Soap Stories

No, this story is not about daytime TV.  It's some of my notes about soap that I have made.

First... how about a brief introduction to soapmaking.   Soap consists of longish molecules that are hydrophilic (likes water) on one end and oleophilic (likes oil) on the other.  When soap is lathered on the skin, soap molecules crowd around tiny droplets of oil with the oleophilic end in, and the hydrophilic end out.  This causes the oil to be suspended away from the skin and washed down the drain when rinsed off.  So, how do we make those neat little molecules?  Well, we start with vegetable oil or animal fat, which primarily consists of triglycerides -- that is, a glycerin surrounded by three fatty acids.  When a triglyceride is caused to react with NaOH (Lye), the glycerin is lopped off, and the three available ends each get a sodium atom.  This process is called saponification.  Did you care?  I thought not.

Anyways, if you mix the right amount of Lye with oil, and let it react, you will end up with soap.  The amount of lye is critical.  A certain amount of oil will require a certain amount of lye to fully saponify.  Use too much lye, and you'll end up with caustic soap which will seriously dry out your skin if you're lucky.  (worse if you're not)  Use not enough lye, and you'll end up with oily soap that doesn't wash off, and is more likely to go rancid on you.  Every type of oil or fat has an SAP value, which is "the number of grams of potassium hydroxide required to fully saponify 1kg of oil/fat."  (Why do they use potassium OH, and not sodium OH?  I don't know.  It's a simple  conversion anyways.)  By using slightly less lye than the SAP value suggests (say, 6% less) you will end up with a small amount of oil left in the soap (known as superfat) which contributes to conditioning your skin.  Oh, how do we mix the lye into the oil?  First we need to dissolve the lye in water.  (be careful... not enough water and you'll boil the solution and make a huge mess)  NEVER add water to lye!  Start with cold water, or even use 1/2 the weight of water as ice, and very slowly add the lye crystals while stirring constantly.  Wear eye protection at very least.  Chemical safe gloves, aprons, etc are a good idea.  Once you have the lye solution made, let it cool off.  Now, very slowly add it into your oil/fat while stirring.  Note what we are doing here... adding a water-based solution into oil.  It is worth noting that this doesn't work very well.  (that is, the chemical reaction occurs very slowly)  After my first batch of soap I discovered a trick... use a stick blender.  It will greatly speed up the reaction and I wouldn't make soap without it now.  Once the mixture has reached a consistency of pudding, (known as "trace") the reaction is largely finished.  You can pour this into molds and let it continue to react and harden over the next few days.  If you need to cut it into bars, do it when the consistency is similar to fudge.  Within a few weeks, the lye should be completely consumed and the residual water will begin to evaporate from the soap leaving a much harder bar.  

WARNING: The preceding is a very brief description of the process.  If you are really interested in making your own soap, please don't use this page as instructions.  Find another page on the web that has detailed instructions.  They're out there.  The rest of this page will be devoted to soap recipes that I have made.

First Try:
With a bottle of lye in my hand, I scanned the kitchen for an oil to use.  The bottle of olive oil beckoned, and without even knowing it I made my first Castille.
225g olive oil
29g lye
83g water
this made a soft bar of soap which was very gentle on the skin but didn't lather well and went rancid fairly quickly.

Pine Tar Soap
454g Lard
112g Coconut oil
1/2 tsp Borax (mix into water before lye)
77.7g Lye (7% superfat)
212ml water
142g pine tar

added pine tar at early trace.  Soap hardened VERY quickly... within seconds, not minutes.  I had to rush to get it into the tray.  This soap keeps well, lathers well, and seriously stains the soap dish.  Apparently pine tar is good for a variety of skin conditions including psoriasis.  I've found my "Pseudo Castille" does just as good a job on my psoriasis.


Coffee Soap
454g lard
111g coconut oil
112g olive oil
3.4tsp borax
90.7g lye (8% superfat)
235g very strong coffee. (7% discount -- I planned for more liquid, but the grounds soaked it all up)

This soap smelled very nasty after the lye was added.  Fortunately, the smell went away as the saponification completed.  Sadly, even though it is decent soap, it doesn't smell like coffee.


456.5g Olive Oil
112g Coconut Oil
2.5g (1/2tsp) Borax
77.5g lye (6% superfat)
10 x 400iu Vitamin E Capsules, (contents only, not the capsule, of course)
reserved 34g olive oil and Vitamin E until trace.
213g water (no discount)

This is my favourite soap.  It's very good on the skin and I credit it with clearing up my psoriasis.  It holds up much better than true castille (is harder and doesn't go rancid as quickly) and lathers better as well.


Kim's soap
109g Coconut oil
272g Lard
163.5g Olive oil
75.1g lye (6% superfat)
207.5g water
1/2tsp borax

I was hoping this soap, with the borax, would rinse nicely in softened Calgary water.  It doesn't.  Other than that, it is fine soap.


Christmas Soap (first attempt with scent/colour)
107g Coconut Oil
272g Lard
163.5g Olive Oil (reserved 33g for superfat)
200g water
12 Vitamin E Pills

added 30 drops of vanilla scent. ("Life of the Party Essentials")  Tried colouring a small amount of soap with "LotP Essentials" soap dye.  Obviously this stuff is meant for remelt, not soap still in process.  The Blue dye turned red shortly after mixing it in to the soap. (after trace)  Will be curious to see if it turns back to blue as the lye is consumed.

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