Last week, we started using our homemade olive oil soap.
You might remember I spent A MILLION HOURS waiting for the damn thing to trace back in February but didn’t think it would work because it was sloppy in the moulds for a few days. Then it started to solidify and I did a happy dance.
So, anyway, after a few more weeks of curing/drying, we started using it last week. I went with one of the 100% olive oil ones, not the one-third olive oil, two-thirds other veg oils (more on those later when we try them).
I was really paranoid at first – worried it would be too caustic or something – so made sure to scrap off the bits of white powder (soda ash) from the edges, rather than just washing it off. Cavitch’s troubleshooting guide says to beware of “excessive” white powder as that can indicate too much lye or hard water has been used – but I don’t think my white powder was “excessive”, just some.
The soap is very pale – almost pure white. Apparently the better quality of olive oil, the paler the resulting soap. My olive oil (which came from Netto) claimed to be extra virgin so this fits. It has quite a neutral smell – slightly olive oil-ish but nowhere near as strong as the olive oil I started with. It’s pretty hard now and doesn’t lather much at all – but that’s expected with pure olive oil soap and the latter isn’t a huge problem as it’s not like we’ll be using it as shaving soap or anything like that.
So anyway, the verdict. It feels nice to use – smooth and silky, and no alkaline burns at all – always a good thing in a soap ;). Because of the play and stuff last week, I haven’t actually got my hands that dirty since we started using the soap so can’t comment on the actual cleaning properties but it leaves my skin feeling clean – and … not “squeaky”. I don’t know how to describe it but whenever I usually use normal bar soap, my skin feels “squeaky” afterwards – presumably either dryness or some sort of residue. That isn’t a problem with our olive oil soap – even when I washed them five times in a row to double-triple-quintiple check that it wasn’t too caustic (yes, really overly paranoid).
As I said explained in my last soap post, we’re not interested in pretty or pleasantly perfumed soaps – we want them to clean us, be long lasting, to have an inoffensive smell, create minimal waste and be frugal. The hardness of this soap means it doesn’t turn to mush in the soap dish and the only waste produced were two plastic bottles (which can be recycled – but one of which was actually reused as a soap mould first).
As for the frugalness, I had used this recipe and method which called for 1 litre of olive oil, 126g of caustic soda and 300g of water. I paid £2.52 for the olive oil from Netto, about £1.50 (I’ve lost the receipt!) for 500g of caustic soda from Wilkinsons (so about 38p for the amount I used) and tap water (which is effectively free), so the consumables cost around £2.90 for the batch. (I did buy a pan and steel dish to use too – but they’ll be used again for soap making and other non-foody pursuits (such as dyeing) so I considered them a general craft supply costs rather than including them in these figures.)
Weighing it just now, I’ve got around 1050g of dried, ready-to-use soap – or 35p per 125g bar — my bars differ in sizes (from about 50g, for the ones from the fruit tray mould – as seen in the pictures – to about 125g for ones shaped in an old mini roaster tray) but that’s the size of a bar of Oliva soap, which is the 100% olive oil soap we’d used previously, so is a good comparison. Oliva usually costs about £1 a bar.
All in all, I’m glad I tried it and I’m very happy with the result – but it was a bit of a faff. I think I did the right thing by processing two loads of soap on the same day so made economies of scale re: faffiness. Hopefully the soap we’ve got now will last us about a year – I’d happily do it once every six months or a year but I couldn’t be bothered doing it much more frequently than that.