Every soapmaking book or blog that you read will tell you to minimize your distractions (or eliminate them) when working with lye. In my house, that is not possible. Between the human kids and the furry kids, there are always unwelcome kitchen visitors, so I try to make the best of the free time that I have...which I why I end up soaping at 2 AM.
Without further ado, here's my late at night soaping edition tutorial for hot process soap.
I am obligated to tell you that you need to follow all safety precautions when working with lye..long sleeves, closed toe shoes, gloves, safety glasses, etc. Lye can be very nasty, and even though I haven't dealt with anything serious, I have felt the "itch" which can lead to a pretty serious chemical burn...I have been lucky and I'm lazy, but by all means, you should protect yourself. "Safety is sexy.." (though my five year old says that I shouldn't say that; it's inappropriate....not sure he even knows what that means.)
On to the process:
I decided to make a soap that was part shortening, part coconut oil, and part olive oil, which is pretty much my go-to recipe. The purpose of the tutorial is really more to show you the steps, rather than to dictate what you choose to make, but here is my recipe:
16 oz Vegetable Shortening
8 oz Coconut Oil
8 oz Olive Oil
4.49 oz lye
10.48 oz distilled water
(superfatted at 5%)
ALWAYS run your recipe through a reliable lye calculator, even if you think it is foolproof. I prefer to use the one from Brambleberry
, but there are many to choose from. (Don't just blindly trust a recipe on the net; you never know what you'll end up with.) For this recipe, I used the calculator at Summer Bee Meadow
First, you want to melt all of your oils. I use a crock pot that is set to low; it was a cheapie that I picked up at Goodwill. It works fine at LOW, but my other crock has to be kept on WARM, so you'll need to adjust to whatever temp is the most comfortable (and lowest) for you.
While your oils are melting, you want to mix your lye solution. NEVER POUR WATER INTO LYE; always pour your lye into water...think gently falling snow. The other way around can cause "volcanoing" and all sorts of hazardous issues that could land you in the ER, so this is pretty much the most important step of the process to remember. GENTLY FALLING SNOW=LYE POURED INTO WATER. Don't breathe in the fumes, either. Use a mask if you must.
Once that's done, that baby is going to heat up like there is no tomorrow, so it's a good idea to put it on a potholder on your counter. When using the HP (hot process) method, temperatures don't really matter, but keep in mind that the solution of lye/water is going to heat up to well over 300 degrees rather quickly, soitcan definitely burn.
Once your oils are melted, you can SLOWLY pour your lye solution into the pot. I use a mason jar for mine, because it can tolerate some high heat, but some use plastic...just remember, anything glass will etch over time.
Next, you'll want to take a stick blender (another Goodwill special) and start mixing the oil and lye with short pulses. You'll be working toward a "thick pudding" consistency for "trace", which is when you'll begin to see lines in the soap when you trail your blender across the top.
Once you have reached trace, it 's time for the cook. Make sure that you don't walk away from the crock, because your solution can climb out of the pot (which is a colossal mess.) By the way, you DO cover your crockpot with a lid during this process.
You'll start to see separation, or a "crust" form on the top: this is a critical time for staying near the crock. Resist the urge to stir unless it starts to get really close to the top. Who am I kidding? It will probably climb...so when it does, stir it down gently with a spatula, taking care to avoid the stuff that accumulates on the side of your crock...which will cause spots throughout your soap.
Next step: Wait. Really.
Once your soap has gelled, you'll get to that "vaseline" stage: this is where your soap will start to get a bit translucent; for me, it's usually about 30 minutes into the cook. It will start to feel waxy if you rub it between your fingers (which I would not suggest, unless you are cool with the whole masochistic hot waxy feeling.)
Cook it some more. I hate waiting, don't you?
When you get to "mashed potato" consistency, it's most likely done. So, it's time for the ZAP test.
Some people like to use PH strips, which, while safe, are expensive. I'm a bit of a tight ass that likes to live dangerously, so I am okay with zap testing, which simply means tasting your soap to make sure that it's done. If it is, it will taste like crap...like getting your mouth washed out for cursing. If not, it will feel akin to sticking your tongue on a 9 volt battery...repeatedly. Not a pleasant feeling.
So, you're past the zap, and all you've had to do is spit a few times and say, "ack" about a hundred times...what next?
Hopefully, you don't have ADHD like me and have remembered to line your mold in the meantime. Me? I'm usually scrambling and searching for the tape and freezer paper, but you can aspire to be normal, and have this all done way before the soap is cooked...
I like colors, so I prefer to separate my soap into a couple of glass bowls...and then work on getting the temp down. A few vigorous stirs should get you down to about 160, which is when I try to add my essential oils/colors, or fragrance oils. (Keep in mind that some florals will cause your soap to seize, which will make it rock hard and impossible to work with.)
Once you have added your color and scent, it's time to put that baby in the mold. "Glopping" is the best way to describe this process:
(kinda looks like pink poop...not something most parents look forward to seeing)
Bang that sucker against the counter a few times...it will break up the air bubbles and smooth out your soap. Then, wait. It's a good idea to do this late at night if you're impatient like me...then you will have to go to bed and resist unmolding until the morning.
Wild Jasmine soap...smells delicious, even with soaper's nose (i.e can't smell crap; well, maybe crap but nothing else.) Make sure to give your bar about 4 weeks to cure, even though it is safe to use right away. The harder the bar gets, the longer it will last.