Friday, March 6, 2009

The Basic Steps of Soapmaking

So many people are curious about the soap making process, that we've decided to show everyone a basic step-by-step method that applies to all soap making recipes. We use a process called the "cold process method" using a variety of pure natural oils, chosen for their various qualities they give the finished soap bar. Some oils give a nice lather with big bubbles and some give a great creamy texture with fine bubbles! Obviously, we also choose oils which will be good and healing for the skin. Making soap is actually a lot like cooking BUT exact measurements are really important, so if you are one of those casual cooks that like to chuck things in, your soap will flop, things have to be weighed to the gram!!!! When you first start out it's pretty daunting, we had quite a few disasters along the way, believe you me it's really sad when you peep at your soap the next morning and it looks like "aliens brains"...
You also have to experiment with essential oils as well, as combinations that smell glorious to you before you add it to your soap mix, can smell utterly gross in your finished soap the next morning! The soap process does change things. Basically soap is a result of mixing an alkali (diluted caustic soda in water) and an acid (your oils) together and the reaction that occurs is called saponification. Please note! To everyone out there having a fit about the caustic soda part, you cannot make soap without it. .... but the reason why soap has to sit and "cure" for 4 weeks, is that by the end of that time, the caustic soda has neutralised and is no longer present in the final bar !!!
The following steps and photos are just to give everyone a rough idea of the process, we have photographed a small batch being made, which was just easier at the time.

Weigh out all your base oils ( coconut oil, cocoa butter, beeswax, etc) and put into a stainless steel pot and melt over a low heat. An accurate scale is absolutely essential for soap making, digital being the best. Once everything has melted, put aside and allow to cool.

Weigh your sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and water. Slowly add the sodium hydroxide to the water and then rush outside (the fumes are awful) and gently stir till its all dissolved. Wear a mask and gloves while doing this and be very careful when handling this stuff, you also do not want to trip over a cat or child with a jug of this in your hands. Let it stand in a very safe place to cool down.

You need to now have your pot of oils and your sodium hydroxide solution at the exact same temperature. No easy feat, I can assure you but you get more practiced with this as time goes on.... The temperature recommended can also vary from soap maker to soap maker and recipe to recipe, its best to find what works for you and your soap.

Now that your two mixtures are at the same temperature, pour your sodium hydroxide mixture slowly into your oil mixture, beating as you pour, using a hand beater or a stick blender (which is what I prefer!). When it's a small batch the hand beater is easier. Keep blending until your mixture thickens to a stage called "trace". This is when you can trickle some of the mixture across the top and it leaves a faint line that sits on the surface. This is the signal that a reaction has taken place and that you have basically made SOAP! This is then also the stage when you can add your essential oil combo's, any spices and herbs that you may want to use for coloring and texture. Again, this is also tricky, as not everything survives the soap process and often doesn't come out the way it looked when you put it in! When I first started to experiment with making our Green Tea Soap, I thought I would be so clever and throw in some actual green tea leaves from the opened tea bag, for a wonderful and interesting texture.... well I ended up with a beautiful soap full of black bits.... we didn't mind using it and a lot of our friends liked it too, but I didn't think it would go down well with a customer unwrapping their soap for the first time... but you learn what works and what doesn't.

Once you've added your essential oils, etc this is also the stage you can add an extra small amount of oil (shea butter, almond oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, etc). This is called "superfatting" and will give your soap extra skin-pampering qualities. You can now pour your soap into a mold of your choice. Many things can be used, old yogurt cups, plastic trays, pvc pipes, cartons, etc. Ive always preferred a simple chunk of soap to the fancy molded look but that's just me... If you are using wooden molds, you have to line your molds with thin plastic. Then you pour you soap mixture into your molds and cover with a piece of cardboard and an old towel to insulate it. The soap sits like this untouched for 24 hrs after which you can take it out and cut it into bars. It is always nerve-wracking to check under that towel the next day... has it worked or not!

I think that's why I enjoy making soap so much, you can never get too complacent, as soap making is not an exact science, unexpected and surprising results can happen, things can come out wonderfully... or not! It's creative and addictive and sometimes I feel just like a witch, stirring her cauldron.... and when people tell you how much the soap has helped their skin or how amazing their skin feels after using the soap... well there's nothing better than that!