Emotional Highs and Lows of Soap Making

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The incredible sense of euphoria I experience from looking at a freshly unmolded soap loaf with perfect edges and smooth surfaces, or soap bars sliced into individual squares and lined up perfectly onto a wooden crate to dry, convinces me that I’m officially a soap addict, and a slight obsessive compulsive.

But it’s easy for me to get really, really disappointed too when a loaf comes out with some sort of imperfection, like discoloration or uneven surfaces, and I even consider tossing it out and start over when that happens. The inner soap perfectionist in me (and this is not a compliment) can’t handle it!  I don’t, of course, throw away an otherwise perfect handmade soap loaf, but I definitely experience extreme emotional roller coaster when it comes to soap making.

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I experienced an unbelievable high when I unmolded two loaves of all-natural Olive Oil Soap the other day. They both came out so perfect, with beautiful cream color, perfect edges, and silky-smooth exterior, and I couldn’t be happier. Then I hit the lowest low shortly thereafter when I discovered that my two-and-a-half year old daughter got to them and made giant dents on, no only one, but both loaves, while they were drying on the dining table! Noooooo! 😥 😥 😥  I was in foul mood for the rest of the day.

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Luckily, I was able to slice the loaves into individual squares and salvage most of them, with an exception of two with the imprints. So all in all, everything worked out fine at the end, but man, this soap-making thing is not good for my mental health!

I will share more information about the Olive Oil soap on a separate post. In the meantime, I’m going to go lay down and recover now.

#FirstWorldProblem … I know …

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RECIPE: White Tea and Ginger Soap

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Once in awhile, I ponder upon random things, like why the decaf version of The Original Donut Shop Keurig K-Cups needs to cost almost twice as much as the original kind which sells for $27 for 72 counts … or whether Man with the Yellow Hat will ever get together with Professor Wiseman.

Or if I should name a soap based on a scent(s) or an ingredient(s), or both.

Still unsure, I’m calling my new batch of soaps White Tea and Ginger Soaps for now because that’s what I used to fragrance them, but technically, they would be called Olive Oil, Macadamia Nut Oil, and Shea Butter Soap with White Tea and Ginger.  But really, this is so not important compared to the love life of a cartoon character who wears the same yellow outfit day in and day out and keeps a very curious monkey as pet.

I hadn’t made soaps in a while but a recent trip to Lush reignited my love for the craft, and watching the oils and lye swirl together to make a lovely soap reminded me how much I love soap making!

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White Tea and Ginger Soap
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This recipe makes 1200 g batch

Ingredients:

Olive Oil (30%): 360 g
Macadamia Nut Oil (30%): 360 g
Shea Butter (20%): 240 g
Palm Oil (10%): 120 g
Coconut Oil (10%): 120 g

Distilled water: 467 g
Lye (85% discount): 145 g

Scents:

White Tea and Ginger Fragrance Oil: 4 tablespoons
Lavender Essential Oil: 15 drops
Grapefruit Essential Oil: 15 drops
Chamomile Essential Oil: 10 drops
Bergamot Essential Oil: 10 drops

Colorant:

Madder Root Powder (for pink color): 1 teaspoon

Note:

I usually make naturally scented soaps (with Essential Oils only) but I was SO in the mood to make Lush-like, heavily scented soaps so I used a little more Fragrance Oil (FO) than usual.  If you like a more subtle-scented soap, I recommend reducing the amount of FO or omit it altogether.  But these soaps smell incredible — just what I needed to rekindle my love for handmade soaps!

These are super moisturizing for your skin, thanks to shea butter and macadamia nut oil, and produce a gentle but satisfying lather. This is definitely one of my favorite and my go-to recipes.

Happy lathering!

RECIPE: Homemade Laundry Detergent

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I’m hardly the first person to try the homemade laundry detergent (I can easily be the last) but I recently put it to the test and found that it works great! The strong, nose-twisting scent of Fels-Naptha soaps overwhelmed me at first (okay, it’s not that bad), but I was happy to find that the smell goes away after a wash, leaving clothes with a clean and crisp feel.

I don’t know which site(s) to attribute the recipe to because everyone pretty much offers the same combination of washing soda, Borax, baking soda, and Fels-Naptha soaps, just in different amounts. Some adds color booster (like Oxy Clean) and fabric softener, but I just stuck with the basic.

Here’s my version of the ever-so-popular homemade laundry detergent!

Homemade Laundry Detergent
Makes 1 gallon

Ingredients:

4 Cups Borax
4 Cups Washing Soda
4 Cups Baking Soda
2 Fels-Naptha soaps

Instruction:

Grate Fels-Naptha soap bars with cheese grater (I ran them through food processor afterward for finer grate). Pour in Borax, Washing Soda, Baking Soda, and grated soaps in a jar (I used one gallon cracker jar) and mix well. Use 2-4 tablespoons per load.

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RECIPE: Homemade Kitchen Soap

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I love the Honest Company Dish Soap we use at home but it’s still a luxury. It’s concentrated and little goes a long way, but I like the squeaky clean finish so much that I end up using more liquid soap than I really should. This results in an empty bottle every week or so, which is way too much, especially at about $6 for 16 fl. oz.

I didn’t want to walk away from my Dish Soap – I love it way too much – so I needed to come up with a creative way to stretch the cost. I tried diluting the liquid soap by adding water but I ended up using double the amount. I thought about alternating it with a less expensive kind but I don’t like the heavy artificial scent and the filmy residue that many supermarket brands leave behind.

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I never entertained the idea of making homemade kitchen soaps but after doing some research online, I found that it’s a pretty common thing. I found lots of great ideas for which oils to use, particularly from this cute Japanese soap-making blog. Necessity is the mother of all invention, that’s for sure!

I created a recipe that used mostly Palm Oil (to create firm bars) and Coconut Oil (to provide a nice lather), and threw in some Olive and Castor Oils as a good measure, to provide a little bit of moisture for the hands.

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Homemade Kitchen Soap
1200 gram batch — makes about 14 bars, at 4 oz each.

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I’m only sharing the recipe / ingredients and not the instruction. Please refer to soap making books or online resources for a proper and safe soap-making process.

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I’ve been using these soaps for a week and I love it! Here are some thoughts:

  • The bar holds its shape well, thanks to Palm Oil.  I put the soap in a little bowl and the water doesn’t drain completely after each use but it’s still nice and firm. 
  • The lather is perfect!  I’m not into big bubbles so the finer suds this soap produce are just right. 
  • The scent is refreshing without being too artificial. I’m happy with the Cucumber Melon Fragrance Oil from Bramble Berry, especially because I got it as a free sample! 
  • I feel like the dishes don’t get as squeaky as Honest Company’s, but you still get the nice clean feel. You can definitely hear the squeak when you rub the dish after a nice wash.
  • The suds wash off the sponge faster than the liquid kind so you might need to reapply more frequently. 
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see that the soap doesn’t leave a streak on glass and stainless steel pots! 

I’m so satisfied with the homemade version, I may not need to go back to the Dish Soap for a while! 

Enjoy! smile

Hello Kitty Massage Bar

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I posted this massage bar recipe before but I thought I’ll share it again.  This time, I made the Hello Kitty version of the Lush-inspired solid lotion, using the silicon mold I purchased on Etsy.  I used the White Tea and Ginger fragrance oil, along with lavender and Tea Tree Essential Oils.  They smell incredible and they’re a great remedy for dry skin.

Handmade Massage Bar (aka solid lotion)
Makes 4 bars (only three are shown above because I’m already using one!)

Add 2 oz each of the following:  Sweet almond oil, bees wax, and shea butter.  Add 1 tsp of Jojoba oil.  Melt everything in a microwave (about three minutes, stirring every minute).  Add your favorite Essential or Fragrance Oils, stir well, and pour into silicone mold.  Let it sit for a few hours until hardened.

Enjoy!

Handmade Beeswax Candle

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The jam is very lovely, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who buys Bonne Maman because of the pretty jar. wink Forget McDonald’s and Coca Cola – this red gingham check is one of the most recognizable designs in the history of food packaging! It’s timeless and very French country!

A good way to keep the jar around the house is to transform it into a handmade candle!

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I used about 2 cups of beeswax pellets.  I melted them in a double boiler.  You can use a microwave too, which is significantly quicker.

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Prepare the jar by gluing a wick at the bottom center of the jar.  You can use one of those metal wick holders but I didn’t have one handy, so I used a glue from a hot glue gun to secure the wick.  Wrap the top of the wick to a chopstick or a straw to keep it straight (I used two chopsticks because it’s bad luck in Japan to use just one, but you don’t need two to keep the wick in place).

Pour the melted beeswax into the jar and let it cool for about a few hours.  The wax hardens very quickly but it’s important to leave it cooled long enough until  the center hardened completely as well.

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I really like the scent of beeswax.  Some people don’t like it and I can see why.  It can be little overwhelming but that’s what I like about it.  It’s warm, sweet, and playfully nutty.

By the way, removing the hardened beeswax off of the measure cup and utensils that you used it tough. It’s pretty awful, but luckily, I found  Aunt Peaches‘ blog for some great tips!  As instructed, I poured a super hot water and let the wax float to the top.  I also used the trusty Magic Eraser to scrub the wax off.  Nonetheless, it was a real pain! evil

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How to Develope Your Own Soap Recipe

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I think my love for soap making elevated to the next level when I learned how to concoct my own, original recipe. I was intimidated at first but once I learned the basics, coming up with a unique recipe made the process 10 times more fun!  You can whip up a soap in any color, scent, size, and effectiveness you want.  (You want to make a peppermint-scented moisturizing soap with oatmeal bits for exfoliation?  No problem!)  There’s nothing more gratifying and pampering than lathering up a soap that you created, just for your enjoyment.  razz

I summarized the basic steps in how to create your own, one-of-a-kind soap recipe here!  The post is a bit lengthy and some parts may appear a little technical, especially around the water and lye calculations, but everything is straightforward.  Please don’t be discouraged — you’ll be reaping your reward in no time!

Just a disclaimer before we proceed.  This post is intended to show new soap makers who are interested in concocting their own original formula the basics of creating their own suds.  It is not intended to provide expert advice on the usage of lye (sodium hydroxide), essential oils, and other complex properties.  I encourage you to browse through books and the Internet to learn the more technical aspects of soap making!  Afterall, soap making is not just an art but also science and it should be treated as such.  Also, the use of lye can make soap making potentially dangerous, so please proceed with caution.

With that said, let’s get started!

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The Formula Spreadsheet
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What you see here below is a sample Excel spreadsheet that I use when I’m developing a new recipe, to calculate the oil, water, and lye amounts.  Don’t worry if these numbers make absolutely no sense to you at the moment.  You’ll be an expert by the time you finish reading this post.

I’ll use this Avocado Soap spreadsheet throughout this post to explain each step.

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Figure 1:  Avocado soap recipe spreadsheet sample

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Step 1: Determine the Batch Size
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The first step is to decide how big your batch is going to be. It’s an equivalent of knitters deciding on the project pattern.  I typically use a one quart milk carton, which holds about 600 grams of fats (which are oils and / or butters). I make two of those milk cartons at a time, and thus my recipe is for 1200 grams.

Note:  The carton you see here is for one, 600 g batch.  If you want to make just one carton worth of soap, and not two as the recipe indicates, simply divide the amount of all ingredients in half.

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Step 2: Select Your Ingredients
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This is my favorite part of the soap-making process. It’s very similar to crafters deciding on what fabric or yarn to use for the next project. It allows you to be creative!

The best part about making a soap at home is that you can customized it to however you want, depending on your current need. If you are suffering from dry skin, you can incorporate oils and butters that have the moisturizing properties.  If you want a soap that smells like refreshing fruits when lathered in the shower, add citrus essential or fragrance oil.

Note:  I usually purchase oils and other soap-making supplies from Bramble Berry, CibariaFrom Nature with Love, and Mountain Rose Herbs.  They are all wonderful.  I buy oils in bulk but you can find olive oil, coconut oil, and other lovely oils and fats in smaller portions at places like Whole Foods Market and Sprouts Farmers Market.

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Step 3: Determine the Amount of Fats Needed
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Steps 3 (Determining the Amount of Fat Needed), 4 (Determining the Amount of Water Needed), 5 (Determining the Amount of Lye Needed), and 6 (Determine the Lye Discount) require you to do a little math, but don’t worry if you haven’t done any number crunching beyond balancing a checkbook since high school.  lol  The calculations are pretty simple.

Let’s begin by deciding how you want to allocate your selected fats (column C).

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Figure 2:  Fat allocation percentages

By the way, when I say “fats,” I’m referring to any oils and / or butters used in this recipe.  In the case of this Avocado Soap, I wanted to make a gentle soap with moisturizing power, so I allocated 40% of my fat to be avocado oil (column C, row 4), 30% olive oil (column C, row 3), 10% shea butter (column C, row 5), 10% palm oil (column C, row 6), and 10% coconut oi (column C, row 7). They should all add up to 100%.

Now, convert the fat percentage into an actual weight in gram (Column B).

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Figure 3:  Avocado oil amount needed

Let’s use the avocado oil for example. To calculate 40% of 1200 gram:

1200 g x 0.4 = 480 g

This means that I would need 480 g of avocado oil (column B, row 4) for this recipe. Do the calculation for the rest of the oil and dd them all up.  The total should add up to 1200 g.

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Step 4: Determine the Amount of Water Needed
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Now, it’s time to figure the amount of water needed.

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Figure 4:  Amount of water needed, in gram

For this recipe, I used the ratio of 72 (fat) to 28 (water).  This means that 72% of the entire weight will be fat, and 28% water.  To calculate 28% of 1200 g:

1200 x 28 / 72 = 466.67

In this case, the amount of water needed is 466.76 g (column B, row 8).  You can certainly round the number off to 467 g.

Note:  You can substitute part of water with other liquid to create a more complex soap.  I like to use aloe vera juice and yogurt in my soaps.  However, some substitutes such as milk can produce a strange odor (it luckily disappears once the soap is cured) and others may change color.

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Step 5: Determine the Amount of Lye Needed
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Let’s calculate the amount of lye needed, shall we? This one’s a little tricky but stay with me.

You can figure this out two ways – manually or by using an online lye calculator. Many soap-making Websites, such as Bramble Berry, has an online calculator where you simply plug in the weight (gram or ounce) or the percentage of fats and it figures out the lye amount for you. This is probably the easiest and the best way to do this.

If you want to figure it out manually, need something called Saponification Chart that shows Saponification Numbers. It’s overly technical for me to explain this properly  eek but in layman’s term, these numbers allow us to figure out the amount of lye needed to convert one gram of fat into soap.

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Figure 5:  Saponification Value

The amount of lye needed differs by oil. For example, the amount of lye needed to convert avocado oil into soap (0.14) is not the same as, say, shea butter (0.13).

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Figure 6:  Amount of lye needed to convert avocado oil into soap

Let’s take a look at avocado oil for this example. The lye needed to turn one gram of avocado oil into soap is 0.14 g (column D, row 4). Since there’s 480 g of avocado oil (column B, row 4), you need to calculate this by multiplying the lye weight (column D, row 4) by the total fat weight (column B, row 4).

480 g x 0.14 g = 65.76 g

You need 65.76 g of lye to convert avocado oil in this recipe to soap (column F, row 4).

You need to calculate the lye weight for all the fats used. After you figure them out, add them together. The total is the amount you need for the entire batch.

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Figure 7:  Total amount of lye needed to convert all fats into soap

Take a look at column F. When you add rows 3 (olive oil), 4 (avocado oil), 5 (shea butter), 6 (palm oil), and 7 (coconut oil), you get 170.16 g (column F, row 7). That’s the amount you need to convert all the fats used in this recipe into soap.

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Step 6:  Determine the Lyle Discount (optional)
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Now, let me throw you a curve ball and talk about something called a “lye discount.”  In a nutshell, lye discount is the amount of lye you’re doing to reduce from the total amount to create a milder soap.  This step is completely optional but I usually discount in my soap creations.

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Figure 8:  Total amount of lye needed to convert all fats into soap, after discount

For this recipe, I wanted to reduce the lye amount by 15%, thus making lye discount at 85% (100% – 15% = 85%).  To determine the lye discount, take the total lye amount and multiple it by the percentage:

170.16 g x 0.85 = 144.64 g

I rounded up the total to 145 g (column B, row 9).  This is the final lye amount used for this recipe (reduced from original 170 g to 145 g).  YAY — you’re done with math now!  lol

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You can enhance your soap with lovely aroma, color, and texture by adding special embellishments.

Scents: 

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Essential oils are great for adding both scents and healing properties.  My absolute favorite is lavender, and I use it in every soap I make.  The scent relaxes me and uplifts my mood and spirit!

Fragrance oils are another great way to add a special scent to your soap, but unlike the essential oils that are extracted from plants and are natural, they are synthetic (how else can you explain scents like Sugar Plum and Bubble Gum? lol).  I think it’s completely up to you to decide which route you want take.  My soaps are mostly all natural, but once in a blue moon, I enjoy making playful, Lush-like suds loaded with fun and crazy scents.

Dry Additives:

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Dry herbs are great for many reasons.  It gives your soap a unique look, while working as a great exfoliate.  You can use grounded oatmeal, lavender, chamomile, peppermint leaves, etc.

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Take a look at how dry herbs can give a different feel to each soap.

Colorants: 

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Handmade soaps tend to lose its color pretty quickly so adding a colorant can help maintain the lovely hue for a longer period of time.  It’s great for creating colorful designs too.  Here’s my first attempt at creating tri-color layered soaps, using madder root power (for pink) and comfrey root powder (for green).  I’m dying to try carrot soap, with a nice orange shade soon!

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Summary
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Thank you for reading this long post!  I hope this piqued your interest in creating your own, special soap!  Please also check out my handmade soap tutorial by clicking here!

I think we’ve all hear of this phrase:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. 

I feel like that when it comes to soap making.  I can rely on other people’s recipes to make soaps and limit myself, or I can learn how to create my own and open up the endless possibilities.  It’s empowering, and I love to know that I’m creating something that’s truly one of a kind. 

I hope to continue to learn more about this fascinating world of soap making, and take the Lavender and OliVE soap business to the next level.  I’m still in the development stage but I’m hoping to start spreading my handmade soaps to the masses, via Etsy and local craft fairs very shortly!  Pleas stay tuned!   biggrin

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