Tuesday, January 18, 2011


As you read this, please remember one thing: We really don't know what we're doing.

Like gardening, home renovations and so many other things that Shane and I do around here, soap making consists of a quick overview of the basics and a lot of trial and error. Our approach is a mixture of a little understanding of how things work, the courage to give things a try although we might fail, a good measure of impatience, and a whole lot of luck.

We made our first rather large batch of soap last July, using a basic recipe I found on the Down To Earth blog. We had our doubts in the beginning, but the soap turned out just fine. We have been using it exclusively for bathing, hand washing at the bathroom and kitchen sinks, and in my case, as shampoo. We go through roughly a bar a week and we have six bars left in the bathroom cabinet. It takes about six weeks for soap to cure, so we were down to the wire on our next batch.

Let me reveal our second, third and fourth batches of soap, which we made last Saturday.

I had an idea to try making some green tea soap using some actual, brewed green tea. The oils I decided on were coconut, olive and just a touch of cocoa butter. What a surprise, when we added the lye to the light golden green tea and saw it turn as dark as coffee! When we added the lye-tea mixture to the oils, it did lighten up some, but was still as dark as rich hot chocolate. This really wasn't the look I was hoping for, but we decided to keep going.

We poured the soap into silicone cupcake molds. A few had to be over-filled, but could be cut into two bars after we unmolded them. Again, what a surprise to find that the curing soap had lightened up and was nearly the color I was hoping for after all.

Unfortunately, there is a layer of oily powder on top, like last time, and at this point I still don't know what to do about it.

Since the green tea experiment started out so dark, I decided we should make another batch. (Notice I make the decisions when it comes to soap making; Shane is just labor.) I used the exact same oils in the exact same proportions, but instead of using tea, I used water and then right before pouring the soap into a silicone loaf pan, I mixed in the used green tea leaves from one tea bag. After unmolding, I sliced the loaf of soap into rustic looking bars that have a layer of green tea leaves in them. I like this look.

Neither of our green tea batches had fragrance added, and any odor from the tea or tea leaves has dissipated.

For our final batch, I decided on a tea tree soap. The oils I chose were just coconut and olive. At the molding stage, I added some sea foam green soap dye and about a gram (about 30 drops) of Australian tea tree. It has a light, pleasant scent that's kind of minty and medicinal.

I used a flexible plastic square pan for this batch, then cut it into rectangular bars after unmolding it. The color right now is a mint green and the scent is very nice. Shane says he thinks this will be his favorite of all the soap we've made so far.

These batches are much softer than the first batch we made in July. That could be because of the different oils we used (the first time we also used rice bran oil), or it could be because we cured the soap in the hot garage, while this time the soaps are being cured in the cool basement. Or it could be because we really don't know what we're doing.  I'm hopeful that it will all turn out fine in the end, though.

Meanwhile, I had a novel idea. I actually ordered a reference book on soap making, so I may eventually learn what I'm doing after all.


Frances said...

I think your soaps all look lovely! You make me want to make some soap. I don't know that I will, but I will be thinking about it.

debbieo said...

I make soap all the time and sometimes I get the ashy powdery stuff on my soap too. I asked my chemist friend and I cant remember what he said it was but he said it didnt hurt anything and if it bothers you take a damp rag and wipe it off.
Your soap looks great.

Melynda said...

Great stuff, did you find it saved any $ or did you do it for fun. I make laundry soap and to cut costs on my kitchen soap I cut it 1/2 and 1/2 with water and find it does the same good job and 1/2 price.

Melynda said...

Hello again, included this great post in my Wednesday wanderings. Thank you.

Miranda said...

It all looks beautiful. The combination of the 3 is very homey and rustic.

McVal said...

I love the look of them! I'm going to have to try this. Can you put any disinfectant type stuff in them too?

Annie Jones said...

Frances: Thank you. If you decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear about it.

DebbieO: I think I read somewhere that chemically it is the same as washing soda. I don't mind it now, but if we ever decide to get good at this and sell it, I would like for it to not happen.

Melynda: Our first batch priced out at something like $2.38 per bar, which is in line with handcrafted soaps at the health food stores. That included the oils, lye, dyes, scents and stainless steel pot. This time I didn't have to count the pot or dyes, and I had a lot of the ingredients leftover or just on hand (like the olive oil). So this time it came out to 52¢ a bar. That's cheap for handcrafted soap (but still about twice as much as Irish Spring at Sam's Club). We do it for fun, but we also like the soap better than commercial bars. Also, Kat's eczema has improved greatly since she's been using the homemade stuff.

Miranda: Thank you. :)

McVal: Tea tree oil is antiseptic/antimicrobial. :)

Mayet said...

those look just fine to me;) I love soap and everytime we go somewhere in France I would bring home different scent.

hat's off to you;)

Lisa B. said...

If I remember right the powder is called soap dust and happens when the soap is poured too hot or too cold or processed without being insulated and have quick temp changes. (Probably caused by the curing in the hot garage).

Love the look of the round bars and the price isn't bad! How many ounces are your bars compared to store bought? They look bigger.

Alea said...

I love reading about your soap making adventures! I think they all look lovely.