A few weeks ago, spurred by the almost full-scale wipeout of plain old soap from supermarket shelves and its replacement with plastic bottles containing various permutations of water, SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) and perfume, I decided to make soap.
My first foray was a plain 50% olive oil, 50% coconut oil bar. I did this to get the hang of the process (Cold Process) and make a bar with no complicating factors.
My second bar was a coffee scrub bar, made using coffee scrub melts I’d made a few weeks prior. I didn’t much like the melts and thankfully knew the exact types and weights of the butters I had used, so was able to formulate a soap recipe by adding oil and running it through a lye calculator.
This here is my third bar. Lessons learned from the first and second bars led me to keep a nice high quantity of butters but to add in some beer to increase the suds! It has certainly worked and increased bubbles are visible even at this stage of the cure.
In my second bar I used castor oil, well known to increase suds, but for this one decided to use sweet almond oil instead as it’s lighter, less ‘rubbery’ and well – I had the beer. The largest oils are again coconut and olive oil, with total ‘hard’ oils making up 50% and total ‘soft’ oils making up 50%. I kept some cocoa butter to assist hardening and shea butter for a nice silky feel.
It’s hard to get a rock hard soap without using palm oil or good old lard, but for so many reasons I’d like to achieve that holy grail. This bar is nice and firm but does have a touch of creaminess that it wouldn’t have if either of those were used as base oils. Adding some sodium lactate for more hardness will be tried in another soap no doubt.
Soap making doesn’t need to be scary. The key thing to remember is to protect your eyes, hands and feet (yes) with gloves, goggles and shoes so that if a crumb or a splash of lye falls on them, then it won’t burn. If it does burn, take off the garments and wash with water. And when combining lye and water, add lye to water and NEVER the other way around.
I was really excited to try a beer soap and had read lots about reaching a fast trace and making sure it’s fully boiled and completely cooled before using. The sugar will cause both the bubbles and a greater heat to be reached in a cold process soap during saponification. It is critical to boil all the alcohol off the beer the night before using and leave it in the fridge to cool completely. Then when adding the lye do it very gradually and have a bucket of ice to sit the jug on if it starts any level of fizzing.
This soap could be made with any scents, but I love how the black pepper and bergamot are mixing together and giving a sharp, fresh and a little fruity smell. The charcoal adds to the cleansing and of course to the drama.
At this stage, I should point out again that this is my third soap, which makes me an expert by absolutely zero standards!
All oils are measured in weight, not volume and I used a 1.25cm x 11.25 x 6.27 inch frame, lined with parchment paper as a mould.
- Oils & butters
- 40% Olive Oil (400g)
- 30% Coconut Oil (300g)
- 10% Sweet Almond Oil (100g)
- 10% Cocoa Butter (defragranced is best) (100g)
- 10% Shea Butter (100g)
- Liquid & lye
- 380g beer and water total
- 140g sodium hydroxide (lye)
- 1tsp charcoal (about 9 capsules)
- 10ml black pepper essential oil
- 10ml bergamot essential oil
- Bring the contents of a 330ml bottle of lager to the boil. Simmer until it stops foaming and then another bit.
- Leave to cool in fridge overnight.
- Cover your work surface and put on gloves and goggles to protect your skin.
- Measure your beer by weight and top up to 380g with cold water
- In a plastic or stainless steel jug (never aluminium) take it outside and stir in the lye very gradually.
- Leave it dissolve completely, during which time it will give off quite a lot of heat and some fumes.
- While the lye is cooling melt the hard oils (coconut, cocoa, shea) in a double boiler until just melted.
- In a plastic or stainless steel bowl add the melted oils to the olive and sweet almond oils and stir together.
- In another container mix the charcoal powder with a little oil, just about a teaspoon or less to blend.
- Combine the essential oils and have them ready to pour.
- Check the outside of the oil bowl and the outside of the lye jug with your hands (in gloves!) and they should both be a little warmer than body heat by now and hopefully around the same temperature.
- Pour the lye carefully into the oil mix. Using the back of a spoon or spatula to pour it onto should help avoid splashes.
- Mix with a stick blender, then pulse a few times to mix.
- It doesn’t take long to achieve ‘trace’, the point of no return where liquid and oil are emulsified, so pulse in small bursts rather than going hell for leather.
- At a light trace (think coating sauce in cooking) the mix will be fully bonded and the stick will leave a barely visible trail.
- Pour about 1/3 of the mix into a separate bowl or jug and add the charcoal mix to this. Mix with a whisk or pulse barely if needed.
- Add the essential oil into each soap mix and whisk with a balloon whisk to blend.
- Pour all the light coloured batter into a prepared mould.
- Pour a stripe of the dark batter down the centre of the mould, it will sink to the bottom. Use about half the dark batter.
- Using a spatula to break the pour speed, pour the dark batter down each side of the mould. It will sit on top of the light batter.
- Insert a chopstick into the soap, the full depth, and quickly draw figures of 8 from side to side to form a swirl.
- Tap the mould sharply a few times on a hard surface and knock the air bubbles out.
- If you like, cover the mould with cardboard, wrap in a towel or blanket and leave overnight. This optional step will help encourage a gel phase which makes the charcoal darker.
- Leave the soap set for 24 – 48 hours before unmoulding and cutting.
- Leave for 4 – 6 weeks in a well ventilated place to cure fully before use.