Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making Soap: The Tyler Durden Chronicles, Volume1

In response to my comment expressing the difficulties I was experiencing in making soap from scratch, my friend offered the following:

"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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
 First, a big, giant warning.  Making soap from scratch involves working with chemicals that are highly dangerous.  Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) will burn the living shit out of your skin, and god forbid that it gets in your eyes.  Protective equipment, such as heavy-duty gloves and goggles are a must.  Strict attention should be paid when handling raw lye.  Even when being careful, it is possible for lye to splash up, which would do you serious damage.  This Rugged Life is in no way responsible for your burned body if you injure yourself while making soap.  If you have not seen "Fight Club," or even if you have, it is recommended that you watch this scene from 0:30 - 3:00.  This IS what can happen to any part of your skin that the lye touches.  ALWAYS keep a jug of vinegar nearby to neutralize any burns.

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.

Ugly soap

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.


Venom said...

First I thought, you've got to be kidding, the manly man attempts SOAP MAKING? But then, after seeing the pic with the goggles, I was suddenly okay with the whole deal. I'm a bit scared of myself right now.

Dude, you should try out for Survivor with all your mad skillz.

linda said...

Dangit. I forgot to submit and then clicked off this page.
eaoijaoijt WAH

What I said was:

My girlfriend makes soap! She never made it sound dangerous so I'm glad you wrote your warning. Now I know I will never ever make soap. I'm a clumsy girl.

Martin said...

Venom -
Haha, my goggles and gloves are awesome. Im taking them to the bar with me...
I think you might have the wrong idea about me though. I am no manly man, especially in comparison with what you are probably used to on your ranch. I am just a guy who is interested in a lot of different things.

Linda -
It cracks me up when you get flustered and do your whole "gfhdhghjdk" thing.

About your friend, it could be one of two things. You can buy "mix and measure" soap kits, where the lye has already begun to neutralize. This eliminates the danger of handling the Sodium Hydroxide. This could be what your friend is doing. OR, she could just have not told you about it because she didnt consider it particularly dangerous. With the right precautions, you should never hurt yourself. My warning was probably more strong than it needed to be because I dont want anyone blaming me for them getting hurt.

Bryan Schatz said...

Awesome. I just started looking into candle making, also inspired by your soap quest. Candles don't require lye. And I don't have gloves. Probably wouldn't buy them. So maybe I'll wait on the soap project until I've got a pair. Until then, perhaps some lavender-scented candles that I can light while reading a romance novel, sipping wine and basking in a bubble bath. How's that for manly?

Alison said...

Well now I know what you've been up to the last week and a bit - who knew there was so much involved? And congrats on making this sound all dangerous and macho, I mean bloody hell - it's virtually an adrenalin sport!

I notice you have a lot a bars of soap there but seriously, how are you going to post me mine? In fact I'm emailing you my address. No excuses. I mean it was my birthday last week that you IGNORED.

Anonymous said...

Ok. So who is Tyler Durden

Anonymous said...

Haha, I like the pictures. And I had better NOT be getting one of those for Christmas....

Lindsey said...

Hi, I found you through 20sb. Pretty cool idea (though that scene in Fight Club always made me cringe). I'll have to read some more!

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