Try and Try Again!
Soap-making Adventure Post 3: Take Two & Three
It was the right color. It seemed the right consistency and texture. It looked the same as the others, just a little more rough around the edges. Not bad for my first batch of homemade soap!
So far, the two people I had learned from both had stories of major failures on their first try. Of course, it was because they shared their experiences that probably prevented my own major catastrophes.
After letting the soap “cure” in my laundry room cupboard for three weeks, I tried the soap and gave some to a few friends. I had not added essential oils because I wanted to eventually get my “scents” from real herbs in my outside garden, so I skipped that part for my first experimental batch. However, I immediately noticed that the first thing my friends did was smell the soap! So, presentation matters, but maybe not even as much as smell! I would have to remember that for the future.
I took one of the practice bars to the bathroom myself and started running a bath. Now I would find out the truth. Had I really made soap?
To my dismay, though it felt like soap and made me clean like soap does, there were barely any suds. I checked the goat’s milk soap bar from Lancaster. It became sudsy right away. Most natural soap products like shower gels and hand soaps do not suds because typically it is the chemicals in them that are sudsy. However, I knew I wanted suds.
Maybe I had too much of a non-sudsy ingredient? Olive oil was supposed to be sudsy, but I had focused a lot on it since I hoped to one day begin purchasing olive oil from Israel. Maybe I put too much in my recipe? I would have to check the percentages of the ingredients.
The final disappointing feature of my practice soap was that it was flimsy. I had surely put enough sodium lactate in to harden the soap. I had even been afraid that I’d added too much! My recipe was close enough to both the one by the Nerdy Farm Wife and my instructor in Lancaster. What could have prevented my soap from hardening?
The more I thought about it, I began to suspect the curing process. I had been afraid my soap would absorb the musty smell of the basement if I let it cure down there, so I had kept it in the laundry room. It was the coolest room in the house besides the basement, but it still got pretty toasty since we did not have air conditioning. Secondly, the closet doors were slotted, which would provide the necessary air circulation, but they probably let in light. Not to mention the times I had to open the closet to get something out.
Someone had asked me why soap has to cure. I didn’t know. I recently found out it is the process of removing moisture from the soap… thus hardening it. Furthermore, I also read that the more olive oil is added to a recipe, the longer the soap takes to cure.
My next plan was to make two more soap batches. I would make the Lancaster recipe, and I would also make my own recipe again. This time, I would cure the soap in my parent’s the cool, dry, dark basement. That way, I would find out if the problem was the recipe or the curing.
That’s the name of the game: Try, try and try again!
There is nothing more frustrating than being held back by your own lack of skill or knowledge, but I believe we have the ability to learn anything if we just keep pushing. It’s worth it to do something right instead of doing something fast. Right?
Batch #2: Lancaster Goat Milk Soap
It took some time to adjust the recipe from Lancaster to fit my mold. Max’s help was needed with the math. These soap bars were made with solid coconut oil and olive oil infused with partially dried lavender from our lavender plant. The oil was infused by putting the glass jar in the sun. It ended up smelling faintly like weeds. Though disappointed, I used the oil nevertheless to see if the smell would remain in the soap once cured.
Batch #3: Meg’s Goat Milk Soap Recipe Readjusted
When I compared my recipe to that from Lancaster, one of the most noticeable differences was the amount of olive oil used. The Lancaster recipe called for over 100 grams more than what I had decided to put into my recipe. I had decided to go with recommendations from other sources as well as a desire to add more of the ingredients that would supposedly produce a good lather. As it may have turned out, olive oil may be the better bet for a good lather. Since I don’t know if the lack of lather in my first batch was due to a poor curing process or the recipe though, the only change I made was to re-adjust my recipe to have a higher percentage of olive oil.
This time, I infused lavender into the olive oil for the recipe for a shorter duration using my Mom’s more pungent smelling and fresher lavender, rather than dried, which I crushed slightly using a mortar and pestle. When it was time to use the oil, it had a sweeter smell, but it was not strong, nor was it the pretty, flowery scent normally associated with handmade soap. (For information on why I am hesitant to use essential oils, check back for an upcoming video on new age dangers. There will be a link here as well as on the website.)
While I wait for the new experimental soap bars cure, I’ll embark on a project to share the history of soap. It’s always been fascinating to me that “they,” whoever they are, figured out how to make soap in the first place. From fire ash! Why and how did such a thing come about? We probably will never know. But what we do know can shed some light on our current skin care regimen.
Starting in Bible times and slipping and sudsing through medieval peasant cottages and castles, what was soap like? I’ll tell you next. Check back!
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.