Cooking Soap

Last night was soap making night with assiduous first time soap-maker F! Good Planet on Fort Street sells soap making kits with everything you need. They go for $50 or so. There’s a discount on the kits if you’ve attended their soap making classes which I did last year with LH. Well, the kits have almost everything. They have all the raw materials. You supply: safety goggles, a medium pot, a thermometer that can go between 45-80C, and a whisk (or hand blender). The kit comes with the raw materials (lye, fat, essential oils, and organic colouring). They even have a pair of safety gloves. You can also add exfoliant. We picked up some poppy seeds from Market on Yates for exfoliant. Hemp hearts also work.

The first time I made soap, it was in the back studio of the Good Planet store. Tea tree oil. I’ve been using it since then. It lasts a long time. And my skin likes it much better. Commercial soaps (even the dermatologist recommended ones) leave me itchy. Writers have sensitive skin! Well no, I’ve got eczema so I’m always mindful of skin care. Did you know that some commercial soaps cannot even be labelled ‘soap’? They have so many weird ingredients that the bureau of people with nothing better to do makes the manufacturer’s call them ‘beauty bars’ instead. I’m not into hippy stuff, but I definitely am into home made soap.

How Do You Make Soap?

It’s easy as ABC. Allow about 1-1/2. Measure out water (tap water is fine) into a bowl. Whilst wearing gloves and goggles, slowly add lye to the water and whisk. It starts smoking a little bit as the water rises from room temperature to 70. It will take a little while to cool to 45, at which point you pour in the fat. When the lye/water gets close to 45, heat up the fat in the microwave until it’s at 45. While whisking, slowly pour the fat into the lye/water. Make sure not to get any on exposed skin!

It takes a while to whisk. Maybe 15 minutes. It might go faster with hand blender, but that’s just something else to clean up. And it’s good to give the forearms a workout too! As you whisk it, a chemical reaction takes place between the lye and the fat. It’s like gunpowder or cement: it forms a new substance. In this case, after the process of saponification, the lye is no longer lye and the fat is no longer fat. It’s become soap.

Soap after whisking 10 min

Soap after whisking 10 min

After a 15 minute whisking workout, the consistency (which started out like water) gets to the ‘trace’ stage. That’s when you can lift the whisk up, and the soap dripping off the whisk into the pot stays on the surface for a second before melting back into the solution. For example, you could spell out a letter (briefly) or something like that on the surface of the soap solution.

When it reaches trace stage, put the colouring, essential oils, and exfoliant into the mixture. Then pour it all into the wax lined mold:

Pouring soap into mold

Pouring soap into mold

Wrap it in a towel (to keep it warm to the chemical reaction continues) and in a day or two, you can chop it up into blocks. It’s still quite soft. Cures in three weeks. And gets better and harder with time. If you’ve used the right amount of lye and fat, no expiration date: too much fat and it will go rancid. Too much lye and you will burn your skin! As a safeguard, people usually err on the side of a little more fat than the chemical process demands. If you do this, it will last a long time. I’ve had my other soap for over a year and it looks and smells great.

After a day, voila:

Soap curing in mold

Soap curing in mold

Ready to be chopped into blocks!

Why Make Soap?

It’s good value. Good Planet sells the bars for $6. If you get 25 bars from the box, you save $100 from the individual cost (retail cost of individual bars = $150, kit = $50. If you sourced out the materials individually instead of getting the kit, you could probably gets costs down to $20.

It’s good to make things yourself. There’s a certain satisfaction. It’s going back to the roots of things. You’re in control. You feel like you’ve done something. It makes a good gift.

You learn something. Who knew making soap was this easy? And yes, now I know why Blind Willie Johnson and all those other blind blues players went blind: don’t get the lye in your eyes! Take the precautions and it’s 100% safe. Well 99% safe.

What I Learned Making Soap

Do not throw the pots and whisks right in the dishwasher. The dishwasher soap does not clean soap soap and makes more of a mess. Rinse off the soap before putting everything in the dishwasher.

The lye will discolour cutting boards. No biggie. Now I have a soap making memento!

So: if you haven’t done it, give it a whirl! You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I like to stay clean while Doing Melpomene’s Work.

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