What to do when waiting on contracts: make soap, of course!
Read on for an amusing adventure of soapmaking, and living vicariously through my intrepid home crafts.
Every soap-making article I read advised that I start simple for my first batch of soap.
Start with a straight castile soap, they said: something with a lot of olive oil plus coconut or maybe sustainable palm oil. That way, you'll learn the basic stages without worrying about too many ingredient interactions.
So naturally, I went ahead and picked the hardest recipe—one with goat's milk (which can scald easily), beeswax (which makes it harder to pour into molds), and honey, (which can provoke a volatile reaction).
Apparently, I'm a "go big or go home" soaper.
I already had beeswax pastilles, cocoa butter, and shea butter from when I made lip balm and lotion 2 years ago, and my latest reading fad has been Nigerian Dwarf Goats, which you can have as backyard pets + reliable milk source (more on them later).
I also had a slightly rancid/stale smelling bottle of sweet almond oil, but the awesome thing about soapmaking is that rancid oils still work, and the saponification neutralizes the rancidity (dunno if that's a word, but we're going with it).
For some reason, the idea of beeswax and goat milk in a bar was appealing to me (natural + nourishing?). There weren't that many recipes out there with both of those together, so slim pickings led me to select this one which doubles as a Shampoo Bar:
Goat Milk and Honey Soap Recipe
Almost All Organic Ingredients
- 9 oz Coconut Oil ($3.97)
- 2 oz Shea Butter ($1.62)
- 2 oz Cocoa Butter ($2.73)
- 1 oz Beeswax ($1.14)
- 9 oz Olive Oil ($5.61 organic [or $1.98 in bulk])
- 5 oz Canola Oil* ($0.73) —not organic
- 3 oz Sweet Almond oil ($2.33) —not organic
- 10 oz Avalon Goat Milk ($1.38 [or $0.36 for 3% Dairyland])
- 1 Tbsp Local Honey ($0.10)
- 4 oz Sodium Hydroxide; Lye ($1.19)
- .5 oz Essential Oils at trace ($0.10)
Total = $20.90 — divided by 9 bars @ 3.5oz/100g each = $2.32 PER BAR!!!
If I use bulk, non-organic olive oil & milk, it drops to $1.81 per bar =D
Compared to these not-organically-confirmed alternatives:
Rocky Mountain Soap Co. = $5.25 per 100g bar
Saltspring Soap Works = $6.95 per 120g bar
Lush = $6.95 per 100g bar (cheapest, and not organic)
I changed a few things on this recipe.
- No sense failing big, so I cut this recipe in half, which makes about a pound of soap.
- Exfoliation is always a plus, so I sprinkled some granulated orange peel into the mold before pouring (scroll to the bottom to see the finished product).
- I couldn't find an economical option for castor oil, so canola oil at $4/L was the way to go. *NOTE: If you're just starting out, don't think you can just swap one oil for another. They have different saponification values—let's tangent a moment for a science lesson...
ABOUT SAP VALUES
Lye. It's one of the strongest alkalis (opposite of acid) around. Back in the day, you'd leach it out of dissolved wood ashes to make soap—yes, they've been using this stuff for 3,000 years. Highly corrosive, and dangerous if you don't use it properly. However. Something wonderful happens when you mix a hot lye solution to hot oils. The oils neutralize the lye, and in turn, the lye saponifies the oil, giving it soapy properties.
Each oil is compositionally different, so it makes sense that each oil has a unique conversion rate with lye. If you're following a set recipe, all you need to do is ensure you use the instructed amount of lye: too little, and your soap will be mushy, too much, and your soap will irritate your skin. If you choose to amend the recipe *cough* hello *cough*, you'll need to run your ratios through a Lye Calculator, which will adjust the lye concentration.
Enough science, let's play.
I'll admit, I was very cautious about using lye. I did a lot of reading to prepare, and bought extra thick gloves (Walmart, $3). Sunglasses worked in place of lab goggles. I also wore a kerchief à la bandit, because #fumes.
First, I measured 5 oz of goat milk and poured into an ice cube tray. That went into the freezer.
Next, I measured out my solid oils: coconut, cocoa, shea, beeswax. I put those in a stainless steel pot on the stove to melt.
Then I measured my liquid oils, mixed together, and set aside: olive, canola, sweet almond.
Then the lye. My digital scale only goes to the tenth of a decimal, which I'm guessing now isn't sufficiently accurate, but it's okay.
When I turned back to the stove, my solid oils had melted completely, and my digital thermometer was reading 170 degrees F. Whoops. I was supposed to keep it between 120-130 degrees. Turn off heat, set pot in a cool sink bath.
Back to the lye: my goat milk had mostly frozen within an hour, so I put the cubes in a mason jar and brought my lye and a spoon outside. Slowly, I combined the two. Almost instantly, the milk turned bright yellow. Yikes. Was it supposed to do that? Why hadn't I prepared the recommended ice bath?! I couldn't leave it to ask Google, so I just kept stirring, and wondering how I was supposed to tell the temperature with the thermometer inside and my gloved hands so insulated. (Later on, I learned that bright yellow means the milk might be scorching, but it didn't smell like ammonia so perhaps it was fine after all).
Back inside, I combined the liquid oils to the pot, and waited until they had cooled to 130 degrees. By then, my lye milkshake had a smoothie-sludge consistency, which was a bit worrying. However, a hand mixer soon blended the lumpy ingredients together, and we were quickly on our way to Soap Soup.
I wasn't expecting the smell. Pudding. Like a warm, nutty custard. I actually salivated. No idea where it came from; if it was simply the combo of oils or that's just how goat milk soap smells?
There's 2 kinds of soapmaking.
Cold process is when you mix your additives and pour into molds as soon as soap reaches "trace" (viscosity like thick batter). Hot process, which I did, you cook and stir past trace so that all the saponification happens in the pot, which means you can use the soap bars faster than cold process (4-6 weeks shelf curing time). The catch, is that you have to be vigilant...
What I didn't realize yesterday, but do now, is that goat milk makes the soap trace almost instantly. I probably didn't need to cook quite so long, or stir quite as much. I was happily following the visual stages: oatmeal, custard, applesauce———then, freakout———it skipped mashed potatoes and turned into waxy dried mashed potatoes. A full 15 minutes before the standard full hour of cooking. ACK!
Sensing the Point of No Return, I quickly scooped my caramel wax into the soap mold, observing with dismay that it seemed to already be hardening. No time to add the honey, or planned cinnamon and clove essential oils.
Too much moisture loss. Apparently, I'd mixed too much. I was paranoid about residual lye, since I'd been too stubborn to pay an extra $5 for PH testing strips at the soap store (Bad Frugality, bad!). But Google tells me I'm not beaten, yet. Once things harden, I could just put it back in the pot, remelt, add my essential oils + honey with a bit of water, stir like crazy, and it should get more soupy. Then I can re-pour and re-mold.
So that's what I'm going to try today. But even if that doesn't work, I still consider it a success.
The whole house smells like pudding.