I’m a big Breaking Bad fan. Admittedly, most of the chemistry references were over my head as I avoided high school science classes as much as possible. Also, chemistry involves math and I am a self-diagnosed numeric dyslexic so it was simply out of the question for me. Despite all these struggles, I still decided to sign up for a soap making class as the teacher promised it was quite simple.
There were three of us taking the class and we had “met” in an online group for holistic parenting in the UK. The first woman showed up with homemade lip balm made of cocoa butter and peppermint essential oil. The other brought homemade kombucha – a fermented drink made of black tea and a mixture of bacteria and yeast. I just had my camera (I like to stay within my creative safe zone).
After exchanging names and pledging to always eat organic and local, it was time to get serious.
We were making castile soap but each decided to make a different batch. I wanted a citrus scent with some sort of exfoliant so Kristen, our resident expert, suggested I use ground orange peel and tangerine essential oil. Sold.
We ground up some dried orange peel she had on hand (what, you don’t keep that in your cupboards?) and we set it to the side.
Then it was time to measure and heat our olive oil. Castile soap is simple in it’s ingredients – you need some sort of non-animal fat (hence the olive oil), water and lye. The fun part comes in adding different ingredients and scents depending on your preferences.
The next few steps involved chemistry and math so I blacked out a little bit because my brain got stressed and overworked at the thought of it all. What I can tell you is that lye is dangerous, so you need gloves and safety goggles. And when it’s mixed with water it heats up and releases some funky fumes. Oddly enough, when we started mixing the water and lye, I was suddenly in a very Christmas-y mood. It’s just one of the side effects of a Norwegian upbringing and eating lutefisk each December 24th.
When the olive oil and the lye mixture were within a few degrees of each other, we poured them into one large pot and began combining them with a hand mixer. At this point, I was channeling my inner Jessie Pinkman (minus the swearing and XXL clothing) and feeling pretty genius.
We added the grated orange peel and tangerine essential oil before lining our soap boxes with plastic and pouring in our lye mixture. Once we’d removed all the bubbles, we sealed the boxes and let them sit for a couple days.
Kristen was kind enough to cut the blocks into individual bars of soap. You can see in the photo where the bar still looks wet in the middle. Castile soap needs three to four weeks to cure before using it. You CAN use it before then if you simply can’t stand the suspense, but I will tell you that it turns into a giant glob of goo in your shower and sticks to your body like snot. Sounds like a fun time, right?
Since she makes soap regularly, Kristen let me take a photo of one of her finished products. I’m already thinking about what sort of label I want to design for my citrus creation. It’s been long enough now that my soap has cured and I really like using it. Since it’s castile soap, it doesn’t bubble and it leaves my skin with a squeaky clean feeling rather than being super moisturized or filmy. I especially like that I can use it on Lena and know exactly what’s going on her skin. These types of things are important to us crunchy moms.
The soap making process was relatively easy and I definitely want to do it again. However, this experience just further confirmed my knowledge that I am not cut out to be a chemist. So if Kristen will have me back, I’ll gladly be the Jessie Pinkman to her Walter White.