and may need to email you for advice so be prepared.

Lilla said...

Suzan - trace is reached when you can drizzle the soap mixture from a spoon and see a "trail" or "trace" of it sitting on top. It has to do with the consistency. I am by no means an expert soap maker, but I'll be happy to share what I've learned with you. It really is quite fun!

Compostwoman said...

Well done!

I have made cold process soap, many years ago now!, but at the moment I am just using organic melt and pour with additions as I have a small child who gets into anything, the more dangerous , the better..and I really didn't fancy trying to work with lye with her around!

Soap looks good.....will you try to rework the "poor " batch, or just leave it?

Sorry I didn't respond to your post on my blog a week or so back, I lost it.... :-(

Lilla said...

Compostwoman, thanks for stopping by. I decided to leave the "uh-oh" batch of soap to its own devices and see how it turns out. It seems to be curing quite nicely and may actually be just fine. It doesn't look so pretty, but who cares about that as long as it works like soap?