Soapmaking: Part 3
January 2, 2010
I went all out during my first attempt at making soap. I only used techniques that were used by homesteaders in the past. I used potash to leech and collect the lye. I used natural leaf lard from one of my dad’s pigs for the fat. I even boiled down the lye to a solid to make for more accurate measurements. But, as you can see from the pictures from Part 1 and Part 2, it did not end well.
This time I was determined. I bought commercial lye from an online store, and bought coconut oil and palm oil instead of using clarified pig fat (which means it is also vegetarian). When Nirav came over, we sat down and built a recipe with an amazing online soap calculator. We measured everything out to fractions of a gram. We called in Helen Finegold and Chris Lombardozzi for reinforcements. We kept our temperatures almost exact. And somehow, it actually worked. It worked so well that we were almost skeptical. The difference between making soap from scratch and making soap from almost-scratch is incredible.
Our recipe (for 1lb of soap) was pretty simple:
4.8oz Coconut Oil
6.4oz Olive Oil
4.8oz Palm Oil
The real quality and individuality of your soap comes from the recipe. Having the right ratios and types of oils can make or break a recipe in terms of hardness, cleansing properties, or lathering. So for example, if you like hard soaps, you can build a recipe to reflect that. The soap calculator we used is amazing, and allows you to modify everything and see the effects each change creates.
The process itself is pretty simple. First measure out all of your oils, combine them, and get them to a liquid state with some heat. They will probably end up at over 120 °F by the time they liquefy, which is fine. Then measure out the lye and add it to the water. This should fizz a little and get really hot from the reaction. Get both mixtures to 110 °F (+/- 5 °F), and when they are both there, add the lye mixture to the oils, and stir – slowly at first, then quicker with either a whisk for about 20 mins as it thickens, or a hand blender for only a few minutes for the same result. You can add any additives during this time. It will thicken to the point where it will trace. Tracing is when it is thick enough that you can dribble some of the soap over itself and it will be able to support the dribbles. When it traces, you can put it into your molds, cover it up, and let it dry for about a day. After that, you can take it out of the molds and let it cure for a few weeks. The you are free to use soap that is totally organic, has no chemicals, and that you made yourself.