I mentioned that I’m a soap maker. I am. I make soap using a cold process method (rather than melt and pour or hot process but more about those later).
Not long after moving to Wharton, I became a member of the group that set up, promoted, and managed the Wharton County Farmer’s Market. Michael sold candied jalapenos (yes, he made them himself), popcorn, eggs, and whatever garden vegetables we didn’t use.
I sold all things herbal. Like dried herbs, herbal mixtures, teas, fresh herbs, and so forth. I also decided to make various herbal lotions, bath products and
soap. OK – how hard can it be? Well, after reading various articles on soap making, I was somewhere between slightly confused (saponification?? trace??) and completely intimidated (the glycerol molecule is separated from the fatty acids; fatty acids then react with the hydroxide ions???). Then, what kind of soap (castile?? tallow?? use mica powders?? fragrance oils vs essential oils??).
OK – is there somebody that could teach me? Wellllll, no. So, I pulled on my big girl panties and took the plunge. First tried making castile soap. A nice mild soap that is (1) expensive to make (because you use mostly olive oil) and (2) takes a long time to trace. I actually don’t make that anymore.
Now, in the 1600’s, soap makers used animal fat. Lard! Available at the grocery store in a handy dandy package
and a lot less expensive than olive oil and even less expensive than vegetable fats. And, here’s a
Did You Know? Lard is made from pig fats, while tallow (which you cannot buy in a nifty package at the grocery store) is made from beef and mutton fats.
Next – sodium hydroxide (or to history buffs – potash). Lye. Here’s another
Did You Know? You can’t just go to the grocery or hardware store and buy lye – at least not here in Texas. Not anymore. You have to order it from the internet.
Fine. Next, a couple of molds and I was off and running.
So, when I was a just-getting-started soap maker, I followed all the prep work to a ‘T’. Took me as long to get ready as it did to actually make the soap. Today, while I’m careful (dealing with lye can be dangerous to all parts of your body, not to mention counter tops), I don’t cover everything with 5 layers of newspaper, wear old clothes, or gloves up to my elbows.
Soap making is actually a precise science. So, if the recipe calls for distilled water or 12 ounces of lye, you don’t want to use filtered water or 12-ish ozs. I have my own “soap” tools – bowls, thermometers, spoons, and such that are kept clean and together in the back room. I never just grab a spoon from my utensil drawer unless I’m going to add it to the soap tool collection.
Now, I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow description of soap making (if you ever want to try it let me know, I’m happy to share my experience). In a nutshell – you dissolve the lye in water, melt the fats, mix it all together and stir for what will seem like hours until it traces. Put in whatever additives you might want. Pour into molds. Wait. Demold. Wait, wait, wait. Eventually, Ta Da! Soap! Oh and just in case you want to know . . . .
SAPONIFICATION is the process that changes fats and sodium hydroxide into soap. TRACE is the sign that the soap is ready to pour into a mold. Looks a little like cake batter.
Also, once the soap is in the mold, then demolded and/or cut into bars, using the cold process, it needs to cure 4-6 weeks. It takes that long for the saponification process to actually complete.
These are my curing racks.
There are a couple of other options for soap making. The Melt and Pour method is a good option for beginners and children. All you have to do is melt the premade base, customize it with your favorite additives, colors and scents, and pour into a mold. As soon as it cooled, it’s ready to use.
Another soap making choice, and one I want to try next time I make soap, is Hot Process Soap. Supposedly the end result is a harder bar of soap. The method is fairly similar to the one I use now but you “cook” the soap for a long period of time. Sounds interesting. I’ll let you know how it works out!
21 Jan 2019