Mixing lye into water.
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Measuring lard.
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Weighing all the fats.
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Blending fats and lye.
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Greasing molds with petroleum jelly.
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Soap almost cured in crock-pot, without color or fragrance.2070483638_36ab457901.jpg

This is how much soap we got out of a tripled recipe. The balls are just the scraps all balled up. Purple is lavender, molded in a Pringles can and sliced, the pink is peppermint, molded in a heart-shaped muffin tin, and the yellow is honey-almond, molded in duck-shaped soap molds. The brown one in the back in the cake pan is chamomile, but was too soft yet to turn out or cut.
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And for a close up, you may be able to see from the pink heart how lumpy it turned out. The crock-pot way really isn’t the way you should use if you want pretty results, but for a first shot, I’m happy.
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For the full report of the process, go here.

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.

Liz and I are making soap. We searched 10 different stores for lye today, so we didn’t get started until this evening, but we’ve finally got it going. We were duly careful, with our gloves and goggles, and we measured everything by weight, not volume. We chose a crock-pot recipe so the curing time is much shorter: one day instead of 4-6 weeks. We’ll use lavender, peppermint, and honey-almond oils. We’re taking documentary photos, but I’ll post them another day.

I also have to report on my spontaneous surgery this afternoon. Since we moved into our house, I’ve had strange things going on with my feet, particularly the skin on the bottom of my feet. I have all these tiny holes. I thought it was just dry skin that was peeling, but today I got a painful little blister thingie right on the ball of my left foot. It wasn’t a blister, though. It was too deep. I know it wasn’t a plantar wart, because I had those as a child. My dad, an EMT, looked at it, and performed the operation. He lanced the thing (I know this is what you were dying to know about me when you woke up this morning), and said that since the pus was white and not yellow, it was not too bad.

He soaked it in sanitizing hand-gel, since there was no alcohol to be found in my aunt’s house. He kept asking if it hurt, and only left to go to the movie when he was satisfied that I was in pain. From the stinging. From the 64% alcohol gel, which would theoretically kill whatever organism was the source of the pus. Anyway, he left me with a bigger hole, and no answers as to what might be causing the weird holes. It’s not the ‘A’ word. That would never happen to me. It’s not friction blisters, as my dad scathingly said that I couldn’t get those from only running for 10 minutes a day.

I guess I’ll be taking my own advice, though, and get myself some new running shoes. Because nearly any of the available causes of my holes can be linked to the shoes. If it’s the ‘A’ word, or fungal, then my shoes have it. If it’s friction, ditto. If it’s excess moisture, then I need more shoes so I can alternate pairs of them, because, yes, I wear running shoes every day for most of the day. I don’t even think they’re that ugly, except in the respect that I wear a size 10, and who needs feet that big? Especially someone like me, who is not at all what anyone would call tall? Or maybe it is the heels that I bought and started wearing on Sundays, even though I swore never to wear them again.

That’s the sort of thing that would happen to me.