Welcome to Scaredy Soapers Anonymous.
My name is Megan and I'm scared of making cold process soap. Why? Well, there is the whole "caustic lye" angle, but really it comes down to the trace.
What is trace, you ask? For those that don't know, when making cold process soap, you mix the lye into the water and then you separately heat up your oils (fats). Then when they've cooled to the same temperature (depending on your source, this should be somewhere between 80 and 120 degrees F) you blend them together, then stir like crazy until you reach TRACE - which is when everything is perfectly blended and the fats are no longer separating out, but before the mixture thickens up to the point where you can't pour it into your soap mold.
Trace makes my blood run cold. I never have done well with things that are under pressure time-wise. Like Thanksgiving dinner. Trying to get the turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing, and green bean casserole all done at the same time is impossible for me. So the thought of bringing a mixture to trace and having only seconds to add in the fragrance & coloring, etc and then getting it stirred in and poured? I'm panicking just imagining it!
I've been making bath and body products from scratch for about six years now. I make lotion, cream, salve, lip balm, sugar scrubs, bath salts. I've even managed to make some liquid shampoo from scratch that wasn't half bad! I had some tracing issues (thus only adding to my fear) and I only ever made one batch, because my patience is about as long as a gnat's life span and I couldn't handle the cure time; which was another one of the main reasons I kept putting off making soap, ha!
However, I've long had soap lust over other B&B makers' soaps. They are so pretty! They are so fun to photograph! They are so easy to package! You don't have to be worried about them melting or leaking when you mail them to customers thousands of miles away!
So tonight, I made my first soap! I've actually gathered the equipment over several years (for instance, some of it I needed when I dipped into shampoo making) but over the last week, I've stocked up on the rest of the equipment and all the ingredients.
I even bought a book! I've read TONS of stuff online over the years, but I have to say the book is handy because everything is in one place. While waiting for my ingredients to arrive, I researched recipes. I found one that was simple and made one pound of soap. It seemed like a good place to start, but OF COURSE I couldn't leave it alone and used Majestic Mountain Sage's lye calculator to tweak it a little. Which may have been a mistake - see details later.
I laid out a towel. I set out my two containers, one for the heated oils and one for the lye solution. I pre-measured my ingredients, including my scent (Enchanting Apple!) and the colorant (which I stupidly put INTO the fragrance oil instead of dispersing into a teeny bit of water like I should have, thus causing the lovely apple-y green color to sink to the bottom and stick to the bowl and not make it into my soap at all. Mental note for next time.)
I had all my stirring utensils lined up, my thermometer ready, and my stick blender plugged in. Gloves on (and cuffed to catch any errant drips that might try to sneak down towards my elbows), goggles in place. My husband was oh so kind as to take a picture of me in all my fashionable glory. And for those of you wondering if I'm going to post said picture, the answer is HELL NO.
First I mixed my lye into my water, which involved a lot of stirring and not a whole lot of breathing (fumes are bad, mmmkay?) While that was cooling, I heated my oils. Then I waited for both to cool. When they were both around 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit, I poured my lye solution into my oils and used a stick blender to mix them together. According to one trusted source, this should have taken about 90 seconds.
This is where my fears surfaced and everything started going NOT according to my carefully arranged mental plan. At maybe the 30-second mark, I felt the mix was thickening faster than it was blending. I could still see swirls of oil that hadn't fully blended in - which is not ok, so I kept blending but my mixture was getting thicker. It was nearly pudding consistency and according to what I'd read, that was too thick. I don't even think I made it to 60 seconds of blending when I felt the mixture was fully blended and I added the fragrance oil and gave it a quick buzz to blend it in. I immediately poured it into my prepared mold, but it seemed very gloppy and thick to me. So now I'm nervous.
Was it because I tweaked the recipe to include shea butter? Maybe I should have increased the water in the lye solution just a bit to compensate (although the calculator recommended 4-6 ozs and I used 6 ozs). Did I blend at too high a temperature? The recipe that estimated 90 seconds of stick-blending also recommended combining the two mixtures at 120 degrees F. so that didn't seem to make sense - however the book I read said that lower temps would take longer to reach trace, thus making timing a little looser, which I prefer. Oh well, too late to do anything about this batch, so make a note to try a few tweaks to the next one (if this batch doesn't turn out awesome - which it may. I mean, miracles happen right? RIGHT?!)
I wrapped my molded soap in a towel and tucked it into a cupboard and now I just have to wait. I'll un-mold it tomorrow evening (if it is hard enough - but hopefully not so hard it crumbles) and cut it and take pictures to show you.
Don't worry - I only test out new products on family members. I won't list any for sale in my shop until I'm totally awesome at it. Should I start accepting bets now on how many batches that will take?