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.
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.
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".
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.