Saturday, March 26, 2016

Lavender Mint Soap

Hello again! I know it's been awhile, but I'm back and ready to bulk up this blog with more posts about my creative activities!  While I still love to dabble in all kinds of collage, painting, art journaling, jewelry making and other random crafts, I am now re-focusing my energies on the art of soapmaking.  I made my first bars of soap over a decade ago,using a melt and pour glycerin soap kit, and I was hooked.  So many colors, scents, and shapes to choose from!  And then I started studying the skin benefits of all the herbal additives you can use in soaps, and I became more obsessed about making more and more soaps as well as other bath and beauty products.  Did a couple couple craft sales, kept our family supplied with all the soap they ever needed (and more!), and just had a lot of fun mixing up smelly batches of sudsy goodness in the kitchen.  

Now all this time I was mostly making the melt and pour variety of soap, where you  buy the pre-made blocks of plain, white, unscented soap base, then you melt it down and get creative with colors, scents and skin-beneficial additives.  I really wanted to try the cold process method, where you actually use the caustic ingredient of lye in the process, so I did lots and lots more research on that topic, bought all the necessary safety equipment and materials, and got ready to go.  When my one trial batch went bad, I gave up and switched to the safer, more reliable method of melt and pour soaps. I was ok with that, yet there was always a tinge of envy in me when I handled those REAL handmade bars made the old-fashioned way with lye.  Unlike melt and pour, those real soaps were nice and hard, had real bubbly lather, and lasted well until the last small bits on the soapdish finally fell apart.  Melt and pour soaps are known for getting mushy quite easily, especially as the bar gets smaller. slowly melting  down to a pile of slimy mess.

So here I am, many years later, going back to that same original experiment with REAL soapmaking, except this time I am using what is called the "hot process".  Hot process is when you use a crockpot (or warm oven) to "cook" the soap through the saponification process, taking only a couple hours to make fully cured soap, instead of leaving it in molds to cure for 4 weeks, as you would in the cold process. This process is great for impatient folks like me!!

If you are unfamiliar with either of these terms, you can find plenty of information online about soapmaking, just google away and research all you want, if you're serious about making soap with lye.  Lye is indeed a hazardous substance, but once you understand the basic principles and safety precautions, it's not so scary. 

So today I am about to make a simple recipe using coconut oil, olive oil, lye, water, a mica colorant, and essential oils of lavender and spearmint.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a soapmaking expert. I am just a beginner, and the description I give here is not to be followed in a step-by-step process, for I may have left out some very important steps or information about the procedure.  This is merely for inspiration, to encourage you to try something fun and new!  Do your own research, and 
for a great tutorial on hot process soapmaking, both in written and video form, go here:

First things first: Measure out your oils by weighing them on a digital scale.  (Since taking these pictures, I have purchased a larger and better digital scale.)

Put your oils in the crockpot set to low, so the harder oils (like coconut) can begin to melt and mix with the others.

Set your other tools nearby, such as your additives, like color and scent, so you're ready to dump them in at the proper stage.

Ready to measure out and mix the lye and water?  Then suit up!!
(with your protective eye goggles, dust mask, long gloves and long sleeves, that is!)

***Note: The steps and precautions for mixing lye and water are EXTREMELY important to follow carefully.  Make sure you are outside or in a very ventilated area for mixing the lye, and NEVER leave those open containers of lye or lye mixtures where children or pets have access to them!  Always add the lye to the water, NEVER the other way around, or you can have a horrible exploding volcano of caustic material on your hands!  Lye burns the skin and lungs, can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, if ingested.

On that note...slowly, carefully add your mixed lye water to the oils. Stir slowly at first, then use a stick blender (dedicated to soap use only!) to continue stirring in short bursts, until the soap mixture thickens and comes to "trace". (when you can dribble a little soap on top and it leaves a line on top, instead of sinking into liquid.  When it has traced, cover and cook on low for about an hour. Check it every few minutes.  If it starts to rise up and try to crawl out of the pot, just stir it up and it'll behave itself.  The soap will go through different stages as it's cooking; study the photos in the tutorial to understand what it should look like when it's ready.

In the above tutorial, the blogger/vlogger uses the "zap" test on her tongue to see if the soap has saponified, meaning the lye has been safely cooked out, leaving just wonderful soap.  If, like me, you don't like the idea of putting something potentially hazardous on your tongue and waiting for it to "zap" you, buy some ph strips and do it the scientific way. Stick the strip into a wet portion of soap, and watch it change color.  The strip should turn a green color, between 8-10, when it's ready.

Next steps: Add your colorants and fragrance.  I prefer using natural essential oils instead of the artificially made fragrance oils, for a couple reasons: 1, using the fragrance oils while making them gives me a headache.  2, the essential oils have such wonderful therapeutic properties, and 3, who doesn't prefer things natural?

I also sprinkled some dried lavender buds on my soap after placing it in my mold. (a parchment paper-lined box)


And there you have it. I'm not that much into the scientific aspects of soapmaking, the technical directions can be found by plenty of other bloggers out there. What I hope to do here is to share what I'm learning, and share what new combinations and creative additions I use in my recipes.  I will even share some of my flops, my big mistakes in soapmaking, as we all make them, and how to recover a batch of soap gone awry.  I hope you find inspiration in this, and if you are also a soaper, or want to be, feel free to add comments below!  The soapmaking community out there seems real friendly, so let's keep it going with more great ideas and encouragement!

Happy Creating!!

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