Thursday, September 9, 2010

Making Oatmeal Honey Soap

This summer in Michigan, we visited Bee Dazzled in Benzonia, MI.  The owners are beekeepers who utilize products from the hive.  They make candles, soaps, and body care products as well as selling honey from their hives and books.  During my visit, I was able to talk to the owner, Sharon Jones, who gave me great advice on making my own soaps.  I bought The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch.  This books explains how to make cold-processed soap which utilizes the heat of the chemical reaction rather than an external heat source.
For the past few months, I have been collecting equipment from multiple thrift store and Ikea visits based on Cavitch's recommendations. 

8-12  quart enamel or stainless steel pot with lid (the "soap-making pot")
3 quart suacepan
2-3 quart heat-resistant glass bowl or pitcher
2-3 heavy-duty rubber or silicone spatulas
2 thermometers
Molds (1 wooden tray 25.5"x13.5"x4"- for a 12 lb batch)
Heavy-duty waxed paper for lining trays
Masking tape
Sharp, thin paring knife
Safety goggles and gloves
Some of my soap making equipment

I used a recipe for Oatmeal Honey Soap from Cavitch's book.  I used her "soap essentials bar" as a base.  This recipe makes 40 bars, but I cut everything in 1/4 to make10 bars for my first try.  Also, I have no idea what I would do with 40 bars of the same type of soap... I guess I would have some very clean friends!

Soap Essentials Bar
3 pounds cold distilled water
473 grams sodium hydroxide
4 pounds olive oil
2 pounds 8 oz coconut oil
1 pound 8 oz palm oil
30 grams grapeseed extract (natural preservative)- optional
40-50 grams pure essential oil- optional

1/2-1 cup finely ground oatmeal
4 tbsp honey, slightly warmed
45 grams essential oil- optional

I found a great resource for ingredients, Alabama Soap Works.  They have a great selection and shipped quickly.
Ingredients from Alabama Soap Works, plus my essential (and fashionable) safety goggles and gloves
So, I was all set up for soap making.  I had my work area prepared and my ingredients measured.  I decided to mix the lye solution (sodium hydroxide and water) outside on my patio because I have read that it produces fumes and needs ventilation.  I slowly poured the sodium hydroxide into the water and witnessed the fumes and steam from the temperature rise that I expected.  Then I stood back and the solution started to boil violently, while it starting spewing out of the metal pitcher, and turned this horrible black color.  I started to realize that something was wrong.  Referring back to my book, I read the important note that lye should only be mixed in glass or ceramic because it can react violently with metals... hmmm.  I think they were right!
The black sludge from my first attempt at mixing a lye solution
So, now I had hazardous waste to deal with.  After consulting with my dad who worked as a chemist, and doing a lot of googling, I found that a 1:15 dilution of lye to diluted vinegar would neutralize the very high pH of lye.

So, after neutralization and proper disposal of the first batch of lye (and the ruined container), I was determined to give it another try.  I bought an 8 cup pyrex measuring cup and started the process again.  Pouring the sodium hydroxide into the water produced fumes, but nothing like the first try.  The solution became a little cloudy, but quickly cleared and heated up to about 200 degrees F.  Perfect!
The clear lye solution- brought inside when the temperature dropped below 100 degrees F
Melted fats and oils
Adding the lye solution to the melted fats and oils
After melting the fats and oils on the stove, I added the grape seed oil which will act as a natural preservative.  Then I let the mixture cool to 90 degrees F.  Then I slowly added the lye solution to the fats and oils.  Although the book advised against it, many soap making how-to's online suggest using an immersion blender to speed up the saponification reaction.  Hand mixing might take hours of stirring before saponification occurs, and since I'm impatient, I chose the immersion blender method which took about 7 minutes of mixing.  I mixed in quick bursts rather than a continuous mixing.  I found this article to be very helpful: How to Make Cold Process Soap from Scratch.

I made a small mold out of cardboard lined with thick wax paper.  It measured 12"x7.5"x4".
Soap in the mold
After the soap is poured in the mold, it must sit undisturbed for 18-24 hours before you can cut it into bars.  I put it in my cold oven so it would cool down slowly and remain undisturbed.

Peeling the wax paper off and cutting the bars was a messy (yet clean!) job.  There is a layer of soda ash on top of the bars that also must be cut off.  Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is formed with the sodium hydroxide reacts with carbon dioxide in the air.  It is drying and irritating to the skin.  It was very hard to cut straight because I was using a small paring knife, so next time I'll use a larger knife.  After cutting, the bars were placed on a brown paper bag and must dry for 4-6 weeks, so I'll report back in a month.  In all, I'm very excited about my first attempt at making soap!
Gruide lines drawn on bars just about to be cut with a layer of soda ash still on top

Cut bars... a little crooked, but they look like soap!

1 comment:

  1. This is so cool, Gracie! You are quite an interesting chick, you know :)


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