Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Preparing to Make Soap: Recipes, Ingredients, & Suppliers

Now that you know what kind of equipment you're looking for (see yesterday's post on equipment), you need to consider what recipe you'll use, where you'll get your supplies, and what ingredients you'll need to purchase. And believe me, there are lots of choices in all of this as well! Once again, you need to decide what your goal is for soap making.

For now, I'm concentrating on a general bath bar. In learning to make this kind of soap, I am learning a lot about the process in general without my family sacrificing by making a drastic change in what they are use to using. My recipe is not a stripped down rustic version that one might need to make if the grocery stores shut down and trucks stopped delivering supplies (which I need to order to make this soap). But if I can make this kind of soap, I'm one step closer to making an "emergency bar" (just by going through the process of learning how to make a cold pressed soap (ie: with lye), you will learn a lot about how it all works).

On the other hand, this is not a particularly foofy soap either. It doesn't have a lot of extras other than about three oils, some goat's milk, and lavender essential oil. It's basic enough that it's easy to do without getting too discouraged, yet pleasant to use in the bath or shower.

Where To Find Soap Recipes

You can find all kinds of soap recipes on the internet. Good ones, too. But for your first attempt, it would be best to do some further reading beyond this blog post. There's so much to learn and while you don't need to know it all before your first batch, it's nice to have a book for troubleshooting and more information.

My recipe comes from Susan Miller Cavitch's book The Natural Soap Book. At first I checked out nearly every soap book from the library system in California so I could narrow down which books I liked. Then I went on Amazon and bought a used copy at about half the price. This book is well rated and will give you a few basic recipes. I used her Goat Milk Soap recipe on page 110 (actual recipe to follow on the tutorial another day).

There are other books in this series by Storey Publishing, but they are not all by the same author, so they are not uniform in how they tell you to do each step which is nice because you can get different ideas on how to do the same thing. Milk Based Soaps is another good option which is written by Casey Makela, as well as The Soap Maker's Companion, also by Susan Miller Cavitch. Because of the popularity of soap making, you'll find several good choices available, but be sure to actually look inside them and determine if they will give you instructions for the type of soap you want to make; I strongly suggest a simple recipe to begin with.


This Goat Milk Soap uses 3 basic oils:

• Olive oil, when used in soap, it is often called "castille soap", but a true castille soap is 100% olive oil. Using olive oil helps hydrate your skin and keep it from drying out without blocking the natural functions of the skin. Thus it helps create a mild soap. Used alone, it does not produce a good lather and so most people combine olive oil with another oil to give the soap the desired properties they are seeking.

According to Cavitch, different types of olive oil will trace at different speeds (see pages 22-23). (Tracing is a term used to describe the point in which soap is setting up so that you can pour it into molds. It will leave a "trace" on top of the liquids when you drizzle some across the top with a spoon.) I've used Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Costco and had good success. Recently, I used Light EVOO because that is what I had on hand, and it seemed to take longer to trace, but I believe it was due to other factors involved. Pomace olive oil, made from the final pressing of the olives and includes some of the pits (pomace) in the oil. This type traces the fastest, but it can be a bit too fast at times. Also, it has the highest amount (or percentage) of unsaponifiables (which means it doesn't react with the other ingredients to make soap - often thought of as impurities) and yet it pulls the other vegetable oils into the quickest saponifiation; this can produce a darker soap and sometimes over reacts to other ingredients such as fragrance oils. Are you confused yet?

The reason I mention this is because soap suppliers often sell Pomace Olive Oil. It is somewhat inexpensive compared to other grades of oil, yet you should know in advance how it is going to work. I suggest starting with Extra Virgin Olive Oil until you're familiar with the process and then, try a batch with the Pomace Olive Oil.

• Palm oil (often substituted for tallow) helps make the bar hard, but used alone would make the bar too brittle. And it's a good companion to the coconut oil because used alone coconut oil would be too drying on the skin. Palm oil saponifies (turns to soap) easily and is mild.

• Coconut oil is great for making lather! A little can be moisturizing, but too much can be drying. It also helps to make the bar hard. And coconut oil is good for you on the inside, so I kind of like the idea of feeding my skin on the outside, too.

Other ingredients in this soap are...

Sodium hydroxide, which is commonly called lye and is a caustic alkali. Once the chemical reaction with an acid (oils and fats) occurs to neutralize it, the sodium hydroxide no longer can burn you. So once saponification occurs, soap is safe to use on your body.

I'm sure you're probably thinking why use lye to begin with? Isn't there another way? Well, I'm probably not going to explain this well (or fully), but here goes... it helps to remove the dirt. How's that for an explanation?

Let me try to do a bit better. Home School Enrichment Magazine had an excellent article (which I highly recommend for you and your children to read) in their Jan/Feb 2012 issue (see pages 32-34). Ray and Gale Lawson stated in their article Cleaning Up With Soap, "...soap that is created dissolves in water, but it also dissolves in oils. This means soap has the ability to dissolve into both oil and water at the same time. When you take a bath, the water may not be able to combine with the dirt on your skin (due in part to the oils on your skin that the dirt adheres to), but the soap can combine with the dirt and oil, and since it also combines with water, it provides a way for the dirt and oil to be lifted from your skin and into the bathwater, where it is literally drained away!" 

In short, the lye (alkali), combined with oils (acid), saponifies to create soap which works to lift away dirt in a way that the oils alone or water alone could not do. Better?

You can purchase lye in solid (mostly for commercial purchases), granular (bead), flake, or liquid forms. I prefer the flake. Just a personal preference with no real reason behind it. However, where you buy it, will determine your choices. I buy through a soap supplier, but you can buy this at a local hardware store as well. If purchasing on line, you will need to sign a waiver before anyone can sell you this product (because it can be used for good or for evil and they need to be able to track who is purchasing sodium hydroxide in any amount). Usually you just download a form and fax it to them with your information, what you plan to do with it, and how much you are purchasing.

Grapefruit Seed Extract is an antioxidant and a natural preservative. This helps your soap to last longer which is important if you are making a lot of bars for personal use. If you will be giving the bars away and everyone using them in a timely manner, it might not matter too much, but this recipe makes between 30-40 bars depending on how you cut them. That will take some time to use unless you have a really large family that showers often (or really hard water). (Note that it is not a "full spectrum" preservative, so it is often used in combination with another preservative such as Optiphen, or Tocopherol (vitamin E), however I have not used anything other than the Grapefruit Seed Extract.)

Goat Milk is prized for it's moisturizing properties. Capric-capryllic triglyceride is an oil found in the milk (as well as coconut oil) which is beneficial for the skin.  If you can obtain fresh goat milk, I recommend going that route, but if not, you can purchased powdered goat milk and reconstitute it.

Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils are a big part of the fun, but don't feel like you have to use them. For an economical bar of soap, I just leave this out. But it's so much more fun to have a scent, right? Essential Oils will cost a little more than a fragrance oil, so it's a personal preference.

Where To Purchase Your Supplies

Without compromising quality, you need to buy from the most economical sources. I've done a lot of comparison shopping and unless you are going into a business venture and purchasing wholesale, here is what I've found as of the time of this post...

• Costco is good for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but if you want to use Pomace Olive Oil, you'll probably need to use a soap supplier. (I have not tried Sams Club or other discount stores that may be located in different parts of the country or outside the U.S. Be sure to look at your own options).

• Goat milk is best free! From a friend or purchased locally from a farmer. Second best is a powdered milk from a soap supplier.

• All other items are best purchased from a soap supplier.

My favorite soap supplier is Bramble Berry. They are totally unaware of my post and have not paid me in any way for this recommendation. This is the company I use and as of today, I've purchased all my own supplies from them. Besides being a one stop shop, they are by far the most economical choice. Item after item is less expensive without sacrificing quality.

Keep in mind, that making soap is not "cheap". If you can avoid shipping fees by purchasing locally, you should do so! Buy with friends and go for the bulk buy if it's cheaper. And it's always more fun to make soap together. In fact, if you do so, you can make different kinds and have a little of each. Another option is for each friend to make a different kind of soap or "flavor" and then have a soap exchange. And as you become familiar with the process and know your favorite ingredients, you can keep an eye for deep discounts and really save money!


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