A Day In The Life Of A Soap Maker
Have you ever thought you might like to make soap? Well, take it from someone who has made it for around 6 years now; it’s fun, challenging, infuriating, and confusing in equal measure! Confused? If you told me this 6 years ago I would have looked at you strangely too. Let me explain a little.
How Do You Make Soap?
In a really basic sense you only need three ingredients to make soap; distilled water, lye (Also known as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide, or NaOH), and oil. Essentially, you combine and alkali with an acid. Lye is what is used to make bar soap. To make liquid soap you instead use potassium hydroxide. You can choose a number of different oils and butters to make soap. These oils make up the acid part of the equation.
Which Oils And Butters Do I Choose?
This is where it can get a bit complicated. Basically, when you mix the oil/fat with the lye/water mixture, the mixture goes through saponification. Each oil/butter has it’s own saponification (SAP) value. This SAP number determines how much lye you need in order to turn your mixture into soap. Olive oil is different to cocoa butter, just as hemp oil differs to shea butter.
As well as the SAP number, you must also consider which sort of bar you’d like; high lather, hard, conditioning etc. Should you choose certain oils/butters your bar will harden (cure) faster. Whereas, if you’d like to make traditional castile soap, you need to be patient as this takes 6-12 MONTHS to cure! Castile soap is wonderful though, so I recommend patience as the end result is pretty fabulous. It lasts a long time as the bar has had a decent length of time to cure.
How Do I Design My Own Recipe?
There are a couple of ways to do this; 1. Get your hands on a good soaping book. This will give you all the information you need to get started. Or 2. Use an online soap calculator. This is perhaps the easiest way. However, you sometimes skip the ‘try and fail’ part of the process. Trust me, I’ve had many failed attempts at making soap. My language has been fairly colourful over the years in trying to master this art!
I have a few base recipes that I use. From there I can alter them in terms of colour and fragrance. Soap making is a great outlet for creativity. However, it’s not for young children as lye is very dangerous to work with. I have burnt myself a few times.
Each soaper works differently, and I have changed my process over the years. Much like any skill, you learn and adapt your approach. I begin my process at night once the kids are in bed. I do it like this:
- Decide on a recipe, gather all my tools and ingredients
- Sterilise my equipment
- Measure the water, put safety gear on, measure the lye, go OUTSIDE (Fumes people, fumes) and add the lye to the water (Not the water to the lye, unless you want a volcano)
- Leave this to cool down. Mixing water and lye causes an exothermic reaction (It gets really hot)
- Measure out any oils/butters that need to be melted, then melt them
- Add the liquid oils to the melted oil/butter
- Wait until both the water and the oil mixtures are within the correct temperature range, then mix them together
- Using a stick blender, mix until you get a light trace
- Add any colour and/or fragrance you’re using, then mix again
- Pour into your mold/molds
- Place into an oven that has been pre-heated to 50 degrees celcius for around an hour
- Turn the oven off, leave for about 12 hours for soap to set
- Remove bar(s) from the oven and remove from the mold
- Cut your soap into bars
- Stamp using soap stamp
- Place on curing rack for 1-6 months
- Voila! All done. Time to use your soap.
If you ask me what you really need in order to become a soaper, my answer is patience. So. Much. Patience.
However, it is really quite addictive! Once you taste success, you’ll want more. It’s definitely a form of creative expression. You could even say it’s relaxing and fun.
Although, in saying that, you cannot beat science. You need to learn what does and does not work (Much like parenting!). I will explain more about how soaping can go wrong in a later post. For now, let me leave you with this quote.
Winston Churchill said “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”.
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