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My first soap

Posted by on Friday 4 March 2011 in Featured, making, soap, wood stuff | 8 comments

I made some soap for the first time last week. It took FOREVER to trace. I wrote a blog post about that but didn’t explain any more about my soap making because, well, frankly, at that point, it looked like it was going to be a big fat fail.

Even though it had reached what could be considered trace, it still felt very sloppy when I was pouring it into the moulds and even overnight and over the next night, it was harder but still very soft. The directions I’d read had said to take it out of the moulds after a couple of days – mine would have still blobbed all over the place at that point. But it clearly was still curing and it was more than ready to leave the moulds today – a week after it was made. (It was probably ready for tipping out by Wednesday – it was a lot paler and seemed like it would hold its shape – but I was just busy with other stuff so thought it would be better to leave it rather than rush it.)

I made two batches – I’ll post the recipes & cost breakdown once I know that it is actually a success and they’re good to use but for now, I’ll say the first was a 100% olive oil soap, and the second was a third olive oil and two-thirds other generic veg oils/shortening — everything bought from supermarkets. As I’ll explain more when I review the two soap-making books I bought, we’re pretty utilitarian when it comes to our soaps – we want them to get us clean, to not be harsh & drying, and to smell alright. We want them to create minimal waste & be as frugal as possible. This is particularly important for me while I’m learning the skills – if I make a mistake, it’s nothing more than a few quid and some time; if I was buying neem oil, shea butter and essential oils, I’d not only be paying more for the ingredients, I’d be paying for postage & packing too and having to wait for them to arrive too.

As expected, the 100% olive oil soap is considerably paler & already harder than the mixed oils one – the veg shortening keeps it that bit softer. Because I ended up making a lot more than I’d intended in one day, I had to get a bit more creative about the moulds than I thought I would at the start. The 100% soap used an old plastic fruit tray & an old deep oven tray as moulds.

The mixed oil one got the choicest mould – a long flat tray with a lid (from when we bought a big pack of ostrich burgers from the farmers market) – but its overflow containers weren’t as suitable really – one of the square olive oil bottles and an ice cream bucket. They were more awkward to use but have resulted in interesting shaped soaps.

Once I’d popped everything out and cut it to size, I thought “I’ll put this in the airing cupboard to keep curing and drying for the next few weeks”. Then I had a “doh!” moment – the airing cupboard got pulled out by our bathroom refitters on Monday! I hadn’t acted quick enough to keep the racks I’d made which would have been perfect as drying racks (I did though save the cupboard doors – one of which I used as a chopping board for the soap, and the others will make a raised bed). So anyway, I needed something to use for drying racks so yet again, I raided the scrap wood store and twenty minutes later:

A drying rack! It’s a very rough & ready job, done without any measuring hence the slats being a bit wonky, but it’ll do fine for this purpose.

Now the soap is on the new rack drying in the attic room. I guess I shouldn’t declare it a resounding success just yet until it’s finished and we can try it, but after a few days of foreboding failure, it looks a lot more hopeful now!


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  1. sara

    WOW..that looks amazing..i’d love to give it a go..but we don’t use soap at all… not smelly people just have very sensitive skin and any soap makes us feel all tight and itchy…but well done you for doing it..i really hope it works out..it looks so good almost like cheese..

  2. Alexis

    very cool!

    are you using a blender to stir? It’ll trace faster. I use a cheap egg blender rather than the “stick” blenders – works great.

    My third batch – last week – went horribly wrong – it smelled of fish (it was a vegetable oil soap), it turned orange, and seeped/bled a reddish oil – this on top of the fact that when i mixed the soda & oils – it instantly turned into a solid lump! Needless to say – I’ll need to re-visit the recipe.

    I just yesterday used a bar from my first batch – I may never buy soap again!

  3. Colleen

    I am looking forward to hearing more about this project and may be temped to have a go at making soap myself. Finding nice soap that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg is a challenge as is finding soap that does come packaged excessively. I await with baited breath to hear how your project turns out.

  4. louisa

    Hi sara: our plumber thought it looked like cheese too! Possibly doesn’t taste like cheese though! I know what you mean about “tight and itchy” – I hate that too – olive oil soap is supposed to be very kind and mild though.

    Alexis: I used a balloon whisk to stir it but am now looking out for a super cheap electric stick blender because it. took. frickin’. hours. From what I’ve read very olive oil heavy soaps do take longer to trace than others so I might explore a new recipe – I’ve heard tell of ones that are essentially just left for 18-24hrs, with occasional stirring.

    Re: the bad batch – doesn’t sound good! Perhaps needs a little revision before it’s good for guests ;)

    We’ve still got a few more weeks before we can try ours – I ended up making a lot more than I’d originally anticipated and reckon we have a year’s worth of soap drying at the moment!

    Colleen: I’ll keep you posted!

  5. Rachel

    My first soap took forever to trace, too – a good hour and a half. I loved your post on that! Mine had quite a bit of olive oil it, but also sunflower oil, hemp oil (because I happened to have some) and lard (because I was worried it wouldn’t go hard with just oils).

    I gave some away for Christmas and have been using it for about a month (wasn’t organised enough to have it ready to use by Christmas. Duh!) It tends to absorb water and go a bit sludgy, but it’s really nice to use. I think I’ve got about a year’s supply, too ;)

    I look forward to hearing how yours turns out.

  6. Alexis

    My first batch was a pure olive oil batch – and using my cheap egg blender I got trace in about 20min. if that helps.

    I think the famous Aleppo Soap (pure olive oil) is “cooked” for a whole day before its poured into the moulds to cure for 9months – don’t think I could wait that long (grin).

    • louisa

      Rachel: glad I wasn’t the only one who had to wait a while for trace, not like that speedy Alexis ;)

      20 mins for pure olive oil? jealous!! If this batch works out, we won’t need any for a while but I’m going to get either an egg blender or a cheap stick blender before I make the next batch.

  7. Alexis

    ha ha

    I’ve just finished a small bar of my second batch and absolutely loved it – so I had a comparison I used a bar of my favourite store bought soap and am amazed that it seems rather “harsh” now! I think I might be making my own soap from now on.

    I was noticing your para on moulds – is the lovely square one with the curious pyramid indentation from the olive oil bottle? I really like that and would like to try similar.

    I ordered some handy inexpensive soap moulds from . . . oh where is that URL . . . .ah! here it is http://soapbasics.co.uk/ they were inexpensive and came really quickly – you might find something there for future. I’ve also seen suggestions of using silicon cake/muffin moulds, and I bet some of the more interesting ice-cube moulds would work just as well if you already have these things in the house.

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