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!

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Author: scseery

Soap, bath and beauty, jams and jellies, and unique upcycled gifts. That's what I make and talk about here. A lot.

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