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.