Almost Soap

We’re riding soap straight to the top.

Independent of me, Ben made a snazzy educational video explaining how soap works on a molecular level. He explained his little heart out, and the video was picked up by the outreach website of the scientific publishing company Elsevier.

Soon we’ll be the most over-educated soap blogging power couple on the internet.

Though it hasn’t led me to fame and fortune yet, I’m still working away at my Castile soap, hoping that if I follow all the directions it won’t burn my skin off.

It’s been two days, so it’s time to unswaddle the soaps from their towel and pop them out of the mold.


They have a definite plastic wrap pattern that would probably not fly in the commercial sphere. They’ve also lost the vivid yellow olive oil color they had before. But they are more or less set up.


They’re set up, but far from hard. They popped easily enough out of the mold, but even with the gentle push that took, I started to put my fingers through the two in the back. They’re apparently still caustic, so I wore gloves again. I had every intention of wearing goggles, but it wasn’t until after I’d finished that I realized they’d spent the entire process on top of my head. Oh well. There wasn’t much cause for splashing anyway.


I put them in a paper bag and stashed them away in the closet to begin the curing process. I’m supposed to leave them there, turning them regularly, for six weeks. They smell basically like olive oil, which isn’t surprising as that’s mostly what they are.


Six weeks from now I can finally pretend I’m an Ancient Greek beauty rubbing my skin with oils in the bathhouse. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Yes, I’ve Seen Fight Club

Was there a rule about blogging about soap making? I can’t remember. But I guess I’m breaking it.

I asked Ben for soap making supplies for Christmas. He wrapped each piece individually and gave me an unwrapping order, so the first thing I opened in front of my poor parents was two pounds of lye.

I told them I had a body to take care of.


I was genuinely nervous about working with lye. It feels slippery to the touch because it’s starting to turn you into soap. I don’t want to be soap. I wore big gloves and goggles and tried not to breathe, and I was fine. The cutting board, however, was not.


I was so careful to use non-reactive materials. It never occurred to me that non-reactive wouldn’t also mean non-burnable.

I set out to make one pound of Castile soap. Why Castile? Because it has three whole ingredients. My book’s absolutely basic recipe calls for olive, coconut, and castor oils, plus lye and water. Every time I open this book I discover more things I don’t have. Castile soap is made out of olive oil, lye, and water, so out of necessity I’m promoting myself to lesson two.

I mixed five ounces of water with two ounces of lye. It heated right up. The name of the game is mixing the lye water with oil when both are at 110 degrees F, which means letting the lye mixture sit and cool.


It also means heating the olive oil (1lb) a little too high and letting it cool down, too. As soon as I’d mixed the lye and water, I gave the oil two minutes in the microwave, and it came out at about 140F. I didn’t mean to overshoot so much, but it actually worked out perfectly, with both cooling to 110F at the same time.


Once the two liquids were at 110F, I combined them in a small slow cooker pot. I bought a two quart slow cooker for hot process soap (this is cold process, by the by) and it was the perfect size. I’m not entirely clear on how much you can eat off of soap making equipment, but I’m trying to avoid it. I put the oil in first, then added the lye water in a thin stream while stirring. I wish I had photos, but it was a dangerous, two-handed business, and both of my two hands were covered in lye. So you’ll just have to rely on the vivid imagery of my words.

It got opaque. And yellow. Basically immediately. I mixed it for maybe five minutes with an immersion blender set to low, until it started to trace. “Trace” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the things I’ve read, and not always with an explanation. Essentially it means that if you lift the blender out, the globs that fall off sit on the surface rather than reintegrating with the mixture. A bit like stiff peaks with meringue.

My goop tracing, I got out my little silicone mold. One pound of goop yields 8 bars, so I guess I’ve made 2 oz. soaps. I covered the mold in plastic wrap, set it on a cookie sheet, and wrapped it in a towel for warmth. I’m supposed to keep it like this for two days. Why? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you when I finish the book. Presumably the hardening process gives off heat which speeds up the hardening process, creating a feedback loop. The towel also keeps the cat from sticking his face in it, which is nice.


After two days, I’ll turn the bars out of the mold and let them cure for six weeks. Curing is a magical process that transforms soap from caustic to soothing. I hope.

Let’s just say I won’t be using the first bar on my face.