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Soap Making Time

This year’s soap is in the moulds after a lovely day of soap making with Noelle and Helen and Camilla and Sue and Roz. It should be ready to cut into bars by tomorrow, then it needs to cure for 6 weeks or more to be ready to use.

soap in the moulds

I make soap every year around this time so it is cured in time for Christmas.  It makes a gorgeous present – just enough luxury to be special, just enough everyday usefulness to be used, and no tacky consumerism. And getting it all done this early in a lovely social morning is shopping heaven.

You need a nice open airy place, with a stove or barbeque to melt the oils, and you need to take care – caustic can cause nasty burns if it gets on bare skin.  But with those precautions, it’s not hard. The recipe is in my first soap post here.

First step:  Dissolve the caustic in water, always adding the caustic to the water and not vice versa.  This is the most dangerous bit.  Sue is wearing glasses, and she and Roz are out in the open so as not to breathe fumes.  It instantly gets boiling hot, so we had a test first to make sure the plastic bucket would stand it.

dissolving the caustic

Next step is melting the solid oils and mixing with the liquid oils. By doing it together we can buy the oils in bulk which makes it much cheaper – still not cheap but cheaper.  For $55, I will get about 45 large bars, enough for us for the year and Christmas presents for all those people I want to thank but I don’t want to feel like they have to gift-give in return.

melting the coconut oil

Then we all have a cuppa and wait for the oil and the caustic to both cool down to between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius. We have the big sink at the community centre that you can see at the left, so we put the bucket of caustic in a sink full of cold water to speed it up.

When they are both cool enough, we pour the caustic into the oil in a thin steady stream, stirring all the while.

mix the caustic and the oil

Then it needs to be stirred for about an hour until it is like custard.  This is much more fun taken in turns and accompanied by good conversation!

stir for an hour or so

Then lunch together, giving the mix a stir every so often.  Then we divide it up and take a bucket full of soap at custard stage home to mould up.  It needs to be stirred every so often for another few hours, exactly how long depending on the temperature and humidity.  This lot went off quite quickly, turning into thick, just pourable custard.  At this stage we all mix in our own additives.  I made a third of mine with rolled oats and grated lemon rind, a third with a marshmallow, comfrey, and calendula mix, and a third with luffa embedded in them. I use cut down plastic drink bottles, with the bottoms sealed with packing tape, as moulds.

have lunch

Tomorrow, when it is at a cheese-like texture,  I shall cut out the packing tape and push the cylinder of soap out of the mould and slice into bars with my bread knife.  I’ve learned that if I leave it too long it gets too hard and difficult to slice neatly. Then it will sit in a box in my laundry cupboard till Christmas to cure.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous October 19, 2013, 6:58 pm

    What a delightful morning with friend soap making. We measured, mixed, poured and stirred! And talked and talked! Drank tea and shared food. In six weeks I’ll have beautiful hand made soap ready to give away as presents for Christmas. Thanks, Linda, a great day.

  • Jude Wright October 20, 2013, 8:11 am

    I love the idea of social soap making. I make mine in small batches about twice a year at home. For me it is a chance to be solitary and single minded; I send the kids and partner away, shut the dogs outside and lock the gate, then the day is all mine. I think I might try a social day next time I make soap though, it does sound like fun.
    Also, I use a stick blender to get the soap to saponification stage, it makes the process go much quicker.

  • Kate October 20, 2013, 8:23 am

    What a coincidence. I made soap yesterday too but for me it was the first time. I’ve been wanting to do it for ages but put it in the too hard basket. But it really was quite easy. Glad to hear that it can take a while to harden because my instructions said 15hours and it really didn’t seem long enough now I know to let it be. Thanks. I love the moulds you use. Will remember that for furture

  • celia October 20, 2013, 5:26 pm

    This is such a wonderful annual event. And for those of us blessed enough to have used your soap, it’s a joy to see it being made! (That wasn’t a hint, I still have several bars – it’s so well made that it lasts for ages! I would like to say though that a bar sits on my kitchen sink and I use it every day, and think of you!) xxx

  • Elizabeth October 21, 2013, 8:58 am

    Could you substitute more coconut oil for the solid (supa-fry) oil?

  • Linda October 21, 2013, 11:23 am

    Hi Elizabeth, I really don’t know. I first made a version of this mixture about 25 years ago and it worked so well I haven’t tweaked it much ever since.

  • Janny November 11, 2013, 5:49 pm

    It’s years since I first made soap and I’d forgotten the fun and joy of it all. I’m now re-inspired Linda – thanks so much 😉

    Do you need to oil the moulds at all? I would be very disappointed if they didn’t just slide out! Also, if you use fresh herbs does that effect the finished product due to moisture content? And lastly, do you know if the soap will still firm up if you used a portion of lemon juice for example?

    Thanks again, your blogging always brightens my day!

  • Linda November 11, 2013, 7:55 pm

    Hi Janny, I don’t think oil works on the moulds because oil is part of the recipe. The instructions I’ve seen suggest using petroleum jelly on the moulds but I just use something I can destroy as a mould. Lately my favourite moulds are soft drink bottles with the top and bottom cut out, with a fake flat bottom taped on, to make round bars of soap. They don’t exactly slide out (sorry to disappoint!), but they’re fairly easy to peel off. Fresh herbs work fine in my soap but you don’t use a lot of them. A little goes a long way. Most things get tangled up in the complicated chemistry of soap. Lemon juice is acidic, and the caustic soda is alkali, so they might cancel each other out and not in a good way. I use grated lemon zest but I don’t think I’d try juice. Others in my group like adding essential oils and spices, but I actually like my soap fairly pure and simple.

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