My first foray into soap making

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I retired a bit later than originally anticipated.  About 9 months before I actually retired, my contract was coming to an end and I had no intention of trying to renew it.  I was psyching myself up for retirement and deciding what activities I would like to do.  Soap making was high on the list.  Of course, I went out and bought several books on the topic.  Little did I know that I would not be needing additional activities.  Quite the contrary.  There is no-where near enough time to do all the things I want to do.

Anyway, of late, my mind had turned to those books for, as you know, we have a ready supply of olive oil and Maus is partial to olive oil soap.  When the other day turned out to be hot and humid and I was not inclined to go outdoors and garden, I decided to give soap making a go.

Soap making is a wonderful hobby because you don’t need any fancy equipment to start up (but I am sure there are lots of things out there for me to buy 🙂 ).  I am in Bridgetown at the moment and my shopping options are limited so I was only interested in recipes where I could buy the ingredients locally.  The recipe I chose was from the book, Basic Soap Making by Elizabeth Letcavage.

You will need:

  • stick blender
  • digital scales
  • digital thermometer.
  • glass or microwavable proof bowls
  • silicon spatulas

You will also need a mould.  The books recommend a one litre milk container or a plastic microwavable container (or if you have a woodworking genius in the house like me, you can get them to make you one).  If your mould is made out of something porous like wood, you need to line it with baking paper.  Obviously, choose a mould appropriate for the quantity of ingredients used.

Here is a shot of the mould Maus made me. The internal dimensions are 9.5cm wide,  15.5cm long and 6cm high.

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The books reiterate three points over and over again.

  1. Don’t try to create your own recipe before you know what you are doing – there are sums involved.
  2. Don’t use anything made of aluminium (it reacts with the lyre (caustic soda)).
  3. NEVER pour water into lyre; rather, always pour the lyre into the water.

If you follow those three rules, it is pretty well clear sailing.  They also advise to wear rubber gloves, goggles and long sleeves (which I did).

Ingredients:

  • 100g coconut oil
  • 225g olive oil
  • 100g lard
  • 140g distilled cold water
  • 56g lyre – This is sold as caustic soda. You can buy it from any hardware store.  We already had some in the house as we use it to cure olives.  We got it from Bunnings.  It is sold to remove grease from drains and pipes. It must be pretty close to 100% sodium hydroxide (mine is 98%) .

Method:

  • Make sure you have all your gear on.  Cover your bench in an old towel and turn on your exhaust fan (The lyre will create fumes).
  • Measure out the lard and coconut oil into separate small microwave proof bowls.
  • Measure out the olive oil into a large microwave proof bowl – this is the container you will be making your soap in.
  • Measure out the lyre in a small container.
  • Measure out the distilled water in a heat proof bowl – at least one litre in size.
  • Heat the coconut oil and lard in your microwave until just melted and pour them into the bowl with the olive oil.  Mix and then set aside.
  • Slowly pour the lyre into the water, stirring all the while with a silicon scraper.  Be careful not to splash any because lyre burns.
  • Continue stirring until all the crystals have dissolved.   It will get hot (from the chemical reaction) and then begin to cool.  According to my book, Smart Soapmaking by Anne Watson, you need to wait until the temperature is between 32° – 43°C.
  • When the lyre solution is in the correct termperature range, test the temperature of the oils.  You want them roughly the same temperature as the lyre solution. I went for a mid-range temperature of about 38°C.  If the oil is too cold, zap it in 10 second bursts until it is the right temperature.
  • When both solutions are in the range 32° – 43°C, slowly pour the lyre solution into the bowl with the oil in it.
  • Manually give it a couple of stirs with your stick blender and then take the temperature of the mixture. Write down that temperature.
  • Start blending.  Make sure your blades are beneath the surface of the solution before you turn it on and off.  You don’t want to splash any of the solution around your kitchen.  Blend for about 20 seconds and then give it a few stirs with the blender.  Keep doing this until the mixture thickens and becomes smooth like a thick custard.
  • Take the temperature of the solution again.  When it is 1°C above your starting point, you are finished (This idea comes from Anne Lawson’s book and it is a great idea for beginners.  There is no guess work involved.).  If it is not, at least, one degree hotter, keep mixing.
  • Pour the solution into your mould, put the lid on and set aside in a warm place for 24 hours.  Elizabeth Letcavage suggested putting a couple of towels over it to keep it warm.
  • Still with your gloves on, wash up your utensils.  Don’t put them in the dishwasher until you have washed them once by hand.  Alternatively, wash them twice by hand.
  • 24 hours later, take your soap out of the mould and slice it into wedges.  I wanted fat ones and Maus wanted thin ones, so we compromised and made some of each.
  • Set aside in a dry, airy place for about 1 month before using.

How simple is that?  And what fun?  I am going to make some more, adding cinnamon.  I also like the idea of some with rolled oats to wash our hands after gardening.  Then there is the option of perfumes and colours.  The soap world is my oyster!  Now, this is easier than tempering chocolate 🙂

24 thoughts on “My first foray into soap making

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  6. When you want to branch out to colours, fragrance and other oils (trust me this will happen) there is a great soap supply place in O’Connor. They also do mail order. You are very lucky to have someone that can knock up a mould for you. I covet something so cute. And a small tip for you. If you leave your soap making dishes overnight (out of the way of pets, small children etc) they are much easier to wash up the next day as the residue has started to form soap. Best of luck with your new (and very addictive) venture.

    • Oh Tania, I have already found them and have my first order in (I am picking it up tomorrow). You are so right, it is very addictive, I think because you get result straight away. It is all pretty easy to do.

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  8. That does sound like fun & what a wealth of gift ideas from this hobby. I love unique soaps & have always thought of trying to do it myself but as you say, it’s amazing how full retirement can be. My problem is that I usually start too many projects at one time & as a result my sewing/craft room … well, I just call it a work in progress.

  9. I reckon your Maus and my Pete should get together to share ideas and you and I will keep throwing our much needed item ideas at them. I am still working on getting my raised beds.
    I see lots of beautiful soap gifts coming up for your family and friends. What fun.
    Have a super day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  10. I would love to make soap… waiting for time and space, but in the meantime I was happy to see your efforts especiallyas you used coconut and olive oils, as I would. I’m very impressed by the bespoke soap mould 🙂

  11. Looks good Glenda. I use an old ice cream container as a mould – mainly because I can throw it away when I’ve finished and don’t have to bother washing it up. A word of caution before you get too carried away making lots of different soaps – handmade lasts for ages!

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