Six Week Soap

It’s been six whole weeks since I made my cold process Castile soap. Since then it’s been living in a paper bag in my closet, getting turned over whenever I think of it.

But no more! According to my book, the bars ought to have cured to neutrality by now. This is an ordeal that takes only a couple hours using the hot process method, which I did using the exact same Castile recipe two weeks ago. Throwing caution to the wind, we took a bar to the kitchen sink.


Ben, demonstrating a faith in my abilities I did not know he had, offered to go first. He says he doesn’t believe in acids or bases… I think it’s a joke. Either way, he’s going to have a PhD in science soon.


Ben seemed unscathed, so I went next. I noticed quite a few differences between this soap and its hot process counterpart. First of all, the color is totally different. When they’re dry, both have an eggshell look to them. As soon as the hot process got wet, though, it deepened to olive green, which makes sense given that it’s made of olives. This bar stayed the same shade, though.

It also seemed to work better as a soap. The hot process bar has a creamy, gloppy consistency that smears across the skin, while this bar maintains its integrity and works up a nice lather on its surface. I may not be being entirely fair, since the hot process soap lives in the shower now and might just be waterlogged. I’ll have to do a comparison with a fresh bar of each.

Lastly, and I don’t think this has to do with where they’re stored, the cold process bar is smooth. It feels great to the touch, like it was poured into its mold as a liquid. The hot process bar, on the other hand, feels like just what it is – a lumpy mess. It’s what marketers call “rustic.”


So which is better? All things considered, the cold process is a lot more pleasant. It’s prettier, feels better, and seems to have more integrity in its shape. But it does take six weeks, which is a terrible pain.

But what am I saying? I make wine, and I’d be ecstatic if I had a recipe that took only six weeks. And just like with wine, I’m sure that once you get a big enough backlog, you always have something to do. It’s just a matter of getting started.


And getting over the fear of lye. Ben’s been telling me his hands are tingling, but I think he’s messing with me.


Ugly Soap

I have made the ugliest soap.


This is Castile soap, just like last time. That batch, however, was cold process. This baby is hot process. Cold process soap needs to cure for six weeks before it’s neutral enough to use on your skin. The first batch still has another week in the closet ahead of it. Hot process soap, on the other hand, is ready to use the day it’s made.

The difference is heat. Setting the lye and oil mixture to low in a crock pot for a few hours cooks it to neutrality. How does it do this? I don’t know. I’m still learning and taking quite a few things on faith.

I bought a special little 2 quart crock pot that’s just the right size for a 2 pound batch of soap. I followed the same recipe for the cold process Castile soap, only double the size. I put two pounds of olive oil into the pot, then separately mixed together 4 oz. of lye and 10 oz. of water. I took a little too deep of a breath during this stage and had to leave the room for minute. Lye ain’t no joke.

Once I’d recovered, I poured the lye and water mixture into the oil and stirred it all up with my immersion blender. In about five minutes it was tracing.


I put the lid on the crock pot and left it to its devices. Every half hour I gave it a stir. The instructions in my book said to cook for 3 hours, but it was for a 3 pound batch. I guessed that a 2 pound batch would only take 2 hours, and I was right. I bought a little bottle of phenolphthalein, a chemical that lets you easily check pH. It’s clear at neutral levels, and pink at more basic levels. I put a few drops in my soap, and they stayed clear. After stirring and dropping a few more times to be sure, I declared the soap done.


It turns out that finished hot process soap is a lot gloppier than finished cold process soap. It also turns out that two pounds of soap is a lot more than one pound of soap. I should have been able to tell you one of those things ahead of time.

The only mold I have is this set of 12 2 oz. bars. For those not counting, that’s 24 ounces. Two pounds is 32 ounces. I had far too much soap, and nowhere to put it. Luckily, it was so gloppy that I could just pile the extra on top of the bars and trust it not to slide away. It made for some weird little muffin tops.


The part inside the mold isn’t winning any beauty contests, either. The gloppiness made it more or less impossible to get a smooth surface. I’m not sure how real soap makers get around this one.


Ugly as it looks, it is soap!  It works up something of a lather, and it doesn’t burn my skin off. It smells just like olive oil, which is a little strange, but that must be what all Castile soap is like.


I hope it dissolves quickly. I have a lot of this stuff.