I must have sensitive skin because I hate to use regular soap. Even the commercial stuff that’s advertised as mostly lotion, or the bars called glycerine soap, leave my skin feeling dry and stretched after bathing. The only soap I’ve found that I can tolerate is made with goat milk. My skin never feels too tight for my body after a shower with goat milk soap.
Very quickly I discovered that goat milk soap is expensive to buy. I have a friend who keeps a small herd of goats and always has a few extra gallons of milk so I decided to try my hand at making my own soap. Soap making turns out to be an involved process that is even dangerous.
To make soap, caustic lye must be combined with fat. There is no other way to obtain real soap. Pure lye was once readily available in hardware and grocery stores and was used to unstop clogged drains. The pH of lye is very high and if it touches your skin, eyes or mucous membranes it can cause very severe burns. In recent years, the drug cookers who use lye to make methamphetamine have caused pure lye to be a difficult commodity to obtain. No longer can you just buy it off the shelf. But, it is available for us inveterate soap makers from soap supply companies.
There are different sorts of soaps that can be made. There is a choice of hot or cold process. I prefer hot process which involves melting the fat and combining it with liquid lye at a temperature of about 100-125 degrees Fahrenheit. The fat and lye must be the same temperature so they blend properly. Here I wear protective goggles and gloves as I mix the lye with the fat.
There are a wide range of fat choices available and the characteristics of each fat must be considered based upon the sort of soap desired. I want a very moisturizing bar with good lathering and cleansing qualities that is fairly hard so it won’t melt in the soap dish. To accomplish this I must choose fats based upon their saponification values or how much lye is required to produce soap and on their fatty acid content and iodine levels. Various fatty acids provide different characteristics to soap. Some give more lather, some less, or more moisturizing or conditioning or hardness or softness. Iodine levels help determine the hardness of a bar of soap, higher levels make softer soap with better conditioning.
Over time I have developed my own recipe that includes mostly olive oil, with palm kernel, sweet almond, avocado, and castor oils and cocoa, shea and mango butter. All these must be meticulously measured by weight and combined by melting over low heat until they reach the desired temperature.
The powdered lye, also measured by weight, is carefully and slowly combined with the correct amount of cold water, stirring constantly. I make my lye solution outdoors in a large plastic pitcher with a stainless steel spoon, wearing gloves and goggles. The reaction of the lye and water causes rapid and even violent heating and can become a caustic eruption if the materials are combined too quickly. The fumes produced are very caustic and not to be breathed. The hot solution is over 200 degrees when first combined and must cool to the same temperature as the fat. When this is achieved, the lye is slowly poured into the fat. Immediately, the fat begins to turn to soap.
Some people prefer to add the goat milk at this stage by using slushy-frozen milk instead of water to make the lye solution. I think this is too hard on the milk and defeats the purpose of creating a truly moisturizing soap. I save the milk for adding later. With an electric stick stirrer, I whip together the fat and lye in a large stainless steel pot until it reaches the consistency of thick pudding. This whipping must not be done too quickly or the fat is not properly saponified and can separate from the lye during curing. Here I pour out the newly made soap in a large form that can be covered so the soap can rest and cure.
The soap I make is a choice variation. Many people stop at this first or basic stage of soap making, let the stuff cure then cut it into bars for use. At this point, decorative elements found in basic stage soap are added: small, colorful soap bits, shaved soaps, swirls of color, or the fragrance. I make a two stage or milled soap.
For milled soap, the basic stage is allowed to set, all wrapped in a blanket so it doesn’t chill too fast, for 24 hours. Until it is properly cured, basic soap is still very caustic and can cause burns. Even after curing, basic soap is far too strong for my precious and particular skin. The high glycerine content achieved with hot process soap still is not enough moisturizing for me. Basic soap dries my skin.
To mill the soap, I let the large block that has been curing sit uncovered for a couple days to dry and firm up. Then I cut the block into manageable pieces and shred them like mozzarella cheese. At first I used the hand cheese grater but have since gone to a Moulie hand turned grater. The chunks of soap are inserted into the grater, the soap is pressed against a round blade in the machine that is turned by hand and the gratings fall out the bottom. Moulie graters were once very popular and used to make coleslaw or to julienne vegetables. Now-a-days people use food processors and salad shooters and such for grating but I love my Moulies and have purchased two off eBay for soap making.
The shredded soap is weighed. Each recipe of milled soap I make requires 12 ounces of soap and 9 ounces of goat milk. These are combined in a double boiler on the stove and the soap is remelted over the hot water and stirred until it combines with the goat milk. People might think goat milk soap has a bad odor, not true. Properly made unfragranced soap has a clean, fresh scent all its own. At this melted stage, any desired color, extra ingredients like pumice or lavender buds, and fragrance are added. I use only food grade color and pure essential oils. Some of my favorite scents are sandalwood ylang ylang, cedarwood sage, mango papaya, lemongrass sage, lavender, apricot, carnation and rose.
The remelted soap is poured into bar-sized molds or a larger mold to be cut later into bars. I place the soap in the molds in the freezer for 24 hours. My freezer is a self-defrosting model so it draws water from the soap overnight, helping to dry it enough so it pulls away from the edges of the molds. The next day I work the bars from the molds and place the newly made soap on large sheets of plastic canvas lined with newspaper for drying. The bars must be turned daily during the first few days so they dry on both sides and don’t stick to the plastic canvas. The best environment is dry and cool. During the hot, humid summer months soap takes much longer to dry.
After a few weeks, the bars are dried enough so they can’t be indented by pressing their middles. Now they can be wrapped in paper and stored for use or sold if one wishes to recoup some of the costs of making the soap. I used to sell a lot of soap but find the competition too daunting. Now I save all my soap for the family and never use anything else for my skin. Hand made soap makes a lovely gift as well, always welcomed by my friends.