I finally made my first batch of basic soap today. If you've been following along, you know I'm new to soap making. Have you ever wanted to try your hand at making soap and don't know where to start? Maybe you're just curious about the whole process, and how it's done, well you can learn along with me. I started by getting a good book from an experienced soap maker, my husband actually got it for me for my birthday, because he knew I had been wanting to make soap. The book is called "The Complete Soapmaker; Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps" by Norma Coney.
I'm sure there are other great books out there too. This book walks you through all the steps in much greater detail than I do here on this blog. There are really 3 steps in the soap making process. The first step is gathering your supplies, and rendering suet into tallow. The second step is making basic soap, and the third step is called hand milling, where you grate and remelt the basic soap in water and add fun stuff like essential oils and natural additives. Do you know what soap is? Some of the cleansing bars that you buy at the store for example are detergents, and not soaps at all. The same thing goes for liquid hand "soaps" and shampoos. Soaps, unlike detergents, are made by combining lye, animal fats and/or vegetable oils, and water in a process known as saponification. Detergents, on the other hand are petroleum distillates rather than fats or oils. soap can be made in several different ways. In the cold process method (which is what I'm doing) saponification takes several days to complete, and glycerin, a natural byproduct of saponification, remains in the finished soap.
In the book that I'm learning through, there are 5 different basic soap recipes, and not all call for tallow. Some are vegetarian and call for vegetable oils, like olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil and castor oil. Pure castile soap is made just from olive oil, lye and water, and I plan to try that one at some point. With this batch of basic soap I'm making today, I will cure it for 2-4 days then regrate and melt it in water and add essential oils, like peppermint, lavender, cinnamon, and natural additives like, lemon, kiwi, apricot, and bran (for scrubbing dirt off) along with many other things I want to try. You cure those bars for around 2 weeks, then they're ready to use. There are an amazing variety of soaps you can make, one of the advantages of making your own soap is that you can make it just the way you want. You can add herbs from your garden, and milk from your goats, you can create soaps that are for sensitive skin, oily or dry skin. One of the things I'm looking forward to, is having homemade gifts to give to family and friends for holidays and birthdays.
At some point in history, no one is sure when or where, a soap maker discovered that when basic soaps went through the modified cooking process now known as milling, the soaps were greatly improved. the advantages of hand milled soaps are that they last longer, and have a more pleasing texture. You can then add the scents and additives at the last moment before you pour them into special molds to create pleasing shapes.
The first step in my soap making adventure was to buy my supplies. You can see here in this post what you will need to begin. Then I had to find suet to render into tallow, you can see here how I rendered the suet into tallow. This week the weather warmed up and I got into Seattle to get the final things I needed, a digital scale, lye, and cocoa butter at a store called Zenith. They have many things for soap making, and candle making. I also buy my herbs, and essential oils there, along with almond oil and apricot kernel oil for skin moisturizer.
Today I made the Plain white soap recipe #1
Next I weighed out the tallow, 74 ounces.
Then the olive oil, 32 ounces. Make sure to add the
weight of the container, weigh it first empty.
Then the cocoa butter, 3 ounces.
Mix all the fats and oil together in a large
stainless steel or unchipped enamel pot .
stainless steel or unchipped enamel pot .
Stir over low to medium heat just until melted, then remove from heat.
The next process was a little tricky, you have to get both of the temperatures of the lye solution (remember it chemically heated up to 150 degrees) and the temperature of the fats and oils you just melted. They both need to be 100 degrees at perfectly the same time, at which point you combine the lye solution into the melted fats and oils. I was able to lower the temperature of the melted oils by putting the pan in a cool water bath in the sink, I just lifted the pan off the stove and right in the cool water. Not too cold mind you or your oils may start to solidify. I used lukewarm, and continued monitoring both the lye solution and fats temperature, it took about 20 minutes to get them matched up (you need to have it around 95-100 degrees, so there is a slight leeway). I could tell the fat/oil solution was ready because it seemed 100 degrees is right where it was slightly beginning to cool down enough to thicken. I had to move fast and pour in the lye solution, very carefully, with gloves and goggles, no splashing, and stirring the entire time. This is why you need the proper container that's easy to pour your lye solution.
The next step was stirring until the trailings happen, it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour of constant stirring. I stirred for 40 minutes, probably a little longer than necessary, I kind of started seeing trailings at around 25 to 30 minutes but wanted to be sure that's what they were. What are trailings? I wasn't sure myself as I kept stirring, but eventually you will see them, and understand. Supposedly vegetable oil soaps take a longer time to stir and are harder to see than soaps with tallow in them. Trailings are when you lift the spoon and can see lines of soap that float on the surface of, yet remain distinct from the soap in the pot, they look a little like ripples, the best way to test the mixture is to drizzle a thread of soap in the pot. The soap will be thick, then you are ready to pour, I posted the picture of me pouring the soap into the primary mold as the first one of this post. Below you can see I tried to show what trailings look like.
You can see I might have stirred it a little too long, it probably needed to be poured about 10 minutes earlier, and then would be smoother on the top, It will be interesting to see what it looks like after it's cured. I have enough tallow to make 3 more batches like this one, and just need to buy more olive oil, it's not necessary to use extra virgin olive oil, so my next trip to Costco will be to purchase several gallons of just plain olive oil. When hand milling the soap in the next step the ratio is 12 oz of basic soap grated and mixed with 9 oz of water, so the final soap will be two thirds more than this batch. It will be fun to have all the batches made up and formed. I am envisioning a pile of many different types of soap piled up on my table, like the front cover of the book, and then I'll take a picture. The soap will then be stored in sealed plastic tubs and I will create labels and wrappings for each one.
Freshly poured in the primary mold, still warm, needs to be sealed,
wrapped in a towel, and placed in a warm spot.
2 days later, I removed it from the tupperware mold,
and this is my block of basic soap, now ready for hand milling.
I'm happy to report to you that soap making is just like following a recipe, you can do it easily by following simple steps. The next time I make soap I will feel so much more confident about the whole process. I think the first time you try anything new it's always the hardest, because you're learning as you go, and don't know what to expect.