"Yeah, its too bad that society hasn't progressed to the point where such products are offered in readily available portions at affordable costs. Oh wait..."
He has a point. But I think there are plenty of reasons to learn about and practice making soap from raw materials. They are as follows:
- Competence - learning how something is made is always worthwhile, especially if you can then duplicate this task. You are never worse off for the knowledge.
- Quality - Unless you are spending top-dollar, most soap that you buy is made from the cheapest of materials. Much like brewing your own beer, making your own soap allows you to use the top quality materials, with the cost savings associated with doing the work for yourself. For less money per unit than your average bar of Dial soap, you can have top-level artisan soap.
- Fun - I love projects, and this is a good one. Complicated and dangerous enough to be fully engaging, long enough to require focus over extended periods of time, and you get a usable and valuable product out of your efforts. This is fun to me.
Right then. Despite the need for care, soap-making is common, and should be fine so long as you use proper caution.
While part of the fun of making anything is customizing it to your own standards, I would recommend using a already-perfected recipe for your first few goes. These are readily available online, including this one from The Simple Dollar, which includes lot of good ingredients like coconut oil and oatmeal.
Soap is basically made up of oil(s) and sodium hydroxide. Sodium Hydroxide is also used to make methamphetamines, so it can be difficult to find. I purchased mine from Bramble Berry. They will ask you to sign and email back a Hazardous Material form, which clears them from lawsuits if you burn the shit out of yourself.
Different recipes will include different types of oils and fats, but olive oil is commonly used, and a soap with mostly olive oil will make a Castile soap, which is fairly soft. Lard, Coconut Oil and other fats can be added, or used as substitutes.
Two basic mixtures will be created, one including all of the oils and fat, and the other consists of the lye and a liquid, such as water or milk. Once both mixtures have reached the appropriate temperature, the lye mix is added to the oil mix. The order of this is important. Carefully monitor the temperatures of each. My failure to do so made my life much harder than it needed to be.
I made a few mistakes on this batch, such as allowing my oils to get far too hot, and allowing my lye to get too cool. Invest in a second thermometer to avoid a similar problem.
Lye/Milk Combination - the lye took frozen milk to over 140 degrees in seconds
I got creative with my soap molds, using a bunch of strangely-shaped items that I found at the Salvation Army store. The problem was that I did not line the bottoms with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. My failure to do so made it nearly impossible to get the hardening soap out of the molds, and I ended up wasting a lot of precious materials because of it. The soap that was not wasted came out pretty...rough-looking. Its not the cool-looking ovals and rectangles that I was hoping for, but it should be functional.
Once the lye and oils have been mixed, you have a lot of stirring to do. Hours, actually. Unless you invest in a stick blender, which will cut the time to a half hour, or far less.
Once you have removed the soap from the molds, it must be left for 3-4 weeks before using. This allows the lye to continue mixing with the oils, settle down, and become something that you can actually use on your body. You can lay plastic wrap over the bars, and then put a blanket or towel over it to let it cool down slowly.
Be careful during cleanup. While the mixture is now "soap," the lye is still wrestling around in the ingredients. While it will no longer cause chemical burns, it can still irritate your skin, and would do worse to your eyes. You should keep your gloves on while cleaning up your mess to be on the safe side. Even with the gloves, some of the soap got onto my forearms, and the skin reddened up fairly quickly.
Safety, I has it
That's it for this volume of the Tyler Durden Chronicles. The next segment will talk about the finished product, some fun information about soap, and possibly more of my fuck-ups. Cheers.