How to fail at soapmaking without really trying


Every once in awhile, I get the urge to have a one-sided competition with Martha Stewart. When this happens, I tend to try my hand at crafts that I’ve never attempted before and convince myself that everything will turn out perfectly each time simply because I’m awesome. This time, I decided to enter new territory and make liquid castile soap in my slow cooker. Castile soap is traditionally made with olive oil, but in a generic sense it’s any soap that’s based in vegetable fats instead of animal fats.

About the only thing I accomplished in my task was a huge oily mess, six hours of my life I’ll never get back and an ego check. If you followed my Twitter feed on the Outtakes on the Outskirts homepage, you saw this live. After doing several hours of research instead of my initial 20 minutes, I have several guesses as to what went wrong. So, I’m blogging about this so you all can learn from my fail.

For starters, I was using this recipe that I found on eHow.com. The recipe was pretty basic, and that was the problem for this soap novice although I didn’t realize it at the time. The gist of it was that I needed to combine sunflower oil, lye, water and eventually my fragrance oils and then let it cook for two to three hours.

Here are my beefs with this recipe now that I’ve screwed it up and have done more research to know better:

  1. It never specifies if I’m measuring fluid ounces or weight ounces. There is a difference! I assumed fluid, which I think was incorrect.
  2. Never instructs to leave the slower cooker on high or low, nor does it say to put a lid on or not. I left it on high, both with and without lid. I never did determine which was correct.
  3. Doesn’t tell you how warm the sunflower oil should be before adding the lye. I left it at room temperature and the lye was hot. That was probably not what I was supposed to do.

It might also help if I used the right type of lye next time too. I bought sodium hydroxide (which is used in bar soap making) instead of potassium hydroxide. Redhead moment.

So what does a soap screw up look like? Let me show you.

It started off good, or so I thought. This is the concoction after adding the lye:

I waited for what looked like trace to me and let it cook for an hour. After that time passed, it looked like rancid egg drop soup:

Which then cooked into what I can best describe as cellulite an hour later:

So I stirred, and stirred, and stirred some more and let it cook for a total of six total hours to end up with this:

…which looks like bacon grease. Not soap.

The mixture stayed separated the entire time and never blended together. I tossed the whole batch and was grumpy for the rest of the evening.

I did some more searching and watched several YouTube videos, which included this great tutorial by Amy Kalinchuk on what the stages of liquid soap look like. One huge difference I noticed in her tutorial was that she added borax at the end to neutralize the lye. That step wasn’t in the recipe I used, but I don’t know if it’s crucial for this.

I’m going to my hand at soap making again next week while I’m off work for a much needed stay-cation using this recipe. I’ve decided I need to invest in a stick blender and a digital kitchen scale before I try again.

If you’re a soaper and you happen to stumble upon my little corner of WordPress, I’ll take any advice and tips you can give a clueless newbie!

~ Julie

7 responses

  1. Pingback: How to fail at soapmaking without really trying | Outtakes on the … | Soap

    • I think it was a possibility, but I think it was more operator error than anything (wrong lye, improper measurements). :-) How high should a crock pot be, or does it depend on the type of soap? This is my first attempt at soapmaking, so I’m pretty much clueless.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I love the title to this blog! And thanks for the heads-up on which instructions NOT to follow. I’ve never tried soapmaking. But I LOVE going to HomeGoods or Ross or any of those other discount places and buying the BIG vegetable based soaps, especially lavender, and using the boxes they come in for other things. (http://whimseytopia.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/atcs-soap-to-nuts/) I do have a couple of books on the subject that I found at yardsales. I imagine this isn’t easy! Thanks for sharing. Patsye p.s. I tried to link the Soap to Nuts blog, but couldn’t. ???? Perhaps you can highlight it; right click; and try “open URL.” That might work.

  3. Pingback: Homemade soap success! | Outtakes on the Outskirts

  4. Pingback: Soap update | Outtakes on the Outskirts

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