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. 😁