I had the opportunity to learn how to make soap last week. The course was a ‘Secret Santa’ gift from my friend Kirsten and the course was hosted by her lovely mother Karen at Peter’s Gate herb farm. Given my love for all things smelly and soapy, this was a very fitting gift and I couldn’t wait to give it a try. Off I went with my apron tucked under my arm thinking “I use soap everyday – how hard can this be…”
It became apparent in the introduction that I needed to forget everything I thought I knew…
Firstly – I thought making soap would be a bit like ‘arts and crafts’ something only eccentric people and hippies would have the aptitude for but low and behold it is quite a science with the mention of ions, molecules and chemical reactions! For someone who passed notes and doodled her way through science class in school – I braced myself.
Secondly – what I thought I knew about so many products on the market; ones I’ve used for years that promise the gentlest, purist mildest care for your skin – you can even trust them for your babies bums is in fact …a load of codswallop! Even good ol’ petroleum jelly is basically the devil! It was originally found coating the bottom of oil rigs in the mid-1800’s and is a by product of the oil industry. It creates a barrier on your skin but it blocks air and moisture getting in your pores which actually dries your skin and traps in dirt. (I always wondered why lip ice made my lips so much drier.) As a mineral oil it doesn’t actually moisturize, it’s like layering plastic on your skin. Opt for natural stuff like beeswax or coconut oil. I won’t go on a tangent, there’s plenty of info on the web but baby oil for instance is also a mineral oil. This is not good and at this point I made a mental note to clear out my bathroom cabinet the minute I got home!
Right! Gloves and goggles at the ready (actually we used neither gloves nor goggles as a safety precaution but sodium hydroxide will give you a nasty burn and you need to be careful so if Caution is your middle name then kit yourself out first and gather the right equipment (don’t worry most of the what you need will probably be lying around your kitchen.)
Making Cold Process Soap
In a nutshell soap is actually a ‘salt’ but in order for it to become a salt you need to mix an oil such as olive or coconut (the acid) with a base; sodium hydroxide such as lye. (Lye is one sodium ion and one hydroxide ion). As you combine and stir your ingredients together, two reactions occur; glycerol becomes beneficial glycerin and your acid and base form a salt – your soap.
In order to measure out the correct amounts of ingredients you will need to use a saponification value system (The SAP column) to work out how many milligrams of base you need to completely saponify 1 gram of an acid (oil). Weight your ingredients out and mixed together in the right order until it ‘traces.’ Then pour it into a mold to set. Cut it after a day or two and leave it to cure for 2 weeks at which point the ph level settles to 8-9.
With Karen’s soap recipe and our aprons – we got cracking with each making 1.1kg of basic soap. I’d like to say that it is as simple as measuring out ingredients and following a recipe but given the science of it and the nature of some of the ingredients, care needs to be taken and an experienced eye looking on is a far better way to learn and understand the process. So, on that note I’m not going to share Karen’s recipe with you but I will highly recommend doing a course with her if you are in the surrounds of the Midlands. If you live too far away, see if you can find someone in your area that does a course and give it a bash.
If you prefer to live on the edge and fancy giving it a go at home, there’s plenty of information online. Here is a link to one that I thought was quite good and easy to follow (her measurements are in ounces though.)
Making Handmilled Soap
We also learnt how to make handmilled soap which is the scraps of your basic soap which you soak in a bit of water and melt. Once melted, you can add essential oils and other things like flowers or oats. I made neroli and oat soap, a peppermint and calendula petal soap and a rose and bicarb one. There are many recipes and combinations for handmilled soap like lemon and rooibos, vanilla poppy seed, the choices are endless.
It is one of those things we take for granted or don’t look at the label carefully enough and given that our skin is the largest organ of the body, we should probably pay more attention. Aside from that, I loved getting right back to the basics, learning how to make it myself. Making things yourself is very rewarding but making something that is natural, cleanses the body and enlightens the senses is most rewarding indeed.
Love Wrendley x
For more information on Karen’s workshops:
Contact – 076 412 1320