How do you do it?

Soapmaking, that is, especially considering that I have two kids below the ages of two five. It’s actually very simple.

I only make soap when the kids are asleep – during their afternoon nap or at night. I usually prefer to work in the afternoon because the natural light allows me to see the actual colour of the soap plus I don’t feel like I might wake my son up if I make too much noise.

If Nil is at home, he knows not to bother me when I’m crafting. It has been like this since I started my handdyeing business in 2008. You could say that he’s well-trained to leave me alone and with good reason. We don’t live in a huge place so if there are two people in the kitchen – where I soap – it’s crowded and crowded spaces means increased risks of accidents. With dyeing, it means things like spilled powders which are fine and toxic if inhaled in large quantities. With soapmaking, it’s caustic burns from the lye and those are n.a.s.t.y. Search the Net for images of these burns and you’ll see what I mean.

Having said that, he’s a gem – always reminding me to put my health first by keeping things safe – read: wear gloves, goggles, mask, apron, shoes.

My supplies are arranged in boxes/plastic baskets under the table in the kitchen and Eva knows that she can’t go around poking her hands and nose in them. It’s training from her days of being an infant crawling everywhere around the apartment in Singapore. I allow her free access to the kitchen BUT she needs to learn to obey one thing – stay away from the cabinets. It is something she carries with her till this day. (She even knows that soap for the dishwasher is meant for the dishwasher and not for eating. Soap for laundry – soapnuts – is soap and not for eating.) My utensils are high up and out of reach and so are my soaps while they are curing.

Ventilation is an issue as I don’t have fans installed so when I’m mixing lye with water, I open the windows. It’s freaking cold when soaping during winter when temperatures are around 1 or 2°C like today and I had to stand in front of the window (you cannot just dump 90 over gms of lye into 200 gms of water – unless you want a volcano-like eruption – so that means gradual mixing and constant stirring). It’s okay by me. Lye fumes are toxic plus they are stinky so I’d rather it be stinky outside and me a bit cold than the fumes staying in the house.

When I start soaping, I’m organized – training from my days baking and cooking. The laptop sits on kitchen counter to give me the recipe and exact figures and no distractions from movies, music or things like dark magic yoyo. I start boiling some water and once that is done, pour them into a large plastic basin that contains my hard oils – coconut and palm (if I’m using them). This is to help them melt – especially important with palm oil as stearin sinks to the bottom as the oil cools.

Then I measure out ingredients for the lye and water/liquid first. Once the solution is done and is cooling, I move onto the additives and fragrances. After this I prep my mould and start with the oils. Once this is done and the oils are heating on the stove bain marie style, I clear the table of my weighing scale, oils, fragrances and things I don’t need anymore. Now, an old T-shirt takes its place on the table together with my handheld blender, containers for my spatula and and whatever else I need. Even the stool on which my mould will sit on needs prepping – an old towel for insulation.

Then I start soaping.

One thing awesome about making soap is that the cleaning up doesn’t take place immediately. Because fresh soap batter is very caustic (don’t ask how I know), it is best to leave all utensils aside for at least 24-48 hours. Once the batter has finished saponifying, then you can start washing up. Ain’t it grand for us folks who don’t like washing dishes and such? Hehehe.


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