Friday, May 30, 2008

I'm a Lyer, Illustrated Version

A few months ago I posted about making soap. Here is a more detailed version of the process.

I start by assembling most of the ingredients and the equipment. This takes very little time because I keep most of it organized in this big ol' container in the garage. Note: All pots and mixing bowls as well as stirring spoons must be made of non-reactive material such as glass, enamel ware or stainless steel. I use wooden spoons for stirring but I have two that I use only for soap making. Do NOT use aluminum or cast iron.

Olive, canola and coconut oil plus water and lye are the basic ingredients. They all have to be measured by volume. (I love this scale.) I keep a spray bottle of vinegar handy to neutralize any lye that might get on something that I don't want it to be on.

After carefully measuring out 12 ounces of lye and 24 ounces of water, I take them outside to mix them together. The lye is always added to the water and not the other way around. This prevents any volcanic type eruptions.
I got the bright idea today to use some ice cubes as part of the water. It did not help and caused the lye to bind together and need more stirring.

The solution will turn white and immediately heat up to a little over 150 degrees. The fumes are awful and highly toxic which is why I do this outside. Today it took over an hour for it to cool down to the 100 degrees it needs to be for mixing with the oils. That is because it is over 90 degrees here. When the weather is cooler, it doesn't take quite as long.

While the lye solution is cooling, I measure and mix the oils. This scale allows me to be precise. I can set it back to zero before adding each oil so I don't have to do any math. 36 ounces of olive oil (I went a little over here and took out .35 oz.), 12 ounces of coconut oil and 40 ounces of canola or peanut oil. We save the oil Stephen uses in his deep fryer. It makes great soap. The saponification process gets rid of any rancid smell. Also, I use the cheapest olive oil I can find, although it is all pretty expensive right now. It doesn't have to be EVOO.

Then I decide what fragrance I want to use and mix the essential oils. I don't use any synthetics with the exception of sandalwood which I don't use very often. It is very expensive and it is such a subtle fragrance that it takes a lot of to get any smell at all.

This time I divided the batch and used a mix of lavender, lemon and orange oil in half and and mix of clary sage, rosemary and lavender in about half. I saved about a cup and a half to which I added a few drops of rose absolute.

Then I waited, and waited and waited some more for the lye mixture to cool down to 100 degrees at which time, I heated the oils to 100 degrees so that it could all be mixed together. I like to do this in my sink because this makes height is more comfortable for me to stir it.

Time to get out the boat motor and let 'er rip.

I use the stick blender to mix the oil and lye together. Remember, this is oil and water so it doesn't go together easily. Today, it traced pretty quickly, within 5 minutes. Trace is when the mixture gets thick enough that the mixer starts to make a trail in in and if you drop and drop or two if the mixture on its surface, it makes little dimples that just stay there. When that happens, it is time to mix in the essential oils and pour the soap into the molds. I always use the boat motor to mix in the essential oils just to make sure that they are fully incorporated. Some of them will change the viscosity of the product and make it set up faster or slower. You need to work pretty fast after you mix them into it.

Here it is in my fancy schmancy plastic molds. Until a few months ago, I lined cardboard boxes with wax paper for molds then cut the bars after the soap set up for a few hours. I found these molds on sale and they have made this a little easier. The only catch is that I have to put the molds in the freezer for a few hours in order for them to release the bars. Four weeks from now, it will have saponified (cured) and be ready for use. I test it with ph strips to make sure that is is in the 9ph range but this really isn't necessary. The older the soap, the lower the ph.

This recipe makes a wonderfully soft and fine lather. I have tried adding other oils to it to make a harder bar but the oils separated and the bars look weird. My apologies if I sent you some of the weird looking soap. It works fine. The soap is close to true white unless I add an essential oil such as vanilla which turns it brown or a clay or colorant of some kind to change the color.

Some of the ingredients for making soap are a little hard to find. It seem that lye is used in the manufactoring of meth and other illegal substances. I used to be able to get it in the grocery store and then in hardware stores but now I get it from Texas Natural Supply. You have to sign a waiver stating that you are not using it for illegal purposes or making it available to anyone who is and they will ship it to you just about anywhere in the lower 48. I also get all of my essential oils there. Their prices are great and the quality is very high. It takes quite a bit of essential oil to hold its own with the lye and the saponification process so quality and price are very important.

Soundtrack for this post: Splish Splash by Bobby Darin


Brave Sir Robin said...

That's so cool.

How difficult is the clean up procedure?

seventh sister said...

I guess that depends on how big a mess you make. I try to keep from dripping things around. If you get any of the lye or the essential oils on wood surfaces, you can kiss the finish good bye. I usually rinse all the bowls and measuring cups thoroughly and put them in the diswasher. You have to get all the soap off of them first or you can get a Doris Day car in the swimmng pool effect. Iput the big pot in the dishwasher if there is room. It usually only takes me 10-15 minutes to clean up. You might want to wear rubber gloves to do it but I usually don't. Of course, if you use wooden spoons like I do, you willl need to designate them for soap making only. And, You must use only non-reactive pots and mixing bowls such as glass, enamel ware or stainless steel.

seventh sister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brave Sir Robin said...

Does it cure at room temp.?

seventh sister said...

Yes, I usuallyu leave it in the garage or in a closet after the first week. I just make sure to mark a calendar with the date it will be ready for use.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I don't mean to be dense (or a pain), but I'm fascinated by the process. What is the ph when you pour it into the molds? (Do you use a ladle?) How do you use the ph paper on a dry soap bar?

I wonder if you just used chilled water instead of actual cubes if that would work? Or was it the fact that the water was cold that caused the lye to not want to go into solution?

(When making beer, it is important to chill the wort as quickly as possible to avoid bacteria, so I pre-chill one gallon containers of water to add right after the boil, I was thinking this might work for soap.)

Does the essential oil act as a sort of catalyst to start the saponification, or does it just change the ratio of fat to lye?

You made a comment about other oils and a harder bar, is it the type of fat used that determines the hardness or the ratio?

Do you strain the fryer oil before using it?

Last question, I promise! Would a fat that is more solid at room temp (i.e. lard, duck fat etc..) make a harder soap, or would it be rancid and nasty? Can you imagine the luxury of bathing in scented duck fat?


Thanks for putting up with my naivety, I've always wanted to do that. (make soap) I have a friend who makes glycerin soap, but this sounds way, way better.

Have you ever made paper?

seventh sister said...

Glad to answer as many of your questions as I can. Right now the ph is 14. I use a pyrex bowl with a spout on it or a pyrex measuring cup to pour the soap into the molds. I moisten the soap and then touch the ph strip to it.

I used the ice because I was hoping that starting with colder water would speed the time it took the temperature to cool down so that I could mix it with the fats but it got just as hot anyway. I could have used room temp water and it would have been the same. I do use filtered water because ours has a LOT of minerals in it and I don'tknow how that would affect the soap and I'm not sure I want to find out.

The essential oil changes the fat to lye ratio a little and you could discount the amount of fat you start with to make up for it but I usually don't. I have no idea why some of them seem to make the soap set a little faster but they do. Lavender has this affect.

Yes, amimal fats such as lard do make a harder bar. I tried using it once but you can't get lard that has not been partially hydrogenated and I got a coating of soda ash on the soap. Same with a Crisco type product. You don't know exactly what oils you are getting with that and you don't know how to adjust the lye/water ratio. There are saponification tables online to help with this stuff but if you aren't sure what kind of oil you have, they aren't very useful.

I strain the used oil unless all the sediment has gone to the bottom of the jug.

I have never tried glycerin soap. It is a pain from what I can tell unless you use melt and pour in which case you aren't really making the soap and I am not into that.

I have taught soap making classes and if you want to email me at jackieatjackiegastondotcom I'll be happy to send you all of my class stuff including the recipe for this soap.

lime said...

i've wanted to try this for some time but i've been a little intimidated.

so how many bars does that recipe yield?

seventh sister said...

30 to 40 depending on the size of the bars.

I can understand your intimidation. I was too for a long time partly because a friend told me that I'd have to have a pot and other equipment that was only used for soap making. This is not the case. You just have to use non-reactive things and make sure you wash them thoroughly after use.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i have a big ass box of plastic molds that were designed for chocolate. i never use them.


seventh sister said...

Thanks for the offer MB, but I don't think so right now. I habe just about had it with the plastic molds and am thinking about giving mine away and using some flat wooden ones. I have had some problems getting the soap to release and I think it was easier to cur the bars by hand.