Cold process soap: an introduction

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I’m on a soap-making roll! These cuties were made using a combination of wheat germ and almond oil, and enriched with rosemary and mint essential oils for a fresh, invigorating smell. They are supposed to be very gentle on the skin, and I can’t wait to try them.

For a detailed introduction to making cold process soap, read my Mother Earth News post:

“Many people approach soap-making as a creative venture or micro business of its own, and stock up on supplies specifically for this purpose. For me, it was more about using up old oils that were not much good for anything else, whether it’s non-food-grade olive oil we had tried to use for lighting but couldn’t because it smoked, coconut oil that had gotten an off taste from sitting on the shelf too long, or almond massage oil left over from my first pregnancy a decade ago. I love the satisfaction of putting something to good use rather than throwing it away!”

 

Making Coconut Oil Soap

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You guys know how I love to make something out of nothing – or, at any rate, something useful out of something useless, right?

I had some very old coconut oil that had clearly outlived its fitness for human consumption. This gave me the all-clear for doing something I had wanted to try for a while: making coconut oil soap. Coconut oil is pricey, so I wouldn’t use it for soap when if we can eat it.

Unlike the previous time I had tried my hand at soap-making, I now have a digital kitchen scale, which made it a lot easier to follow this simple recipe. I also added a few drops of rosemary essential oil for a refreshing scent.

I used the cute little silicone molds I also use for candles. In the photo above, you can see my freshly unmolded pure coconut oil soap bars, which are now set to cure on a rack on top of my kitchen cabinets. I can’t wait for them to get ready so I can use them.

The secrets of soap

I had wanted to make soap for a long time, but was stopped by the mysterious ingredient called “lye”. I had no idea what it was or where to obtain it… until by pure chance, I discovered that lye is actually the caustic soda we always keep on hand to take care of severely clogged pipes.

We also had a bottle of olive+unspecified vegetable oil we once bought to light Hanukkah candles and discarded because it smoked. So it just sat for years on our pantry shelf, not fit for human consumption, lighting, or much of anything really. It was the perfect candidate for my soap-making attempt.

I started reading about soap-making and realized it’s a whole science/art, with all sorts of oil combinations with different properties, essential oils, etc. I decided to just do something basic for starters. I followed a very simple recipe, omitting the essential oil and using, instead of the different oils, the one I had on hand.

I’m far from figuring out all the intricacies of soap-making just yet. I didn’t use a scale. My measurements might not have been 100% accurate. My batch of soap never showed a proper “trace” and took forever to set. There was probably too much liquid. Nevertheless, the oil did turn into soap and I was thrilled, because I made something useful out of something useless.

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Above: soap cut into bars and set out to cure

These soap bars might not look very shapely, but I’m making good use of them for laundry. I cut off a piece of appropriate size and simply place it in a little mesh bag, which I then toss in with the load of clothes. It really works! It doesn’t have the potency of a commercial laundry detergent, but it’s fine for clothes that are slightly sweaty/dirty.

I intend to go on and learn more about making soap, and will keep you posted as I progress.