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