First Came the Goat, Then Came the Milk...
Updated: Jun 6, 2019
Soap-making Adventure Post 1: "Saponifying" a plan for goat's milk soap
“Jazper’s up there with his skin melting off.”
I overheard my brother’s strange comment to his wife, who burst into a giggle.
“What are you talking about?” I asked in confusion. Jesse had been giving his toddler son a bath upstairs at their house one evening while the family visited downstairs.
The couple proceeded to explain that my nephew has such a bad reaction to any kind of soap that they feel bad having to bathe him at all. They have tried everything, including all the most sensitive-for-skin baby soaps available on the market.
This was the first I had heard about the problem, but sure enough, a red and flaky Jazper was soon carried into the living room wrapped in his towel. His mother slathered a healing ointment over him before dressing him in his pajamas.
“Could it be the water, not the soap?” I asked, considering possible allergens in the city water. They were not sure, but what choice did they have?
A few days later, I took them the last bar of sample goat’s milk soap that I had brought back from my wedding anniversary trip to Lancaster, Pa last summer. Max and I had taken a Goat’s Milk Soap-Making class at a farm, and we were sent home with several samples. I had noticed that my own dry skin during the winter months had seemed to heal instantly with a use of the soap, but I wondered if it could make a difference for poor Jazper, too.
Soon, Jessica reported that Jazper had no problems with the goat’s milk soap!
That was it then. I now had more motivation than ever to push toward my long-time desire to learn how to make soap. Especially if it could help Jazper, it was worth it!
Miraculously, Jesse spotted a small hand-written advertisement for local goat’s milk when he was out one day. He took a photo of the name and phone number and texted it to me.
I had learned many lessons previously about handmade products. An important one was to keep it simple. Another was to take my time. But it would never happen at all if I didn’t take a step forward.
Once things had finally settled down at home after our recent move to a new house, I called the number. The woman on the other end was cheerful and informative. The process seemed easy enough. I would go to the address she gave me on Saturday morning and purchase a ½ gallon of goat’s milk for $5, with a $2 deposit for the jar.
While I waited for the weekend to roll around, I read back through Simple & Natural Soapmaking by Jan Berry (aka the Nerdy Farm Wife). This was my second time reading the book, and somehow the information seemed clearer now. That’s what seems to happen when you determine to learn something new. You gain more understanding over time. So, it’s important to not let yourself give up just because you feel so intimidated at the beginning!
The instructions for cold-process soap-making sounded more familiar. I recalled the steps we had been shown at our soap-making class and discovered that Jan even gave the same tips as had our instructor, giving me confidence to employ them myself.
I purchased the ingredients I would need from Bulk Apothecary, and the equipment from Amazon and www.thesage.com. I chose the same ingredients for my soap that were found in the soap from the Lancaster class, minus the essential oils, because I had another plan for that aspect. (See below for a list of the equipment purchased and prices.)
The class instructor had given me her recipe but told me to research cold-process before using it so that I could adjust the recipe based on the size of my soap mold. Hers had been only 11 ounces. Thankfully, Jan addresses how to do this in her book, telling readers to use online Lye calculators. She recommended the one at www.thesage.com.
Using the calculator, I carefully selected what percentage of each oil and fat I wanted in my soap based on Jan’s description of their properties and her recommendations. I knew I wanted olive oil to be a big component of my soap next to the goat’s milk, but it supposedly does not lather well. I would have to add enough castor oil and coconut oil to make the soap sudsy, but not too much as to be hard on sensitive skin. I also noticed a goat’s milk soap recipe in Jan’s book that was apparently sudsy enough to be titled “Goat’s Milk Shampoo Bars.” My hope is that my soap might be able to be used as both soap and shampoo! Wouldn’t that be something?
The recipe I ended up with was a mix between the Lancaster soap and Jan’s shampoo bar recipe, with my own tweaks based on my thoughts about the ingredients. I adjusted the numbers over and over to keep the percentages where I wanted them as I increased the weight to 2.5 lbs. It seems this size recipe will fit into one standard loaf soap mold, yielding about 7-8 bars. (I purchased a loaf mold, and a few individual oval and square molds to try.)
When Saturday came, as serendipity would have it, my mother was babysitting Jazper and needed something for him to do. A quick text later, and I had gained permission to bring Jazper and Mom to the farm with me so Jazper could meet the goats! He loved them, and the chickens, and the owner was happy to hear I was going to try to make soap for Jazper with the milk.
A few days later, I used my digital kitchen scale to measure out the goat’s milk for the recipe into ice cube trays to freeze. I found out that each tray can hold 8.5 fluid ounces (the quantity required per batch… if my recipe turns out right!). So, one ½ gallon of goat’s milk turned out to be enough for six batches of soap (again, if all goes well…). Note: The chemical reaction of liquid with lye creates a very hot temperature, so freezing the goat’s milk first will help prevent scorching and a rusty-orange-colored soap.
Currently, I have already received most of the items I ordered online, but more are still on the way. So, I am waiting.
Although I wish I could help Jazper more quickly, I have resigned myself to the fact that there will be a lot of waiting during this project. Waiting for 3-4 weeks for the soap to cure. Waiting to see if it turned out right. If not, adjusting the recipe only to wait, again. At least I have finally taken the first steps, which are sometimes the hardest part!
My plan is to make one batch of soap at a time, tweak the recipe as needed, and keep going from there. Once I have the product the way I want it, my family will start to use the soap, and I will give it to friends for more feedback.
How about you? Do you want to be soap tester??
The next post will detail the adventure of making that first batch and about lye safety. Hopefully my research will have kept me out of harm’s way. You can’t make soap without lye. So, perhaps say a prayer for me in advance!
If you're local to Uniontown, PA and interested in finding out if goat's milk is for you, contact Tara, 724-984-3403.
Meg Grimm is a writer and folklorist who loves Jesus, tea time, history and fairy tales. In the real world, she works in a castle - at least some people think so. She is married to Max, and they have a cat-dog named Bill. One day, you'll find her living in a cottage deep in the woods writing your next favorite book.
This is the financial investment I made to get started…
Soap Spoon, $3.75 (heat resistant tools are necessary)
5 inch Thermometer, $5
4 oz. Rosemary Oleoresin, $7.80 (recommended to help preserve soap – more on this later!)
1 Gallon Olive Oil, $41
15 oz. Avocado Oil, $7.26
15 oz. Castor Oil, $3.52
2 lb. Sodium Hydroxide (Lye), $22.92
16 oz. Sodium Lactate, $5.70 (a liquid salt sometimes added to harden soaps)
*Note: I already had the needed ingredients Shea Butter and Coconut Oil from previous DIY projects.
2 Stainless Steel Pots 7.13" H x 7.13" W x 7.13" D, $29.38
Respirator Mask, $8.99 (protection from breathing in lye fumes)
Hand Immersion Blender, $16.92
Silicon Rectangular Soap Mold with Wooden Box, Cutter and Peeler Tools, $13.55
2 6-Cavity Silicon Soap Molds, Rectangular and Oval, $9.99
½ Gallon Goat’s Milk, $5
(not including taxes and shipping)