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Modern Soapmaking Procedures and Tips by Kathy Miller

Republished with kind permission from Kathy Miller. Kathy has been making soap for over 30 years and has compiled her years of experience on her website, Miller's Homemade Soap Pages (well worth the visit but be warned, you could be there some time).  With huge thanks Kathy, from all the members at Fresholi :o)

Modern Soapmaking Procedures & Tips by Kathy Miller

The instructions on the Traditional Methods page were developed from the old lye company leaflet that I used when first getting started with this back in the 70's. If you are hand stirring or making soap from tallow and salvaged kitchen fats... it's a good place to start. I've put these on their own page for those of you who get confused bouncing back and forth between the old and new. This is how I'm making soap now... whether all-vegetable or with animal fats in the recipe. The most revolutionizing thing in these steps is the use of a stick blender. I will never go back to the old way unless I have to. Some of you like the feeling of hand stirring your soap, but after doing it for as long as I did, I don't mind the speed and reliability of stick blending. Have I said this before? :-)

Also, I've gotten my husband, Ron, to make some wooden soap molds since I'm making so much now. It is wonderful to have straight sides on the soap bars and not as much trimming is necessary. I will show you how I cut the bars and you can see the mold I'm using. There are lots of possibilities out there... this is just what works for me at this time.

-Kathy Miller-

Soapmaking Routine Using the Stick Blender See Kathy's tips on using a stick blender...

1. Take out all the soapmaking utensils, premeasure any herbs or additives and place near the soapmaking area (my stove).

2. Dissolve premeasured lye by stirring it into the determined amount of cold water (I buy lye in bulk so weigh it on a postal scale). I am now doing this in a one quart size Pyrex (heat resistant) glass measuring cup. This is placed on the stove top under the exhaust fan while being mixed. (This will heat up a lot in a matter of seconds... be aware that it will get really hot.) I usually crack open the kitchen window slightly for added ventilation and avert my face while the lye is first being mixed in.

It will produce fumes during the first minute or two. After that... the solution turns clear from its original milky appearance and there will no longer be fumes present. If you happen to catch a bit of the fumes, your body will do its best to make sure those don't get into your lungs (this is translated as coughing and wheezing!)... if that happens, I just quickly step into the next room while holding my breath and get some good cleansing breaths before going back to the lye mixing. Not very scientific, but it seems to work just fine so far! :-)

When you stir in the lye, be sure to keep the crystals moving around during the first 30 seconds or so, in order to prevent them from forming hard clumps in the bottom of the mixing container. While I often use heat resistant glass, you can also mix your lye solution in a stainless steel pan or a really stout, heat tolerant plastic container. Remember... start with COLD WATER! :-) If you don't want to do your mixing inside the house, you can also take this process outside... but be sure you are in an area where you will not impact children or animals and do NOT leave your lye solution unattended outside after mixing it up.

As soon as the fumes have dissipated... bring it carefully into the house. (I stress carefully after receiving a horror story from a fellow who tripped on the porch step with a whole pan of lye solution in hand... what a mess! He recovered okay, but it was an experience I'm sure he would not care to repeat!)

NOTE: Sometime in the spring of 1999, the Lewis Lye company started packaging their lye crystals in 18 ounce containers with reclosable child-proof lids. Be sure you notice how many ounces are in the can you have purchased before you dump it all into your batch! You may need to get a postal scale in order to weigh out the proper amount. I have still seen 12 ounce containers, but don't know if they are old stock or whether they are still packaging it both ways.

All recipes are based on WEIGHTS, not volume. You will need to weigh oils and lye with a good scale. Water can be measured with a liquid measuring cup with no problems.

3. In a stainless steel spaghetti cooker, I weigh out the hard fats (palm, coconut, etc.) in the soapmaking pan and sometimes part of the liquid oils. I leave part of the liquid oils out to be added after melting the harder fats. Any wax candle color, crayon or beeswax goes in at this point also, unless I'm swirling or doing something unusual with the batch.

4. While the fats are melting I line the mold with freezer paper, if I haven't done it already. I currently use two overlapping sheets of freezer paper, arranged perpendicular to one another and creased into the corners of the mold. These sheets are cut slightly wider than the width of the box to that they will overlap and cover the corners to reduce leaking.

5. Melt the above hard fats on a low setting on the stove, stirring periodically. After they have melted, I put the pot back on the scale (on top of a heat resistant pad) and measure in the remaining room temperature oil (usually between 24 and 32 ounces). This cools it off faster.

6. When the temperature of the fats is close to 110 degrees, I speed the cooling of the lye solution if necessary by setting the Pyrex cup in a sink of cold water (halfway up the side). I stir the water around and watch the thermometer until it drops to the temperature I want. The thermometer and stirring spoon are rinsed of lye water and placed in the sink to await washing.

7. It's time to start up the blending. I turn on the stick blender and pour the lye solution quickly into the fat (while I'm blending I set this cup into the sink and overrun it with water to rinse and wait for washing). The soap is mixed for about a minute until it starts to smooth out and glisten. Sometimes, I'll turn on the burner under the pot for just a minute to warm the soap slightly if it's looking grainy to start. You are striving for a good mix, but not little globs of fat in the mix. The soap ideally should look smooth and develop a "satin" finish as you blend and stop to check it.

8. During the above process, I periodically turn OFF the stick blender and use it as if it were a spoon to stir the soap. This works well on mine since the guard does an effective stirring job. I alternate blending with it ON and stirring with it OFF until it starts to thicken slightly (the surface appearance will change and develop some dullness...patterns can be seen in the wake of the blender). If you don't give the motor rest periods during blending, you can burn out your blender. Also, you want to make sure you have true trace... not just something that has emulsified and appears thicker than it really is. Stirring for a minute with the blender off will "stir down" a false trace, but not a true one. I lift the blender (in the OFF position) out of the soap to check how well the soap coats the guard. It should be like thin to medium pudding before pouring.

Some fragrance oils will really speed up this thickening process, but most essential oils do not. The whole process doesn't normally take more than 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the recipe. How thick you want the soap before putting in the additives will depend on what kind of fragrance you will be using. Most essential oils behave pretty well... many fragrance oils can cause rapid thickening or other problems. Read the notes on fragrance oils below before making your soap.

9. It's time to stir in the additives, fragrance or essential oils. This is better done with the blender off, but I turn it on briefly after stirring to make sure the fragrance/essential oils are smooth and completely incorporated. Sometimes they will clump slightly and I want to break those up. Any other ingredients can be added at light trace also, like superfatting oils that weren't put in at the start, natural colorants like paprika, herbs, etc. Save the fragrance for last* in case you get one of those fragrance oils that accelerates trace and forces you to pour quickly! =:-O

See Kathy's Tips On Using Fragrance Oils...

10. When the soap is getting slightly thicker but not to the pudding stage yet, I pour it into the mold. If you are doing confetti soap or adding heavy substances to your soap, you will wait for medium thick pudding to pour. Use a spatula to clean off the outside and guard of the stick blender first (inside too the best you can...unplug it first ... there is danger of bumping the switch while cleaning) and then use it to scrape all the soap out of the pan into the mold. The spatula also works well for marbling if you're doing that.

11. In a cool room, set the box with poured soap into a pasteboard box and cover that with another pasteboard box which fits over the bottom one. I will open this at gel stage and allow some heat to escape before I cover it back up for the long haul (of course, I peek!). When the soap shows signs of cooling down by becoming opaque at the edges, it's time to put the cover back on. A heavy towel can go over all this if the room is cool. In summer, I only cover the soap until it reaches gel to the corners of the mold... then uncover it until it cools down and becomes opaque on top.

12. CLEAN UP! :-) Wipe out the pan, utensils and outside of the stick blender (and as much around the blade as you can safely get) with paper towels and dump those in the garbage. Fill the soapmaking pan half to 2/3rds full with hot soapy water, set back on the stove and stick blend the water until the inside of the blender is completely cleaned (about a minute). The water will look like skim milk by the time you're done. The water is poured out of the pan and everything (all your soapmaking paraphernalia) is washed with hot soapy water, rinsed and dried until next time.

All this can be done in the space of ONE HOUR. :-)


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