Be forewarned that this is a very l-o-n-g post.
Shane and I have been thinking of trying our hand at soap making ever since my daughter gave me some handcrafted soap on Mother's Day of this year. Shane and I both like the soap much better than commercial bars, but don't like the prices we see in the healthy food stores and boutiques, which around here seem to be the only places to get handcrafted soaps. We decided to see if we could come up with a suitable version of homemade soap and possibly do it for less than we have to pay in the shops.
Well, I must say that this first batch will NOT be a money saver. I'll explain:
Last week I took a quick look at the formula I wanted to use, and bought the following:
Rice Bran Oil - 13 oz. - $9 (only brand I could find)
Coconut Oil - 14 oz. - $6 (I suspected I could find it cheaper at some Wal-Mart stores)
Essential Oil for Fragrance - .25 oz. - $6
Soap Dye - 3 pack - $2
A rubber stamp for decorating soap bars - $1
3 plastic serving trays for molds - $3
Liquid Lye - 32 oz. - $10
Additionally, the formula called for olive oil, which I already had in the pantry. I'll estimate that at about $5, bringing the total to $42.
On Sunday, before we started the soap making process, we realized three things. One was that we didn't have a stockpot that was non-aluminum or non-stick. Two was that we needed crystal lye instead of liquid. Three was that we didn't have enough rice bran oil. We decided not to try track down the rice bran oil, but to sub in more coconut oil because it would be less expensive and easier to find.
Stainless steel pot - $14 (thanks, Frances, for the Big Lots Buzz Card tip!)
Coconut oil - 32 oz. - $6 (yes, W-M had it and it was half the price I'd paid at the health food place)
Crystal lye - 1 lb. - $5, less the $10 on the bottle of liquid we returned = $5 overage.
So, that's another $15 added to the $42 above, for a total of approximately $57 spent. Yikes!
But wait...that's not as bad as it sounds, because we cut 24 bars from that batch, making each cost about $2.38 each. At the health food stores, similar-sized bars are between $1.79 and $4.00 each. Sure, it's more expensive than multi-packs of Zest or Irish Spring, but we're right in line for handcrafted soaps.
Alright, now that the financials are out of the way, here is the method. Our first run wasn't without errors, and we made it more complicated and time consuming than it needed to be, but it was an enjoyable activity that we plan to repeat...with a few changes.
First we measured all of our oils and put them in the stainless steel stockpot. The formula suggests measuring by weight instead of volume, so that took a little longer than just dumping oil into a measuring cup. Since we had changed the formula (this is the one we initially set out to make) to include more coconut oil and less rice bran oil, I ran the numbers through this soap calculator to see how much lye we needed to use. The amount was slightly less than the original formula.
Lye gives off fumes, so lots of ventilation is necessary. Since it was above the 90° mark on Sunday, we decided to work out on the deck rather than turn off the A/C to open up the house. Here is the pan of oil on the side burner of our grill.
While I heated the oil to 50°C (about 122°F), Shane mixed the lye into the water. I coughed and sputtered at the fumes a little, but it wasn't bad and I just moved a little more upwind of it and was fine.
(I later read that heating the oil wasn't necessary, but I assume that in the winter, when coconut oil is cool enough to be in solid form, I'll want to heat it enough to liquify it.)
The lye mixture heats on its own, so we had to wait a few minutes for it to cool back to 50°C. By then, it was a clear liquid again. Here is Shane carefully pouring the lye mixture into the oil mixture.
The pot was deep, so we used a paint stirring attachment on one of our cordless drills.
Here is the clear liquid just as Shane was beginning to mix it.
At this point we speculate that the humidity might be a factor, although that didn't seem right, either, because our ancestors mixed their soap in huge cast iron caldrons in the summer heat. But we moved inside anyway.
Once inside, the mixture thickened, but it still didn't look like Rhonda's pictures, so I did a Google search and figured out that the soap had reached trace, probably while we were still outside. So, all told, we probably mixed the soap about half an hour longer than necessary.
At this point we scooped out enough for two bars of plain, unscented, uncolored soap.
Then we added the entire 1/4-ounce of essential oil (grapefruit) and about 50 drops of soap dye. That amount of essential oil is just not enough for this size batch IMO, so I'll be looking for a source of less expensive oils. As for the coloring, 50 drops used about 1/4 of one bottle, so that's pretty cheap.
Here are the trays we used, sprayed with pan spray, then filled with the soap mixture.
Our instructions said to wrap the molds in a towel to keep the soap from cooling to quickly, but our molds were too full and our garage, where we decided to cure the soap, is warm, so we didn't wrap them.
Fast forward to the next morning. Time to unmold the soap. Let's just say that next time we'll use a softer plastic or silicone container. Although the trays I used had a little flexibility, they weren't pliable enough and I broke the first one into pieces getting the soap out.
Here are a plain bar and scented bar side by side.
All the work is basically done now. The soap needs to cure, so I'll be turning the bars every day so they cure evenly. We will probably try a bar at the 4 week point, but I suspect we'll let the rest cure for at least 6 weeks. After that, we'll use the soap, noting what we do and don't like about it, and try to make changes accordingly for our next batch.
The soap-making process is long, but it's not complicated, and subsequent batches should move along more quickly now that we have an idea what to do. If you decide to give it a try, just make sure you have plenty of time before you start and that no small children or pets are around to distract you or get into things.
July Grocery/Pantry Challenge:
Items Purchased Today (store brand unless indicated): None
Amount Spent Today (including tax): $0.00
Amount Spent To Date in July (including tax): $110.21