Soap, In All its Dirty Glory

canola soap on the left, olive oil on the right

Whew. This post has been on my list since December. I did in fact make soap during my Crafting Vacation, if you remember. And haven’t you all just been waiting by your computers, breathless with anticipation, to hear the outcome?

My soap making story begins with way too much, but still apparently not enough research.

I was interested in soap for a very different reason than most. I could care less about a luxurious, creamy, fragrant lather in the bath. Whatever gets the job done, so long as it doesn’t burn when I use it my nether reaches, is what I always say. No, ever practical Calamity that I am, I wanted to make bar soap so that I could make my own dish and laundry soap.

(I have to mention here that making your own soap is not really very high on the green/independency list. There are plenty of much bigger fish to fry, as it were. Like sourcing the highest quality foods, and preparing them all from scratch in your own kitchen. Hanging your laundry to dry on a line instead of switching on the electricity hog-from-hell. These things save far more money, and I think, do more for the world than making your own soap.

That said, if you, like me, have already been doing the above for awhile, and you’re feeling restless and like you need some inspiration and new fun stuff in the world of DIY, than soap making can be that. I was surprised to find that it was really fun, and so fascinating. I didn’t know I needed a science project in my life. But apparently, I did.)

It was pretty hard to research this working end of soap making. The internet is flooded with instructions and recipes for ‘luxury blueberry lavender’ soap and ‘espresso cream’ and such, but I just wanted my soap to be economical and hard-working.

I started with Down to Earth’s soap making tutorial. But I didn’t want to add coconut oil, because it’s expensive, and I thought it was just there to make your skin soft, and screw my skin. Also, she uses rice bran oil, and where the hell do you get that? Following her links I found a 100% olive oil recipe, that sounded much better, but still a lot more expensive than it seemed it needed to be. Wouldn’t plain old, cheap canola oil work? How come I couldn’t find any recipes for it? Or even any mention of it? When I plugged it into the Soap Calculator it came up with pretty much the same quantities as the olive oil recipe, but the little chart of soap qualities was mystifying. Could it really have a rating of ‘0’ (with a recommendation of 12-22) for ‘cleansing?’ I tried plugging in the pure olive oil soap and it also rated ‘0’ for cleansing. Hmmmm….

In the end, I decided to make two batches, one pure olive oil, one pure canola. I followed the same recipe for each, except that to the olive batch I added essential oils.

The soap making went fine. Fast, and fun in the science project way. Determining “trace” was a bit tricky, and who knows if I got it right, and what does that do anyway? Are you just speeding up the chemical reactions? Is the idea to mix it just basically until it would be bad for your mixer to keep at it? I mean, can you over mix it? And, if you just let your soap sit long enough, would it do the whole thing on it’s own? How the hell is this working???? But, it all looked good, the canola didn’t seem to take any longer to “trace” though my limited research had suggested it might.

But, a word to the wise. Do not make soap late one night, the day before you are going to have to pack everything up for the flight home, counting on the “after 14 hours remove from mold and cut bars” that you read on a blog. After the prescribed 14 hours, I found my soap nowhere near set up enough to remove. 24 hours later, it was still too soft, but I had to pack it. So, I scooped it out of my MIL’s tupperwares into some plastic lined disposable containers I fished out of the trash. The whole time not knowing at all if this meant my soap was a failure.

A second word to the wise, do not despair! If you have not taken the above advice, and find yourself in a similar situation, it all works out in the end! Your soap was not a failure, it will set up eventually. And scooping half set soap from one container into another makes for an ugly, lumpy and slightly crumbly soap, but if you’re planning to grate it up into dish soap, who cares?

Three weeks later (the minimum recommended “cure” time, again, wtf is going on in there?) I eagerly grated up two bars of soap and had a hilarious new science project.

But haha! You’ll have to tune in next time for the thrilling continuation of this epic story, because I want to hit publish, and this seems like a good time to do it!

5 thoughts on “Soap, In All its Dirty Glory

  1. cool. i miss science projects.

    could you explain why detergent is bad in the f/u post? i used to by the coop dishsoap but it didn’t seem to get my dishes as clean. also, i like suds.

  2. Why do you say that making your own soap isn’t that good for the environment or you? buying strait up vegetable soap is expensive. And thus most people buy those detergent bars not knowing that they aren’t buying soap . . . I guess that was me for a long time. I really want to make my own soap for laundry detergent too- so I can stop buying Ivory. Making my own has to be better than Ivory, right? Or is it not worth the hassle?

  3. How can you just leave a girl hanging like that! I for one have been breathless with anticipation to hear of your soapmaking experiments. I don’t get the cleansing rating on the soap calc. either. Isn’t all soap meant to cleanse?? I do think from my (limited) reading, that adding the coconut oil firms up the bar considerably and gets a (slightly) quicker trace, as well as adding lather. Canola is also a very ‘soft’ oil, like sunflower oil (which I used in one of my batches) and it took fooorrrevver to set. But like you said, it WILL firm up eventually anyway, it just depends on how long you are prepared to wait as to which oils you use.

    For the uses you mention, I wouldn’t bother with the 3 week cure time..the only advantage of this is that the lye finishes turning to soap during this time and it might still be a little harsh on your skin. If you are just using it for laundry/dishes so long as it was firm enough to grate up it should be ok, (imo). Maybe it might even benefit from being a little lye heavy.

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts on how it holds up as a washing powder..I haven’t gotten that far yet, but it’s not too far away.

  4. Rice bran oil is commonly available in supermarkets here, is it not elsewhere in the world? Coconut oil is available cheaply as well, especially in Indian shops (I work in an area with a large Indian community, so easy for me as there are several Indian shops in the area). For soap making you can buy a cheaper grade olive oil as well (look for olive pomace). But the beauty of making your own is to use whatever is easily available in your area, so I’m sure the canola oil soap will work out well.

  5. chiming in a bit late here, but i love your prioritising posts, and sort of sighed and calmed down when i read this and got some perspective about it not being the end of the world if i can’t make the dish-soap thing work just now. it’s still on my list, but more as a focus on getting around to soapmaking and less on finding a non-detergent way to wash dishes in difficult (but temporary) water. thanksthanks.

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