I love learning new skills. I especially love learning new skills that are productive-things that can add to my life either by creating a better quality product or by saving money. Soapmaking is a skill that fits that criteria to a T!
Homemade (or rather “hand crafted”) soaps are far and away a better product then the “bars” you buy at the store-many of which aren’t actually soap. Seriously–look at the packaging on a bar of store “soap”–it probably doesn’t actually say the word “soap” on there anywhere–does it? That’s because they legally can’t–they don’t contain soap!
Hand crafted soaps are made from just a few products-all of which you can pronounce! At the very simplest you need a fat/oil, water and lye. That’s it. Of course you can add more–colorings, scents, exfoliants, and a varieties of fats/oils that have differing characteristics. Most of the oils/fats used are far more moisturizing to your skin than those “beauty bars” you buy at the store.
But soapmaking is a bit of a science. Lye actually has a chemical reaction with the fats in order to saponify and turn into the soap. Lye is very caustic stuff and has to be used carefully in order to be safe. The proportions of lye necessary changes depending on the fats you use (and if you use multiple fats you need to calculate the lye based on the percentages of each you are using–don’t worry, there are lots of online sap calculators that do the hard work for you). Some oils, fragrances and add ins can cause the chemical reaction to change a bit. You have to know by sight and feel when the soap has actually reached it’s “trace” point.
I had read books, watched videos and read articles. I was too chicken to try it on my own. Soapmaking just seems like something that I really wanted help with the first time. So I did a local search for soapmaking classes and found that several of the educational institutions that offer “Adult Education” classes had soapmaking. I signed up! Actually I signed up for the beginners class, the advanced class, and the goat milk lotion class.
The process wasn’t hard, but I was really glad that I had the teacher there to talk us through the process. I do feel confident that I could make this same recipe at home in the future, but I’m glad that I’ll also be taking the advanced class later this month to see how to make a different kind of soap. I think I get a choice of castille soap (aka made with olive oil) or a goats milk soap (which replaces the water with goats milk).
I made 10 lbs of a complexion bar with lemon grass essential oil and crushed up lemon balm inside. The recipe was mainly beef tallow with some coconut oil. it smells fabulous, but I want to wait a few more weeks before using it–you have to wait long enough for the lye to finish saponifying (about a week) but from everything I’ve read the longer you wait the better–the bar of soap gets harder and it lathers better. So I’ve got it sitting on top of my computer armoire curing–and the office smells fabulous!
I paid $35 for the class and a $25 material fee. I wound up with 34 bars, so that’s around $1.75 a bar. The instructor sells her soaps for $3.50 a bar, so comparing apples to apples that’s already a savings. Depending on how I get my supplies I could get the price down pretty low. For example, I have a dairy farmer friend who raises and slaughters a steer each year for the family who said she’d give me the tallow-so I could get that for free. It would be a bit of a pain to render it of course. . . the lye is pretty cheap at the hardware store, like $4 for enough to make 3 or 4 batches. Seriously, the essential oils are the most expensive part.
My thought process is that I don’t need soapmaking to become a hobby or a business (although it easily could). I could just take the time once or twice a year, do a couple of big batches, and I’d have enough soap for my family to use. January/February seems like a good time to do that to me–post holiday, pre garden, way pre harvest. . . sort of a dead time. We’ll see-right now it’s just a theory.
So. What do you think?