Well I had my soap making day and it was successful. I think it was anyway. The soap looks fine but has to cure for 4-6 weeks so I won't be able to use it for a while yet.
It was exciting as I have thought about making soap for years but have always put it off and been a bit worried about using caustic soda as it can be dangerous.
But I have researched it recently and gained the knowledge and mainly the courage to try.
Rhonda's tutorial on Down-to-Earth was a great source of encouragement and info from The New Hard Times Handbook by Keith and Irene Smith also helped.
I wanted to make a vegetarian soap so didn't want to use any animal fats. I adapted a basic recipe I found to use vegetable oils. I included copha (coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature) which should make the soap set harder than just using runny vegetable oils. Apart from buying the block of copha for $2.50 I also had to buy a jar of caustic soda crystals for $3.75, I just used other oils that I already had at home.
Olive oil 200g
Almond oil 100g
Canola oil 200g
Caustic soda 230g
The method is fairly simple. The main precaution is to wear gloves and safety glasses when mixing the caustic soda and the water. It can spit and the solution does burn. Also protect any work surfaces and have the windows open so the fumes dissipate.
Instead of using plain water I made an herbal tea first and allowed it to cool.
I wanted to make it as cheaply as possible and decided against 'flavouring' my soap with essential oils. I picked some lemon balm, put in some mandarin skin and some cinnamon powder and a couple of cloves. The finished soap doesn't smell very strongly of any of these so perhaps oils would be better or maybe I could leave the water to steep for a day.
Next came the scary step of mixing the caustic soda. I had read that this could be dangerous, there could be hissing and spitting and bubbling. Frankly, after putting on Peaces safety glasses and my dish washing gloves (especially bought for the occasion) I was a bit disappointed. The mixture mixed nice and evenly, no splashes what so ever and it slowly began to heat up from the chemical reaction.
The caustic and water can heat up to 90 degrees Celsius in about 5 minutes. After this you need to allow it to cool to luke warm.
The oils should be the same temp as the caustic when you mix them so heat them and melt the copha and also allow this to cool. I don't have a thermometer so I just gauged the temperature of both mixes by feeling the outsides of the bowls. I thought that if they were roughly the same it should not matter.
Add the caustic to the oils in a thin stream and mix with a wooden spoon. Another precaution to note here is not to use aluminium or plastic containers or utensils for any part of the process.
As you stir the mixture becomes creamy.
Now if you have a family of bowl-lickers like me you must warn everybody that this is NOT cheese cake mixture sitting on the bench!
I then mixed it with electric beaters until it was thick and forming a trace. A trace is when patterns dropped onto the surface will hold their shape.
Pour the mix into a mould. I used a plastic ice tray out of an old fridge. I should have lined it with plastic so the soap came out easier.
I made eleven bars of soap and estimate that it cost me about $5. Now you couldn't buy pure, veggie oil soap for 50c anywhere. Oh, mine does look a bit messy but hey I'm sure it'll get us clean.