Friday, April 28, 2017

Phase 1 Is Complete & Tested!

The First Phase Is Complete!

March 5th, 2017
"My first batch of soap ever!...I'm very interested to see how the handmade stuff lathers."

Those are two sentences from my soap journal concerning the very first batch I made. It wasn't long after that before I made a second batch, and it's been over 6 weeks since they were made, which means the cure time is complete and they can be used!

My first foray into soap making didn't quite go as planned. I had studied and had this brilliant idea of what I wanted to do: mix up a batch that was unscented and uncolored, and split it into separate containers so I could test out different fragrances. I'll skip the lengthy description and move on to the happy surprise I had: color morphing! One of my fragrances had some blue colorant mixed into it, and when I stirred the fragrance and colorant combo into the soap, it turned a weird combo of purple, blue, and green.

I don't know exactly how this happened, but I hope I can do it again! I used one of these up already in the shower and it was to die for. 

This is how it looked when I first started using it. 

And this is how it looked when I had used up the outer portion and gotten to the inside. Notice the color change! 

Having a color morph on me like that made me play it safe for my second batch, so I added a fragrance but kept it uncolored. 

It sort of looks like Vaseline, don't you think? What I didn't know at the time, but I do know now, is that this was in full gel phase. Gel phase is when the soap gets hot and the texture changes. It's also a great way to make your colors even more vibrant, so if this had been colored, it would have been a stunner! As it is, it's a nice batch to bring to work and use in the women's restroom, where I have it propped up on a little soap ladder to keep it dry in between uses so it lasts longer. 

Experienced soapers say to keep a bar of your first batch of soap. I think I'll keep a piece of this one so I can remember how far I've already come.

So, phase 1 is complete. I think of it as "The Learning Phase" even though I'll hopefully never stop learning. Maybe "The First Batches" phrase would be more accurate.

When I started this journey, I wanted to see why people would waste their time and money doing this when you could just go buy some for cheap from the store. I have my answer now, and the short explanation is this: the homemade stuff feels so much better on your skin. It doesn't strip out the moisture from my skin as much as the stuff I buy from the store, and I find myself using a lot less lotion. (And the lotion I DO use is mostly stuff I made myself as well, but that's a whole different blog post).

But the big reason I keep coming back to make more is this: there are changes every step along the way of the soap making process, and it's exciting to see what will happen at every stage with every batch. The water you use gets hot when you mix the lye into it: an exothermic reaction. I've seen it climb up to 185 degrees, and that's in the winter! I've read/heard that it can get up to over 200. The oils change once you add the lye to it, both in color and in thickness. It starts to look like pudding, which has led me to have pudding cravings and make a lot more of that too. One of these pictures is soap batter and the other is pudding. Can you tell which is which?

And then there's fragrance changes (some of my fragrances have faded away, like the Tangerine and the Pineapple). And the color changes. Did you know that liquid with a high sugar content can turn a bright orange when you add lye to it? Check out this coconut water as it changes from frozen cubes to yellow to a sort of scarlet orange!

Then it changes again when you pour it into the mold. You're never quite sure what you're going to get, which is all part of the fun.

I've progressed on to make more complicated batches since those first two. There was an era of experimentation where I let either the fragrance oil change the color, or an ingredient change the color, as seen in these two batches. With the Key Lime Tart batch, I let the fragrance oil do its thing and discolor the batter, keeping a part of it white and trying to do a swirl (the swirl failed because the batter got too thick). With the Tea Tree Facial Bars, I let the activated charcoal do the coloring and make it a beautiful black color (I had to stick this on a heating pad to make sure it got hot enough to let the black color really develop, instead of having it turn a weird green-gray). Here are the pictures:

 Key Lime Tart fragrance oil, which naturally discolored the bars. The brown is where the fragrance is. The white is where I left the fragrance out intentionally. 

Tea Tree Facial Bars, colored naturally with activated charcoal. That white stuff is soda ash. It's a type of salt naturally produced that has risen to the surface. It's harmless and it washes off.

I even tried my hand at making soap in a crock pot and cooking it so the lye is all used up by the end of the cooking process and it can be used right away. What a disaster! Books and YouTube videos weren't enough to prepare me for how this process goes, and I ended up with a big blue blob that I refer to as "Smurf Pooh".

Soap Fail!!!

But, after a month and a half, I've started to get the hang of it. I've done fancy stuff like make soap in a piece of PVC pipe from Home Depot. 

 I poured the soap batter right into the pipe and swirled it with a skewer to try and give the finished product a flower shape.

Unmolded, and looking impressive! You can see some of the areas where I pulled the batter inward with a skewer. 

Now I just need to cut it into slices

And they look incredible! They're so fun! Sadly, the Pineapple fragrance oil couldn't stand up to the high PH level of the fresh soap batter and the scent faded, so these are pretty to look at and will be functional at the end of their cure time, but don't have any fragrance left. 

Remember when I talked about color morphing? The "orange" in this soap is really a yellow colorant that temporarily turns to orange in the high PH, but fades back to yellow as the PH level decreases during the cure time. In this picture you can see some of the yellow starting to return.

I've done a technique known as an "In The Pot Swirl" and gotten these pink pretties:

I halfway succeeded at doing a layered soap with coconut water and coconut milk:

 I even tried my hand at hot process again, in order to make the PH level way lower so the pineapple scent would stick. I got a nice swirl out of that one.

And I have a couple batches of soap with goat milk under my belt now too, one of which is scented with peppermint essential oil and smells good enough to eat.

Scented with Peppermint essential oil

Scented with a fragrance called Oatmeal, Milk & Honey. Interestingly, since this picture was taken, the fragrance oil has darkened the bars a bit to a very light tan. I think it fits with the oatmeal and honey smell,and it makes the bees stand out more (in this picture the bees blend in pretty well).

I have one other batch made with essential oil as well: Orange. I've learned that citrus oils fade pretty badly in raw soap batter, so I used an orange oil that had been "folded" ten times. That makes it ten times more concentrated so it will last through the 6 week curing process. 

The soap is freshly poured and resting in the mold with marigold flowers on top

When the smells from the peppermint essential oil waft and combine with the smells of the orange essential oil, it makes the room smell like some sort of food/spa paradise! That room smells REALLY good!

So there you have it. Phase 1.  Phase 2 is well in progress and includes getting more equipment, lining up a local supplier for fresh sheep milk, being able to make fancier soaps (like the hot process pineapple) and getting a name and a logo made to help brand myself. I have the name, but no logo yet. I cannot wait to get my logo; I'm so excited! I have a fun tie-in project planned with the name, the logo, and stuff that I have written and can continue to write (YA Fiction, to be specific!) 

Want a hint as to what the name might be? Get your free copy of this book containing 2 short stories and see if you can guess!

I feel like a kitchen alchemist. This process is so much fun, and the creative possibilities seem endless. Yeah. I'm hooked. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The innagural batch!

I made sure to take pictures to document my kitchen witchery. I'm only posting the stuff I found interesting, not the whole process.

This may look like innocent water, but it's got lye dissolved in it. Lye water is dangerous stuff (hence the trash bag taped to my counter to protect it). Fun fact: lye has an exothermic reaction when mixed with water and it heats itself up! This got to be around 170 degrees just by mixing the lye into the water. 

This is a blend of olive, palm, coconut, and castor oils. No nasty animal fats were required, thank heaven. The recipes with tallow are out there, but EW. Especially since it still smells like animal fat once it's gone through the soponification process. No thank you! I'll take my lovely, animal-free blend any day! 

Once you mix the two together, it looks like pudding! Or maybe cake batter. It really does look like food!

The soap on the left is Au Natural. No colors or perfumes. I guess you can call it my "control group" whereas the rest of the pours I did have fragrance and color added to them. And wow, some cool stuff happened! 

I insulated the soap so it would get hot and go through a gel phase that makes the colors brighter. Some funky things happened during gel phase. Okay, just one funky thing. I only put one color in the batch, but the heat in gel phase made it turn all kinds of blue and purple. I love the effect so I'm not complaining! I'm curious to see if the colors change again during the 6 week curing period.

Here are a couple I popped out of the molds today. Same blue mica as a colorant, different results. I think it's fascinating!

So now I wait. The high PH level from the lye can change the fragrances and colors over time, so I'm dying to know what these will look like at the end of the six week curing time.

Bonus: the molds I used to make these were small yogurt containers that had been generously provided by my family. I love that they serve new purpose instead of going into the trash can. 

Soapy Opera

A few weeks ago I started wondering the following question: why would anyone make their own soap (which seemed expensive and labor intensive) when one can go buy a bar for cheap at the store? Was it the joy of crafting? Was it a hippie thing? I had to know, so I checked out some books from the library, watched tutorials online, and read blog posts.

At first I wasn't impressed. I saw videos showing colorful designs and exotic ingredients and kept thinking "I wouldn't want to use that in the shower." (I'm looking at YOU, dried lavender buds!) Just the thought of having to wash those down the drain made me want to shudder.

Then, somewhere in my dense fog of research, the answers began to emerge. It seems we can blame war for giving us the soaps we buy in the store today (along with canned foods and carrot cake, but I digress). Previous to WW1, all soap was made the old fashioned way: lye and lard. During the war, detergent bars replaced the lye and lard versions and that's pretty much what we use now. The store stuff still sounded like the better deal to me. After all, soap is supposed to clean, so isn't a detergent bar better than rubbing nasty animal fat and scorching lye all over your body?

I found my answer when I read the science behind what happens when you mix fat and lye together. The two ingredients morph and change into a whole new substance entirely. Eh? What's this? Yes, a WHOLE NEW SUBSTANCE! It's like alchemy! It's like magic! Okay okay, it's science, but it still sounded like awesome kitchen witchcraft to me. 

But the cost! Some of the kits of ingredients I saw to make those fancy soaps were over a hundred bucks. What? WHY?! (Just for the record, I still don't know why).

Then I read you can make soap out of olive oil, lye, and water. That's it. (It's called castille soap and it's named after a region in Spain where, I'm assuming, soap has been made that way for hundreds of years). No fancy ingredients (in case you count lye as fancy, but since they make Draino out if it, I don't). Okay, now it's entered into the region of "That might be a fun hobby that I can afford". So I ordered a kit off the internet for 30 bucks and waited for it to arrive.

In the meantime, I watched more videos and read more books. That's when I discovered another gem of knowledge: soap recipes are calculated so there's a little bit more fat (oils) than lye. (The technical term for that is Superfatting.) As the fat and lye pair up, the superfatted oil remains unchanged so when you have a finished bar of soap, some oil or butters stay behind to help nourish your skin. I'm a maniac about putting lotion on my hands after I wash them because I hate that dried out feeling they get. Hence, the idea of possibly not having to do that anymore intrigued me. I'll happily say goodbye to itchy skin! 

And so, my kit arrived and I made some soap. I have all kinds of pictures I took to document the process of course. And I had tons of fun making it. The only downside is this: you can't use the soap for 4 to 6 weeks after you make it. That time is needed to let the magic of science deal with the lye so it disappears into the fats and the soap becomes PH neutral-ish. Enough that you won't have burned skin, anyway. (Raw lye is nasty stuff). Plus, extra water evaporates out of it during that time so it doesn't go all mushy in the shower. There IS a way to make soap where you can technically use it that same night (you cook it on the stove or in a Crock-Pot and the lye is rendered safe within an hour) but you still have to let it harden for six weeks to get the water out so it doesn't turn to mush in the shower.

So here I am, with cool stuff I made. I'm dying to try it. It looks awesome and it felt so creamy and delightful when I popped it out of the mold this morning. But it won't be ready to use for 6 weeks. I guess I'd better plan ahead for holidays! In the meantime, I'll study up on how to make fancier soap in the future. 

As a side note, I opened a package of store soap yesterday since mine isn't ready and I looked at the ingredients. It was one of the gentlest soaps on the market, by the way. The ingredients were basically this: chemical sudsing agents, paraffin, more sudsing agents, some shea butter so they could tout its moisturizing properties, and a whitening agent to make it look more "pure". I guess the natural color would probably be an ivory or off white but that didn't give the right image for marketing purposes. In contrast, the plant oils I used (especially the coconut oil) provide sudsing naturally. I didn't even know that could be done. I will be very excited in 6 weeks to do a comparison of my own.

I sorta feel like I'm doing a science fair project! I even bought a spiral notebook to record my process and results. It has glitter on the cover, but whatever. In my opinion, every lab notebook should have glitter on it. I'm sure the best ones already do. 😁