HOW TO: MAKE SOAP

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Finally! The day arrives that the little worker bee on Hive get to clean up her act and make the long anticipated Soap . Happy dance anyone? Despite taking a couple weeks to actually write my soap making post I have in the interim made a few batches of both soap and shampoo. Although time consuming, and yes, potentially hazardous, making soap is quite simple. A dozen years ago when I did my soap making course I was totally overwhelmed. All those chemicals and safety precautions. The long curing process. The importance of temperature and exact quantities made the making of soap a scary proposition.

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The word Soap comes from the saponification process that occurs. Soap making can be credited to the Babylonians. Or the Egyptians. Or Romans. Or Greeks. Whoever started the ball rolling the first soap making process was based on cooking wood ash and tallow (rendered animal fat). Strangely enough the purpose of soap was not for bathing but in the medical and textile industries. Millenia later the principle of combining fat and lye remains the same. Because of my goats wonderful milk I use that saponified with plant oils. The combination gives a soap that is two fold. Not only does it clean but it also moisturises - something sadly lacking in commercial soap.

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The plant oils I use are extra virgin olive oil, coconut and either sunflower or castor. The essential oils vary. As do the scrubs and additional nourishing oils. These can be oats, honey, coffee grounds or rooibos tea leaves (for a scrub) as well as clay or activated charcoal for a more cleansing wash. There are many natural means of colouring your soap but I let each soap be toned by the extras I add. For today it will be the dark grey of activated charcoal. Kaolin clay makes goats milk soap a milky white. Rooibos gives that fudge colour and coffee grounds a light chocolate hue. Contrary to what one would believe the pure white of goats milk does not mean a white soap. Due to the chemical reaction that takes place, and the caramelizing of the lactase in the goats milk, the plain colour would be a light caramel colour. The heating of the soap in the saponification process will affect many natural colourants. Beetroot goes a yucky brown. Aloe and spinach an even more horrendous dirty green grey. Various clays are by far my preference for colouring - if you are that way inclined.

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Preparation and the correct equipment is essential. Work outside or at least in an area with plenty of ventilation. You'll need a thermometer, a wooden or plastic spoon, spatula and a stick blender. Protective gear is very important because you will be working with lye. Gloves and goggles. Preferably old work clothes or an apron. And the containers you mix your liquid and oil must be plastic (although to melt the oil a regular pot will do).

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For smaller quantities of soap a silicon loaf pan or little silicon muffin trays works perfectly! I make nearly 10kg of soap at a time so I have two hinged wooden soap trays which I line with parchment paper. You also need a couple towels and a blanket to tuck your soap up for its initial 24 hour saponification.

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To get started you need to measure out your goats milk and freeze it. The reaction of lye to liquid is such that it heats to incredible temperatures and would curdle the goats milk. I freeze the goats milk whenever I have excess so that I can make soap on a whim. Which is an hilarious thought as our homestead doesn't generally allow for whimsical behaviour.

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The goats milk soap we're making today I have named Ash Rose. The extras are Activated Charcoal and three different essential oils. One of my favourite essential oils is Rose Geranium. Apart from smelling out of this world, it grows like a beautiful weed on our homestead and has amazing healing properties. Along with Rose Geranium I add Rose and Rosemary essential oils.

Let's get started!!!!!

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GOATS MILK SOAP RECIPE - ASH ROSE
1400g Organic Goats Milk (frozen)
1800g Extra Virgin Olive oil
1400g Coconut Oil
500g Castor Oil
500g Lye
25ml Rose Geranium Essential Oil
25ml Rosemary Essential Oil
25ml Rose Essential Oil
4 heaped tablespoons Activated Charcoal

Step ONE:
Remember there will be fumes as the lye mixes with the liquid! Do not breath them in.

Place the frozen goats milk in a big plastic container (I use a 10litre bucket) and allow it to slightly thaw. It should look like crushed ice. It must not melt! With your safety goggles and gloves on very slowly add the lye to the frozen goats milk. Stirring the entire time. Don't get too close as the fumes are quite overpowering. I add a couple spoons of the lye at a time and stir until dissolved then add the next few spoons. It can take about 15 minutes. The milk will at this rate defrost and heat up quite quickly. You'll also notice the caramelization of the lactase as the chemical reaction occurs. The goats milk becomes a beautiful yellow colour. You need it to drop to 29 C. This can take a couple hours (depending on the weather). Leave it outside to breath (and out of danger). Remember to stir occasionally - every 15 minutes at least or it can still curdle or burn.

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Step TWO:

While the goats milk mix is cooling to 29 C. Measure out your extra virgin olive, coconut and castor oils. You'll need to melt them and get them to 29 C as well. Remember! You can cool or warm the oils but do not try to heat the goats milk. Lye is volatile and needs to be handled with extreme caution!

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Step THREE:

Make sure your melted oils are also in a plastic bucket. Do all the other preparation. The soap containers must be clean. If wood or glass then they must be lined with parchment paper. Prepare your safe area with towels and blankets where your soap will saponify for 24 hours.

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If you are adding clay - or activated charcoal - you can measure it into a glass and slowly add enough of the oils to make a runny paste. Keep it ready with the essential oils.

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Step FOUR:

This part comes with a WARNING!!!!!!

DO NOT ADD OIL TO LYE

SLOWLY ADD THE GOATS MILK AND LYE TO THE OILS. NEVER THE OTHER WAY AROUND

DO NOT ADD OIL TO LYE!!!!
To quote Soap Queen "A popular rhyme to help you remember the order is: “It’s smarter to add lye to water! Add water to lye and you may die!” It’s definitely an extreme rhyme, but it can be helpful in the beginning!"

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Get started with a wooden spoon. While stirring the oil mix slowly add the goats milk and lye mix to the oil . Then use your stick blender to mix. It takes a few minutes for the cloudy mix to thicken. This is where timing is important as you now need to add the Activated Charcoal as the soap is about to trace

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What trace means is that the oils and liquid have emulsified and will not separate. In the initial blending your mix will be cloudy but it suddenly thickens and you can actually trace lines across the surface of the soap. This is seen in the following photo:

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Step FIVE:

If you add your extras too early it interfere in the emulsification process. Too late and you will have the saponification happening in the bucket which means a big blob of soap. As the soap reaches trace you can quickly add in your essential oils. Preferably use a wooden spoon to thoroughly mix them in as a stick blender is too fast at this stage - unless you know what you are doing :)

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Don't stop to reward yourself with a cup of tea now because at this stage the soap is thickening really quickly. Work carefully but quickly. Any splashes need to be washed immediately and thoroughly.

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Step SIX:

Carefully pour out your soap. Then cover with a plastic lid, tray or paper before wrapping up in towels and blankets.

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During this 24 hour process the saponification takes place. It does so at a surprisingly high temperature.

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Step SEVEN:

After the 24 hours you can safely unwrap the blankies and take out your hardened soap. At this point I cut my soap bars. You can handle the soap but be sure to wash your hands and equipment well as there is still a strong lye presence. You can see this by the slight white ash.

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Step EIGHT:

Hurry up and wait!!
There is a cold process and a hot process to making soap. My preference is the cold process. What this means though is that you cannot use your soap until it is cured. Soap makers generally wait 4 - 6 weeks. I prefer 8 weeks. In that time the saponification is completed and you will have a harder soap. Although different oils make a harder or softer soap as well as a foamy lather or not.

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Phew! For those of you who didn't run away screaming please be encouraged. Soap making really isn't as scary as it appears! And it is rewarding. I've been making soap for years. I love that my family wash with these amazing little bars of soap. I love that I have such amazing gifts always available. I love that - yes, despite that chemical process - this is part of my journey of health. While so many are concerned about what goes into our body have you ever considered what you put on your body? Our skin is our biggest organ and should be treasured. And pampered.

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