Sunday, October 31, 2010

Doomed! Soaping Disasters

As I began preparing for my first big show, I couldn't help but feel like this whole soaping endeavor was doomed! I had sunk a pretty big lump of money into starting this business, now it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did. With only a two week window for making all the soap for a 2 week long show, anxiety mounted as the clock ticked down and batch after batch was destroyed. First, I was using a new brand of lye and found out it wasn't dissolving. Dots of lye were peppered through the first two batches. So in the pot they went to be rebatched! Think anyone will buy a flesh colored soap that smells like peppermint and, as my dear husband pointed out, looks like refried beans? I guess we'll see :)
Once I realized the problem was with the new lye, I ran to the hardware store and paid the tremendously inflated price for a tried and true brand. Whew! Back on track...

Armed with my reliable lye, I made a small batch to pour in my PVC pipes for embeds. 16 oz should do it! Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me that the seasons had started to change. The air, the house...everything was MUCH cooler and a small batch like this would likely cool much faster. So I soaped as usual, and boy did it trace quickly! Wonderful, I thought! I can pour it in the molds and enjoy some free time this evening. Later that evening, I stuck my hand under the thick insulating blanket and realized that the soap was cool,  but I convinced myself that this was ok... it simply wouldn't gel... no biggy. The next day, when I went to remove the soap from the molds, to my dismay I  found a sticky, goopy mess full of lye pockets. All I can imagine is that the soap did not really reach trace the night before. Instead, it was a case of false trace brought on because it cooled too quickly. Ugh. So much for embeds.

Instead, I decided I would make a layered soap... good ol' layers. I'm practically a pro when it comes to layers ;) I'll use my new lye, soap at a higher temperature and everything will be all right...

Unfortunately, I didn't account for my own stupidity. After ruining the previous three batches and chalking them up to experience, I went on to ruin three more batches:
First, I poured the second layer too soon, so it mixed with the bottom layer in a most unattractive manner
Next batch, I colored both layers the same color (Don't even ask!)
Finally in my third batch (this is the epitome of stupid!)... I just completely forgot to add the shea butter... to BOTH layers!

So now that is 6, yes SIX ruined batches in 1 week! If that doesn't say DOOMED, I don't know what does.

On the plus side, I am now a master rebatcher! Plus, I did manage to turn out some decent batches:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dirty Laundry, Patience and the Art of Soapmaking

With all the anticipation and excitement that builds as we wait for our soap to gel, it is always a thrill to unmold a soap and reveal a beautifully formed, wonderfully scented bar that appears just as good or even better than we ever imagined. On the flip side, it can be utterly disappointing to unmold a soap only find that it partially gelled, or it is covered in ash, or otherwise malformed and unappealing. I was in this camp a few days ago...

I had been planning this particular soap for a long time... it would incorporate carefully crafted embeds, rich stout beer and  a wonderful spicy, musky, manly scent. I was SO EXCITED as it came time to unmold... so you can imagine my absolute horror as I uncovered the mold and the most pungent scent of dirty, wet laundry wafted through the house.. bleah!!! What a stench! Worst of all... it looked absolutely beautiful. It was truly a work of art, rendered utterly worthless by its offensive, disgusting odor. I was beside myself... headed straight toward a tizzy and trying in vein to convince myself that someone, somewhere might find this appealing.

Then, through all the confusion and fumes, came a voice of reason. It said, "be patient." I've made beer soap enough times before to know that the beer imparts an odor of its own at first... but it dissipates in a few days. Perhaps, my spicy scent simply didn't mix well with the fresh beer odor. So I waited... and you know what? When I checked on the soap this morning, the fowl stench of filth had all but disappeared and the spicy, musky scent I had hoped for was beginning to emerge. Whew! I think this soap is back on track and heading in the right direction after all, but, hell if it wasn't an exercise in patience!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Natural Exfoliants and Additives for Cold Process Soap Making - A Few of My Favorites

  • Ratio: 1-2 T. per pound of oil
  • Method: Use slow cooking or rolled oats for soap. Do not use instant or quick cook oatmeal (It absorbs to quickly and creates a gloppy mess). Grind your oats into a fine powder. A coffee grinder works great for this. Slowly, incorporate the ground oatmeal into your oils before adding the lye. You can use your stick blender or stir by hand, but the key is to add the oats slowly to prevent clumping. This creates a gently exfoliating soap.
  • Alternate Method: Pour your soap into the mold. Spread unground oats across the top then press gently down into the soap. This will create a beautiful natural layer at the base/top of your soap. This method creates a much more scrubby exfoliant that the ground method.
  • Benefits: Oatmeal is said to be moisturising and soothing for irritated skin. This is because oats are naturally rich in beta glucan and phenols. Beta glucan is a polysacharide that has been shown to aid in healing. Phenols act as antioxidants and anti inflammatory and are reported to be very soothing for dry, irritated skin. Because of these unique properties, oatmeal makes a great additive to soaps designed for sensitive skin.
Poppy Seeds-
  • Ratio: 1/2-1 T. per pound of oil (depending on how scrubby you want it)
  • Method: Stir in the seeds at trace.
  • Alternate Method: If you don't want seeds speckled throughout, you can sprinkle them across the top, but this is more for decoration as they wont last long as an exfoliator.
  • Benefits: Poppy seeds are rich in linoleic and oleic acids, both skin nourishing fatty acids, but the real benefit of poppies in soap is simply that they make great scrubby exfoliants.
Calendula Petals-
  • Ratio: 1/3- 1/2 cup per 2.5 pounds of oil
  • Method: Gently stir in the petals at trace.
  • Alternate Method: For smoother look, try infusing calendula in a little oil rather than putting flowers directly into the soap. For infusions, I usually combine the oil and herb in a container then let them sit for 3-4 weeks (at least). Use 1/2-1 cup of petals per 16 oz of oil.
  • Benefits: Like oatmeal, calendula contains complex polysaccharides and has been shown to have a healing effect on rashes, wounds and other skin irritations. It is great for people with sensitive skin, or who are prone to outbreaks of eczema or acne. It is also good if you are suffering from poison ivy, diaper rash, or other irritating skin conditions.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Suicidal Soap Syndrome

Many of us have at least one favorite recipe. One that we've made time and time again, knowing it will make a good bar of soap. Then one day it surprises us... and it doesn't behave! It seizes or overheats or finds some other way to self destruct. The worst part is, suicidal soap syndrome can strike at any time, without any warning, for any number of reasons or for no apparent reason at all. As you drop it in the trash, it's hard to forget all of the time and money wasted in making a now worthles batch of near-soap. But, it IS just one bad batch and it is usually not worth giving up on an otherwise tried and true recipe just yet. When your favorite batch of soap lets you down, I think the best thing to do is :

1) Check Your Process- Make sure you did everything correctly. Were your measurements accurate? Did you forget to add one of the oils? Was your scale set to ounces while your recipe was in grams (boy, I hope not!)?
2) Think Critically- If you are sure that you did everything correctly, what else could it be? Did you change brands? Get a more powerful stick blender? Was it unusually hot, or humid?
3) Evaluate Your Options- Can it be saved? Be honoest. If not, you gotta accept defeat, but if you can take that siezing mass of soap and resussitate it by rebatching... go for it! But do it quick, the fresher the soap the easier it is to rebatch. At the end of the day, you may not have a beautiful bar of soap, but at least you will have soap.
4) Persist- Even if there seems to be no rational explanation for your botched batch... try it again. It's been good to you in the past so there's no point in giving up on it after just one incident. But moving forward, pay extra attention to your actions and any outside factors that may affect it. Take good notes and basically, don't take it for granted any more.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rose Hip Powder- Cold Process Do's and Dont's

Why Use Rose Hip Powder In Soap?

Rose hips contain high concentrations of vitamin C as well as A, D and E. They are also rich in antioxidants. All of this makes rose hips great ingredients to combat aging.

Without resorting to micas, oxides, or lab colors, creating a red soap can be challenging to say the least. There are several natural options for creating an orangy/ peachy/ reddish color, but few options for creating a really red soap.

This is where rose hip powder comes in. While far from cherry red, rose hip powder can create a beautiful deep brick red color, but there are some important Dos and Dont's when coloring soap with rose hips:

  • Insulate!- The rose hip powder turns its beautiful earthy brick red color after going through gel phase. If you prevent gel, you will likely end up with a pinkish tan color. Below are pictures of two soaps made from the same batch of rose hip colored soap. The soap on the left did not gel. The soap on the right did.
  • Use Sparingly!- Rose hip powder is scratchy. A little makes a nice exfoliant, but too much just feels like washing with sand paper.

  •  Swirl- I know this sounds weird, but seriously I don't recomend swirling with rose hip powder. I once thought that I would use rose hip powder to create red peppermint scented swirl soap. Bad idea. The rose hip powder is too granular. Rather than looking like red peppermint swirls, it turned out looking like a speckled mess. I personally think rose hip powder works best as a layer, but I'll let you judge for yourself.  Here are some pics of my peppermint mess:

  • Get Greedy!- As I mentioned above, large quantities of rose hip powder can turn your soap into sand paper. I like to use about 1 tsp per pound of oil, any more than that is pushing it.
  • Make it Complicated!- One of the best things about using rose hip powder to color soap is that it is so easy. Simply bring your batch to light trace and remove a small amount. Stir the rose hip powder into the small bit of soap, then add it back into the rest of the batch and stir until combined. Easy peasy! There is no need to mess with infusions or other complications.

I LOVE using rose hip powder to color soap. If you want to try using rose hips in your soap, some great sources for organic rose hip powder are Organic Creations or Mountain Rose Herbs

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Soaping for the Season- Seasonal Soaps Without the Cutesy Kitsch

I've never been one to adorn my house in cutesy holiday decor. You won't find American-flag-themed chairs on my porch during summer, or four leaf clovers on my front door in March. So, I will admit, the idea of making soaps to fit each season did not immediately appeal to me. I had visions of pilgrim shaped molds and I could not imagine a situation where I personally would EVER be inclined to purchase such soap, so why would I make them?

Then, one morning this fall,  I had an everyone mulled around the farmer's market, decked out in their long pants and high turtle necks to ward off the bite of the crisp autumn air, I realized we were surrounded by pumpkins, and gourds. The air was thick with the smell of spiced nuts and cider. It felt like fall. It smelled like fall, and undoubtedly, it looked like fall. And, as with every change of season, there was EXCITEMENT in the air! People were done with the hot days of summer. At this moment in time, they were looking forward to cool nights, colored leaves, trick-or-treaters and holiday feasts. It was palpable... and contagious. And it made me realize that anybody who sells anything, from soap to real estate, would be a fool not to tap into this collective energy that seems to enrapture us all at the turn of each season. That is not to say that I will run right out and purchase a pilgrim shaped soap mold... but there is no reason not to create a soap that captures the energy of the season while still reflecting your own personal artistic intuitions. And there are so many natural options!

For Halloween, why not make a purple and black swirl with alkanet root powder and activated charcoal? For general fall colors, turmeric creates a great yellow; rose hips make a nice brick red color; beer makes a nice earthy tan; and cocoa makes a beautiful shade of brown. Layered or embedded, swirled or solid... there are so many creative ways to capture the colors and scents of autumn while still making a versatile, beautiful soap that doesn't compromise your artistic integrity or look ridiculously out of place at other times of year. In finding that balance, I realized that working with seasonal inspirations doesn't have to limit your creativity or compromise your artistic vision, and it can, in fact, expand your versatility and marketability.

Monday, October 4, 2010

To Gel or Not to Gel? Gel Phase and Cold Process Soap

When I first began making cold process soap, I was convinced that proper insulation was the key to making good cold process soap. It seemed like every book I read, every site I visited and every person I talked to had 3 golden rules to soap making:

1) Insulate, insulate, insulate!
2) Let it sit for 24 hours

I was absolutely CONVINCED that improperly insulating or jumping the gun and removing it prior to that magic (if not a bit arbitrary) 24 hour mark would some how irreparably ruin what would have otherwise been a perfect bar of soap. Imagine my surprise when I found out soap makers have options!

Why do soap makers insulate?
The method of cold process soap making naturally generates heat as the lye reacts with the oils. As it heats up, the soap goes through a process called gel phase. Basically, during gel phase the saponification process speeds up, the oils begin to harden and the color usually becomes a bit darker or otherwise morphs (depending on the colorant you are using). Since the gel phase does change the appearance of your soap, it is important that the soap is heated evenly throughout. If the soap heats unevenly, you may end up with what is called a "partial gel." In a log mold, this usually looks like a odd colored oval running through the center of your soap. This is because, naturally, the soap in the middle will retain heat better, while the soap near the edge will lose heat more quickly. As a result, if left uninsulated, the edges of your soap may not reach gel phase, while the soap in the middle of your mold will. A partial gel is not dangerous, but it may look funny and, if you've spent a great deal of time creating a beautiful pattern in your soap the uneven coloring can be quite disappointing. Insulating your cold process soap helps ensure an even color throughout.

So why would anybody NOT insulate? Well, it goes to reason that if you can get an even appearance by ensuring that the soap HEATS evenly throughout, then you should be able to get an even appearance by ensuring that the soap stays evenly COOL throughout. But there's more...

Preventing Gel Phase
There are a variety of reasons why people prevent gel. Many argue that the colors are richer, the texture is creamier and the scent stronger in ungelled soap. But preventing gel phase isn't as easy as you might think. Cold process soap naturally wants to heat up. If you simply do not insulate, you will likely wind up with a partial gel. You can put your soap in the fridge or freezer, but depending on your recipe and mold, you may still end up with a partial gel. I find that it is easiest to prevent gel phase when I use smaller, shallow molds. I have yet to successfully prevent gel in my log mold! But it can be done! If you are going to try it, there are some important things to remember:

1) It should stay in the fridge/freezer for at least 24-48 hours
2) Forcing the soap to stay cool slows the saponification process. This means it may take several days before it passes the "zap test" and should cure for a full 6 weeks
3) Let it come to room temperature before cutting, or it may crumble

Pros and Cons
Based on my experience, there are some pros and cons to preventing gel:

  • Creamier looking texture
  • Some colors are more vivid
  • Uncolored soap usually appears whiter
  • Some scents come through stronger
  • Can be difficult to fully prevent gel
  • Some colors, like alkenet, look worse
  • It takes longer to saponify
  • It does not seem to last as long in the shower
I personally am an insulator, but I love that there are options and I love to experiment! I always make my batches 10 oz larger than they need to be. The majority goes into a loaf mold, which gets insulated, then I pour the leftover into my ELF massage molds, which go straight into the fridge.  The next day, I can compare the texture and color of gel vs non gel with every recipe I make. I thought ungelled beer soap was a disaster, but turmeric made for a beautiful buttery soap when left ungelled. For me, the fun is in the experiment... and the thrill of breaking all the rules!