(Editor's Note: Renee submitted this series for our writing contest, which she won. Due to the strength of her writing, we at BCP have invited her to become a regular here. This is her final entry as a guest author.)
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In all our endeavors, we have to go through certain steps to get to the end result. Below is my personal soaping routine, developed and refined over the course of several years. If something in this doesn't suit you personally, adapt it to your own needs, keeping safety in mind when you do so.
- Get out your recipe, and start going through your ingredients list.
- Make sure you have everything on hand, and that you have sufficient quantities of those ingredients to make the batch size that you desire.
- Once you're sure that you have all your ingredients, start setting up your equipment.
- Make sure everything is clean and ready for use.
- Set up your work station in an area where pets and small children are not going to be able to tamper with, or potentially spill, your ingredients or the soap as it processes.
- Make sure you have your protective gear handy.
Mixing Your Lye Solution
- wide mouthed glass or heavy plastic container, preferably labeled "Lye Solution - Do Not Touch!"
- long handled plastic or wooden spoon
- scale with a tare (zeroing) function
- small scoop
- well-ventilated space
- micro-bead or flake NaOH (available here or here for reasonable prices and good quality)
- distilled or otherwise purified water
- goggles, gloves, apron (mask if available)
- a 50/50 solution of white distilled vinegar and water, set aside for neutralizing any spills
- Place your mixing container on your scale and tare (zero out) the weight.
- Making certain that your safety gear is in place, carefully begin adding water to your mixing container until you reach the amount specified in your recipe.
- Always measure your water into your mixing container FIRST.* Then, and only then, do you add your lye to your measured water.
- Once your water is measured, begin adding your lye in small amounts, using the clean scoop.
- Take care to keep from splashing the water onto the scoop, and to keep from adding more lye than your recipe calls for.
- Stir the mixture gently to dissolve all the lye into the solution, then set aside in a location that is not easily accessed.
- Allow it to sit undisturbed for a couple of hours, occasionally monitoring the temperature, until it has cooled down to no more than 110 degrees F.
* Mixing water and lye in the incorrect order creates an Extremely Violent reaction that can easily have the appearance (and danger levels) of an active volcano. I cannot stress enough just how important this point is - it is THE single most dangerous action in making soap or working with lye for any other purpose. It won't be a problem, or be more dangerous than necessary, as long as you do things in the Correct Order.
While your lye solution is cooling down to a useable temperature, now is a good time to start your prep work for the rest of the process. First we'll go over how to prep the mold you're going to eventually pour your soap into, so it can set up.
Prepping Your MoldFor today's purposes, I'm going to use the example of my 3 lb loaf mold - a simple rectangular box with interior dimensions of 10.5 inches long by 3 inches wide by 3 1/4 inches deep. To give you a scale, the loaf mold pictured was photographed sitting in a standard size living room chair.
|Rhi's 3 pound Loaf Mold for Test Batches|
- Get out that Saran Wrap or plastic sheeting that I listed in equipment at this point, because now is when you'll need it.
- Line the INSIDE of your mold with a single sheet of plastic wrap large enough to drape over the sides and hang down some.
- Make sure you've used enough that the plastic wrap is tucked smoothly into the corners, and still has some left over.
- Later on, this hanging portion will be folded over the top of the filled mold.
Prepping Your Fats and OilsSo you've got your lye water cooling, and your mold is ready and sitting to one side to wait, now we're going to start getting our fats and oils ready for the mixing process.
- Large stainless steel pot
- large non reactive spoon designated for oils
- heat source large enough to safely and comfortably heat the pot of oils
- candy or digital read thermometer (separate from the one used to monitor your lye!)
- Set your large pot on your scale, and once again tare out the weight.
- Carefully begin adding one fat or oil at a time, starting with any which are solid at room temperature. (Coconut oil is a good example of this, as are beef tallow and lard.)
- Each oil should be added separately, and the scale should be zeroed out again before the next oil or fat is added to the pot.
- Once all fats have been added, transfer the pot to your heat source -- but only if one or more of your fats is in a solid form at room temp. If all oils are liquid at room temp, you can dispense with heating them, since this step is only to get them all into the same liquid state.
- If your local weather is particularly cold on the day that you plan to do your soaping, you will probably also want to heat your oils up very gently to bring them to approximately 95 to 100 degrees F before the actual mixing process begins, as it will greatly speed up the process.
Mixing the Soap - now is when the fun beginsOnce your lye solution and oils are within 15 or 20 degrees of each other, it's time for the next step: turning the two separate substances into soap.
- Put those safety goggles and gloves back on, and get your long handled spoon or stick blender handy.
- Carefully pour your cooled lye solution into your melted, cooled down fats.
- Once all of your lye water has been added, begin stirring the two together. This is when that stick blender really comes in handy, because without it, you'll probably be stirring for the next 3 to 5 hours, waiting for your mixture to hit the right consistency for pouring into the mold.
- As you stir, your mixture will slowly begin to thicken up a little bit at a time -- within 12 to 15 minutes, using a stick blender, or probably 3 hours of constant stirring if you're doing this completely by hand.
- You'll know it's well on it's way to turning into soap when it thickens to the point called Trace. This is about the consistency of pudding. You can tell you've reached Trace when you can dribble a bit of the mixture back into the pot, and still see where the drops fell for several seconds afterwards.
- Once Trace has been reached, it's time to pour that thickening mixture into your prepared molds. Now is not the time for hesitation, especially if you're using a stick blender, as it will begin to stiffen up into a solid very rapidly after this point! So you will want your mold or molds prepared well ahead of time.
- Fill your mold (or molds, if they're small) with your prepared soap mixture, then fold those hanging remains of plastic wrap over the top to keep dust, bugs, etc from getting in your soap - and to keep out pests while it's processing.
- After your mold is filled, set it aside for 24 to 36 hours to do it's thing. This is when Chemistry takes over, and turns the liquid mass of goo into solid soap.
- At the end of the processing time, your soap should be a solid chunk in the mold, cool to the touch, and without any strong odor other than a clean "soapy" smell.
- Lift your finished soap out of the mold using the plastic.
- Unwrap the plastic, cut your soap into bars or small chunks (depending on the size of your original mold) and set those aside to dry out for 3 to 4 days. This will help evaporate out unnecessary water content that's still in the soap - making the bars harder and much longer lasting. The longer they sit before use, the more excess water will evaporate, and the milder your soap will become!