Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hand Milled Soap Recipe

This recipe is for hand milled soap, which starts with a batch of basic soap that is partially cured before being milled, cooked, and dressed up with herbs and essential oils. Milling soap has a few advantages: it makes a high quality bar of soap and allows you to revitalize old batches that may have lost their scent. Adding herbs, flowers, spices, and vegetables is often more reliable and successful, since the hand milled soap has already saponified and cured so that the lye is no longer (or only mildly) caustic. I also like it because this recipe provides enough basic soap to make four small (2 lb) batches of milled soap, which means more variety and experimentation. 

Keep pets safe from lye!

Making hand milled soap really isn't any more difficult than making regular soap, it just takes a few extra steps.  Before you begin make sure that all pets and small children are safely located far away from your soap making situation. I've outlined the basic soap recipe in an earlier post here, which you may want to refer to or read first for more details and safety precautions, especially if you've never made soap before. I'm going to move pretty fast through the initial steps, until we get to the milling part.

Part One: Basic Soap Recipe

12 ounces lye
35 ounces cold distilled water

36 ounces olive oil
26 ounces coconut oil
24 ounces vegetable shortening
5 ounces cocoa butter
2.5 ounces castor oil

Step 1
Measure out the lye and water in two separate containers. In a well ventilated area, carefully pour the water into the lye container. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection when handling lye. Stir well until the lye is completely dissolved. Let the lye solution sit outside in a protected place to cool.

Step 2
While the lye solution is cooling, measure out all the fats/oils and heat in a large stainless steel soup pot (dedicated only for soapmaking) over medium/low heat. Stir occasionally, and remove from heat when almost entirely melted.

Fats and oils melting

Step 3
Keep an eye on both the lye water and melted oils, taking their temperatures frequently (use two separate thermometers for this). The goal is to get both to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the same time. If the lye water cools down too quickly, you can warm it back up in a hot water bath. If the oil cools too quickly, simply put it back on the stove over low heat for a couple minutes.

Stirring the lye water into the melted fats and oils. I should have been wearing eye protection, oops. 
Step 4
When the lye water and oils are both at 100 degrees, gently pour the lye into the oils while stirring briskly. Continue to stir until the soap comes to trace, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Honestly, I always end up stirring for about 45 minutes to an hour, but this is because vegetable-based soaps tend to take longer than soaps that use tallow or lard. As you stir your soap will thicken and turn opaque. To test if it has gone to trace, drizzle some of the soap across the surface and see it leaves behind a distinct trail. This can be subtle, so if you've been stirring valiantly for an hour, you're probably good to go.

It's hard to tell from these pictures, but the soap on the left is before trace and on the right is after. You might be able to see that the soap on the right is lighter and more opaque. 
Step 5
Pour the soap into a mold, cover, and wrap in blankets or towels. Keep in a warm place for about two days. After two days, remove the soap from its mold and let it sit in the open air for a week or two. This will allow some of the water to evaporate out of the soap so that it can be grated.

Soap right after pouring into the mold
Same batch of soap two days later, now ready to remove from mold and cure
Step 6
Ok, it's finally milling time. When the soap is firm enough to grate (a bit softer than Swiss cheese), cut off two pounds and grate by hand. Gently transfer the grated soap into your soap pot.

Use a scale to weigh out 2 lbs of soap

Wear gloves when grating soap, it could still be caustic
Step 7
Add two ounces of distilled water, cover and cook over very low heat. Resist the urge to stir the soap too much, this can cause it to bubble up. If it seems that your soap is scorching, add two more ounces of water. After about 30 to 45 minutes the soap should be melted, though it will never totally melt. Think polenta, or maybe applesauce:

Not melted

Slightly melted

Melted and ready for herbs and essential oils
Step 8
Remove melted soap from heat and stir in whatever herbs, spices, or essential oils you are using. Pour into your final mold. You might want to use fancy decorative soap molds, recycled plastic containers, or just a big plastic mold to cut into bars later. Whatever you choose, let the soap cure in the final molds for several days to a week until it is firm enough to take out of the mold and fully cure in open air. At this point the soap isn't very caustic, but should be allowed to cure so that the bars harden. Remember that when milling soap water is added, and depending on how much you used to melt the soap, it might take a month for the bars to be hard enough to use. This will also depend on what you added to your soap, aloe vera, milk, honey, or fruit/vegetable juices will of course add more liquid to the bars and add to curing times.

 This recipe isn't for a specific kind of milled soap, but I will post new recipes I try soon. The soap pictured below is Sage and Cedar. I haven't tried it yet but sure smells good.

Milled soap removed from mold and ready to be cut into bars before final curing period

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