Soap thoughts

I have progressed a lot since beginning soaping only in February. I’m comfortable with the basic process of cold process. I will begin learning variations, how to form my own recipes and how to make them all swirly-looking.

My learning comes from four places. Books. Online tutorials and websites. Questions on forums. And empirical learning through success and failure while actually making soap.

I feel like I’ve come far, but then I see websites like this where people seem to be able to make perfect soaps at their whim exactly how they want them to look and smell. http://anitaslalaland.blogspot.com/

I’m also intrigued by the methods others use for mass-production. To see someone make a giant square of soap and cut it into dozens of bricks, and then into individual bars is just crazy to me. I am hungry to know how to do it, but realize that I have to pace myself and can’t rush to that. Why learn how to make 500 bars of soap when as of yet, I haven’t even tried to sell a single bar?

I think I was starting to feel a bit defeated, but my green bar of soap has inspired me. This is my first step ahead and I will keep pushing to learn more and grow better at the art of making soap.

Why do I care about soap? Don’t know for sure. It appeals to me for some reason and it brings me joy whenever I am able to pop out another solid batch.

It is expensive to learn it. But nothing of value comes free.

At least there are soap gifts to give to people while I’m learning the art.

Green soap comparison

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After making the green bar that I was EXTREMELY pleased with, I decided to test the green clay colorant in a batch of tallow/coconut soap to see the difference. As you can see in the photos above, it came out a stone gray color in the  tallow/coconut concoction. I did not add the shiny green mica and am still uncertain if this is what gave me such a rich, earthy green in the batch I made yesterday. Suppose the only way to know is to make a test batch w/o using the shiny green mica. But I don’t see any hint of it in the way the green looks.

Regarding my green soap I made yesterday, this really is a great recipe that I use. Not only does it gel and cure well, but two days later the bar is hard enough that you’re almost tempted to use it in the shower. Can’t wait until May when I can actually test one of these bad boys out.

Green Tea wanna-be soap

I replicated the exact recipe I did a few weeks ago for Strawberry soap. The only changes I made were to replace red, rose clay with green clay. I also added a small amount of green shimmery mica (hard to tell if it had any effect at all). And I replaced the fragrance w/ 3 tablespoons of cut grass and 3 tablespoons of fresh cotton. Threw in a small amount of ground nettle leaf, and added more nettle leaf on top for effect. While it was curing, I thought this soap was a no-win, but a day later I am extremely satisfied with its look, appearance and smell.

Here is the recipe:

Recipe for 4-5 pound brick

Shea butter- 2 ounces

Olive Oil- 10 ounces

Coconut oil- 15 ounces

Palm Oil- 13 ounces

Avocado Oil- 5 ounces

Sweet Almond Oil- 3 ounces

Lye 7.03 ounces (5% superfat)

Distilled water- 17.5 ounces

Fresh cut grass (from essential depot but also available @ brambleberry) and crisp cotton (from brambleberry.com).

Green clay 2 tablespoons.

At light trace, pour about 2 cups of soap mixture into the cup containing clay. Mix it well to fully incorporate. Once incorporated, pour this concoction back into the main batch and bring it towards heavy trace. Add fragrance oils. Pour into mold.

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Charcoal Bars

The charcoal bars have been interesting. They remained so mushy that I waited 48 hours before unmolding them, and even then they were still somewhat mushy when I tried to squeeze them out of the single-bar molds. After leaving them out in the open, they’ve hardened up a bit, but from the way they are going so far I imagine it will take probably 2 months before I’m comfortable with the cure on these. Then I will test one and see how it is. At first, I thought this batch was a failure because it wasn’t firming up but it might turn out ok after all. Even the two puppies came out alright!

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Charcoal Soap

This is a 2 pound batch of charcoal soap I tried today. 2 pounds covers six bar molds, a few mini loaves and I filled two small dog molds I have. I combined a few different fragrances. Gingber & tea + cedar and lavender. We’ll see how it turns out.

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Recipe used:

 

Fats, oils and butters

  • 540 grams olive oil
  •  60 grams castor oil

Lye – Distilled Water

  •  77 grams lye (sodium hydroxide)
  • 228 grams of distilled water

Scent and additives can be added at trace

  • 30 to 50 grams of essential oils, *for our teenage years purpose we have used a blend of tea tree, lavender and bergamot.
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons of activated charcoal for good cleansing of the skin and antibacterial properties.
  • Bentonite clay can be added to add to the benefits of this natural facial soap. Add 1 teaspoon per pound (this recipe would need 2 teaspoons) to warm oils before added the lye-water solution, in between step 6 and 8.

Wild Strawberry Soap

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I am very pleased with how the attempt to make Strawberry Soap has turned out. I’m more comfortable with the cold process and from this most recent attempt, I also learned about ‘gel’ phase. ‘Gel,’ as I understand it is when you let the brick of soap stay hot and cook itself from within over many hours. Actually, what I’ve learned from barbecuing over the years gives me perspective on this. Its like how you want to cook the outer layer to form a shell and let the heat build pressure to cook the inside with its own juices.

More info on gel phase in cold process and cold process oven process soaps:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHD7aC4t75w

The other option, other than ‘gel’ing your soap is to wrap it in cellophane and put it in the fridge so that it immediately starts to cool. Neither way is wrong or right; its a matter of preference and each has its merits. Gel is supposed to give a more vibrant color and keep the scent longer. If you scroll down through a few past entries and see the giant gash that opened up in my cold process oatmeal soap, this was the start of a gel phase that I quickly threw into the fridge. Now that I understand the gel phase a little more, I grasp that the gash in my oatmeal soap was nothing to fear. The darker brown color would have probably spread and engulfed the entire brick. Then it would have very slowly cooled over many hours while I kept it sealed and wrapped inside a towel.

I am going to experiment more with gel’ing my soap after pouring into the mold and simply throwing it in the fridge. Not sure which I like best yet. I’ve put two pictures of the strawberry soap. You can see that one is a nice, smooth bar with no blemishes. The less-asthetic picture shows the top of the soap which is only a little ugly, caused by the ‘gel’ phase. Had I placed it in the fridge, this top would probably have come out smooth.

Anyhow, here’s the recipe I followed:

Recipe for 4-5 pound brick

Shea butter- 2 ounces

Olive Oil- 10 ounces

Coconut oil- 15 ounces

Palm Oil- 13 ounces

Avocado Oil- 5 ounces

Sweet Almond Oil- 3 ounces

Lye 7.03 ounces (5% superfat)

Distilled water- 17.5 ounces

Strawberry fragrance oil (I used strawberry patch, purchased from Nature’s Garden) 6 tablespoons.

Pink Caolin clay- 2-3 tablespoons.

At light trace, pour about 2 cups of soap mixture into the cup containing kaolin clay. Mix it well to fully incorporate. Once incorporated, pour this concoction back into the main batch and bring it towards heavy trace. Add fragrance oils. Pour into mold.

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Reflections on profitability

When you first start soap-making, your early visions are of you selling tons of bars to a market that is ravenous to buy them. The more I’ve researched and experimented, the more certain I am that its not worth the time or money to make soap if your goal is to make a living. There are some who do make a living off of it, but its rare.

A while back, I made a conscious decision to not do the things I do not enjoy. It happened while I was skiing with some friends. It was freezing cold outside. I was wearing boots that, about a size too small, were cutting my shins to scraps. I kept riding up the lift, skiing down, and then riding back up. Then it clicked that actually I hate skiing and find it completely monotonous and inane.

Now that I’ve done about ten batches over a course of about three months, I’ve stepped back to really evaluate how I feel about soap. I am getting more comfortable with it. I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’m trying new things. And, surprisingly, its something I actually do enjoy. I have no knack for baking, but I understand it is probably similar in that you pour your heart into a finished product that is at least slightly a representation of your self, your learning and your talent.

I do not have any farfetched ideas of making any profit online. I do not believe I’ll be selling a thousand bars a week to local retailers. I think that I will fill a very, very small niche among friends and family. It is mostly something to involve my daughters in. To teach them industry. To give them something very unique that they can create and maybe learn how to sell. There is no bad lessons that will come of us making soap many times over for as long as the spirit fills us to do so.

I am content with that reality. I may continue exploring ways to make extra income at it, but I can already see how it takes a year+ to get even remotely good at the art. And by then you’ve dumped a few thousand into it. Good luck ever making that back, and then trying to turn a profit on top of that.

But my head will keep spinning ideas and plots. We’ll see what wicked things this way come.