I love making soap for too many reasons. So in this series, I’m having fun picking one reason each time I want to make soap. Today, I want to make soap because it’s so much fun to play with artistic colors.
Colors in Cold Process Soap can be achieved in many ways. I have had the best luck with skin-safe micas. Many of the soap coloring options are not stable through the saponification process. But most of the micas I have tried work well. I have had a couple of the green micas change to a yellowish, drab green while the soap was in the saponification stage, but then they changed back to the advertised shade of green by the time the soap was ready to take out of the mold.
I took an acrylic painting class a few years ago, and my favorite part was mixing the colors, both on the palette before painting with them, and on the canvas, after painting with them. I find the same joy in mixing colors in the soaping process. It’s great fun to mix the mica powders in a little oil, because they have a wonderful shimmer. Adding the soap batter always dilutes the color, so I end up guessing how much mica powder to use for a particular shade. Some brands are more intensely pigmented than others so you don’t have to use as much. Again, I had to learn this through trial and error.
It’s also fun to mix the colors in the batter itself. Depending on which oils you use, the colors can have unexpected results. The surprise factor adds to the fun. Will the colors look the same after cutting the soap as they do when the soap is first poured? Will the soap match the picture in my head for what I was aiming for? No. I have never had one turn out the way I planned it, but I have been happy with the surprise results. What unexpected results have you had in soapmaking?
There are so many reasons for wanting to make handmade soap. So each time I start to make soap, it is fun to pick a reason why I want to make soap today. Today, I am choosing the Chemistry Fun aspect.
Chemistry? Ewwwww….. I hated Chemistry in school. It was soooooo hard!
Ok, whining over with. This is fun! We are taking two unrelated substances, and combining them to make a third unrelated substance. How cool is that?! Almost like magic.
Of course, I am talking about adding Sodium Hydroxide, commonly known as Lye, to any fats. The act of combining Sodium Hydroxide molecules with fat molecules starts a chemical reaction called Saponification. The end result of this magical chemical reaction is a soap molecule!
Now there is some research involved in this process. We have to choose which fats to use. And there are many fats to choose from. And they all have different properties they bring to the finished soap product. I don’t know about you, but I have always loved the research process involved in learning new things. Hobbies especially, because I can decide what to research. When making handmade soap, there are many fats to choose from, typically broken into two categories: Hard fats, known as butters, and soft oils that stay liquid. The general rule of thumb is to have a relatively balanced mix of hard fats and soft oils to make a good bar of soap. So how do you choose? Come with me on this journey and we will explore these questions, and many more about making handmade soap.
I get asked this question a lot. “Why would you want to make handmade soap when it is so readily available in so many stores and so much less expensive?”
Well, the answer involves a bar that a friend made that I received as a gift. I thanked the giver, and wondered why someone would make such a thing, much less give it to me. But I have to say, it did smell good! I stuck the gift bar of handmade soap in the cabinet and pretty much forgot about it, until I ran out of store bought soap and it was the only one available to me. So I reluctantly unwrapped it and used it. Boy did it smell good! And the lather was very nice! OK, so maybe this was a better gift than I realized. I did manage to get to the store and bought some more of my favorite famous brand, and brought it home and put in the cabinet next to the shower. I did not plan on running out again. But I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t want to waste this gift bar, I’ll use it up, then continue using my store bought brand.”
After only two days, I noticed a big difference in my skin. My elbows that usually feel really rough and dry and demand lotion multiple times a day, were really soft, even without lotion. Hmmmmm…..
So, as an experiment, I skipped the lotion, thinking that one day was just a fluke. But no, each day, when I reached for the lotion, my elbows were already nice and soft. Oh my!
Also, after about 2 weeks, I noticed the cracks in the heels of my feet had disappeared. Now that was amazing! I have had those cracks for many years, and while lotion helped them, they had never entirely disappeared. What was going on here?
So I didn’t really realize how wonderful the handmade soap was until it was gone, and I went back to using the store bought soap. It didn’t take but a couple of days until my elbows were screaming for lotion again. And they were very greedy, because it took multiple applications of lotion each day to get them to the level of softness with the handmade soap. And the same for my heels. Well, let me tell you, it didn’t take long for me to call my friend and ask her to sell me more handmade soap.
After using it for some time, I shared some with my mother, who then got in the habit of raiding my soap cabinet every time she came to my house. But it was ok, because my friend lived close by, and I could always get more from her. I told her I would buy it for the rest of my life, and she laughed. But she kept selling me soap. I compared it to crack, being extremely addictive.
Then one day, she didn’t have any to sell me. She had been traveling extensively and had not made soap in a long time. I was afraid of making it myself, because it involved using sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye, and was considered dangerous.
There came a point that I decided to face my fears of the danger and give it a try. My husband agreed to help me. We watched MANY YouTube videos and researched for a long time, then gathered the materials and gave it a try. Well, the danger is real, but manageable. We compared it to grilling. The fire is dangerous, but manageable. Just respect the fire, take reasonable precautions, and it is safe enough to continue enjoying grilled food.
After I made my first batch of soap, knowing I had to let it sit and cure for 4 to 6 weeks, the waiting was agony. So I decided to make more to pass the time. I had planned on only making enough for myself, my family and friends. Well by the time the first batch was ready to use, I had made about 4 batches, and had discovered a whole world of fragrances, colors, techniques and was completely hooked!
And the rest is the story of my journey to continue making handmade soap!