Friday, 15 October 2010

Making coloured soap

Today I made coloured soap. Green to be exact. Coloured with nettles.

Please note image has been altered to try and reproduce the right green. Damn the indoor photos!

For what feels like months I have had a jar of oil with nettle powder I made myself sat in a cupboard. Occasionally we shook the jar to stir it up. This was so the nettles would infuse the oil with lovely green colour. It took longer than it should have because we stupidly took the jar out the the shade and put it in the sun which faded the colour so we had to infuse it for longer! But finally we decided it looked green enough and got on with the mad science.

I love making soap but get a little flappy as I'm sorting out all my kit. It is after all a very dangerous process if you're not careful. So once I'm all suited up (don't I look great!) we start the process. You measure your oil/fat into a pan. In this recipe I have around 15.5 ounces of olive oil. Then you measure your water (6 ounces) and put that in a heatproof container.

Next is the lye./caustic soda. This is the dangerous chemical. If you've seen fight club then you know what I'm talking about.

The lye is added to the water. Never the other way round. I try and sprinkle it gently and stir it as quickly as I can as it tends to clump in the bottom and goes quite hard. It will be really cloudy and will release some nasty fumes. You want to be in a well ventilated space and not leaning directly over the bowl. Even doing that I end up with a bit of a cough and a heavy feeling in my chest for a few hours after. Heck I felt like that when we did it outside! Really not a nice chemical. Once all the lye has dissolved the water will start to clear and you can stop stirring.

You now leave it to cool to 110F. This is when you should start heating your oil. Now I always make the same mistake and forget how quickly oil heats up and so end up desperately trying to cool it back down. You need them the same temp (ish) as you will be adding the lye water to the oil. What happens when you add water to oil when the oil is much hotter than the water? Much spitting and fizzing and general stuff you don't want! Trust me I did this once and it scared the bejesus out of me.

Once you've added them together you want to blend them. A stick blender would be quickest as those babies spin at a helacious rate. We have a normal blender. This is our first time using the beast which is a big heavy blender given to us by Spadger's Gran. Before we were using a handheld electric whisk and man our arms used to ache. The beast is no quicker but at least you don't have to hold anything. You whisk it until it reaches trace. Be warned this can take an eon!

Trace is when a drizzle of mixture sits on the top for a moment before sinking in. We have successfully made soap when we have stopped at the barest trace. You don't want it too thick though. Decant your traced soap into a mold or several. We use a silicone loaf tin as I found it useless for cooking and you don't have to grease it. If you are using a rigid container grease it lightly with a little oil first or it will be really hard to remove. Wrap your soap in a nice thick towel and leave over night. Once it is no longer squishy to the touch you can remove it from the mold and slice (if needed). All that is left now is the curing process. Lay your soaps out on a wire rack. This is very important as you want good air flow all round them. Leave them to cure for 4-6 weeks. We leave it 6 usually. turn them occasionally to ensure even curing. This process removes the last of the lye from the process. Most is used up by the saponification process which is where your mixture turns into soap. You could in theory use the soap straight away but only as a household soap as it would still be caustic. (Please do not do this without seeking greater advice than mine. I am merely a hobby soap maker.) Now you may enjoy your gorgeous soap. Pure olive oil soap is great but doesn't foam up all that well. Great as a soap but not a shampoo. Who mentioned shampoo I hear you cry. Well I use my home made soap as a shampoo as well. It cleans well and is much less damaging to my hair. For my personal soap I use 50% olive oil and 50% coconut. It doesn't take as long to reach trace as pure olive and it bubbles up like you wouldn't believe!

It's much greener than the picture would have you believe.

So there you have it. A quick lesson in soap. I'll be back with more pics as I'm doing some experimental batches over the next few weeks as Christmas gifts.

For more information please visit the below links.
soap calculator
Teach Soap
Cranberrylane - pretty soaps


  1. You look fantabulous! I also loved the fact that you included Fight Club, for that is the first thing I thought of! I will make sure to leave the soap making to you. =D

  2. Ooh, this post is exciting! I've always wanted to make proper soap, and it's really fun to see the step-by-step photos. Thanks for this inspiration (now I just need a little extra time to play).