I did it! I made my own cold process soap! I am so excited right now and I don’t even know if it will turn out.
My soap making back story
For those of you who don’t know me, I decided a couple of months ago that I’d like to learn how to make soap, but couldn’t find anywhere near me that taught a class on the cold process method. Well, my mom’s coworker, Darron, has been making his own soap for awhile, ever since he had an abundance of chicken fat that he didn’t want to waste (he raises chickens); and he offered to teach her and I on a weekend I was planning to visit for her birthday. His method was laid back, to say the least. Three ingredients: chicken fat, water and lye. He doesn’t use fragrance - Mom and I came armed with some grapefruit essential oil and dried lavender, though, to fancy it up a bit. He doesn’t bother with superfatting – in fact, he uses a tad more lye than the recipe he’d been following calls for, because he prefers a harder bar of soap. He doesn’t check the temperature of the lye and the fats before combining them to make sure they are in a close temperature range, either. And his measuring scale, which he got for free when they replaced them at work, looks a lot like this old pharmacy scale (at right). But his method seems to be working for him, and since he was our instructor, we did what he said. Those bars are still curing…until close to Halloween, so I don’t know how they turned out; but I do know we didn’t use enough fragrance.
My first try at soap making without a teacher
Ever since that day, I have been reading and bookmarking tons of information and soap making recipes on Pinterest. I purchased two soap making books, an immersion blender, elbow-length rubber gloves and some goggles (Darron had sent me home with some lye). I already had lots of oils around the house, so I looked for a recipe that used what I already had. I found one that used castor, coconut and olive oils; and then ran it through Bramble Berry’s lye calculator to shrink the recipe down to just over 16 ounces. I didn’t want to make a big batch on my first try. And by referencing a recipe in Making Soap From Scratch and using a little math, I calculated how much essential oil I would need for a batch this size. So my recipe ended up looking like this before I started:
Basic Cold Process Soap Recipe
Yield: 16.08 oz
- 0.33 oz Castor Oil
- 2.00 oz Coconut Oil
- 8.67 oz Olive Oil
- 3.63 oz Water
- 1.453 oz Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
- 0.79 oz Essential Oil
Never one to follow a recipe exactly, because my right brain thinks that’s dumb, I decided to use:
- Mint infused olive oil in place of most of the regular olive oil
- Strong black tea instead of water in the lye mixture
- Poppy seeds added at trace for a little exfoliation (and I didn’t measure)
- And I used 1/2 lavender and 1/2 peppermint essential oils
There is a learning curve in soap making
I discovered that my postal scale only displays one zero past the decimal point, so I had to round my recipe measurements up or down. And when I was measuring my lavender essential oil, it couldn’t make up its mind whether I had added .3 or .5 ounces, so I just added enough peppermint essential oil to make an even 0.8.
When we made soap at Darron’s house, I noticed that the lye fumes made me cough, but I didn’t notice them having any real odor of any kind. Well, something about mixing lye with black tea creates an odor that reminds me of a rotten fishy crotch smell – if you are going to do this, I’d recommend covering your nose at all times if you don’t want to gag.
My third issue was that I didn’t heat my oils enough, so they were below the recommended 120 to 140 degree mark (the book recommends this, although people online seem to think cooler temps are just fine)…and my lye was at 135 when I went to cool the oils down in an ice bath. When I got back, the lye had cooled to what looked like 118-119 and I decided there was no more time to mess around, so I poured it into the oils and hoped for the best!
Fourth, when I turned on the immersion blender, the little yappy dog we were fostering freaked out and started leaping up to countertop level, trying to bite the thing, so my boyfriend had to guard the kitchen to keep him out.
And finally, it dawned on me that the Tupperware container I had set out to pour my soap into was going to be too big, and my soap bars would have ended up being thin enough to be guest soaps at a hotel. So we did a quick search of the kitchen cupboards to find a suitable replacement while my soap hovered dangerously at the point of trace. Then, after I poured the soap into my makeshift mold, we couldn’t find the lid to the container; I covered it with cardboard instead and insulated it with blankets.
How it turned out
After 24 hours, I was able to easily slip the soap from my makeshift mold and then I cut it into four bars. It was still pretty soft…I maybe should have left it for another day – if I had slipped with a fingernail, I’d have easily left a gash in it. They smell strongly of lavender and mint, and I’m hoping that will fade a bit by the time they are done curing. If not, I’ll know to use less next time. After cutting, I set them all on end to dry a bit more before I tried any real photography.
A day later, my soap had developed what I thought was soap ash; but I’m not entirely sure that’s what it is. I took the recommended advice from other soapers and sprayed it with rubbing alcohol, but the ash remained. I’m thinking the lye may have reacted with the cheap plastic of my “mold” and it left a film behind. But who knows, really? Here is the final product, after a week of curing (photos by Adams Foto):
I think, despite the white film, this will still turn out to be a respectable soap; so I’m considering my first try to be a success. I’ve placed an order for a silicone mold (it was only 11 cents!) to make round bars out of and I’m going to try my hand at making some shave soap next. It’s another simple recipe for something I’ll get a lot of use out of. Maybe I’ll even get creative and try a little swirling, too.