Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Soaping Up

If you've been a reader for a while, you know I'm a regular little cheerleader, 'Try it, You can do it!'

But occasionally, like advice, we don't always live it ourselves.  Soap, for a long time has been my road block.  I read voraciously about how to make it.  The math and calculations jumbled in my brain, the ingredients seemed exotic and expensive and lye! Don't get me started on that!

I admit it, soap scared me silly.  I usually have no problems taking directions from a reading source, but this was one I just didn't feel comfortable about doing without some physical tutoring.  Fortunately, I had a few friends or friends of friends who made their own soap, and it was just a matter of who was making theirs first.

Now, this was over a year ago, and it was a complete success.  But the point of the story is, we all feel out of our depth sometime, but don't let that stop you learning something you want to know. Find a friend who knows how, take an adult class, ask around; but don't tell yourself you can't do it.

So now it's my turn to make soap by myself. That first batch of soap did have an ungodly number of different fats and oils in it, and yes, most of them had to be ordered online. Luckily, my friend had them all. I liked the soap, don't get me wrong, and will probably (okay, definitely) make more, but the frugal, prepper wannabe in me scratched her head and thought, 'hmm. shipping? cost? These things just might not be available.'  Not only that, but like I said...I usually use the word frugal, but really, it's just a euphemism for cheap.

Now if you scroll back, you'll remember I wrote a blog about making your own beef stock, and how I saved the tallow for later?  I remelted it, and screened it, and let it solidify again. Made 5 cups (along with the tallow from my second batch.) I really wanted to make tallow soap, because well, I had it and it was free, and I didn't want to waste it. I did some researching,and this was one recipe/set of directions I found that I really liked. (though, their recipe used lard.)

Tallow (or lard) are the easiest (and gentlest!) soaps you can make.  The ingredients are readily available.  While I used the tallow I had (marrow tallow) the best really is kidney fat, or suet.  Tallow is also one of the hardest fats there is, so it gives you a good firm bar.

You can make it with just tallow, water and lye. It's really that simple. But the same friend who taught me said the cleaning power wasn't as good as some.  This is  a fantastic chart that I really have been using.  It seems very complicated as you read below it, but if you're a math or science type, it might help you get your head around it. (I admit, it only made sense to me AFTER I'd  made it.) However, it was able to tell me what other fat I could add to boost its cleansing power.

Before I start, let me say that I will not be sharing the recipe I used today. I basically made it up using a soap calculator, a wonderful tool that allows you to plug in the amounts of fats/oils you will be using and number crunches the amount of lye and liquid necessary. As such, its not a tried and true recipe, and as its not cured, I don't know how well it will work.  There are thousands of soap recipes out there, find one you think you like, and try it.

Second, soap-making is pretty darn easy, but yes, it CAN be dangerous.  Use all pyrex type glass or stainless steel materials.  Wear eye protection, no matter how silly it makes you feel, and rubber gloves whenever you are dealing with lye. (Trust me, you do NOT want a lye burn!)  You want to be in a well ventilated area. (I thought I was in a well ventilated place; I'm prone to migraines, and it triggered one, so take this one seriously...If you can, do it outdoors.)

Lye sadly, is used in the making of meth amphetamines, so many places that used to carry it, no longer do. Check your hardware store, it is used as a drain clearer.  Some areas (especially those prone to trouble with drugs) may ask for ID, etc.  Don't worry, it's not you.

Okay. Enough of the 'scary' stuff.

There are only 3 real steps to making soap. 

1.You need to melt the fat.  You can do this in the oven, on the stove top or in the microwave.  When I made this batch, I did it in the microwave. I put it in a minute at a time, and stirred it.when you see a few cloudy clumps left, you can be done, as it will 'coast' the rest of the way to fully liquid.  You will want to use a temp gauge on it. You will eventually want your oil between 100*-125*.

2.You need to make your lye solution.  When you do this, follow your recipe closely as to amounts.  IF you do this inside (which I really don't recommend) make sure its on a pot holder, or something that heat won't affect. When you add lye to liquid, there's a chemical reaction that gets it really hot. Also note, it changes color (yellow to dark brown, depending on your type of liquid).  And, NEVER add liquid to lye, always add the lye to the liquid.  Spilled lye can ruin countertops as well, so keep that in mind.  This also needs a temp gauge in it.  It will first get really hot, and this too, needs to be between 100*-120*
(Yes, this is outside on my patio.  It looks a bit lumpy because I used cream as my liquid, and because frankly, it was cold outside, so the temperature was dropping quickly.) 

3. When the temperatures are right (the closer they are to each other, the better) Pour the lye solution into the fat. You will need to blend this with an immersion blender.  For quite a while, actually.  Since my Kitchenaid has a stainless steel whisk and bowl, I felt comfortable enough to put my soap mixture in there (only after my immersion blender got so hot, I was afraid of burning it out.)  You don't have to blend it continuously after the first 15 minutes.  5 minutes after a 10 minute wait until you reach trace should be fine. If you have ever whipped homemade whipped cream, its about to serve you in good stead.  Your soap mixture texturally is like your fresh heavy cream. It has some substance to it, but is essentially liquid.  As it blends, you will feel it get thicker, and thicker, until the liquid can hold the shape along the surface of your machine of choice.  And just like cream, if you blend it much more after that, it will get hard.  At the point of trace, add your essential oils for scent if you'd like them. (Be aware that citrus, unless mixed with an anchor oil-something I'm not completely straight on yet--will 'vanish'  by the time its finished curing. This is how my cardamom lime soap turned into just cardamom soap.

3b. Stir in the scents well, then put into a mold. At this point, the saponification has already started, and you won't get burned by the soap. Now, you can buy fancy silicone molds, or if you have them for cakes, or whatnot, you can certainly use them. At this point, its only soap, nothing harmful. But they don't' have to be.  You don't want a shallow pour, and you want something you can easily remove from. 1/2 gallon milk or juice containers work well, but I don't buy much of either these days.  So I took a box, cut it down, and lined it with wax paper. The smaller one in the picture was just in case I had too much.

Soap needs to dry slowly.  If it cools to quickly, you can end up with cracks.  So you will want to wrap your mold in a towel overnight to let it cool slowly.  Check your recipe for how long you should let it stay in the mold.  I took mine out earlier, because with mostly hard fats, I wanted to make sure I could still cut it. 

Put them on a drying rack (a cooling rack is fine--this is the picture at the top of the page.)

Depending once again on your recipe, curing times are usually 4-6 weeks. This is not time for it to chemically change, that's done in the first 48 hours, but its time for more moisture to leave the bar.  The longer you wait, the firmer your bar will be and the slower you'll go through it.

My plan for this soap is to use it to make my laundry soap.  I'll make sure to comment or blog how that goes when it finishes curing!

1 comment:

  1. Well, a few things. The soap was too soft, and even with the scenting oil, still smelled of beef stock. Lesson learned; you can't recycle everything.