I've noticed quite a few new soap makers at the forum lately, and have had emails from some of you with soap questions, so I thought it would be timely to give a few thoughts, not so much about how to make soap but about those things that are associated with it. Please remember I'm not an expert soaper. I make my own soap - one that is plain, unscented and not coloured. So I don't know much about essential oils or colourings but I know about what I do and am happy to share what works for me.
Some soap drying in the open air, and a new batch under covers in the middle.
You don't need the best oil for soap making, in fact courser oils are better.
If you can't find coconut oil and you live in Australia, use copha instead. You'll find it in the dairy aisle at the supermarket. It's solidified coconut oil.
You have to be careful with palm oil. That's often found in the dairy aisle too but many palm trees are being cut down to supply palm oil and that is not sustainable. Palm oil itself is not a problem but it becomes a problem depending on where it is harvested and how it is processed. Go here to download a very good file (and click on the Panda) that shows what various countries and companies are doing. If you don't know the source of your palm oil, buy a different oil, like coconut or sunflower.
Don't make too much soap. The oils can go rancid and additives like oatmeal can go mouldy, so if you make about three months supply at a time, you'll be able to get through your batch and have a new one waiting while only making soap once every 10 weeks or so.
When you finish making a batch of soap, store it on an open shelf on a rack that allows air circulation all around. Turn the soaps every day or so to facilitate the drying. You could keep the soap on this rack for six weeks if you wanted too but if you need to use the shelf, you could put the soap in a box for long term storage. Don't store your soap in plastic because it will make it sweat. Find an old shoe box, or a few of them, or a larger cardboard box and punch some air holes in the side walls for air circulation. Line the box with some brown paper and place a layer of brown paper or paper towel in between the layer of soaps. Don't add too much soap to the box, you need to have air circulating around it, maybe two layers would do nicely. If you're in a humid climate store the box in a cool space in your home.
If saponification takes place correctly, your soap could be used a couple of days after it's made. Generally though, we store our soap on wire racks to dry out for 4- 6 weeks. This allows the water in the soap to dry out. The drier the soap is when you start using it, the longer it will last.
If you want to test that your soap is okay to use, buy litmus paper from the chemist to test it. A reading of pH 7 is neutral but your soap will be slightly alkaline. You're looking for a reading somewhere between 7 and 9 and you'll be on the right track. Don't use any soap over pH 10. To test with litmus, wet the soap and lather it in your hands. Then wet the litmus paper with the lather and compare the strip of litmus paper with the little chart that comes with it. If your soap is too alkaline, let it sit for another week and re-test it. If your soap stays over 10 over the course of a few weeks, you could re-batch it or use it as laundry soap.
This is my tray in the bathroom. The soaps at the front at those kindly sent to me by readers of the blog.
I usually make about 20 bars in one batch. I let them dry out for a month or so and then I usually store them soap in an open tray in the bathroom. If this humidity goes on too much longer, I will store these in a paper lined box.
I hope you're having fun with your soap making. When you "get it" soap making could take you on to many wonderful types of soap or even a little business you could run from home.
I forgot to tell you but yesterday I was on NSW ABC radio on the afternoon program. Apparently it aired state-wide except Sydney and Newcastle. I'll be on next week too. Tomorrow I'll be interviewed on Radio National's Life Matters - 8.45am Queensland time and 9.45am AEDT. That should be available on podcast later in the day too.