The Dishsoap Report

Sorry to keep you all waiting. I’ve had a few days of baby/morning troubles. Not exactly that the Babe is being fussy, just the timing isn’t working out right, leaving me no time to write.

Those other soapy posts were just a lead-up, and what I really wanted to tell you about was how the stuff works! Because it is a complete fascination to me. I can’t decide if it’s good or not.

Here’s the quick answer. It works. The dishes are cleaned. It even cleans a smoked salmon jar, and that’s about the best test you can get. But…..

The dishes get clean, but the sink gets a greasy dirt ring like you wouldn’t believe.

“A big, long pink cat ring! It looked like pink ink. And I said, will this ever come off? I don’t think!”

(Dr. Seuss, from the Cat in the Hat Comes Back)

Now, if only I had some “Voom.”

And my hands. They get gross and greasy too.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it did sort of make sense. Soap takes grease off the dishes and into the dishwater. Then of course the grease floats on top, clinging to the edge of the dishpan. But how come this doesn’t happen with regular, commercial dishsoap? Where does all that grease go when you use Joy? Must just be held in suspension somehow. Unless a chemical reaction changes it to something else….

If anyone knows of a ‘basic science of soap for those who didn’t pay attention in chemistry’ type of book, or website, please let me know, because I am completely enthralled by the mystery of it. Which is a vote in it’s favor, since it takes dish washing from a mundane daily task to a fascinating exploration into science. And somewhat makes up for the fact that it makes my hands greasygross, and that at the end I have to wash that big long nasty cat ring off the washtub.

Rhonda at D2E claims to wash with handmade dishsoap and like it. But actually, in the before and after photo of her dishwater, I have to point out that it looks more or less unused. I use my dishwater till its last breath. Beyond perhaps the dictates of decorum. If I wash one sink full of dishes with one sink full of hot soapy water, and that is my ratio, 1:1, the homemade soap works fine. But, I always add another sink full of dishes to the same water, and often two. By the end of 2 loads, it’s spent, by the end of three the ring is Seuss-ish, and threatens to take 27 hat cats plus something called Voom to remove.

So I started using the good 1:1 ratio, or trying my best anyway. But then at some point I decided that, in the name of science, I needed a control. A lot of the baking soda this and vinegar that ‘green cleaning’ is, to my mind, unnecessary. Plain old hot water will do the trick just fine. I usually (pre-cat ring dishwater days) used my dishwater after I finished the dishes to wipe up the stovetop, counters, etc. Works fine, even when all the soap’s used up and the waters half cold.

Hence, I figured I’d better see how much of the dishes getting clean was owing to the soap, and how much to just the hot water.

I lived for years without soap or hot water. We washed our dishes after each meal in a bucket of cold rainwater, and instead of a sponge we used dirt. (Yes, dirt. It makes things cleaner. Really, truly, try it sometime. Of course you have to rinse the dirt off after you scrub it around.) But in those nostalgic days, my diet was mostly beans, rice and oatmeal. I assumed that the introduction of animal products at almost every meal would have made soap-less washing impossible.

It hasn’t.

That’s right. You read me right. Soap-less dishwashing works.

Not every dish is cleanable with just hot water, but most in my kitchen are. I started a routine of putting all the cleanest dishes in first, sans soap. Then when I get to the dishes that do need soap, I just rub my sponge around on a bar of (homemade) soap I keep by the sink. Then the soap is very concentrated, right where I need it.

The nifty white wire rack I took out of someone's trash can. Not sure what it's original use was. The jar in front has a diluted soap mixture, with a brush for quick scrubs. The nasty looking sponge on top is for my icky sponge, by the way. I have a nice clean one for dishes. The Joy is for Hubby, who is not expected to share my love of greasy cat ring science projects.

Dish washing with no soap? Then, not even liquid, just plain bar soap? How am I supposed to get my science project rocks off?

Of course, as you may have gathered from other posts, my housekeeping standards are not exactly…… high. But, other people have examined glasses washed with plain water and proclaimed them clean. So, I might not be completely off base. Worth a try, right? Tonight when you wash up from dinner, give it a go. No soap. Hot water. All the dinner dishes save maybe the macaroni and cheese pan, or the greasiest of greasies. Report back.

The Dirt on Soap, Continued

So, we left off at ‘the bars are finally cured and I’m ready to turn it into liquid dishsoap.’ Because someone mentioned in a comment, do you really have to wait three weeks if you’re going to grate it up anyway? I ought to mention that I did in fact do a little experiment at about 1 and 2 weeks. I just grated some directly into my dishwater and whisked it about, until it sort of dissolved. At one week, it was still much too raw. The dishwater was at the same time slippery from the lye (wreaked havoc on my hands too, and I do not have remotely sensitive skin) and greasy from the oil not yet sapponified. At two weeks, less so. By three it seemed pretty good. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back to my uproarious recipe un-follower science experiment.

Classic Calamity, I vaguely remembered the directions for making bar soap into liquid soap, and didn’t seem to think I needed to look it up again. Grate soap, check. What next? Hmm, don’t remember. Well, I’ll just dump it into the food processor with, oh, say how about 1 qt of water. Turn it on and OH MY GOD! A riotously alive looking goo suddenly sprang forth, the texture of which I can only describe as science fiction. You know, the semi-opaque gel/goo substance I’m sure I’ve seen in movies with bodies suspended in it? Unfortunately, it did not resemble dish soap.

More water was clearly in order. But my food processor was full. The scene that unfolded before me that fine day was quite hilarious. Good thing my sense of humor was intact. The life form I had birthed slowly usurped all of my mixing bowls, several spatulas and bottles and a large section of my counter-top. After some time I was able to tame it into a semi-pourable form, though it still had a viscousness to it that I found mildly alarming.

So. More words to the wise. Here’s the actual technique. Simple, straightforward, not remotely humorous. Grate soap. Put in a big pot with water. Melt over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it melts and becomes liquid soap. A third grader could handle that.To bad there weren’t any third graders in the house. But then, what story would I entertain you with? How would I earn the keep for my (pseudo)nim?

A large part of the hilarity of my “method” was that– duh!– I was creating lather! I had three quarts of creamy, opaque, ivory colored soap when I was done, but after it sat long enough to seperate, and the lather died down, it was barely more than 2 quarts, and a translucent pale yellowish color.

Yesterday, after finally using up all the first batch of liquid soap, I finally got to try it the regular, boring way. Sure was easy. Not many dishes involved. I grated about half a bar of soap, and added just a few cups of water at first. It was easy to add more as necessary. Eventually I used about 1 qt of water.

And now I’m going to leave you hanging again. I like to tease.

Next up, the question on everyone’s lips, how does it work?

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!