Liz and I made two batches of soap using the same recipe but slightly different methods. The results are different, but both good. I think both methods have their merit, so if you want to know about soap making, read on! If, after reading this, you’re just too curious and want to try the soap, email me your address and I will send you some soap. Unless you’re related to me, in which case you may reasonably expect to receive some in the next couple of months without asking for it.

We started with this recipe for grocery store soap, meaning that you could theoretically find all the ingredients at the grocery store. Theoretically, I say, because we searched 10 different stores for lye. I know, you would think you could find lye anywhere, but no. We went to Marsh, Pay Less, Home Depot, Walmart (gasp!), Rural King (neon orange suspenders, a farm section, and free popcorn), JoAnn, Michael’s, and Lowe’s. I can’t remember the other two, but we ultimately found it at Lowe’s. It’s in the drain cleaner section, and my dad said we should just use Drano, but we weren’t sure it was 100% lye, or if it was in the same concentration as we needed. We didn’t want to take any chances with something that could melt our faces off.

One handy thing that came out of our search is that Walmart (gasp!) has a 31.5 oz. container of coconut oil for $3. That’s incredible. The same size at the health food store is usually like $18. Also, lard can be found in the Mexican section of the supermarket in a 3 pound tub. A tub-o-lard. I think it’s also in the refrigerated section in sticks, like butter, but we wanted a lot, so we got the tub. Castor oil is in the pharmacy section, but can be found at health food stores in larger containers, and is pretty cheap. We used regular olive oil. There’s no use using extra virgin if you won’t taste it. And I hope you won’t be tasting your soap. Although, Liz liked the fragrances we used so much that she kept saying she wanted to eat it.

So here’s how it goes. You get all the ingredients ready, with your pot and stirrers, scale, gloves and goggles. With your gloves and goggles on, you measure the lye into a small container, then measure the water by weight into a larger one like a pitcher. You add the lye to the water, stirring gently without letting it splash. You do NOT add the water to the lye. Unless you want a hot, caustic, skin-melting volcano. Then you let that cool, since it goes up to about 200 degrees during the reaction.

You start measuring the oils into a bowl, taring the scale after each addition. The oil mixture needs to be liquid, so unless your kitchen is 90 degrees or hotter, you will probably have to melt the coconut oil and lard. We just added all the fat and stirred it on the stove until melted.

Then you slowly pour the lye mixture into the fat, stirring gently. We used a stick blender, but didn’t turn it on until all the lye was incorporated. When you blend it with a stick blender, the stirring takes about 5 minutes. I guess if you only have a whisk, you can do it by hand, but it will take about an hour of stirring. When it reaches the stage called ‘trace’, which is where it resembles vanilla jello pudding and a blob dropped on top doesn’t sink, it’s ready for the next step. This is where our two batches differ.

With the first batch, we put the mixture into a crock-pot on high, and let it cook for about an hour, until it started to be glossy like petroleum jelly. It was fluffy and airy. We then added the essential oils and colors. For the first batch, we used lavender oil with lavender buds and purple coloring in one bowl, honey-almond oil and yellow coloring in another, peppermint oil and pink coloring in the third, and a home-steeped oil concoction of chamomile tea with no coloring in the fourth. We stirred ’em up good and put them into our prepared molds. We used some mini loaf pans, some heart shaped muffin tins, a Pringles can, an 8’x8′ glass cake pan, and some little soap and chocolate molds shaped like ducks, seashells, and frogs.

With the second batch, we skipped the crock-pot part. We used oatmeal, apple-spice oil, and cinnamon in one bowl, and orange oil, lemon oil, orange zest and lemon zest in the other. Neither of these needed coloring. We used the same molds as we had the night before, since the previous batch was already hard.

The non-crock-pot batch was much easier to handle and pour, since it wasn’t cooked, but it takes at least 24 hours to harden in the molds, and 4 weeks to cure before you can use it. I guess the crock-pot does all the curing, so you can use crock-pot soap as soon as it’s hard, but it’s pretty gloppy after the cooking, so it doesn’t go into the molds nicely. Except the Pringles can. We just pushed the soap log out and sliced it. That one is very nice, even though the round sides aren’t completely even.

I tried the crock-pot soap, since it didn’t come out of the bowls all the way and there were scraps, and it was luscious. I usually don’t use bar soap because my skin is so dry, but this stuff was smooth, foamy, and smelled delicious. And I didn’t have to put on lotion after using this soap.