Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I made soap! I've been reading about it for months and I bought the ingredients before christmas, but it has taken till now to pluck up the courage to try it. The reason for my hestation was all the warnings about the sodium hydroxide, an essential ingredient in making cold pressed soap, this is otherwise know as caustic soda and is used as drain cleaner!

So I collected all my ingredients together, put newspaper on my worktop, put on my apron and gloves, and got on with it. I used coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. The measurements have to be exact so that all the sodium hydroxide is used up in the chemical reaction with the oil that turns it into soap. There are lots of soap calculators on the internet so you can work out a safe recipe.

I measured out my oils and put them in a saucepan to melt together (the coconut oil is solid at room temperature) and I added the sodium hydroxide to the water in a jug (no pictures of this I was too scared of it). This is where you have to be really careful, wear rubber gloves, an apron and safety goggles and open a window, it makes nasty fumes and you don't want breath them in.
The oil and the sodium hydroxide need to be at the same temperature when they are mixed, I heated the oil and then made up the sodium hydroxide solution, this was the wrong way round. When added to water the sodium hydroxide solution heats up, really hot, and it took ages to cool, I had to warm the oil back up as it was too cold.

Next you mix the 2 together and stir. One recipe I read said the whisk for 45min! I used my stick blender, much easier (John came in at this point and took some pictures for me). You have to mix until it reaches 'trace', think thick custard. I couldn't say exctly how long this took maybe 5-10mins (not 45!). Just as it reaches trace I added some essential oil for fragrance. I wanted everyone in the house to use it so I chose lemon, I love lavender but John and Tom wouldn't use that. It looked and smelt like lemon curd.

Next it was poured into a tupperware container lined with baking parchment. It needs to cool slowly so I wrapped it in a towel and left it like that for 24hrs.

The next day I turned it out and cut it into bars, you still need to wear rubber gloves when handling it. It will need to be 'cured' for 6 weeks before it is ready to use. It is very 'rustic' looking, I didn't smooth the top enough when I poured it and I think I need to find a better mould. I cut it into different sized pieces, big ones for the shower and smaller ones for the sinks, I may grate the wobbly edge pieces to use in my laundry detergent.
I'm really pleased, it wasn't really scary at all, you just have to be sensible. I'm planing my next batch already (lavender!) and am reading up on making shampoo bars, which would be great for taking on hoilday, and other homemade toiletries.

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