30 September 2009

Soap Making Pet Peeves: Use of "discounting", "hand milling, and lack of proper foundation

It's been far too long since I last posted. I attempted to post a couple of weeks ago and suddenly everything I had written disappeared and I got disgusted and quit.

Today, several topics came up on one of my soap lists and it got me to thinking about issues in soap making and how troubling it is when terminology is incorrectly used or soap making processes are glossed over or not fully understood before someone begins making soap.

Issue #1: Rebatching vs. Hand Milling
The correct word to use for the process of taking an already made lye soap, shredding it, adding a small amount of water to aid in remelting it, and then when fully remelted, adding special oils, herbs, fragrances, colorants, etc, is Rebatching, not Hand milling. And here is why this is most correct and why it bothers me when "hand milling" is used instead:

Using the term hand milled originated with the publishing of a book that took the term milled from the French process of milling soap known as French Milled or just Milled. However, the implication is then that rebatching is the same as milling and it is not. The fact is that French Milled, or Milled soap is not like anything we as home crafters make, largely because, and this is the most important distinction, Milled or French Milled soap has already had the glycerin removed from it before the milling process even begins. Then the milling process is a mechanical process performed by machines that roll and knead the soap to increase it's density. Both the absence of glycerin and the mechanical nature of the process are what make Milled soap what it is. This is what allows for such hard, long lasting soap that we know as Milled or French Milled. While it is true that some French milled soap is milled with the glycerin left in, we still have the process problem of what it means to mill soap, a process that cannot be duplicated in a home crafters kitchen or soap shop.

We home crafters, on the other hand, highly value the presence of, and sing the praises of, the natural glycerin we leave in our soap! So it is not just the process that is in question in milling, but the nature of the soap that is "milled". To use a more marketable term like Milled or Handmilling then complicates defining the destinction between what we do that is different from what the comercial soap makers do. To co-opt a term that is not correct as means to create more appeal for what we do, denigrates what we do and suggests that it is inferior or needs to be legitimized, as if rebatching does not produce a legitimate soap.

While I understand that the use of the term Milled sounds nicer than Rebatch(ed), I think what would be better, to set apart what home crafters do from what commerical soap makers do, is to find a term that is more marketable or nicer sounding than "rebatch", like "handcrafted". Rebatched or handcrafted are the terms I will stick with because they in no way negate the nature of what I put out. For me, "milling", although more marketable, negates what I do/produce as distinctly different from a commericial soap manufacturer. My hand crafted, home made soap is legitimate and it needs nothing by means of labeling to make it more so.

Of course, anyone can call what they do anything they like . . . I only want to make sure that people know that my soap is distinctly different from any commercial soap. I would never put the work rebatch on a soap label anyway. That would just confuse a consumer and require unneeded explanations. The consumer perfectly understand hand crafted or hand made, and anyone who wishes to purchase it, does so because they do value the fact that it is what it is: hand crafted and home made!

Issue #2: Lye discount and Superfatting
A simple way to look at it is, you discount your lye by x% to produce x% superfatting in the finished soap. So, say I wish to leave 8% of my oils unsaponified in my finished soap. In this case I will discount my lye by 8%. Or another way to express that would be to say if I discount my lye by 8%, I will end up with 8% superfatting (unsaponified oils) in my finished soap.

Discounting refers to what you do to give you what you end up with (superfat). So, while not exactly identical in meaning, one term refers to the front end and one term refers to the back end of a process that leaves unsaponified oils in your finished soap so that is ends up being milder and more emollient.

People use these terms interchangably in error and they also speak of superfatting as adding extra or special oils in at trace, theoretically to prevent them from being saponified by the lye. This latter is an error in assumptions. First of all, saponification is not finished at trace, so any oils added to the mix can and at least a portion of them will become saponified because lye is no discriminator of fatty acids. Secondly, unless you cook your soap (HP), saponification continues for weeks and even months after a soap is made using the CP method. Granted, the majority of saponification is complete within the first 24 - 48 hours of the process, but there is still some amount of saponification that occurs over time, otherwise CP soap would not become milder during the curing process. Thirdly, if you want your special oils to be the ones to remain unsaponified in your finished soap, the only way to guarentee this is to HP your soap, then add the special oils after the cook, right before you mold the soap. Otherwise, you just have a percentage of all the oils together that superfat the finished soap.

Issue #3: Water discounting
Liquid discounting is for an entirely different purpose altogether and the term discounting in this context is somewhat of a misnomer because the use of the word "discount" does not really apply to the water/liquid used in soap making.

Let me see if I can explain why that is. Say for example you have the following:

Palm oil 16.8 oz
Olive oil 12.6 oz
Coconut oil 8.4 oz
Castor oil 2.1 oz
Wheatgerm oil 2.1 oz

In this example, say you set your "Water as apercent of oils" at 34%, which in soapcalc would amount to a 4% discount, if you are going by their default of 38% "water as a percent of oils". But if you were to use Soapmaker software, their default water amount is different and therefore the "discount" is not comparable to what you would get using soapcalc. That is one reason that speaking of water discounting is problematic. There is no standard when looking at water/liquid calculation from this starting point. A discount implies a consistently known starting point and as you can see,using this method, there is no consistently known starting point. Furthermore, two different fomulations can yeild differing oil weights and still arrive at the same lye amount.

For these reasons, many seasoned soapmakers have pretty much dropped speaking of "water discounting" and now refer to solution strength, when speaking of their water:lye ratio. They do so because solution strength has a direct bearing on how quickly you reach trace and how much evaporation is needed in the curing process. Water as a percentage of oils tells you none of this.

So now let's look at the above example. At 34% of oil weight, the water amount would be 14.28 oz. This gives us approximately a 33% solution and a ratio of 2:1 using these settings for calculating with soapcalc. If we had used the default of 38%, our solution strength would have been 26% with a ratio of 2.8:1 (the soapcalc print out of any formulation will tell you this information). Given that we can calculate solution strength based on ratios of water to lye, many seasoned soapmakers will calculate their water, not based on the weight of the oils used in the formula, but rather based on the amount of lye required for their formula.

So say I want a 30% solution strength. That would be a ratio of 2.3:1 (2.3 waters for one unit of lye - see table below for ratios based on solution strength). Using our example above, given an 8% lye discount, our formula requires 5.68oz of lye. To calculate the water then, I would take 5.68 x 2.3 = 13.06 oz water. That amount of water would give me a 30% solution.

If I wanted a 40% solution strength, the ratio would be 1.5:1. or 8.2 oz water for our formula.

Here is a simple chart that you can use to calculate various common lye solution strengths in soapmaking:
25% solution is a 3:1 ratio
28% solution is a 2.5:1 ratio
30% solution is a 2.3:1 ratio
33% solution is a 2:1 ratio
38% solution is a 1.6:1 ratio
40% solution is a 1.5:1 ratio
45% solution is a 1.4:1 ratio
50% solution is a 1:1 ratio

The first number in the ratio is the the factor to determin your water amount.
The colon (:) is equivalent to the word "to", as in 3 to 1, or 2.5 to 1,etc.
The second number in the ratio = 1 unit of lye (oz, lb, gr, kg, . . .doesn't matter which weight unit you use; this works across all weight conventions)

To find your water amount for any soap formula, decide what solution strength you wish to use, multiply your total lye amount (as given to you by your soap calculator) by the first factor in the ratio for the solution strength you desire (example: 5.68 x 3 = 17.03 and a 25% solution). You can also put either the water/lye ratio or the solution strength into soapcalc,r ather than calculating it yourself. In soapcalc see the number 3 (Water) box. If you want to calculate by solution strength, check the "LyeConcentration" box and then enter your solution percentage in the green box. If you want the calculator to calculate with the ratio, check the "Water :Lye ratio" box and then enter the appropriate water ratio into the greenbox.

CAUTION: All new and novice soapmakers should never use a solution strength greater than 33%, and it is recommended that you stick to between 25 - 30% until you have a good idea of the entire saponification process and what the emulsion looks like at each stage. Very strong lye solutions cause everything to move faster, and if you are using an accelerating FO or additive (pine tar, for example) you won't be able to keep up with the chemical reaction, and you will end up with a disappointing batch of soap that you didn't envision. It won't be bad; it just won't be what you had planned and it may need fixing or tweaking.

Issue #4: Proper foundation to begin soap making
I think if you can't calculate your way out of a paper sack by hand, you shouldn't be making soap with a calculator. I know that is old school, but I always come back to a maxim in my life that I use a lot . . . just because I can do something, doesn't mean I should do it, or should do it now. Without the proper foundation, any house will eventually crumble! The poorer the foundation, the quicker the crumble. Lye soap making is the same to my way of thinking. If I had no lye calculators (Soapmaker Software, soapcalc, spreadsheets), I could still make a kickass batch of soap by hand calculating my lye. For the math challenged person, I know it is harder, but anything worth doing well is worth the pain of building a solid and exacting foundation, calculating the load it will bare (lye required for the oils used at a given lye discount) and the exact dimensions of the house footprint (how much soap can my mold hold). If you cannot do these simple calculations, move on to rebatching or M&P soaps. Leave the making of lye soap from scratch to those willing to do the hard work to get there.

Probably some of you will find my opinon offensive, but I've seen so many people jump in without a proper foundation, unwilling to learn the basics, who then go on to create failed soap batch after failed soap batch and are mystified as to why this is happening. And worse, they will not take responsibility for the failure . . . it must have been x, y, or z tool. I couldn't be because I don't understand what I'm doing nor why I'm doing it! And they say that. Makes me crazy!!! :)

Well, it's time to end this exraordinarily long post!!!

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body

01 September 2009

Update on Demon Soap Fairies and Rebatched Efforts

I did get my new 9 volt battery and before changing out the battery, I weighed the entire batch of soap. I had 48 oz more soap than I should have had, and it definitely was super, super fatted. It was a soft, crumbly oily mess. I broke it up, recalculated the lye requirements for what I had and added in the difference in lye solution between what I initially used and what I should have used. I put it all into my stainless steel soap pot and began the melt for rebatch on my stove pot. Once it had melted down fairly well, I took my stick blender and blended and stirred the soap first then added the remaining lye solution to that and blended adn stirred that until entirely and thoroughly mixed. I then put the soap pot into the oven on 225 F and cooked it, checking it every 15 - 20 minutes and stirring it some more. I prepared my 4 lb and 6 lb molds with freezer paper and after 2-1/2 hours in the oven, I took the soap out, stirred it one last time and then glopped and slammed it in to my molds. The following day (2 days ago) I unmolded it, cut it, and beveled the edges. Because of the higher percentage of coconut oil, I will cure it much longer than my usual soaps (3 months or more) and it should have become more mild by then. It is not caustic now, no bite when I tongue test, but just not as mild as my high Olive oil soaps. Although I'm bummed out by the loss of any swirl effect, the chrome green has made a nice medium light green in the soap and it looks quite nice. I have a soap ball of scraps at my kitchen sink and it lathers up really nicely! I'm please over all with the final results.

I've now replaced the scale battery and have my backup postal scale set up with a new battery as well. My next several batches will be made by weighing all my ingredients twice. The soap making demon fairies can't be that clever, right? LOL.

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body

29 August 2009

Soap Batch Troubles and Demon Soap Fairies

So, I think there is something wrong with my soap scale. I made a batch that is supposed to fit in my large log mold (total oil weight 73.4 oz; total batch weight 106.4 oz) and I had 64 oz of emulsion left over after filling the mold! This is very troubling - I don't know what I have now - lye heavy; over superfatted?? I will get a new 9volt battery for the scale and weigh the log contents when I unmold it late tonight or tomorrow morning. I have no idea what my lye ratios are now . . . if they are anywhere near accurate - is everything off! This sucks . . . I used my Monoi de Tahiti de Tiara oil and I'll be damned if I'm going to throw it away! Somehow I'm going to figure out where this batch stands. I'm just heart sick. Now I think I understand what happened with my last batch with the alkanet infusion. My weights are all over the map, especially for my oils.

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body

21 August 2009

Soap Misadventures and Quick Thinking

Here's my funny little story . . .

So, I was going to do a lavender (alkanet infusion in OO) with chrome green oxide swirl using the Teak and Frankincense FO I bought last year from my mentor for scent. Last time I soaped this FO, I do not recall, nor do my notes reflect any acceleration issues with the FO. But to be on the safe side, I did a standard 33% of oils water calculation for my solution - I wanted plenty of time to make my two colors, especially since I had to fragrance first then color each component separately. I even put my FO in the base oils first, cooled my lye solution way down, did not heat my oils at all! The one "mistake" I may have made is using 20% castor oil . . . :), but I never even pulled my SB out of the cabinet. I used my SS wire wisk, blended my FO into the base oils really well. Put my soap pot in the sink and poured my lye solution into the oils using my wisk to mix. I'm watching . . . less than a minute, I'm at light trace . . . oh shit, I guess I'm not going to swirl, huh? . . . I grab my six ounces of olive oil that I had earlier in the day hot infused with alkanet root and strained fairly well. Dump that into the pot, and stir . . . less than a minute . . . I'm at medium trace . . . crap . . . at least my color is fully incorporate . . . am I going to make it into the mold before I am at glop stage? . . . "Jerry . . . ! Hurry, pull that lid out of the mold (yes it is pre-lined). Thank you sweet-heart :), now get out of my way, lol". I'm pouring, I'm pouring, it's starting to glop, crap, I just missed the mold and spilled 1/4 cup on the table . . . I'm glopping . . . crap, I have more than will fit in the mold. Oh . . . but . . . the color is sort of cobalt blue . . . maybe it means when saponification and gel have done their thing, I will have lavender, or purple or royal blue . . . Those are Holiday colors, No? I'm doing this batch for a winter themed soap swap - I'm thinking religious symbolism with my colors and fragrance. The remaining gloppy mess in the pot went into two small round Glad containers and they and my 8lb lidded log mold sit in my oven (no added heat), to hopefully gel and turn a lovely lavender . . . :). That would be nice since that is what I was going for . . . lol.

So, that is my tale of my soap swap soap . . . lol. Was it as fun for you as it was for me? lol :).

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body

19 August 2009

Update on Alkanet Root Soap color Development

This morning I unmolded my four pound soap log with the alkanet root for coloring - well it is not lavender, it is not white, but it is presently a light pinkish, beigish, tannish color with dark speckles. As it continues to cure, I'm hoping the color may continue to develop as the pH decreases. Next batch will be done with an infusion of the alkanet root into some oil that will then get added to the batch at trace. I would love to get a beautiful lavender with the alkanet . . . one of these days . . . hopefully. My batch yeilded 14 bars, and while the color is less than perfect, the scent is wonderful; I just love lemongrass and it is a nice compliment to the lavender.

Now I need to begin planning my contribution for the soap swap I will be co-hostessing for one of my soap forums. Our swap theme is winter . . . broader than just Christmas, or Holiday, and encompassing all of winter visions. I'm not sure just what direction to take my contribution. I thought I would do a soap, but the swap is not limited to just soaps . . . it can be any B&B products. I could do a sugar or salt scrub, or a body butter. A scrub or a butter would be far easier, less of a time concern for curing but now I'm just not sure . . . winter is the time for bathroom pampering . . . dry air and cold nights (and days, depending on the area of the country) that conjur up images of crackling logs on the fire, candles and hot cocoa, snuggling under an afghan or the covers, or luxuriating in a hot bath. Maybe I'll do a "gift set" with a travel size soap, scrub, and butter.

I've discovered that all my Select Shades FD&C Cosmetic grade dyes for my soap must have been left by accident in the house in Bakersfield last fall when we moved to West Sacramento. I'm so bummed out about that . . . any coloring I do will have to be with herbs, my red palm oil, my titanium dioxide (white - how thrilling, lol), green oxide, or my gold mica. Yet another thing I need to add to my inventory building order. The dyes aren't super expensive, but many of them had hardly been used and a few had not been used at all - money down the drain . . . I just hate that!

Well, last night I stayed up until 4:00 AM this morning . . . I'm beat beyond words, my back is killing me as it always does when I'm overly tired and my ankles and feet are swollen and retaining water as well - I need rest. Jerry will be chastising me unmercifully if I do not get to bed at a decent hour tonight. Because no matter what, Thor and Bacchus wake me every morning at 8:00 AM to go out and take care of buisness, and by the time they are done, I'm wide awake and getting no more sleep. Hard to get anything done if you are too tired to keep it together.

Now I'm just rambling, so I best conclude my writing for the day.

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body

18 August 2009

Experimental Soap Batches - Trials, tribulations, and bubbles :)

Today I made another batch of soap, four pounds for this one. I used olive, lard, coconut and Castor oils. I scented it with lavender and Lemongrass and colored it with a small amount of alkanet root.

This time I did something I have not done before, in melting my solid oils. Rater than melting my lard and coconut oil on the stove for this batch, I made up my 40% lye solution as the very last thing I did and used the heat of the solution to melt my solid oils. The coconut had been sitting out at room temp, so it was half way there already, but the lard had come straight out of the refrigerator, so it was nice and solid. I first hand stirred the lye solution around in the oils/fats with my large plastic spoon and broke up the lard mass a bit with the spoon. Then I took my stick blender and went to town mixing and melting the oils all together without any heat other than that generated by the lye solution and the saponification reaction. It traced fairly quickly to a medium trace in about five minutes. I stopped and added my lavender and lemongrass and then my alkanet root and hand stirred all that in with my spoon again. By this time, it was at a medium-heavy trace. My mold had been sitting lined and ready to go for a week already so I just poured my soap into the mold, sort of glopping the very last of it and then smoothing the top with my silicone spatula before placing the lid, wrapped in plastic wrap, on top of the soap. I placed the molded soap into my oven, a gas oven with a pilot light, with no heat other than that generated from the pilot. It will come out of the oven in the morning and I will probably cut it into bars tomorrow afternoon or evening.

One confession about my coloring is that I did not dilute my alkanet root in oil or water before just sprinkling it into the emulsion. So, I could see dark speckles in the emulsion. Since I only used about 1/3rd of a teaspoon of the powder, the color was very faint when I placed the lid over the top and put it to rest to gel. I understand that the alkanet root is highly affected by the pH of the lye and the gel process, so it will be interesting to see what color I find tomorrow when I remove the lid from the mold. If I didn't use enough powder, it will probably be "battleship grey" from all accounts that I've read. I know that if too much is used, it will be a deep, brownish maroon color, and not anything close to lavender or purple. But since I did not pre-mix the alkanet with oil or water and I could see speckles in the emulsion, I may have battleship grey with lavender speckles, lol :). My plot develops . . . :D, just like my color (or lack thereof).

But this was an experimental batch anyway. I do not routinely use lard in my bar soap, other than bars I make for laundry stain sticks. My favorite bar soap formula is the "Holy Trinity" of soap making oils plus two others.

Over the weekend I did another, smaller (2 lbs) experimental batch with eight different oils/fats/butters. I scented it with a Coriander Bergamont FO and really like the fragrance, but am not crazy about the formula. It is rather soft and when I cut the bars, the edges of the soap lost that sharp edge that my usual formula keeps. So, I'm a bit disappointed with that batch. I even used a strong lye solution (40%) so that I would not have a high volume of water to evaporate during cure, but that seems to have made little difference to the softness. I used a high percentage of "hard" oils so I'm not sure what is going on. I did not "color" this batch, as I used "red" palm oil, which has all the beta carotene still in it, so my soap is a nice medium orange color, which does go nicely with the fragrance choice. I have used a small "scrap" of the soap in my kitchen and it lathers very nicely, but the scrap was about 1/3" thick and 3 inches long, and it "broke" in half due to it's softness as I was rubbing it between my hands under the water. I am very curious about what will transpire with this batch as it cures. It will obviously need a longer cure time - I'm thinking eight to 12 weeks. Hopefully in that amount of time it will harden up considerably and be more to my liking. I have already beveled the edges, so the lack of corner sharpness is a relatively minor issue in overall presentation, but . . . it certainly was an immediate indicator of the lack of hardness in this formula as compared to my typical formula. I'll just keep checking in and updating as it develops during its curing process. A good long one never hurt a bar of soap!

Lastly, I need to find my digital camera and take pictures of these experimental batches. If I can only remember where it got stuffed when we moved here two months ago!

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body

16 August 2009

What does it mean to be "all natural" soap? and Honesty in Labels

Well, if you asked a dozen soapmakers, you may get a dozen answers, some with overlap to other's definitions of natural . . . the point being, there is no standard. The world around us (and within in us) is comprised of chemicals - what is "un-natural" about that? I know for many, they want those chemicals to come straight from nature. They want ingredients that are unadulterated by human made/lab created chemicals. But I can make an all natural soap by that definition that contains "deadly" chemicals, or deadly levels of chemicals that are "ALL Natural". Essential Oils are broken down into their chemical constituents . . . not all EO's are safe to use on the skin - some people get headaches with lavender at any level of exposure - but lavender EO is considered all natural. Some folks want only organic ingredients when speaking of making all natural. . . but I've seen lots of discussions elsewhere that there is truly no standard and no real way of verifying "organic" - and even if my crops are truly grown organically, the farmer next to me may not and there is just no way to prevent environmental cross exposure to "non-organic" practices.

Some people consider only using vegetable oils to be all natural; I guess animals fats are un-natural :). Some people want only organic, whatever that means :).

What do you mean by "all natural"? Ask others. What makes something all natural to the people you may be making soap for and how important is that to them? And why? Have they really thought about it?

I know I barely know how to answer this question for myself - how in the world would I begin to answer that for others, especially when I don't even know (or believe) that making an "all natural" soap matters. My view may be extreme on one end, and you will find others who will answer this question with great certainty and conviction. I simply cannot. I honestly think that the terms all natural and organic (and others like them) are more marketing hype than anything real we can ever achieve. That's one opinion - others will probably disagree with me vehemently . . . and that's okay . . . :) . . . whatever . . . it's these differences that make the world go round, right?

There are many ways to view this issue of all natural. I've had this discussion with others and we concluded that honesty, integrity, and truthfulness in labeling are more important than calling a soap all natural. I
strive to make the best soap that I can and just prefer to label it as soap, the best darned soap you'll use :). I work hard to use fresh and high quality ingredients: oils, EOs, FOs, herbs, additives, etc. I'll even make a soap to someone's specifications of "all natural" if they care to tell me what that means to them. I just won't label it as such . . . to me the quality of my soap is most important . . . the passion and skill that I put in every batch is more important . . . natural has been so usurped by the advertising community, to me it is meaningless. But my commitment to quality of ingredients and process . . . that means something much more . . . for me, it's everything.

Thor's - Leader of the Pack Bath & Body