Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Homemade Soap - How and Why You Should Make It

Last year, I got into Soap Making.

If you've never made soap before, this may sound a little strange.  Here are some basic misconceptions about making soap at home:

1. It's difficult.
Soap-Making is pretty simple!  It basically involves knowing three parts, and you just make sure to combine them at the right time!

2. It's expensive.
This one is also false.  Homemade Soap is a fraction of the cost of store bought soap.  There will be some up-start costs, and if you choose to use exotic oils in your soaps, then yes, it will be a bit more expensive, but even then, buying exotic soaps in the store would cost more, too.

3. The soap is bad quality.
Again, this is not true.  Like any hobby, soap making takes practice, but with time, beautiful, high quality soaps can be made at home.  The soap you make is also NOT less effective.

4. It's dangerous.
There is a little bit of truth to this.  While making soap, you are working with Lye and very hot oils.  Use basic chemical precautions and keep animals or small children away from chemicals and soap-making.  However, when done with care, this can be a safe and easy hobby.

Now that we've expelled some basic misconceptions, lets go on to explain other reasons why you should make soap at home!

1.  It's cheap. Very cheap.
2.  It's easy.  You make a batch and it lasts for a while.
3.  If you like it, you can experiment.  Add scents, essential oils, color, oatmeal, whatever!
4.  You control what goes into your soap.

Let me say that again.

4.  You control what goes into your soap.

Why is that so important?

Well, first off, there are tons of chemicals in store-bought soaps that are harmful to your body.  They seep in through your skin and can affect your mood, your homeostatis, and your brain.

But there's another reason.  Lets say you live in a family of five.  There's a baby with dry skin that needs gentle soap.  There's a teenager with acne.  There's a child whose skin gets little bumps from not being exfoliated enough.  There's a grandma with soft wrinkles.  There's a parent with dredlocks.

When you make your own soap, you can tailor each batch to a certain person.  No need to go to the store and buy expensive dredlock shampoo --  you can just make a soap with extra beeswax and jojoba oil instead of olive oil and they can use it as shampoo.  Soaps with oatmeal or coffee can exfoliate.  Some oils are more moisturizing, some are harsh, some are gentle, some are fairly typical.  You can learn the properties of each oil and each superfat and you can adjust to your loved ones, refining each batch a little more.

Store bought products might say "for dry skin" or "for blackheads," but each person's skin is made of different chemicals, and so it might be dry for different reasons, and what helps one person might make another worse.  When you make your own soap, you can avoid this trial-and-error with expensive products that just go to waste.  Make a small batch.  Does it work?  Great!  Make more!  Is it not the best fit?  Use it until it's gone, or bring it to the kitchen, or donate it, or shred it to make homemade laundry detergent.  Make another one!

Do I have you yet?

If so, read on, and I'll explain the basic idea of soap making.  If not, read on, and see how easy it is!

No matter which soap making process you're using (more about that later), there are several basic ingredient categories.

1. Fats.  These are usually oils, and any combination of different kinds of oils can be added in here.  Some recipes call for beeswax.

2. Caustic. Usually lye, every recipe needs a caustic.  Basically, this chemical interacts with your fats and chemically produces soap.  This process is called saponification.

3. Carrier/Liquid.  You'll need a liquid -- usually water, but sometimes milk or tea -- to dissolve your caustic.

Okay, so now that you've got an idea of what you'll need, lets learn about how to combine these ingredients.  There are two main processes for soap making -- hot process and cold process.  There are others, but they are more obscure are are better done with practice.

In both processes, first, you weigh out your fats.  Using a lye calculator, you can determine how much lye you'll need.  Always use a lye calculator.  Different oils have different amounts of fat, so your lye amount can change.  You usually leave a certain percentage of fats left un-reacted, called a superfat, as a buffer.  Too much lye can burn the skin!  Too much fat just makes it mushy.

Once you know how much lye you'll need, you can dissolve it into your liquid.  Always put the lye in the water, not the other way around.  If your oils are solid at room temperature, melt them, and combine them all together.  Then, you add the two mixtures together and stir them to trace.  Trace is a big spiffy word for "it looks something like pancake batter."  It means everything is mixed up.

This is where the processes differ.  In cold process, you pour your mixture into a mold and you let it sit for several weeks.  Then, you can use a spiffy tool to check and see if all of the lye has reacted.  If so, cut and use!

In hot process, you pour the mixture into a crockpot and basically bake the lye out.  There's a certain look it gets when it's done. (I suggest you google a picture).  At that point, you pour it into the mold, let it harden, and as soon as it's hard it's usable.

Soon, I'll post about some of my favorite recipes.  Stay tuned!

Has anyone else made soap at home before?  What are your favorite techniques and recipes? Which process do you like better?