Saturday, August 29, 2009

Introduction to Soap Making

Well, autumn is on its way. The nights are cooler, the geese are flying and the acorns are falling off the trees in the back yard. The squash is almost ready to pick and the apples are getting red.

Its time to start thinking about making soap for Christmas.
This post is designed to help those who are interested in making their own soap from scratch. I am not going to cover making "melt and pour" soap. You can buy big blocks of commercially made soap for melting down, colouring, scenting and molding. It is called "melt and pour", but you are not really making soap. "Melt and Pour" is commercial soap to which you add your own extras. You can find commercial soap that is unscented at the dollar store and melt it down, too. You can also melt down the tiny pieces of soap left after using up many bars in your own home and make new bars from those. None of this makes "handmade" soap. Its all still commercial soap made by someone else. How do you know it is made from organic products? Does it contain chemical latherers, hardeners, color or scent that dries the skin? Has the natural glycerin been removed? These are all questions that should be researched before using a brand of "melt and pour" soap.

Real handmade soap is so moisturizing and luxuient because of the large amount of glycerin present as a byproduct of saponification (making fat and lye into soap) and the lack of chemicals usually added to commercial soap to make it harder, lather more, colour it and scent it. Glycerin is removed from commercial soap and sold separately. It is used in the manufacture of weapons and is worth more than the soap.

Saponification is a chemical process that changes the fat and all the lye into something completely different - soap. After saponification is complete, there is no more lye. Saponification takes place when specific weights of organic fat and lye are added together under controlled circumstances and temperatures. Petroleum products will not make soap. You cannot use vaseline, motor oil or any other petroleum products to make soap. The fat must be organic from a vegetable or animal source.

I make sure I have collected everything I need before the soapmaking day comes. I buy the goats milk at the grocery store or trade for it at a nearby goat farm. Country folk are usually happy to trade extras for handmade, chemical free, goats milk soap. I make sure I have enough lye. Yes, lye is necessary to make soap from scratch. No lye - no soap. Its that simple. Lye is sodium hydroxide, so when the soap lable says "sodium" they are referring to the lye used. You will need distilled water or rainwater to mix with the lye flakes or crystals. Hard water will not measure correctly.
There are some new things called "soap nuts" on the market that say they can be used to make soap just by mixing with water, but it isn't the same thing. There are some plants that grow wild here, too, that are high in sapons and will make a lather when run through the blender with water. They are members of the saponaria family, like the bouncing bet saponaria that grows wild along the roadsides. Again, its not the same thing as soap. Does it clean as well? Don't know, try it and see.

One of the main ingredients that I have to locate is hard fat, preferably beef. Hard fat, as opposed to oil, makes harder soap that lasts a lot longer and does not dissolve if you leave it sitting in water. (This is important.) I have feelers out to friends who buy beef in bulk and know people with farms where beef are raised and sold. I hope to have some beef fat scraps and suet to render soon. Its not easy to find a lot of beef fat in one place anymore. Most people don't butcher their own cows but take them to a processing plant for that purpose.

Rendering is melting the fat and meat scraps until the fat is all liquid and the meat is cooked. This releases the fat in the meat as well. To do this, I put it all in a huge pot with a little water and slowly bring to a boil. Once it has boiled for just a few minutes and the fat is all liquified, it has to cool. I just leave it in the pot outside on the front porch, with a lid on and a weight on the lid to keep out critters. A bungee cord over the lid works for this, as well. In the morning it will have separated with the fat on top and the cooked meet and gelled juices on the bottom. I scrape off the fat layer and dispose of the rest. The chickens like the cooked beef and juices. Its all unseasoned and organic. (It is important for the chickens to get the protein and calcium they need to make hard shells. )

I will then go through the entire process again with the layer of fat, just to make sure it is pure. I put the pure, rendered, clean, white beef fat in bags and put it into the freezer until I am ready to make soap.

The day before I am planning to make soap I will take the rendered beef fat out to thaw. Sometimes I make vegan soap and use shortening or palm oil instead, but I only make a small amount. It is very expensive and not as hard a soap as what I make with the beef fat.

One of the soaps that I produce is a natural herbal anticeptic and antibiotic soap, made with herb
infused oil that I make myself from the thyme and oregano grown organically in my garden. I prepare this a few weeks prior to the soap making day by putting an organic oil into a container with washed and crushed thyme and oregano leaves. I let this sit at room tempurature for a couple of weeks, shaking it a few times a day whenever I think of it or pass by. I don't measure it, I just fill the container with the crushed leaves and cover it with oil. I will measure out the strained oil to make soap. This oil is not fit to eat after a few days since it is not refrigerated, but it is great in soap. Thyme and oregano are natural antibiotics and antiseptics. Thymol is the active ingredient in thyme. Research was being done in the area of using thymol to mass produce an antibiotic, until penicillin came along. You can still buy oil of thyme or oil of oregano at health food stores for medicinal use.

Other ingredients are used in minimal amounts for various reasons. Coconut oil makes a thicker, richer lather. Sugar also makes more lather. Salt makes the soap harder and castor oil is added as a stabilizer.
Colour that will last is difficult to obtain organically. Soap, with natural additions such as oatmeal or herbal teas and oils, does not usually need extra colour. If you use milk, instead of water, the finished soap will be a natural shade or tan. Unfortunately, food colouring will not last. You can can purchase soap and candle colouring at craft stores but it is not necessarily going to be organic. e careful using candle colour as it is not made for use on the skin. Colour can be added at any time during the process. You can also make a marble soap by just swirling it into the liquid soap in the mold, using a knife or spatula.

As with colour, scents can come from anywhere. There are some great ones in the kitchen. You can buy essential oils and fragrance oils at craft stores. Perfume and body oils will not work. These will make the soap smell great – for the first day, then the scent will disappear. Essential oils will last for awile but not as long as synthetic fragrance oils. Again, fragrance oils are not specifically "organic". Essentail oils will give the soap the health properties of the oils, as well as the scent.

Along with the ingredients, I make sure I have the utensils I am going to need before I start.

Lye and raw soap, not yet aged, are both high in alkyline and will eat any plastic or wood containers or utensils that you use. (This is why you should be wearing rubber gloves.) Use stainless steel or glass for everything. Stirring the fat with plastic is acceptable as it is just fat, but once you mix it with the lye you will have to switch to a steel spoon.

You will need a very large stainless pot in which to melt the fat and a glass or steel bowl for mixing the lye with water. A hand blender is used to "stir" the mixture until saponification takes place. Women used to stand over a large pot with a big wooden paddle for hours and hours, stirring. Using a blender this way, the soap usually takes less than an hour to saponify. You will need a glass, candy thermometer and a digital weigh scale. A digital scale is the only method of measuring that is exact enough for making good soap that has no lye remaining.

After all of the ingredients and utensils have been collected, it is time to start making the soap.

I am hoping that this blog will be a help and encouragement to those of you who wish to make their own soap and simply don't know where to start.
It is very rewarding and a lot of fun!

You can buy our e-book "Making Your Own Organic Soap At Home"


Joyful said...

Thank you for such wonderful instructions. It sounds like something I'd like to try sometime!

The Japanese Redneck said...

Have always wanted to make soap. Great instructions.

Mrs. G said...

Every post you blog is absolutely awe inspiring!
We soap too, although I use oils and butters.
I got back the lard from Fern this time, so I'll try a small batch with that.
I can hardly believe you're posting about a frost now.
Down here in southern Virginia, the squash has plenty of time left.
Thanks so much for keeping us updated- you're helpful to this gardening novice.
Mollie from Providence Farm