How NOT to make Soap
Introduction
Materials
Preparing the Fat
Making Lye water
Without fat rendering

Introduction

Soap making is a complicated, time-consuming but worthwhile task.  This site is intended to explore the cold process and instruct you on some of the mistakes to avoid if a.) You have bad directions,  b.) you do not  fully understand the directions, or c.) you try to take short cuts through the process.  (Back to Top)


Materials

What we used

2 stainless steel buckets to hold fat and lye seperately-Glass or stainless steel
Food or postage scale (w/ounces wt.)
Mold for the soap to cool in
Thermometers (candy thermometers work well, they must go up to at least 54.4 Celsius)
Water
2-Pots
Spoon (stainless steel/ wood)
Coffee Filter Paper
Plastic Gloves
Paper Towels

(Back to Top)

Preparing the Fat

Everybody loves bacon. But what to do with all that fat? Just looking at it can clog an artery. Well, one answer, for the sustainability-minded individual is to use it to make soap! Soap can be made using rendered animal fat or various oils. If using animal fat, it must be "purged" so that the "clean" fat can be used. There are a couple of ways this can be done. One way is to boil the fat in an equal amount of water and then let the mixture cool down. Ideally, the clean fat should float to the top and the rest will sink to the bottom. So after breakfast, we used coffee filter paper to remove the bigger chunks, then measured out 8 ounces. This 8 ounces of bacon fat was then mixed with an equal amount of water and set to boil. Five minutes later, it exploded.

Filterwater to oil

Possible Errors:

Good thing no one was in the kitchen at the time. Not that we should have left the mixture unattended, but it worked out well in this case. Still, if you don't want bacon grease all over your kitchen walls, soap making should be done outdoors. If it is done indoors, a double boiler should be used or a set up of two pots (as shown below) where the bottom pot is half filled with water so that the fat doesn't reach higher than required temperatures.  Also do not set the temperature on high. Set it really low then increase the temperature if needed. That is where we hypothesize that the problem started. The oil should be in the top pot. Eye protection is a must. A thermometer should be used to gage the temperature of the oil. It heats up pretty fast.

double boiler


(Back to Top)


Making Lye Water

Lye is an integral part of soap-making. It's the part of the soap that does the cleaning. It's also a highly basic chemical. In a developing country, there are ways to make lye water from wood ash, and ways to test the strength of that solution using an egg or a potato. But we won't get into that. For our experiment,  Red Devil Drain cleaner was used instead, as that is a 100% lye product.  Using the Smooth and Simple Soap recipe from Maria Nerius's book Soapmaking For Fun and Profit, we measured out 1 ounce of lye. This was then stirred in, little by little to 2.5 ounces of room-temperature water. We were careful not to inhale any fumes. This is a chemical reaction. No heat is needed as the reaction produces its own heat. Measured with a thermometer, it went up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a  matter of minutes.

lye water

 

Possible Errors:

It is important to know the concentration of the lye solution being used. If it is too low, the lye will not react properly with the fats and the soap will not form. Seeing as this is a chemical, this probably should not be used near other food items commonly found in the kitchen.

(Back to Top)


Without Rendered Fat

Another attempt was made with Canola oil. It's already clean, so this eliminates the "purging of the fat" step. Using two pots for a double boiler, we warmed the oil to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Recommended temperature range is 90 - 130 degrees F). Again, 1 ounce of lye was mixed to 2.5 ounces of water.

ingredientssoap in moldThis was then slowly stirred into the 8 ounces of  warmed canola oil. We stirred this new mixture for about five minutes and then intermittently for another 30 minutes. The end result...

lye to fat


Possible Errors:

At this step of the process, stirring is critical.  We probably did not stir as much as we should have.  The directions on this part were very general.   We also did not insulate our molds after pouring because they did not trace to begin with. So far, it does not look much like soap, but it's hard to tell. It's possible  we did do things right and don't know it. Perhaps we made soft soap. We'll let it cure, and time will tell.

(Back to Top)