Lots of people I meet at markets want to know how Artisan soap is made. I explain that many “soapmakers” they might have seen use a “melt-n-pour” base from a factory. They first melt some of this “soap”, add colours and smells, pour into a loaf tin - and then call it hand made soap.
ALWAYS protect your eyes. Glasses are NOT enough protection – wear safety goggles as a minimum. I prefer a full face mask because it doesn’t steam up so easily, and I have a full field of vision when I’m wearing it.
Gloves are another must-have. Latex is my choice, but even marigold washing up gloves will suffice.
Protect your skin from any possible splashes or spills. Long sleves and long trousers are recommended – and no wearing open-toed shoes when making soap.
O.K. we’re properly dressed now – what next?
Measure out your oils.
Always use grammes rather than ounces – it is much more accurate. Since an ounce is approx. 28 grammes, a couple of grammes won’t make much difference to your soap – a couple of ounces certainly would!!!
In the bowl you can see lots of lovely extra virgin olive oil, some coconut oil and some palm oil. They are in the mixing bowl we’ll be using to mix up the soap.
It is important to only use stainless steel or thick plastic when you are making soap. Aluminium reacts violently with the alkali, and glass breaks too easily.
Next we prepare the alkali solution needed for the chemical reaction which changes our oils into soap.
It is best to do this in a well ventilated area because you don’t want to breathe in any fumes.
First, we measure the water into a microwave-safe plastic jug. Dissolving the sodium hydroxide in water creates A LOT of heat, and we must be sure that the container can safely withstand the temperature.
Secondly, we CAREFULLY measure out the sodium hydroxide.
Then we combine the two by adding the sodium hydroxide to the water – NEVER the other way around. This is a very exothermic reaction, the mix becomes very hot almost instantly. Use a spoon or chopstick to stir the mix and ensure all the alkali has dissolved.
If your jug has a lid, put it on to contain any fumes.
Most soapmaking books would now tell you to heat up the oils and cool down the alkali solution until they are at about the same temperature – usually somewhere around 30°C.
In this tutorial I’ve used a more advanced technique which uses the heat of the alkali to melt the oils. DO NOT try this if you are a beginner – there are lots of ways to ruin a batch done this way.
If your oils don’t melt completely you will need to heat up your mix and hot process it, which takes considerably more time and will not look as smooth as a cold processed soap.
Keep an eye on the mix whilst the oils are melting. Stirring it slowly and breaking up the larger chunks of oil can help the oils to melt quicker. Make sure ALL of the oils have melted before you go any further or you may end up with chunks of solid oil in your soap!
You can see here how the solid oils have gradually melted.
When you are absolutely sure that all of the oil is now liquid, you can add some power to your mixing. Oil and water don’t readily mix, so they need a little bit of help.
Before the days of electric hand blenders, soapmakers could spend several hours stirring a batch of soap with a spoon. O.K. maybe not ALL of that time was spent stirring the pot, but they would stir for a short time every 5 or 10 minutes until the mixture thickenned to “trace”. When a drizzle of soap from the spoon left a “trace” on top of the soap, it was ready to pour into the mould.
Fortunately, I have a hand held immersion blender, and can do the same job in a few minutes
When the mix is the consistency of runny custard, it is time to add the activated charcoal.
This is extremely fine medical grade charcoal. It doesn’t feel rough or scratchy, but it is a great exfoliator.
Exfoliating makes the skin feel softer, and is essential before you use a fake tan.
This is also your last chance to add any essential oils. This batch is naked though – no essential oils.
When it is all mixed in, we pour the wet soap into the prepared mould or moulds.
This one is wooden and lined with silicone. If you use a wooden mould, you MUST remember to line it with greaseproof paper or silicone. If you forget, the caustic mix would gradually eat away at the wood – and the soap would be very difficult to get out of the mould.
I cheated a little bit earlier, by not showing you the small bottle of liquid soap I removed from the batch prior to adding the charcoal. We use that to make the swirly pattern on top of the soap.
Just wrap it up warm for a day or so – to let it cook itself. Unmould and cut after a day or two, then leave it a month to age nicely.
So there you have it – how to make Goth soap…