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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“Passion” Soap (Superfat)

"Passion" Soap

“Passion” Soap (Superfat)
Contents | Olive Oil (Olea europaea), Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera)(*), Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis)(*), Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) Juice, Tangelo Zest, Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis) Extract, Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) Essential Oil, Neroli (Citrus aurantium) Essential Oil, Sandalwood Amayris (Amyris balsamifera) Essential Oil.

Sample bar weight: Approx 70 gms (start of curing)
Full bar weight: Approx 127 gms (start of curing)

Curing completion date | 2 March

Visit the soap store here for more info on the ingredients.

* Ingredients sourced from sustainable and/or organic farming

This is my first log using fruit juice as well as my own lye solution from scratch. My previous logs have been made with pre-made lye solution which I just heat up in a double boiler/bain maire and use as is. While pre-made lye solutions are quick and simply – just pour out of a bottle and use – what you can do with it is limited as it doesn’t allow you to do things like water discount or play around with liquids and purees.

The hubby bought some passion fruit over the weekend since it was going for cheaper than usual and I thought why not get some extra fruit for soapmaking. Since it’s winter and the season for oranges, he bought some tangelos – a cross between grapefruit and orange/clementine/whatever (I forgot but it looks like a tangelo) – as well and I decided to spend some time at night while the two kids were in bed grating up zest from them. I set them out to dry on some paper towels over my heater and by the next day, they were ready.

I wanted something not too strong yet still natural in terms of fragrance and remembered that I purchased some aromatic extract (it’s natural flavoring made from passion fruit juice, sugar syrup and 30% alcohol). This together with a citrusy blend of essential oils makes for a very delicate yet sweet and not too overpowering scent.

I’m in love.

Of course, after I made the soap, I discovered that adding too much citrus juice can neutralize the lye and as my soap was saponifying, I wondered if I would end up with soap. It was the longest 24 hours ever since I first starting making soap. I even had time to blog and search the Net for metal switchplates (don’t ask!). I was peeking under the insulation to see if anything funky was happening. When I finally saw that I got gel – 6 hours into saponification – I literally jumped up and down. Hubby thought I went insane! He hasn’t seen this batch of soap yet so lets see what he says when he gets back. Hehehe.

By the way, did you notice that the shape of the soaps are different this time?

"Passion" Soap: Close-up

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Bubble test: Grapefruit with Vanilla Oil

Savon: Getting ready for the all important lather test

My Grapefruit with Vanilla Oil soap is nearly done with curing – it has been nearly three weeks already – and so I decided to move away from my coach (all comfy with my nursing pillow which doubles as a body pillow) to grab a small portion and test it for bubbles & lather.

INFO: When soap is fresh (unmould and cut), it doesn’t lather up. Lather takes time to build so all the more reason as to why curing your soap is important.

Taking pics of soap and/or bubbles in one hand isn’t all that easy. I had to hang the camera around my neck, wash my hands, rinse one hand and then attempt to take a CLEAR and STEADY shot with another hand on supermacro mode. Heh.

Savon: Success!

Anyway, the bar is a success! As you can see, there is plenty of lather and bubbles plus no zapping feel (extra lye left in the bar can really burn and zap your skin). Overall scent is very very mild – I detect a faint citrus fragrance but my nose is sensitive so not too sure what the hubby will say about that.

The soap is left next to the commercial liquid handwash we use in the kitchen, which my hubby hates because it’s too drying on the hands. I agree – after hot water and that soap, my hands are beginning to crack at the knuckles. *sob* I think my soap is way better even though it’s not fully cured but it could be just me. Will see what the hubby has to say.

Savon: Check out all that lather!

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“Orange Vanilla Choco Terrine” Soap v1.0 (Superfat)

"Orange Vanilla Choco Terrine" Soap

“Orange Vanilla Choco Terrine” Soap v1.0 (Superfat)
Contents | Olive Oil (Olea europaea), Water, Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera)(*), Shea Butter (Butyrospermum parkii)(*), Sodium Hydroxide, Sweet Almond Oil (Prunus dulcis), Fragrance, Goat’s Milk Powder, Cocoa Powder.

Curing completion date | 25 February

Visit the soap store here for more info on the ingredients.

* Ingredients sourced from sustainable and/or organic farming

While the scent and overall components of the soap is fine, the construction and technique requires more work. I am beginning to notice the tiny air bubbles – an annoyance when stirring with a too strong stick blender (must turn power down for the next one). The layering was an issue as 1) I wasn’t patient enough to wait, 2) didn’t use a spoon/spatula when pouring the second layer on top (hence me breaking through the first layer – very obvious in some bars (see pic below)), 3) some bars have the embeds and some don’t (I reckon it has something to do with the trace factor of my first batter) and 4) the sprinkle of cocoa powder wasn’t done properly (should use a sieve for this). While the resulting bars are still okay, there are some bars with pockets of “wet” cocoa powder. I hope they’ll dry while the bars are curing.

In terms of volume, these bars are a lot bigger than the previous ones. I went from a 500 gm recipe to 700 gms and I used my Mitre soap box plus new cutter to cut the loaf up into bars. As a result, I went from smallish 11 bars to rather substantial nine bars with two thin ends. Why I say smallish is now that they are reaching their 4th week of curing, they are rather light after having lost water (and hardening in the process). With any luck, I’m hoping that my new soap mould will yield a good-sized bar that will fit the palm better – these, I think, are a bit chunky for me but reckon they should be okay for the kitchen or handwashing.

I’ll try stamping these later – after looking through some rustic decor ideas – as well as tomorrow just to experiment with the timing as well as the outcome of stamping. Nothing fancy – just a “faire a la main” (handmade) stamp I bought when I first got my supplies. 🙂

UPDATE: Stamping soaps right after unmoulding – bad bad idea. Soap stuck to the stamp and nearly fell apart (I practised on a tiny sliver). Will see what happens if I stamp it on Friday. Hm.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Stamped the soap 1 day after cutting (Thurs – 26 Jan) – HURRAH! It was much better. I tried stamping it again on Friday (27 Jan) and the bar cracked! Argh. Need to go buy a block of wood and a mallet.

"Orange Vanilla Choco Terrine" Soap: Cut bars

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Kitchen Soap v1.0

Kitchen Soap: Stacked bars

“Kitchen Soap v1.0”
Contents | Water, Coffee-infused Olive Oil (Olea europaea), Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera)(*), Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis)(*), Sodium Hydroxide, Castor Oil (Ricinus communis)(*), Almond Meal, Grapefruit Essential Oil, Clove Bud Essential Oil, Patchouli Essential Oil, Coffee Grains.

Curing completion date | 19 February

* Ingredients sourced from sustainable and/or organic farming.

It’s back to the drawing board with this recipe (Kitchen Soaps are great at removing smells and/or dirt, and is a good addition to your stash of gardening tools). Somehow I feel that the finished soap isn’t as dark as I would like it to be. Perhaps I need to do more than just infuse the oil with coffee (am not aiming for a coffee scented bar so that’s not an issue). Will probably add some cocoa powder and coffee grains directly to the mix. Another batch coming up tonight perhaps?

Kitchen Soap: Freshly cut bars

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Chocolate anyone?

"Chocolate Marble Loaf" Soap: Out of the mould

After looking at the comments I got for my first batch of CP (Cold Process) soap in the soap making forum that I’m part of, I decided to simplify my recipe to a 3+1 oil base (3 major oils + 1 additional oil) and play around with adding different things like additives, colours or essential oil. I didn’t want to buy more essential oils and I certainly didn’t want to spend too much on my first time colouring/swirling/marbling. So I looked around and came across some suggestions on natural colorants in soap such as vegetable, fruit and get this, coffee and chocolate!

So I dug out some cocoa powder and baking chocolate with 52% cocoa powder (and other stuff) from the pantry and started work on my 2nd batch of soap. I must admit that this time I felt more at ease – it reminded me of cooking/baking. Practice makes perfect and once you have tried it, it’s less scary the second time around. I soaped at a higher temp (110-120° F instead of 100° F like the last time) and the soap got quite hot (I insulated it as well!). Plus I read that sugar speeds trace up and adds to the heat – I think (need to check; have too much info floating around in my brain). Anyway, So I ended up with a really dark looking bar which I quite like.

I got distracted at the bit where I was to mix or swirl both colours. Instead of pouring the uncoloured portion in a zigzag motion (I was starting to panic as the soap had reached semi-thick trace), I poured everything into one spot. Hence what you see in the loaf above. Then I swirled around with my spatula but I didn’t touch the bottom, hence the dark portions in some parts of the loaf.

Anyway, the soap unmoulds quite well and looks okay except that when I first removed the saran wrap from the top, I saw a few very VERY tiny drops of oil on the surface (where a bubble used to be). The soap is pretty firm and no oozing or oily bits so it could be a one-off thing but lets see a week or two of curing shows up. I must admit that I LOVE how the pattern turned out. It has this marbled quality to it. One thing I’m not happy about is the overall shape. My loaf come out fat on the sides because I had to move it around so the middle is thicker/wider than the edge. Note to self – I should get a sturdy container for my mould.

Otherwise, this is a keeper!

"Chocolate Marble Loaf" Soap: A look at the marbling/swirls

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“Chocolate Marble Loaf” soap

"Chocolate Marble Loaf" Soap: All cut up into bars and curing

“Chocolate Marble Loaf” soap

Contents | Water, Olive Oil (Olea europaea)(*), Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera)(*), Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis)(*), Sodium Hydroxide, Rapeseed Oil (Brassica napus), Cocoa Powder, Baking Chocolate.

Curing completion date | 13 February

* Ingredients sourced from sustainable and/or organic farming

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Grapefruit with vanilla oil soap

Grapefruit with vanilla oil soap curing

Grapefruit with vanilla oil soap

Contents | Olive Oil (Olea europaea)(*), Water, Coconut Oil (Cocos nucifera)(*), Shea Butter (Butyrospermum parkii)(*), Sodium Hydroxide, Mango Butter (Mangifera indica), Rapeseed Oil (Brassica napus), Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera), Vanilla Oil (Vanilla planifolia)(*), Grapefruit Essential Oil (Citrus paradisi).

Curing completion date | 9 February

* Ingredients sourced from sustainable and/or organic farming

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