Monday, December 05, 2005

Soap Making

Recently, Lynne and I have tried making soap at home. Making our own soap is fun because we can pick the oils to use (olive, palm coconut, etc), the fragrance, the color, and any additives like herbs or flowers. The process is not difficult, although you must use some caustic ingredients, so much care must be taken by wearing gloves, glasses, aprons, etc.

We plan to give homemade soaps as a Christmas gift to friends and family. So, this weekend we wanted to make a soap from scratch. (We’d used a kit with all ingredients for our first attempt several weeks ago.) We had some sage flowers from the cabin, and we bought a nice fragrance (essential oil) that complimented the smell of the sage. We decided to use olive and coconut oil along with a little bit of castor oil as the oils in the soap.

The process is pretty simple, heat the oils to about 100 degrees. Make a lye solution (lye and water) and let it cool to about 100 degrees. Then combine the two and stir until the mixture starts to thicken. Add the color, fragrance and herbs at this point. Pour into a mold. Cover with towels to insulate and let it set undisturbed for two days. Then, remove from the mold, cut into bars, and allow to age for several weeks. The whole process is called “saponification”—the making of soap from lye and oil. It is a bit hard to believe that that bubbly stuff we use to clean ourselves is a complex combination of oils and lye.

We did encounter a major problem in doing the soap from scratch instead of a kit—finding lye. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is a very caustic compound that is used in drain cleaner. It has been commonly available in hardware stores, WalMart, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. under a brand name “Red Devil”. To my knowledge, Red Devil is the only 100% lye product that has been commonly available. The problem is, lye is also a key ingredient in the making of methamphetamines—it, along with Sudafed, is used in meth labs. So, many places have decided not to sell it anymore. I found 2 bottles at a local ACE hardware store, but they won’t be carrying it anymore. And, it was not available anywhere else either!

I began to feel like a criminal as I would ask at various stores if they had Red Devil lye. You could just see the salesperson assessing me for the likelihood that I was running a meth lab. I asked openly in so many places, that I expect the cops to arrive any minute…

We don’t know if we will be able to continue with our new hobby of soap making since the lye is such a critical ingredient. Maybe we can find a source for it where we can “register” and they keep track of our purchases, or maybe there is an online source. Don’t know.

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Posted under: Stuff You Gotta Know! • by Rick on 12/05/2005 at 04:44 PM
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