Bar None (Basic Soap Tutorial)

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I’m not one to reinvent the wheel. There are dozens of great soap tutorials on the internet, there are tons of books written about how to properly make soap, and there are even You Tube videos dedicated to teaching you how to make soap, walking you through each step of the process.

With all that wealth of information already available, what could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said, or suggest that hasn’t been suggested? Probably not a gosh darn thing. As a result, this post is mostly going to give you links to some of those great resources and not talk so much about the specifics of making soap. After all; if I know where you can find a video explaining how to use a lye calculator…I really don’t need to make my own, right? I didn’t think so. But you appreciate it if I share that.

You see, soap is made when you take fats and oils and mix them with a strong alkali (aka, caustic soda or lye), typically sodium hydroxide (although other strong alkali salts can and are used for different soaps, it’s just that we think of sodium hydroxide as “lye”). So, no lye…no soap. However, as I’ve mentioned before, because the fats, water, and lye undergo a chemical reaction, in the end there is no lye left in your soap. In addition, using a lye calculator, you work with an excess of water and a an excess of usually 5% fat (think of it as the moisturizing oil in a bar of commercial soap), so at the end you DO have extra water and fat in your bar, but the chemical reaction has used up all the lye. Then you let your soap cure out in drying racks for about a month, and that takes care of pretty much all the extra water, leaving you with a great bar of soap.

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Clear? Like mud? Try reading a few tutorials. My favorite two are from Candle and Soap and of course, Humblebee and Me.  In both of them, you will find other links to pages you should take the time to read and research. I highly recommend learning about soaping at room temperature from Humblebee, as it’s a great way to reduce stress with soaping. Now shoo. Go read them You can come back here later.

Ok, so you’re back!
If you’ve ever looked at soap recipes online, you’ll have noticed they give percentages of oils-but not amounts-and no amount of water or lye. That’s because you need to know how to use a lye calculator. If you don’t know, and would like to learn, go watch this video.

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Now, you’ve read the tutorials. You’ve watched the video. You’re working on a pretty basic understanding of how this soap thing happens.

I made very basic cleaning soap today. Very basic. The recipe is:

(2 lb batch oils)

55% Coconut oil
45% Lard

.7 oz lemongrass oil
.3 oz eucalyptus oil

If you ever make this, be aware that you want to work at room temperature and that even at room temperature, it traces very quickly, so be sure to have your mold ready and not be thinking you can prep your mold while your soap sits to reach trace. Not happening. It was there in less than five minutes, total. I also decided to use my new mold that my husband made me from some PVC pipe, and after a few hours had to put it in the fridge because there was a crack in the soap from it overheating. Probably should have done this one in the log mold where more heat could escape but it’s too late now.

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In addition, because of the high coconut percentage in this recipe, it didn’t require the full 24 hours to harden. I kind of forgot about that and after ten hours happily unmolded this snowy white log only to find it almost too hard to cut. So. Refrigerate your mold, unmold after six hours or so, cut into bars immediately. Next time I will probably use silicone individual molds and make it easy on myself with this recipe: they are unlikely to overheat and easy to pop out of the mold.

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And now you know how we learn from our mistakes. I could have made cleaning soap from 100% Lard or Tallow but I wanted the lather and extra cleansing ability that comes from coconut oil combined with the properties of an animal fat. The soap is white, hard, smells fantastic, and a small fragment of it produced a wonderful creamy lather. While it’s not cut as evenly as I would like, and I need to plane the edges because they are rough, it’s still a very pretty bar of soap!

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Next on my to do list is making a series of wood soap molds and also a wood cutting box for cutting soap. I’m tired of trying to cut even, one inch bars with no guide. A wood guide box with a simple slicer (which I have) costs between $30-45. For that much in lumber, I can make the cutting box and two soap molds at least. I also recently purchased some shallow paper trays to make soap in so I could focus on making designs on the top and then cutting the soap into quarters, so the majority surface of the bar is decorative and pretty. I’m looking forward to that. Many soap makers own a bar mold for such work, and I’ll get there, but I wanted to practice with something more economical and less of an investment first.

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I can’t make a bar mold and they are expensive, although I have seen creative solutions like a silverware drawer insert-the kind without dividers, just a plastic rectangle-being used as a bar mold. If I ever see one in a size I like, I’m sure I’ll buy one! However, the best molds of any kind-log mold, bar mold, interchangeable log to bar mold-these all come from Soap Hutch. Google them and spend some time drooling. You have to request price quotes. That alone has me convinced to just build my own stuff. My grandma always said “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it”. In this case, with this level of quality, I’m guessing she is right. Besides, I’m curious to see if I can DIY a soap mold. That will probably be my next blog post!

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Bye bye Dr. Bronners (Liquid Soap Tutorial)

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Warning: This tutorial makes certain assumptions about your soaping knowledge and abilities. If you don’t understand something I’m talking about, keep reading. It may become more clear as you go, or you may just not have enough context/experience. That’s ok.

If you are totally new to making soap, starting with liquid soap probably isn’t the best idea. Liquid soap is finicky and takes more effort than bar soap. I’ll put up a bar soap tutorial soon that you can sink your teeth into, and I’ll link to a video tutorial of how to use a lye calculator. For now, read on!
Scary blooper ahead!

My first attempt at liquid soap was an epic failure. I had my oil too hot (because my stove doesn’t understand “low”) and when I added my potassium hydroxide solution it reacted like crazy, bubbling over into a mess of soapy lye water all over my stove and then the floor and sink as I moved the pan to a safer place. Clean up caused me to get lye burns up my arms and we missed that there was soapy lye mess in the catch plate under the burner, and subsequently HAD A FIRE on the stove at dinner two nights later. It was lots of fun but it took me a long time to try liquid soap again. Now, I’m not trying to scare you! Liquid soap is totally doable! I just did it wrong because I read bad tutorials the first time and didn’t follow my gut, which is why I’m writing this tutorial. I kept reading words like “temperature doesn’t matter” even though clearly, temperature matters, and my gut told me it mattered…A LOT!

When I finally did make liquid soap again, I decided to go with the crock pot method over the stove method. Yes, the stove method allegedly takes about 60-90 minutes, while the crock pot takes hours-like, 4-5 hours- but those hours are mostly down time where you can do other chores around the house. Read a book. Watch TV. Whatever. I conquered liquid soap in the crock pot and now I’m sharing the method with you.

Now I promised you a nerdy pic…here!
So, there’s me, in safety glasses with my immersion (aka, stick) blender. Weapon of choice these days. And it has a whisk attachment! But that’s another post…

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You will need:
Safety gear!
Safety goggles
Long sleeve shirt
Apron (preferably, but optional)

Other stuff
A crock pot, fairly large, with removal crock
(I use the same crocks for soap that I do for cooking; I just wash them very well. I know some people have crocks they dedicate just for soaping and that’s fine. Your choice.)
Stick blender
Various wood or plastic spoons
Rubber scraper for your oils, probably
Measuring utensils for your oils
Scale with tare function for oils, water, and KOH
Potato masher

For liquid soap or soap concentrate
Rubbermaid container, salad size
Several jelly size mason jars with lids AND/OR
Container for liquid soap such as quart mason jar, old laundry detergent bottle, empty juice bottle, etc. It’s better to have several containers and not need them than not have the right size container, so wash and save a few things to be ready. Fabric softener bottles are great and so are juice bottles for 32 oz (approximate) rehydrated soap.
There’s probably other stuff I’m missing so read this tutorial all the way through several times and make a better supplies list. I freely admit I’m too ADD for this.

Other stuff
Potassium Hydroxide or KOH
Distilled Water
All necessary fats for your recipe
A basic understanding of how soap works: critical!
A recipe done with a lye calculator (I use Soap Calc): also critical!!

I used these proportions, and I love this recipe, but you’ll want to develop your own and run them through Soap Calc to get your water and lye amounts.

Oil/Fat %
1 Canola Oil 20% (peanut oil would also be great, maybe sunflower seed oil)
2 Castor Oil 10%
3 Coconut Oil, 76 deg 30%
4 Olive Oil pomace 40% (plain olive oil would be fine, I wanted pomace because it traces faster) image

You’ll notice there are no animal fats here. Not because of any socio-political reason; I use animal fats in my bar soaps. It’s just that I use animal fat to make the soap hard…and we don’t need that! Liquid is good! I also obviously do not use palm or palm kernel oils! No! I’ve written that post already.image

Ok, real quick, you need to understand potassium hydroxide or KOH is not the sodium hydroxide or NaOH which is usually referred to as “lye”, however it is a strong alkali salt just like lye. Kissing cousins, essentially. Sodium hydroxide makes great hard bars of soap, while potassium hydroxide, which is what I’m using, makes softer soap that can be turned into liquid. Now, you can always cheat-and I’ve done it-by grating a bar of soap and cooking it in hot water to get “liquid soap”, but what you get will inevitably try to harden and gel and never be truly liquid.

I also want to emphasize that even though this method uses a caustic substance, there will be absolutely NO potassium hydroxide remaining in the final product! It will all get used up in a chemical reaction with the water and fats called “saponification”. That’s what soap making is. Saponification. In the end you no longer have fat, you no longer have water, and you no longer have either potassium or sodium hydroxide (depending on what you used). You just have soap. So lay your fears about this being bad for your skin or possibly harmful aside. I mean, I wouldn’t eat it…because it’s soap…and that’s gross…but it’s not a harmful chemical. It’s just soap, when it’s done. However, because it’s real soap and not a lab manufactured chemical surfactant, it can and will irritate your eyes. So eyes shut tight when washing your hair
and face!

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To get started here, get all your fats into the crock pot on low and make up your potassium hydroxide solution. Remember to work in a well ventilated area and to pour the flakes into the water and not the other way around. Wear your safety gear! After any solid fats (coconut oil, I’m looking at you!) melt, you should be able to carefully pour in your potassium hydroxide. image

Now, here’s where I err on the side of safety. Before I pour in the solution, I pull the crock and set it in my sink. That way, if there is ever another overflow from the temperatures being off, it will happen in my sink and not on the counter. All other things aside, it’s beneficial for the oil to be warm, but I’ve been unable to find information on a temperature range (how hot is “too hot”, what temperature is “just right” to expedite trace). It’s frustrating. When I make bar soap, I do everything at room temperature to avoid this frustration, but with liquid soap I need some heat to get started but nobody ever says how much. Ambiguously they refer to “low” or “low to medium” rather than degrees. Grrr…

Once the solution is in, and stirred, I put the crock back. You should then start and keep stirring with just a soon for about five minutes (use the timer!) to make sure everything is well mixed. THEN you can get the immersion blender going. If you haven’t put on your safety gear yet, DO IT. Especially goggles. I had an immersion blender slip in my hand recently and splatter soapy lye solution everywhere, including my face. I was almost at trace and had a tricky pour technique to do so I just wiped my face with a paper towel and ended up with a chemical burn right on my lower eyelid…because I was not wearing safety glasses at the time. Now I always wear them. I like being able to see.

Here’s where everyone has a difference of opinion. Most tutorials say to blend non-stop until your mixture reaches trace. They must have more powerful stick blenders than me, because my little one just can’t do 30 minutes of straight work without overheating and I’m not going to burn it out just yet. So I blend for 5-7 minutes, put the lid on for 5-10 minutes, and repeat until I get trace. This ends up taking about 45 minutes or so, but I get there, and in the end that’s all that matters.

While trying to trace you’ll go through all kinds of stages; the mixture will separate, it will look funny, it will give you this curdling that’s image

SO attractive…

Finally it will trace. Right after trace, it usually foams like crazy on me so be prepared with your spoon to stir it back down and then it will look like chunky mashed potatoes for awhile as it cooks. aimage

Check on it every 20-30 min as it cooks for the next 3-4 hours. It depends on your crock pot and how hot it runs. The standard is 4 hours which is right for my usual crock but my big crock runs hot and got done in three.

It will go through these stages (usually-may skip taffy):
Mashed potatoes
Taffy
Cloudy Vaseline
Clear Vaseline (jelled)

Examples: image

Cloudy Vaseline:

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Jelled or Clear Vaseline:

When it has shifted from being cloudy to being jelled, make a cup of boiling water and then drop a tiny bit of soap in there. If the water settles clear, your soap is done. If it stays cloudy, cook it another 30 minutes and try again. This test isn’t 100% accurate so don’t sweat it too much, you get the idea once you see what the soap does in the very hot water. Here’s what my soap in hot water looked like. Be careful not to swish the cup or stir it or the water will get cloudy regardless. You are looking for what happens the instant the soap hits the water, not in five minutes. a href=”https://perstephsays.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/wp-1461883681540.jpeg”>image

Once your soap is done, you have two choices. Pack it away into mason jars to use later, which is what I do. I dilute soap as I need it because liquid soap takes up a lot of space but jars don’t. Or, you can add water right then. You’ll want to go scoop out your finished soap and weigh it. I have found that for every 100g of soap, you can add 75g of distilled water to dilute and have a nice, thick, almost Dr. Bronners consistency. If you don’t mind it a little thinner, and understand it will still be very cleansing, you can use 100g water for every 100g soap. image

Place the soap in a container, like the crock pot or a stock pot for a big batch or a Gladware container for a small batch. Add the approximate amount of distilled water. Use your potato masher or even a fork to mash it up so it’s floating around in the water. Cover, and let sit 24-48 hours. Come back, stir well. If all the soap didn’t dissolve (very unlikely), you’ll need to pour the mixture into a sauce pan and put on low heat, stirring and mashing gently until the soap is absorbed. I’ve only done that once when I was too impatient to wait 24 hours for my soap to get done! You can speed up the absorption process dramatically by heating the water before you add it to the soap; I have done that and it took it about two hours to absorb boiling water, maybe less. It sat for that long and was done when I came back. Use a funnel (and maybe a ladle, if you used a big pot) to transfer your soap to your desired container for storage.

Here is my soap in a stock pot, diluted with distilled water to make a gallon batch. To make a gallon, I weigh 1540g of water and 2200g of soap. That should equal a gallon when it’s done. I can’t recall how I did that math but it should be right. It’s easier for me to work in grams and mililiters than ounces but packaging is in ounces and pounds. When, oh when, will we go metric? image

Because homemade soap is so basic, it has a very long shelf life and doesn’t need a preservative. If you plan to use this as a shampoo, it helps to use an acidic rinse afterwards, like lemon juice and water, apple cider vinegar in water, or a tsp of citric acid in a cup of water. In addition, a lot of people (myself included) have commented that our hair dye can’t hold up to very basic shampoo (even Dr Bronners) and have seen it “strip” hair color from our hair. While this is well and good in that it is ridding your hair of environmental toxins, or the last of that Manic Panic, it’s liable to make you unhappy if you like your hair color and spent money on it or worked hard to DIY.

That’s it! I’m cleaning my kitchen and grocery shopping tomorrow, but I may try out my new round soap mold one day next week. I have been meaning to make plain lye soap for general cleaning, after several requests. If I do, I will write a careful tutorial about how to make bar soap and where to find soaping “how to’s” then.

Meanwhile, there are two other good resources for making liquid soap online that are easy to follow that I’ve found. One (my favorite) is by DIY Natural and can be found here, and the other was written by Marie at Humblebee and Me and can be found here. Even if she does use the evil top of the stove method, her tutorial is packed with good advice, great pictures, and reassurance. Besides, you might prefer the top of the stove method.
The DIY Natural method goes into a lot of stuff and nonsense about using a weak borax solution to neutralize the soap. First of all, they use so little borax, it’s not going to make a big difference in the pH, it just adds an unnecessary chemical to your soap. Second, I love borax in my laundry to negate hard water and for 101 other things, but the jury is out on using it in skin and hair products so I can’t recommend it, particularly around the eyes. Especially if you actually used concentrations high enough to be effective at what they are trying. My vote is you skip that step. They also reconstitute all their soap at once, and I don’t. So ignore that part if you want to and refer back to my ratios of soap to water (1 part soap to .75 part water).

Finally…you notice what I didn’t use? Fragrance or essential oils! As a rule, for soap that’s going to have to go through saponification with the essential oil, you use .5 oz per 500g of oils. However, since the saponification has already happened and won’t degrade the oils, we can use significantly less. I would start at about 40-60 drops per 32 oz of finished soap and see what your nose thinks. I’m still learning about essential oils and am not one to give advice on mixing beyond my comfort zone.

Happy DIY’ing!

Splish splash

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Sunday was the day for making Mother’s Day treats. I made instant chai spice tea and put it in jars for my favorite mom’s and I also made bath melts. Bath melts may not seem like a big deal, but these little cuties are part oil and shea butter for moisturizer, and part emulsifier. The emulsifier makes the oils and butter distribute evenly in the tub and all go down the drain afterwards, so there’s no greasy oil slick left behind to clean up. Awesome!

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I got the idea from Humblebeeandme.com but adapted the recipe by swapping the cocoa butter for coconut oil and changing the essential oils to match the chai spice drink, so they smell ever so faintly of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Not so much that they will irritate sensitive skin in the bath, but enough to get a fun whiff of scent from time to time. Unfortunately, by making the ingredient swap, my bath melts now have to be refrigerated (ideally) or the heat of most bathrooms will ruin them, but I think it will work out. They will still melt easier and not have the cocoa butter scent to worry about, which makes it worth the trade off.

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Unfortunately, I only was able to make a triple batch before I ran out of coconut oil, but a few of my mom’s aren’t bath people and will be happier with a lotion or hand cream instead so I will get to work on those soon. I am not planning on chai spice lotion, but I do like the idea of ginger and vanilla to compliment the chai tea.

 

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Two bath melts and some chai spice tea to celebrate my favorite Mom’s! I’m excited!

Getting into condition

My quest for a conditioner is on the right track! I made a “cowash” conditioner (think Wen, only without all the bad stuff) using a new emulsifier called behentrimonium methosulfate. It’s especially well suited to conditioner because of its chemical structure and properties. In addition, I added castor oil for shine, glycerine for moisture, and a new toy called coco betaine which is a coconut derived surfactant that is safe and very mild. By using a small amount of the coco betaine, I was able to “wash” my hair (which was very oily and gross) with the conditioner and it ended up clean and silky soft and shiny. Win!

While this was a success, and I have enough for probably 2-3 more washes, I have plans to make the next batch even better. I could use a touch less coco betaine and a touch more oil, personally, and I think the addition of a rich oil like jojoba or olive would really make my hair soft and manageable, and a little bamboo tea or bamboo extract would help with tangles and breakage while combing due to naturally occurring silica. I’ll probably brew a tea of bamboo, horsetail, and marshmallow and use that.

I’d take a picture of my hair, but I can’t do the fancy hair toss like shampoo commercials so the effect would be lost. You’ll have to use your vivid imaginations but trust me; my hair is nice. Soft, silky, and it smells good.

My next job is to use this emulsifier to make a batch of hair pudding that’s thin enough for a pump bottle for my friend Swiss. So there are still experiments to be done!

Hot, sweaty, mess

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When the temperatures climbed up into the 70’s and 80’s recently, I became aware that the DIY deodorant I was using was making downright uncomfortable. I was itchy, and then I was even a little rashy, and research said it was from the baking soda. I stopped using it and got better, so I believed it.

Initially I was using a standard DIY recipe, with about 30% baking soda. I didn’t care for it very much, finding it very gritty and crumbly. It didn’t want to stay attached to my body, it wanted to ball up and fall off, and it was hard as a rock and difficult to even scrape up to apply. I melted that down and added a few tbsp of shea butter, which helped tremendously, but then started the itchiness.

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Today I set out to make a deodorant that had staying power, clay for absorbent issues, and reduced amounts of baking soda but is still effective. Perusing five or six other DIY blogs led me to this formula:

  • 4g beeswax
  • 4 g Emulsifying wax, or more beeswax
  • 6g coconut oil
  • 12 g Shea butter
  • 6g cocoa butter
  • 14 g carrier oil of your choice (I used half each grapeseed and avocado, looking for rich vitamins and easy absorption)
  • 14 g baking soda or baking powder
  • 6g cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 4g kaolin clay (do not sub a darker clay as it will stain your clothes)

Essential oils of choice (I used lavender, tea tree, rosemary, and a little bergamot to brighten it up)

Melt all the oils together, and then stir in the baking soda, corn starch, clay, and essential oils.

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Don’t you love my pictures of beige and yellow goo in my little pan?

It made a rather thin and oily mixture compared to the other deodorants I’ve made so far, but it thickened nicely as it cooled to room temperature and felt great going on. After two hours, and some sweating from a quick walk, there’s no evidence of it causing itching, burning, or of it flaking off, and it’s doing a great job at odor control so far.

I opted to put it in the little jar I’ve been using rather than use a deodorant stick container. I decided I wanted to see how much the recipe made and also how firm it got before deciding to use a true container. I’ve had trouble with the containers not wanting to twist up because the formula isn’t stiff and smooth enough in the past, but make it too stiff and smooth and it won’t melt with body temperature. I don’t mind using the little jar.

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My only problem with all my DIY stuff is packing to travel. Standard travel cosmetic bags are built around today’s standard packaging. When you’re packaging stuff yourself in whatever works best for you, you break that mold and suddenly don’t have a cohesive “bathroom bag”. I suppose there are worse things!

Lye to me

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Today I was going to make a batch of soap for general household cleaning (Grandma’s lye soap, essentially). I went to measure out the lye and I was an ounce and a half or so short. Bummer! After a minute I remembered that the other batch of soap I wanted to make used less lye and decided to use up the last of my lye (and pretty much all of my coconut oil on hand) making coconut oil salt spa bars.

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These bars are heavy and dense. They are supposed to produce luxurious lather and be detoxifying due to their extremely high sea salt content. I colored them with swirls of gold shimmery mica and they are pretty. Even unscented, they smell nice; they are the first unscented soap I’ve made that smells really simple and like nothing at all, no carry over from the oils it was made from.

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There’s something to be said for coconut oil. Personally, I like getting clean with 100% coconut oil bars, but I know other people worry that they are too harsh and drying. These bars should be mild due to the extra fat content, which works as a moisturizer, and the salt.

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Until I order more sodium hydroxide, this is my last batch of bar soap. I may do more liquid soap concentrate soon, as I have plans for what little bit I have left. Unfortunately, I find myself tight on money after my last few trips to the grocery store (are groceries getting more expensive?!?) and may have to curb extra spending for things like lye for the time being and focus on other stuff. There’s plenty to do around here and no more space for soap anyways until I sell some.

Geeky rant

Meanwhile, I continue to search online for DIY ideas for a co-wash conditioner, including the long hair blogs and Reddit. I have ideas formulating, but am skittish about spending money on ingredients when I’m not sure it will work. If it does work, I’m…approximately out the cost of three bottles of store brand co-wash with the ability to make 10 or more bottles. If it doesn’t work…I wasted money, time on development, ingredients, and more time on all the research. However, I do believe in “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, at least within moderation.

I have my old bottle and have been breaking down the ingredients precisely but that is taking time and research. As far as I can tell at a glance, it’s a conditioner with a cationic quaternary compound as an emulsifier that has an especially long carbon chain, which helps it adsorb (yes, adsorb and not absorb) to your hair and bring moisture and fatty acids from oils in the conditioner with it. The emulsifier and the oils make up the conditioning part, and the “oil will bind with and clean other oils” part. In addition, there’s a mild surfactant in there; not a detergent like SLS or anything harsh and bad for you (it’s a coconut based surfactant, and I can actually get a similar and even more gentle ingredient to try out). There are humectants and stuff like cetyl alcohol, which works with the emulsifier to stabilize it and also condition the hair follicle. All in all, it’s totally something I can duplicate, only with safer, and more healthy ingredients. If it weren’t for the silicone derivatives, I would be sorely tempted back to the dark side, I admit, just for convenience. I loved washing my hair with conditioner and my hair loved being washed with conditioner.  My hair type doesn’t need a shampoo bar often, only after using a lot of products (like, never) or stretching a “no-poo” out to a week or something. Wish me luck as I do my mad scientist act over the next few weeks and create this monster, 100 grams at a time.

Note: working in tiny batches saves waste, and working with 100 grams or 100 ml at a time makes working with percentages a cakewalk. I know, I cheat.

Sorry. Geeky rant over. If I do get a co-wash to work, you’ll be the first to know. I’ll even share the formula. In the meantime, the spa bars only need two weeks to cure out because I used a 40% lye solution (do not do this unless you are ok with quick trace!).