Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Soap Making and Snakes

Monday night, Ryan and I decided to tackle soap making together. More accurately--I asked, he happily agreed. He is interested in self-sufficient stuff anyway and he is most definitely interested in spending time with me. Obviously. Okay, well, after his game of bejeweled that is. It was interesting for sure, but "fun" in an "experimenty" kind of way.

The kids went to bed, I confirmed with the soap calculator, then instructions with the tutorial...and then compulsively reconfirmed the recipe ... and then reconfirmed once more. I was a little overwhelmed by the actual reality of making soap. I could probably talk about making soap for days and days, but it was the moment of truth and I had to open that bottle of lye.

Doing my best to imitate a cooking show pro, I measured out all the ingredients and set them aside in their own glass dishes.

  • 6 ounces of olive oil ($1.94)
  • 2 ounces of coconut oil ($0.98)
  • 3 ounces of rain water (FREE)
  • 1.12 ounces of lye  ($0.55)
  • .2 ounces of essential oils ($0.09)

I didn't want to invest a lot into this in case I hated doing it
...or it was too hard
...or I burned off my face while mixing the lye.

We had:
  • stainless steel pan (my regular soup pan)
  • spatula
  • scale
  • liquid measure
  • thermometer
  • big paper (to cover my table while we handled the lye)
  • soap mould

Once I got over the whole this-lye-will-burn-holes-through-your-counters-and-skin-down-to-your-bones-run-for-your-life mentality... soap making really is simple. If you can follow a simple recipe, you can make soap. 
  1. Mix your lye and water. It is weird because it gets hot enough to warm your hands over it. Let it cool to 122*F. 
  2. Heat your oils to 122*F.
  3. Pour lye mixture into the pan with the oils. Take it off the heat.
  4. Stir the mixture until it "traces." Which is fancy for when it all comes together and is thick enough that when you dribble a little back over the rest of the soap you can see a trace of it. (see this video it's a good one)
  5. Add your fragrance.
  6. Pour it in your mould.
  7. Give yourself a glass of wine in celebration of a job well done.
Simple, right? Don't skip #7.

I took pictures, but really... they turned out horrible, so I won't even both posting them.

It was a bit awkward trying to cool one and heat the other, timing it just right. We ended up pouring in the lye when the oils were only 112* and the lye was 120*. I just need more practice.

I think it would have been a lot simpler if we had the right equipment. I will buy gloves next time, because while I didn't damage anything, I would feel safer wearing them. My kitchen scale was tried and found wanting. It doesn't measure down far enough, although it worked...barely. We burn out kitchen thermometers regularly and I didn't have an appropriate one in my drawer. I should just ask for about 5 of them every single Christmas. We ended up using an instant meat thermometer. Do better than us when you try this. For the soap mould, we went real fancy and used an empty butter box and plastic wrap. It sure ain't pretty, but it is functional. 

The biggest thing I will change for next time? Well, we do not (did not! Thank you, Amazon!) own a stick blender. I did not think it was that important since pioneer women did not have access to them and soap making is an old skill. I am very anti-kitchen-gadgets... because I hate spending money on crap that takes up space. We stirred with a wooden spoon. And we stirred. And we stirred. And we stirred for an hour and twenty minutes. We tried a wooden spoon, a spatula, and even a wire whisk. We eventually got so sick of watching Hell's Kitchen episodes that we went against all Internet advice and put it in the kitchen-aide mixer with the whisk attachment. It came to trace pretty quick. Ryan made fun of me for freaking out that we were going to have holes burned into our kitchen walls and counter tops for our next house showings. We did not destroy the house, but it was a very real possibility.

And this is where my post goes a bit nerdy. Spreadsheet junkies, full speed ahead! All others, have a nice day. 

We only made a half-pound of soap, since we were just experimenting, and it cost us $3.55 to make 8 ounces of soap. I generally buy Softsoap's Pomegranate & Mango Body Wash at $5.49 for 18 ounces ($0.30/ounce). According to this recipe that I will use for homemade body wash, I need 8 ounces of soap ($3.55) and 2 Tablespoons of Glycerin ($0.42) to make a gallon of body wash ($3.97). That means that if I was to make just 18 ounces of homemade body wash it would cost me $0.56. That is a savings of $4.93.

Which really means... I will have to make 49 ounces of body wash to recoup my costs of buying the $13.28 stick blender from Amazon just now.

I think the frugality of it is a "pro" for me, but I also love knowing what is in my soap. I've obviously known that my soap wasn't natural, but it was something I didn't feel any urgency to change. Until, that is, I was listening to an NPR reporter talking about how the little exfoliating beads in soaps (!My Soap!) are actually plastic and they are causing a big problem for the environment. Check this out if you haven't heard about it yet. It's kind of freaked me out and to be honest, I've been using a lot less soap. My frugal bone won't let me throw it away, but my environmentally aware side was telling me not to use it. So, obviously the solution is to just let your husband use up the body wash while you go all natural. Obviously. Good thing the natural deodorant works well. We are going to need the truly natural choice in order to live within our Tiny House's grey water system. 

I'm living in denial. I am living like the Tiny House is still going to happen. I haven't been told otherwise, right?

My next thought in this is, of course in true Nansi fashion, go big or go home. 
  • Hand soap--which I assume is just soap bar grated up, cooked up with some glycerin and Tea Tree Oil in it. 
  • Laundry soap--which I'm reading is a bar that is just composed a little differently. Straight up olive oil, lye, and scent. The superfat is bumped from 5% down to 0%-2% I could replace the Fels Naptha bars with actual NATURAL, good smelling soap. The numbers have the natural soap a bit more expensive. Since I buy Fels Naptha by the case it is $0.29 an ounce. The homemade version would be $0.39 an ounce. Hmm. I don't care. I will still probably do it because it is less chemicals, a way to feel proud of myself... and the biggest kicker that sends me right over the edge with no regrets? My laundry can smell great again!! I sure do miss the smell of Tide and Downy.
  • Laundry stain stick--just a good out laundry bar not mixed or cooked up with a borax/washing soda recipe.
  • Kid shampoo--I've been using the No 'Poo method on the kids for a while now too. All good except they cannot be independent in the bathtub. The job description of a mother is to work yourself out of a job by teaching your child to be independent. Do you see the problem with this?  It has to change.
So that is what I think about soap. You can find a lot of great tutorials and videos and books if you just open up your search engine.

After a slightly exhausting night of stirring, stirring, and more stirring... we got up and went to Fredrick Meijer Gardens. ALL DAY LONG. At least it seemed that way. 12:30-5:30! We all got a little sun kissed so I assume you will be seeing a homemade sunscreen post here pretty quick. Darn that Swedish skin... God actually put me in the perfect spot to meet two wonderful women who homeschool their kiddos and are Christians too. We chit-chatted a bit and ended up becoming Facebook friends, joining a homeschool group that they are a part of, finding out we know someone in common, AND realizing that Ryan and one of them attended the same college. I will leave you with a picture of my dear, sweet daughter and her new friends from FMG & our new homeschool group doing what all little girls dream about doing.

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