Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Soap making - this is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I have read about it and always felt like it was a complicated thing to do. Also the danger of using sodium hydroxide has scared me off in the past - it is a powerful corrosive and can cause blindness if splashed in the eyes, it can burn skin.

So I chose a day when no kids were at home.

I used a basic soap mix recipe from Organic Gardening Magazine (Jan/Feb 2008 issue).
The instructions were very easy to follow.

First I gathered my equipment.
Now let me say right here that stainless steel pot is the go! NOT ALUMINIUM! I tried making soap in an aluminium pot (I didn't realize it was a problem) and the sodium hydroxide reacts with the aluminium. The mixture instantly reached boiling point and great bubbles burped from it. Then clouds of horrid steam came into the air. I was in the laundry and left until the steam had settled, leaving a fine dusting of chemicals over the surfaces. The smell lingered for ages too.

This time I worked outside. I donned my safety goggles, gloves and long sleeves. I made sure I had some vinegar handy as vinegar will neatralize the soddium in case of splashes. I added the sodium hydroxide to the water (never the other way around). There is an instant chemical reaction that heats the water. I stirred a few times with a wooden spoon which I will use only for soap making and then left until the mix had cooled to 48 degrees.

After this I added the oils being careful not to splash myself. Then I stirred... and stirred...and stirred. Stirring helps saponification. This brings the acids and alkali into contact and helps neutralize the mix. So although soap is made with sodium hydroxide it doesn't contain any at the end of the process. The recipe said to stirr until trace occurs, 5 -40 min. I stirred way over an hour and got the mix to a light trace. Trace can be recognized when you dribble a bit of the mixture on the surface and it sits on top for a while before sinking. I read in another soap making book I have Gourmet Soap Made Easy by Melinda Coss that trace can sometimes take several hours and dont worry if you are sure the mixture was correct just pour into a mould and leave it to set.

So I poured the mix into my mould and left for 24 hours before taking out of the mould and cutting. For a mould I used a shallow cardboard box and lined it with freezer bags opened up so they would cover the base and sides of the box. Now it is in a warm, ventilated place curing for another 2-3 weeks. Looks rather rustic , doesn't it. The cutting is rather haphazard. This being my first batch, I decided not to add any essential oils. Next time I will experiment with some herbs or oatmeal or essential oils. I am also very interested in making soap with goats milk. Has anyone had experience with using goats milk? I have read that the milk can curdle and turn a nasty yellow and makes the initial mix smell strongly of ammonia.

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