Making soap in the millennial kitchen – burden or bliss?

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Since I started making my existence more sustainable I wanted to make soap in a traditional way. Living a more sustainable life means not only buying responsibly, but also knowing how basic things are made. Soap is one of those inevitable things – we need it daily to clean ourselves.

My olive oil and coconut oil soap decorated with heather flowers

Most of the soaps in the market contain up to 15-20 ingredients. To make homemade cold-processed soap, only 3 ingredients are crucial: oil, distilled water and lye. The rest is upon your imagination.

So, talking about my first steps in soapmaking, my main goals were:

1. Not to blow up the apartment we live in
2. To make a fairly good soap
3. Not to burn myself with lye (because it is a strong alkali)

The preparation

As it turned out, I needed some investments to make:

  • Kitchen scale – each ingredient needs to be measured correctly.
  • Safety eye wear – to protect your eyes from lye.
  • Gloves – for the same reason.
  • Heat resistant bowl and non-metallic spoon – to mix lye with water. I bought them second hand, so a couple of bucks saved.
  • Silicone molds – to make your liquid soap look like nice rectangles. After 24 hours of molding, you can separate a bar of soap from silicone effortlessly.

    The part of items needed to process a soap

  • Lye (sodium hydroxide) – this is what magically makes those greasy oils into the soap! But be very careful with the lye-water mixture.
  • Distilled water – I read that some people use just tap water and nothing bad happens, but I decided to act according to the guidelines and used pure water.
  • Oils – I used olive and coconut oils, which I already had in my kitchen.
  • Fragrance – To scent my soap, I used Estonian product, Singe Seebid lavender essential oil.
  • Decoration – To decorate my soaps, I used chopped Heather flowers. It gave my soap some texture and a handmade effect. The brand is also Estonian.

How to measure how much lye or water you need? I used this calculator which helped a lot. Also, all the different oils and butters act differently at soapmaking, so you need to research first what you need to use. I relied on this source.

Adding a lye to water on my balcony

Remember: safety comes first! Use safety glasses, wear long-sleeve clothing and rubber gloves.

Always add the lye to the water to avoid the explosion. Mix them in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing the fumes (I mixed them on my balcony). Also, here you can find the tips about how to work with lye safely.

The soapmaking

After getting the recipe and measuring all the ingredients, I started adding the lye to the water.

Me being happy to see the trace

When the lye gets dissolved and cools down, add the mixture to the oil and use a stick mixer to mix them. Here is when a chemical process, saponification starts.

The mixing process is over after you get the trace (when you drizzle your mixture, it should leave some trace behind, which disappears within seconds). Then I added some essential oil and chopped heather flowers for the smell and decoration. I did not use any colorant for my soap because I am pretty satisfied with how it naturally looks.

After I mixed everything together, transferred them into the molds and set aside at least for 24 hours. On the other day, I easily separated hardened bars from the silicone molds.

To make a soap hard enough it needs to be stored in a cool, dry place at least 4-6 week. They call this process “curing”. That makes the soap last longer in the shower!

Transferring my soap into silicone molds. Actually looks like a butter-cake. (Side note: do not mind the old newspaper: I used it to protect the floor from the mixture).

What I’ve learned

It took more time and effort than I was expecting. My husband helped me a lot, but at the end of the day, I was exhausted. At the same time, I was delighted with the results.

Deeply in the heart, I was afraid that the recipe will not work and I was not getting the trace, or my soap will not harden or they will not make the lather. None of those happened!

I tested them two weeks after. It was incredibly fun to see that the soap I’ve made using those greasy fatty oils, created amazing bubbly bubbles! And cleaned my skin brilliantly, without leaving the feeling of dryness. Two weeks of curing was not enough though, the soap is still not as hard as it should be. I have to wait more I guess.

Sustainability

Knowing how to make your own products and not being dependent on what manufacturers offer you – it is a big advantage indeed.

Estonian brands I used for my soaps: Süvahavva Loodustalu OÜ Heather tea and Signe Seebid essential oil

But, you need some resources. I bought all the needed ingredients locally, and obviously, not everything is made here. For example, coconut oil and olive oil is imported, silicone mold came with plastic packaging, lye is also packaged in a big chunk of plastic. Seems like carbon footprint and plastic waste is inevitable. But other imported or locally made soaps share the same disadvantages as well.

That is why I still prefer making soap by myself: I can make sure that I made an effort to reduce my footprint, fully control the list of ingredients I am using for my product and the most important, I enjoy the process.

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