Soapmaking, an experiment in home-crafts

My grandmother never made soap, much to my chagrin.  She always used Fels Naptha when she needed a good strong soap, and whatever regular soap was on sale for everything else.  As a child I always wondered how things were made; as an adult, I get to indulge my curiosity and experiment.  I dabbled in soapmaking several years ago, made a few nice batches but my health was bad and I have no idea what happened to my notes, so I am starting pretty much at Square One.

I received a 3/4 full container of oil on Freecycle a few months ago, out of date but it doesn’t smell rancid yet so I am using it as the base oil for my experiments.  It is a mixture of corn oil and peanut oil.  Both have the same saponification value, according to the MMS lye calculator, available free online  so I decided to give it a try.  I shall chronicle my experiments, both so I can keep track of what I’ve done and the results, and also for your edification.  If I inspire you to try your hand at this craft, please let me know.  Below is recipe #1.  Please excuse the mixed measuring.  My scale weight default is grams, and since I sometimes forget to switch it over to ounces, it’s just easier for me to measure the oils, water and NaOH in grams.  The essential oils I will either measure by drops (in the case of a small batch of lightly scented soap) or by teaspoons (t or tsp) and tablespoons (T or Tbsp or tbsp)

Purification Soap #1

1000g corn/peanut oil (Wesson frying oil)

70g cocoa butter

70g uncolored beeswax pastilles

2 teaspoons Sandalwood essential oil

1 teaspoon Frankincense essential oil

1/2 teaspoon Cypress essential oil

142g NaOH (sodium hydroxide, commonly called lye)

300g water

I weighed out the base oil, cocoa butter and beeswax so I could check the calculator to find the correct amount of NaOH and H2O.

Put the water in heat-proof container large enough to hold the entire batch of soap.  I used a large (2 qt?) pyrex measuring cup of my daughter’s.  Put on rubber gloves and eye protection.  Slowly add the NaOH while stirring until the crystals are all dissolved.  Set this lye mixture aside to cool a bit.  Be careful not to breathe the fumes as they are caustic.

Heat the oils, butter and wax (but not the essential oils), just until all is liquid (be very careful as this mixture can catch fire if heated too quickly or is allowed to get too hot… double boiler is your best bet if you have any doubts about your ability to control the temperature.

When the lye mixture and oil mixture are around the same temperature, pour the oil into the lye slowly, stirring all the while.  I cooled off the oil by setting the pan in a bit of cold water… I think I cooled it off a bit too much because the beeswax was starting to for a skin on the measuring cup I was using as a ladle.

Stir until the mixture “traces.”  This is where it thickens enough that the stirrer leaves a trace behind it.  Sometimes this can take a while, up to an hour.  If it doesn’t trace in the first 15 minutes of continuous stirring, set it aside and stir for a minute every 5 minutes until it shows a trace.

Once you see the trace, you can add your essential oils for scent.  This batched traced within a minute or two, so it has me a little concerned about how it will turn out.  Too much beeswax or too cool?  Not sure.  Recipe #2 will help me to know, but I won’t know for a week or so, until the soap is ready to use.

Once you’ve added the scent and stirred it in, pour into mold(s).  Since I work in a deli, I scavenged a few boxes that the cheese comes in, lined them with plastic wrap.  This batch went into 2 boxes, but could easily have fit into one.


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