Home
 
Writing Soap and Lotion Making Cookie Molds Photography Miscellany Contact

 

My Handcraft Cosmetics Books!

Smart Soapmaking
The Simple Guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably

Milk Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Making Lovely Milk Soap From Any Animal or Plant Milk

Smart Lotionmaking
The Simple Guide to Making Luxurious Lotions

Soapmaking and Lotionmaking Diary

Contents

September 12, 2013 Trace Accelerants

November 12, 2012 Baby Products

April 16, 2012 Scale Problem

December 6, 2011--A CPOP Disaster

Why I Washed my Hands of Liquid Soap

May 10, 2011 Editing

April 30, 2001--Adventures in Dish Washing

April 29, 2011--"From Zero" Lotion

April 25, 2011--Lotion Bottles

April 24, 2011--Lotionmaking

October 26, 2008--New Book Coming Out

May 29, 2007--No Lye, No Lie

March 2, 2007--More about Whipping Cream Soap

February 22, 2007--Whipping Cream Soap

January 16, 2007--The Adventure of the Laser Thermometer

January 13, 2007--The Temp Test and Vegetable Shortening

January 10, 2007--One Way to Mess Up the Temp Test

December 22, 2006--Methods: His, Hers, and Mine

December 21, 2006--Still More About the Temp Test

December 18, 2006--Aprons

December 13, 2006--About Measuring

December 12, soo6--Modified Recipe--Double Shea Soap

December 9. 2006--More About the Temp Test

December 8, 2006--Results--Double Shea Soap

November 22, 2006--New Recipe (Double Shea Soap)

October 15, 2006--The Temp Thing

October 10, 2006--Stick Blender Serendipity

September 15, 2006--The Green Disaster

September 4, 2006--Splish, Splash

September 1, 2006--INS and Batch Size

 


September 12, 2013 Trace Accelerants

Finally, I have time to post my mini-tantrum on the subject of trace accelerants in cold process soapmaking.

Soap supply vendors, what are you thinking, when you don't warn us about fragrance oils and essential oils that accelerate trace?

Almost none of you do it. In fact, any vendor who conscientiously does this can send me a message, and I'll start a roll of honor. And you'll have my business, too.

The usual practice is to say nothing. So hippity hop, we little soapmaking bunnies bound happily along the trail. We invest in ingredients, sometimes expensive ones. We work our our formulations. We give our more-than-competent best to turning out a good batch of soap.

Surprise! We get instant trace! The batch is worthless, because you didn't tell us something we needed to know. Our money, time, and effort are wasted.

There are lots of ways of handling fast trace--if you expect it. That's if you're experienced. I get emails from beginners, who've been totally blindsided. Either way, we should have known.

I've complained to vendors who claim that they test all their products themselves, and they play dumb on this one. Very annoying.

Here's a list of products that I know to be accelerants. Anyone who wants to add to it, please use the contact form on this page.

Bay laurel essential oil
White thyme essential oil
Lilac fragrance oil
Castor oil
Pine tar

November 12, 2012 Baby Products

I've had several inquiries about baby products lately. Lots of people want to make them, and there seems to be an appeal about making products with a milk base for babies. But wait.

Milk-based products, especially liquids such as lotion and liquid soap, are more vulnerable to spoilage than products without milk. And you might think long and hard before using preservatives in a baby product. I certainly wouldn't recommend it.

But an unpreserved milk product, regardless of how carefully you make it, is something I wouldn't put on a baby.

Babies are so sensitive, and the stakes are very high. I personally know of one child who had a short, very limited life, because she was washed with the wrong product as a newborn.

Much as I love home-crafted products, I would not make, or recommend making, products for babies at all. If you make them commercially, you're risking a horrendous lawsuit, maybe for something that's not your fault.

Ask your doctor what's safe to use on your baby. Follow the advice you get. Please, don't take chances with babies.

 

April 16, 2012 Scale Problem

A reader writes that the Weigh Max Postal Scale model W-2822 isn't satisfactory for soap use.

December 6, 2011 A CPOP Disaster

A reader writes:

"I prepared a ~ 250g batch that I make frequently of 100% coconut oil soap and after 1 minute immersion blending poured it into three silicone mini loaf pans as usual. These were then placed covered into the preheated 170 oven. Within 5 minutes the exotherm went wild, the still liquid raw soap violently boiled out of the molds, and I had one Hell of a mess! Never mind that I was also dealing with a nasty alkali!

"Since I was trained as an experimenter, I couldn't stop after one disaster. The next step was to rethink the obvious and NEVER HEAT COLD PROCESS RAW SOAP at the beginning of the exotherm. So, for the second trial, I aged another batch of the same recipe at room temperature in the molds for 24 hours as usual until the exotherm settled down. THEN I oven-aged the bars at 170F with no problem for your prescribed 2 hours.

"I wanted to share this with you because there are very large safety concerns - I don't want to see someone injured from trying to bake raw soap and having it boil all over the place."

The main difference between this and the way I do CPOP is that I use a large wood log mold instead of silicone mini loaf pans. I've never had a problem. Would be interested in other readers' experiences along this line.

 

September 19, 2011 Why I Washed my Hands of Liquid Soap

I had an idea that it would be good to do a book on liquid soap. A few people have asked me to, and I've even gotten some reviews that suggested the subject should have been included in Smart Soapmaking, apparently by people who don't realize it's a different process.

So I started testing. And I wasn't happy with the results.

Liquid Soap is temperamental stuff. You start by making a paste, then dilute it, add fragrance, bottle it--and that's it, or it should be. In my experience, a dozen things can go wrong, and, more often than not, they did.

My pastes were beautiful. But day after day, something went wrong in the follow-up process. Sometimes my liquid soap separated. Sometimes it congealed. A couple of times, it curdled. Some batches turned out too thin.

A few batches were fine until I added fragrance or essential oil--and then they turned into sticky goo. These scents were from major suppliers, too, not something I'd picked up at a garage sale. Some suppliers' scents ruined every batch I tried them with. Some ruined one liquid soap formulation and not another. Some suppliers' scents were good in all batches. I learned a lot about fragrances and essential oils, but I don't tout specific businesses in my books, so I was going to have to recommend that each formulation be tested in a small quantity with each scent. Awkward, at best.

One batch seemed to be the perfect consistency, but the next day, it had re-congealed. I added a tiny bit of water. Perfect again. The next day, it was solid again. I added another tiny bit of water, about one teaspoonful. Perfect again. The next day, it was water-thin, and it stayed that way.

Lather was a problem with a product that was so diluted. You can get decent creamy lather by using a high percentage of olive oil, but that makes for very long blending before the initial mixture traces. You can get halfway decent bubbly lather by using a lot of coconut oil--but you get a fairly harsh soap. Lather is a big issue--if you sell liquid soap, you're competing with high-lather detergent products, and this is what many customers will expect. But even exceptional lather numbers for an oil mixture don't always add up to a nice lather in the finished liquid soap.

One issue I had was that the available lye calculators are designed for bar soap, and really don't give good information for liquid. I tried almost all of them, and had friends who tried the ones that wouldn't run on my computer. A few calculators and programs do try to deal with liquid soap, but they're all incomplete, and they all have serious disadvantages. The main thing that would help people to make liquid soap is for the calculators and programs to develop a better approach.

I'm a bit more sensitive to soapmaking fumes than most people. I usually make soap outdoors, but I couldn't set up a whole testing operation outdoors. The house I live in at the moment has a mostly unused guest cottage on the property, so I set up my liquid soap lab out there. I bought a respirator to keep from getting a sore throat--heaven only knows what the neighbors thought, seeing me going out to the guest cottage every day with space exploration gear on. And I didn't see how I could write one of my "Smart" books with instructions that began with advice to go somewhere else. Very few homes today have a "summer kitchen."

I watched videos on the subject--I wish their authors well, but do they really make soap without gloves or goggles? Do they really stand over a saucepan on an open flame in their kitchen, no vent fan, stirring a hot lye mixture with a teaspoon?

Printed instructions were almost as bad. "Cook on high heat, stirring constantly, for six hours." Are you kidding?

I was beginning to have real doubts about the project. I talked to friends who make liquid soap, and they mostly seemed to have mastered one recipe, which they make over and over. For a book, I needed to develop a dozen good recipes, and I didn't even have one.

The second-to-last straw on the camel was a friend's experiment in testing liquid soaps made by her and another soapmaker. She submitted them for challenge testing, as we do with lotions, and discovered that both batches were contaminated with bacteria. So it seemed a book on liquid soap would have to include sanitary procedure as well as all the other challenges.

The final coup was delivered when I told my husband, who is also my editor and publisher, that I might not be able to do the book. His immediate relief was so obvious that I scrapped the project on the spot.

Sometimes, you just have to throw in the towel.

May 30, 2011 Testing and Feedback

Manuscripts of the lotion book are out to manuscript testers now. This is a process I first used with Smart Soapmaking. I got people who hadn't made soap before to do a batch from my instructions and make suggestions. It was so useful that I've used this method with every how-to book I've written since.

The soapmaking project actually worked out well. We had to make the first few batches in the house, but then the sun came out.

May 10, 2011 Editing

Now we're at the stage of editing, rewriting, even some reconstructing. This isn't the fun part of writing a book, although it's important. When it's done, I'll give the book to manuscript testers, people who have never made lotion before and are now going to try as if they'd just bought a book at the craft store. That will probably result in a few more changes, but again, it's important.

On Monday, some out-of-town friends are coming for a soapmaking lesson. Unfortunately, rain is in the forecast. This shouldn't make any difference, but the kitchen counters in this house are polished marble. Looks wonderful, but if you want to make soap or lotion in your kitchen, it's not a good choice. Too easy to wreck the finish, too hard to fix it. I bought some heavy vinyl shelf liner at the hardware store, and will cover the counters with that if we have to work indoors. Usually, I make soap in the yard.

April 30, 2011--Adventures in Dish Washing

I decided to follow up yesterday's too-heavy cream with a lotion made with the typical light lotion proportions of about 80% water. What I like to say about experiments is, there's no such thing as failure, because you're trying to get information, and you always do. The information I got is that this is not a good idea.

Fair enough. Now I know--and can tell you: It's not easy to make a light lotion using beeswax and baking soda as your emulsifiers. As I tried to make it work, I used the food processor, the stick blender, about a dozen containers, and assorted spoons, spatulas, and other tools.

I already learned via other experiments that the dishwasher does a lousy job of washing lotion off of things. What it actually does is to spread it over everything on the racks, in an admirably thin and even coat. Really quite remarkable--I can't think of another device that could do such a thing, and if I ever want a lot of items to be airbrushed with lotion, I'll know exactly how to do it.

As it was, I poured the mess into a bottle that I was going to throw out anyway--I don't need an experiment to find out what it would have done to the pipes and the septic tank. Then I hauled out the Blue Dawn liquid and the dishwashing brush and hove to. When the things had all been washed once, they were ready for the dishwasher.

So that was the experiment. I think I'll go back to e wax and BTMS 50.

April 29, 2011--"From Zero" Lotion

I did an interesting experiment this morning--I made lotion as if I were a total beginner, not even a soapmaker, and had no equipment except cooking tools. I was hoping for a lotion I could add to the book.

I learned something, although I don't think it really will fit into Smart Lotionmaking. I learned that, unlike soap, lotion can be made with only volume measurements. And you don't have to use a stick blender--I used my food processor, although a countertop blender would have worked at least as well if I had one.

I started--prudently, I thought--by figuring out how much water my food processor can take without running over. This turned out to be about 2 1/2 cups. I worked out quantities of grocery store ingredients--almond oil and light olive oil, baking soda, distilled water, and beeswax (OK,you might have to go to a craft store to get the beeswax. But it's available without ordering on the Internet.) I measured everything in cups and teaspoons.

I heated these ingredients and combined them in the food processor. They emulsified right away, somewhat to my surprise. I bottled the finished lotion in half-pint mason jars and put it in the refrigerator, since it contains no preservatives.

Cold, it's more of a cream than a lotion--I could correct that by increasing the water phase proportion. It's greasier than I like, though that could be the olive oil. I might have done better with a mixture of almond and grapeseed. It is a lotion, though, and it was easy to make with no special ingredients or equipment. So yes, you can do it.

But it just isn't as good as the lotions I've made lately, and there are many recipes for lotions of this kind on the Internet. I decided that most people who buy my books are probably looking for something else. It is interesting to know, though, that you can make lotion pretty much "from zero"--no major equipment, certainly nothing you couldn't find at a thrift store. And no ingredients you have to send off for.

April 25, 2011--Lotion Bottles

Lots of handmade lotions are fairly thick.This is a good thing, really. Once you've used them, you're not going to feel all that happy with watery commercial lotions.

This is fine, but the fact is, they can be hard to get out of the bottle. You can store them upside down, but most people don't think of it, and it's not that convenient anyway.

Pump bottles may work, but they, too, are made for thin lotion, and a thick one can clog.

I've been using "tottles," that halfway point between a tube and a bottle. I like them, but at first they had a problem that really baffled me. Something about the shape made them tend to trap air bubbles and foam, far more than regular bottles do. I produced a few batches of lotion I couldn't give away on account of the ugly gaps and bubbles--the effect was similar to lava lamps.

Finally, it occurred to me to pour the lotion from the dispenser bottle down the side of the tottle as if I were pouring beer to avoid a head. Voila! No more trapped air.

OK, I solved the problem, but it still puzzles me. On the up side, tottles seem far less likely to develop condensation. I don't understand this one, either.

April 24, 2011--Lotionmaking

I spent a lot of time the past couple of years writing a book on molded cookies, such as Dutch windmill cookies. Didn't really think it would be of great interest to most soapmakers, though I now have a new web page section and a monthly online cookie magazine.

But this year brought me back to older interests--not more soap, but making lotion. I'll be bringing out a new book, Smart Lotionmaking, probably in the fall of this year. I must say, I'm very impressed with handcrafted lotions. I used a lotion tester in a store the other day--the lotion cost $22 for a small bottle, maybe three ounces, and it wasn't nearly as good as any of the ones I've been testing for the book. A small bottle of one of my lotions costs probably less than a dollar to make--possibly a little more if you include the cost of the bottle. There a a few that would cost more, but nothing on the order of that very ordinary product in the tester. I just can't understand why anything would cost that much more than it's worth.

At the moment, my hands are sleek and silky from using some of a batch of the first lotion in the book--"Anne's Almond Lotion." I do like almond oil--walnut, too, and pistachio. And some of the water phase ingredients are wonderful--honeyquat, aloe vera juice, silk amino acids, and goat milk...you'd think I'd be talking about things now that would be in the price range of lotions you buy. But not nearly.

Still have to have the book edited and illustrated, but we're on our way.

October 26, 2008--New Book Coming Out

I haven't been gone all this time. I've been getting into mischief again--writing another book. This one is on Milk Soapmaking. The publication date is November 15. I'll be keeping up with this blog more now that I'm finished. I certainly have made a lot of soap since I started. I now have enough soap around here to wash an army. Supposing that there was an army handy, which there isn't.

I've also developed a great fondness for milk soap. I approached this book with the idea that milk soapmaking should be accessible to beginners, and I hope I've succeeded in getting that across in the book.

May 29, 2007--No Lye, No Lie

Does your soap have lye in it?

I get asked this all the time--does your soap have lye in it? The correct answer is no. My soap does not have any lye in it. But the whole answer to the question is a chemistry lesson.

I don't pretend to be a chemist, but I've picked up this much--when a chemical reaction is going on, what goes in is not necessarily the same as what comes out.

This is a source of confusion for a lot of people. How can it be, if you put lye in the soap pot, that the soap has no lye?

OK, here's the chemistry lesson. It's a bit simplistic, but it might clear things up a bit for non-chemists.

Aside from nuclear reactions, which we can forget about, chemical elements like sodium and oxygen do not change into other elements. Put sodium in something, it will have some form of sodium in it unless you do something to take it out.

But lye isn't an element. It's a molecule. Molecules are constructed of elements, as a wall is constructed of bricks. It's possible to pull the structure apart and reconstruct it, and then the original structure and its properties are gone.

Lye used in solid soap is sodium hydroxide. It's composed of sodium, hydrogen and oxygen. It is caustic. The fats used in soapmaking are acidic. The two react to make soap, which is technically a salt. Though the oxygen, sodium and hydrogen are undoubtedly present in the molecules of the finished soap, there should be no sodium hydroxide left, thus no lye.

March 2, 2007--More about Whipping Cream Soap

I've checked with others, who say lye fumes are greatly reduced with frozen liquids. I may develop some recipes with frozen distilled water. It seems to me that new soapmakers might like this. Fumes can be really off-putting.

I'm using the whipping cream soap now, and it's great. Very, very emollient. However, it's soft--possibly because of what it is, or maybe I haven't let it cure long enough. In any case, this makes rather a problem on account of the color of the lather. Maybe vanilla wasn't that genius a fragrance to use for this stuff after all! It's messy.

I might try the recipe once with olive oil and another fragrance, and see if I can stand the color. If not, I guess I'll have a choice of using some kind of coloring or else changing from olive oil to something a little more neutral looking.

I'm trying to stick to Castile soap for a while, though, because I don't really have enough space here for lots of different oils. I had to find the space while I was writing the book, and then I happily gave it all away. I use olive oil for cooking, and keeping a bit more around for soapmaking makes more sense than having a dozen different kinds.

February 22, 2007--Whipping Cream Soap

Been a long time since I had time to do any experimenting with soap. I've been working on my third  novel, that's why. Now the first draft is done, so I have time for a few experiments.

I've never tried goat milk soap, though I've wondered about it. But I don't know anyone who keeps goats, so milk soap seemed pretty theoretical. Then someone told me whipping cream--regular cow whipping cream--made great soap.

Of course, I had to try it. Basically, I used the method that's posted at Oregon Trail Soaps, and it worked fine. I froze the cream, added the lye to it, and stirred until the cream melted. Then I added it to the oil, blended to trace (for this batch, I went for visible trace, because I didn't know what kind of temp rise to expect), and poured into the mold.

Since I love Castile soap, the oil I used was olive oil. Oh, my. Interesting color. This is probably the ugliest soap I've ever made, though it is improving, probably because I used vanilla FO. But it is one of those things only a mother could love. At first it looked a lot like pond scum. By trace, it had faded to camo olive. Now it's looking sort of gold, and it might end up all right.

But, I must say, the pond scum phase was discouraging. If you want pretty milk soaps, it seems olive oil is not the material of choice.

One thing made me wonder, though: When I poured the lye onto the frozen cream, there were no fumes. Absolutely none at all. I wonder if there's any way to work out a similar technique with distilled water. It would improve indoor soapmaking, I think, if the fumes could be eliminated.

January 16, 2007--The Adventure of the Laser Thermometer

I saw a really neat-looking thermometer that you don't immerse in the soap mixture--a bit like a laser pointer. You shoot a beam at your soap mixture and this gadget gives you a digital readout. It seemed perfect for the temp test, though admittedly it was expensive.

I did some research on it--checked its accuracy with the manufacturer. They said "plus or minus three degrees F or two degrees C" which is techie talk for "It could be 2 or 3 degrees off either way."

This is plenty good enough for general soapmaking, but not accurate enough for the temp test, unfortunately. Rats.

Top of Page

January 13, 2007--The Temp Test and Vegetable Shortening

Another soaper pointed out to me that the Temp Test didn't seem to be that useful for her recipe. She got little, if any, temperature rise before visible trace.

So I tried her recipe, and found she was right. Visible trace occurred first, then the temperature rose  in the mold as saponification proceeded . I'd never had a batch of soap do that before. I noted that her ingredients included a high proportion of Crisco.

I made a batch of my own recipe for Crisco soap, and discovered that the same thing happened. I have an idea that the artificial hydrogenation of the shortening may cause thickening before saponification.

So--although saponification does involve heat gain with shortening soap--the heat gain happens after visible trace. On soaps with this fat, I guess we just have to go on looking for trace.

Top of Page

January 10, 2007--One Way to Mess Up the Temp Test

Everyone who reads my soapmaking diary is going to think I shuttle from one blunder to another--all I seem to write about is my mistakes. But what are you going to say about the ho-hum, went-like-silk batches, anyway?

This latest wrinkle in using the temp test is one I want to share, because it's such a natural mistake that others might make it and then wonder what happened.

I had a new recipe, and it was mostly hard fats. I melted them, mixed them with the oil, and took the temp of the oil mixture. Much, much too hot to mix with my lye solution.

Those of you who've read Smart Soapmaking know that I cool my lye solution in an ice water bath. I'd already done this, so--this is the clinker--I set my pan of oils into the water bath to cool.

It threw the whole temp test off, because the chilled pot acted as a heat sink. So, instead of rising, the temperature actually fell. The mixture was gaining heat with saponification, but was losing it faster to the chilled stainless steel that surrounded it.

I made another batch, and stirred it to cool it. That time, everything went as expected.

December 22, 2006--Methods: His, Hers, and Mine

Soapmaking has its ways of keeping us humble. Once in a while, unexplainable things happen. They may or may not be problems, just little reminders that we don't know everything.

 But in a more subtle way, soapmaking can show us that there are many ways to do things correctly. I may read a book and say, "I wouldn't do that." But the author does, and  recommends it. And apparently it works for her. Or him, as the case may be.

One thing to remember is that your technique is something you build by trial and error. In the end, it fits together as a complete package. If I took part of someone else's technique out of context, and tried to plug it into my technique, it might work. Then again, it might not.

That doesn't mean it's wrong. It means it doesn't work with what I do. I'd only say someone's technique is wrong if I tried the entire package, more than once, and couldn't make it work. Or if I truly felt it was hazardous.

Otherwise, it's a case of "to each his--or her--own."

And if the soap doesn't keep us humble, all these darn pronouns will!

Top of Page

December 21, 2006--Still More About the Temp Test

The way I originally worked out the temp test was this: I took the temperature of a soap mixture right after I poured the lye solution into the fats. Then I blended it until I could see it was ready to pour. Then I took the temp again.

This gave me a difference, which in the case of my typical 30 oz. batch, was two degrees. This has worked for batches of that size for every formulation that I and my friends have tried.

However, based on the tests by Shepherd's Soap Company, it appears that larger batch sizes will rise more in temperature. So if your batch size is different from mine, I suggest you recreate the steps I used in discovering the test to begin with. Take the temp of the combined lye and oils, blend until ready to pour, and take the temp again. From then on, you should be able to use that temperature rise to establish readiness for other recipes of the same size.

Why would you want to, if you can tell by looking?

One reason is that another recipe may not show visible signs of trace, but may be ready to pour anyway. That has happened both to me and to other testers who were helping me.

Also, you might experiment with it. Once you know your batch size will saponify if you pour it at, say, five degrees, you might see if it will at four. It's possible you're working too hard to get your soap. Of course, as with any experiment, failure is possible. In fact, I don't consider a series of experiments complete until one of them has failed. That way, I establish limits.

Another point is, if you teach soapmaking, a simple, objective test is far more encouraging to students than the mysteries of visible trace.

Top of Page

December 18, 2006--Aprons

I see a lot of soapmakers using bib aprons. In my opinion, they're not a good choice. Rehearse for a second what would happen if you spilled lye solution or raw soap on the sleeve of your shirt.

There's the bad stuff, spreading over the cloth the way any liquid does. Your arm starts burning. First you have to take off your gloves. Then you have to untie and remove the apron. Only then can you take off the shirt.

When I started making a lot of soap, I bought a microfiber lab coat. Microfiber because it's washable--cotton lab coats have to be dry-cleaned, or they lose their fluid repellency. With the lab coat, I have one-piece protection for my front and my sleeves. If I were to splash something on myself--which I never have, but I like the scout motto, "Be prepared"--I could take off the lab coat with  no fuss or hurry, and I wouldn't get burned.

I highly recommend it. I found it on the Internet, and it wasn't expensive.

Top of Page

December 13, 2006--About Measuring

When I make soap, I'm extremely particular about measuring. For each ingredient, I read the amount needed, pick up the container, and check the label against the recipe. ("OK, I need 198 grams of fractionated coconut. 198. Yes, this bottle is the fractionated coconut.")

Then  I tare the scale and check the amount needed again. ("198. Uh-huh.")

I spoon or pour the ingredient into the measuring container and then check the recipe again to make sure the weights match. ("198 here...198 there. OK.")

With one final look at the label to make doubly certain I have the right ingredient ("Yes, this really is the fractionated coconut."), I go on to the next one.

But before I do, I put the item I've just used onto a cart to go back to storage. That keeps my work space neat and minimizes the chance of picking up the wrong bottle or bucket.

It sounds like a ridiculous lot of checking. But it becomes second-nature, and it's worth the effort. Because, having gone through all this, I can pretty confidently eliminate measuring errors as a source of difficulty, in the rare cases where I'm not happy with my results.

Top of Page

December 12, 2006--Modified Recipe--Double Shea Soap

I've reduced the water because this soap is so soft, and because it apparently can't be CPOP'ed. I found that I needed to use minimum water with another formula that relies on fractionated coconut to attain an INS value in the range of 160.

Double Shea Soap

7 oz. (198 g.) fractionated coconut oil

13 oz.(369 g.) shea butter

10 oz. (283 g.) shea oil

8 oz. (213 g.) distilled water

4.3 oz. (121 g.) lye

Top of Page

December 9. 2006--More About the Temp Test

When I was writing Smart Soapmaking, I kept coming back to the idea that there had to be some way to tell for sure when the soap was ready to pour. My students are always nervous about this, and I could tell that some of them, even though they'd seen the process once, probably wouldn't keep on with it. No matter how much I explained and showed, they looked doubtful.

When I figured out that readiness to pour equated with a 2-3 degree temperature rise, I was delighted. Here was something a beginner could use, with or without a teacher. It worked every time, on every recipe I tested. And a chemist friend told me it was a sound idea.

But all my recipes have one thing in common: batch size. I have no need for big batches of soap, since I'm no longer in the business. So I use recipes based on 30 ounces (about 850 g.) of oil. Not wanting to get into production for large amounts, I asked my friends from Shepherd's Soap Company here in Olympia if they'd test temperatures using my method. Their batch sizes are ten times as large as mine.

They did, and they found they also had a reliable temperature rise, but it was much larger than mine. I'm no chemist, but this makes sense to me. I suppose there's some mathematical relationship between temperature rise and the weight of the batch, but this is something I believe I'll leave for others to find out.

Top of Page

December 8, 2006--Results--Double Shea Soap

The first batch did not turn out well, though it looked quite good going into the mold. I believe I made a mistake in oven processing it. I've had one soap before that just wouldn't stand up to that treatment, and I believe I've found another.

 The INS is fine, and the pH of the finished soap is fine. But it's sort of boiled-looking, not right at all. Sigh.

Soap certainly does have its way of keeping you humble.

I made a second batch, using exactly the same measurements. (Except that I measured the fragrance instead of my usual practice of just pouring some in.)

After I'd stick-blended it about two minutes, I took the temperature, and noted that it had warmed by slightly more than two degrees. The mixture looked to me to be too thin to pour. I'd have told a student to keep going, based solely on appearance. Trusting the thermometer, I poured anyway. It came out perfect.

I doubt that the fragrance was responsible for the problem. I usually use a lot of fragrance, and it's never been a problem before. I've made one other soap--the hazelnut soap recipe in my book--that was a problem with CPOP. In that case, the soap was fine, but the inside of the wood mold was partially blackened from the heat. I decided not oven-process that one again.

My oven is a new, dependable one, but the thermostat can't be set lower than 170 degrees. Maybe that's just too hot for some mixtures.

Top of Page

November 22, 2006--New Recipe

This is one I worked out to use up some excess supplies. Also because I like shea products. I haven't tried it yet, but the INS is close to 160, and I have no doubt it will work.

This is just a list of ingredients. If you've never made soap before, you need to use basic soapmaking directions from my book or from any other responsible source.

Double Shea Soap

7 oz. (198 g.) fractionated coconut oil

13 oz.(369 g.) shea butter

10 oz. (283 g.) shea oil

10 oz. (283 g.) distilled water

4.3 oz. (121 g.) lye

Top of Page

October 15, 2006--The Temp Thing

I have no idea why the idea hit me that I should be able to tell when soap is ready to pour into the mold by measuring temperature gain. After testing like mad, I can say that it's true, and I think this will be particularly useful for beginners. I discuss it in detail in the book, and I'm interested in experiments others might do along this line.

Top of Page

October 10, 2006--Stick Blender Serendipity

I got an even funnier-looking batch the day the stick blender broke. With a pot of soap to stir, I did the only thing I could think of--I divided the batch in two and processed it in the stationary blender. I then poured both batches into my mold and mixed them together as well as I could. This turned out to be insufficient. The soap is fine, but it looks odd. Since I made it for my kitchen, that's OK with me.

Replacing the stick blender was a real revelation. I was in a hurry and didn't want to comparison-shop. The first store I went to didn't have stick blenders at all. The second had three brands: two were obviously not heavy enough for soapmaking. The third, a Kitchenaid, was costlier than I'd planned, but I bought it.

It turns out to make soap much quicker than my old one. I've made 100% olive oil Castile soap with it several times now--it takes five minutes. The difference is less dramatic with oil blends, but I'm impressed.

Top of Page

September 15, 2006--The Green Disaster

Experience is supposed to be helpful, right? So why did I let both the color and the scent get away from me in this batch? It's good soap, but I tried to do a swirl, used too much color, colored too much or the soap, and used too much fragrance. The result was a sort of shocking-green mottled disaster. But here's the funny part--I offered soaps to some friends in  a barter deal, and those were their first choice! No accounting for tastes, I guess.

Top of Page

September 4, 2006--Splish, Splash

In Smart Soapmaking, I describe my utensils, which include a commercial-size glass measuring pitcher for heating oils and a stainless steel soup pot for mixing the soap. I had a seemingly brilliant idea this morning--why not mix the soap right in the measuring pitcher? Eyeing the two, I decided the shape of the pitcher might be an improvement, since it slopes down to a bottom diameter that's considerably smaller than the top. So I gave it a try.

Not a good idea, as it turned out. I had far more trouble with splashing than I do when I use the soup pot. The sloped shape of the pitcher produced a kind of suction that made the stick blender grab at the bottom. I finally poured the whole batch into the soup pot, which I had handy, just in case the pitcher didn't work. Another brilliant idea bites the dust.

Top of Page

September 1, 2006--INS and Batch Size

Right now, I'm mulling over INS, a concept that was developed by the soapmaking industry in the 1930s. Each soapmaking oil has an INS value, and you can work out the value of a blend of oils. The number is supposed to predict the hardness of soap, but I've found that it doesn't necessarily do that. In my experiments, it did predict how easily an oil or blend can be made into soap. Oil blends in the supposedly ideal INS range of 160 turned into soap quickly and were nearly impossible to ruin, even when I broke every rule in the book. But blends that were far from the ideal INS required more work and attention, and had to be babied every step of the way.

Truly verifying this idea would take many more experiments than I did. I'd be interested to know what others have learned about this.

Another thing I wonder about is batch size. I make small batches, and I use a stick blender. I've talked to a few long-time professional soapmakers who hand-stir large batches. At first I wondered why they'd chosen the more laborious stirring process. Then I started wondering whether a stick blender would even work on a large batch. Maybe there's an upper limit to how much soap a stick blender can stir. Anyone know?

Top of Page

 


Home
 
Writing Soap and Lotion Making Cookie Molds Photography Miscellany Contact