Sunday, December 16, 2007

I'm a Lyer

Yep, I just confessed to not always being honest so I may as well come clean.

About six years ago, Stephen said that he had always wanted to try making soap. I had been wanting to try it for years but had been discouraged by a friend who had tried to make part of her living doing it and had told me that you have to had a set of pots and pans that were designated for soap making and that it was a hassle and I don't remember what else. She made it sound like way to much to deal with. However, when Stephen started talking about it, I got on line and started reading up on it. Turns out, you can use any nonreactive cookware that is big enough to hold your soap and any nonreactive vessel to hold your lye solution. After making our first batch, we were addicted to home made soap. It doesn't dry your skin since all the glycerin remains in the soap rather than being milled out like in commercial soap. (Actually, most commercial soap isn't really soap and doesn't claim to be if you read the label.)

Stephen has pretty much lost interest in the making of soap but I have continued to make it. I give away as much as we use. (I have to so that I can keep experimenting. I love working with different combinations of essential oils to come up with new scents.)

Making soap is a process that has to be approached with a certain amount of caution. In order to make true soap, you have to mix fat, water and lye. As the saying goes: no lye, no soap. When the lye and water are mixed together, it puts off noxious fumes while heating up to at least 150 degrees. I always to this outside. Then I mix my oils in my big enamel pot and heat them to 100 degrees just about the time the lye water cools down to 100 degrees. Then I get my trusty stick blender and stir until it traces (this is when it is the consistency of thick pudding and a drop makes an indention when it hits the surface). At this point, I add the essential oils that I have decided to use and pour it into molds. If I have used box molds, I score the soap as soon as it it set enough, usually between three and eight hours. The next morning I turn it out of the molds and set it in cardboard boxes lined with wax paper for about four weeks. By this time it has saponified which means that the acids in the fats have neutralized the alkaline lye and the ph is around 9. Sometimes I use plastic molds to give my bars a prettier shape. In this case, I put them in the freezer the next day and leave them up to 2 hours so that the soap will pop out. Then I put them in the boxes to cure for four weeks. I have a tried and true recipe that has never let me down. This process is known as cold process (CP) soap making and the soap looks something like this:

Today, I tried hot process (HP) for the first time. It was a dismal failure. I screwed up by not putting a lid on the soap while it was in the oven. I used my usual CP recipe as several sites I looked at said I could do but I think that may have been part of the problem. I got a big mess that looked like this after messing with this stuff all day. It looks like this:

It is funky and gunky and illustrates the old adage about home made soap and ugly. I have put it in the garage and will grind part of it up and rebatch it some day when I am really bored. I will try this again with a different recipe and this time, I'll keep a lid on it.

Soundtrack for this post: SS Bathtub, David LaMotte


konagod said...

I went through a phase as a teen where I wanted to make soap. My parents never discouraged my wacky ideas. I distinctly remember that smell now that I read your post. It was funky.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I have always wanted to make soap, too, but lye scares me.

The wonderful smelling, beautiful-looking aspect is very appealing, though, and someday I will try it.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

The CB is beautiful...the HB looks like aged cheese. Good for you for going after it despite the discouraging friend!

Kimberly said...

You are brave! I have a friend who makes soap, and I'm lucky enough to receive a bar every now and then. One of these days, I keep telling myself, I'm going to give it a try!