Soap makers corner

Making your own soap is not as difficult as you may think and the resulting soap is far more luxurious than anything you can buy in the shops. Variations on scent, colour and texture are limited only by your imagination. Start simple, get the hang of it and then experiment. You can be sure that you will create something unique!

Before I launch into a "how to" a very important few words on HEALTH AND SAFETY.

Lye is created by mixing sodium hydroxide with a liquid. It is a strong alkali and is highly corrosive. It can cause serious burns. It is essential to follow health and safety guidelines to avoid injury to yourself or others.

  • always wear goggles and gloves when mixing lye.
  • work in a well ventilated space, lye gives off noxious fumes
  • work in a calm manner, without stress or time pressure
  • make sure your workspace is clean, tidy and well organised
  • make sure all animals and children are well out of the way
  • add the sodium hydroxide to the liquid
  • NEVER pour the liquid into the sodium hydroxide
  • if you have any safety concerns, look for some more detailed health and safety information before you start
  • be sensible and enjoy yourself

EQUIPMENT YOU WILL NEED

accurate scales

large stainless steel saucepan

large heatproof jug

slotted spoon

2 metal thermometers with a range of 50*C - 85*C

(I recommend jam making metal thermometers. I started out with glass thermometers but one broke in the mix and I was left with a batch of soap with bits of broken glass in it!)

mold

(I use wooden molds lined with greaseproof paper. I have one that measures 6.5cm wide x 7cm high x 37 cm long. This is perfect for the quantities I am about to give you and makes a long block of soap that you then slice off in about 3cm thick slices giving finished bars of about 3cm x 6cm x 5cm, roughly. I also use a mold that is 4cm high x 18 cm wide x 37cms long. This also works for these quantities and makes a big flat single layer of soap that you can then cut to size)

INGREDIENTS

There are many combinations of oils and fats that can be used to make soap. I use what I have around me. I live in an olive growing area and my neighbour keeps goats. So...

GOAT'S MILK AND OLIVE OIL SOAP

130g sodium hydroxide

375g cold goat's milk

1kg olive oil

botanicals and essential oils of your choice

THE STEPS

  • get everything ready. Weigh all ingredients and lay out botanicals and utensils. You may need to work fast at some point and it will go much more smoothly if everything is prepared.
  • with your gloves and goggles on, add the sodium hydroxide to the goat's milk in the heatproof jug. Stir gently with the metal spoon until all granules have dissolved. At this point the natural sugars in the goats milk will start to caramelise and the milk will turn yellow. It will smell pretty wierd too but don't be alarmed. I have heard that the milk could curdle but this has never happened to me. I think it's good to start with cold milk so it doesn't get too hot during the lye process. I tried once with frozen milk but it didn't actually get hot enough.
  • put a thermometer in the jug and keep an eye on the milky lye solution temperature.
  • put the oil in the stainless steel pan on a low heat and put a thermometer in the pan.
  • now wait for the lye to cool to around 30*C and the oil to heat up to 30* C. You will get the hang of this.
  • when the optimum temperatures have been reached, turn off the heat and carefully add the lye solution to the oil. Keep stirring with the slotted spoon.
  • your mixture will now start to thicken. It may try to separate at first but just keep stirring, nice and evenly, for as long as it takes to trace. This could be a few minutes, several minutes or quite a long time.
  • you will know when the mixture has traced because it will leave a visible trail on the surface when you pour some mixture off the spoon, and it will last  a few seconds. It's a bit like reaching setting point in jam making, you start to recognise it.
  • now that the soap has traced, it's time to add essential oils, dried herbs or colours of your choice. I won't give strict amounts as it's a personal thing. I like to add a cup of ground almonds or fresh aloe vera gel at this point or a handful of dried thyme leaves or dried calendula petals. I don't go in for very smelly soaps but have been known to add a few drops of essential oils too. Experiment!
  • make sure everything is all evenly stirred in and then pour the soap mixture into the mold. It will still be very runny and hot so be careful.
  • now, wrap the mold in some old towels or blankets and put in a safe, draught free place and ignore it for 2 days. The towels or blankets act as an insulating layer as the soap goes through it's gel stage.
  • 2 days later, turn your soap out of your mold. It will still be harsh and maybe a bit soft. Slice it carefully and lay it out in a single layer, if you can, to finish curing. The more sides exposed to the air, the better it will cure. Cover it over and try to leave it alone! It will be ready to use in 4-6 weeks when you can give it a trim with a sharp knife to neaten up the edges.