SOAP MAKING

Many Gorean Physicians find making Their own soaps, lotions and potions an extension of Their practice. Soaps in particular are important not only as fragrant, whimsical and often relaxing bath tools, but for the ability to safely clean and eliminate germs and other microscopic organisms from the skin. The process for making all soap is essentially the same, although more experienced Makers may enjoy creating unique combinations of fragrances, sudsy-ness, color, etc. Be warned that soap making is difficult to perfect, but can be well worth the effort.

Soap, as described here, is the results of combining fats with lye water and allowing the mixture to harden. Directions for making lye water and tallow can be found elsewhere, along with information on the other ingredients needed in the process.

Types of Soap

The type of soap that is made depends upon the quality of ingredients used to make the soap and how far the method is followed. Three types are distinguished:

  • Soft Soap ~ Liquid soap.
  • Laundry Soap ~ Hard soap used most often to wash clothes.
  • Toliet Soap ~ Hard soap used for washing people.

THE SOAP MAKING PROCESS

The Soap Making Process consists of seven main steps. Be sure to put on personal protective equipment, to include gloves, apron, and a face shield. Many agents you will be working with are caustic and can be harmful if splashed on the skin. In the event that lye is splashed upon the skin and begins to burn or sting, immediately apply vinegar or lemon juice to the area, then wash with ordinary water.

The Basics - Getting Started

  • Step One ~ Three large cast iron or stainless steel pots are needed. The largest pot must be twice the size of the next biggest one. In one of the smaller pots melt the amount of fat that you want to use, over a hot fire. In one of the smaller pots, heat lye water. The amount of soap you wish to make depends on the amount of tallow and lye needed. (Three pounds of tallow needs about five gallons of lye to completely make hard soap). Not all of this will be used at once, and if you are going to rework the soap later, you will need to allow for about 1/5th more lye water for that as well.
  • Step Two ~ Put half an inch of water in the pot to start with, to prevent the grease from burning while it melts. When ready, put the big pot on the fire and spoon into it one fourth of the melted grease. On big jobs, another person should pour in one quarter of the hot lye water, while the first person stirs the mixture with a wooden stirrer. Continue to add lye and grease, one person after the other, while stirring very well. Keep heating the mixture. The liquid will become stringy and muddy-looking. Continue to add lye water until the mixture looks quite clear, and not so muddy.
  • Step Three If a thick scum of grease forms on top, more lye is needed. If the soap mixture does not thicken and no scum appears, more grease is needed. If there is a strong thin white streak against brown, then more lye is needed. Some mixture dropped on a smooth glass plate, will not split up in to oil and water, but will stay the same. If this does not happen, keep stirring for some time. If it does, then add more lye until all the fats or oil disappear. The mixture should eventually look like cream or light caramel or light brown rice. Now the mixture is tested by a method called "proving".

Proving

Getting the right mixture of grease and lye is perhaps the most important step of soap making. Too much lye and the soap will 'burn' the skin and/or may not set properly. Too much grease causes problems as well. Three main methods of proving exist:

  • Method One ~ Use a clean knife to lift some soap from the pot. Hold over a cold plate. If the soap turns whitish and falls from the knife in short pieces, there is too much lye - add more grease (or oil if you are reworking the "green" soap). If the soap falls from the knife in long ropy pieces, it needs more lye. The soap is okay when it stands transparent (almost clear) on the knife, neither too white nor too ropy.
  • Method Two ~ Take a one inch by one inch bit of the soap mixture out of the boiling pot, and put on a glass or "fired clay" plate. If it cools transparent with whitish streaks and specks it is "done". If it is gray and weak-looking or has a gray bit around the outside, it needs more lye. If there is a gray skin over it, more fat needs to be added.
  • Method Three ~ Known as the "ribbon test," this method is very useful towards the end of boiling. Take two teaspoons of mixture out of the pot and cool it on a plate. When cooled, take some of the soap off the plate, and press between the thumb and forefinger. The soap should come out from between your fingers looking like shiny ribbons with dull (opaque) ends, and be clear when held up to the light. If the cooled bit of mixture comes out from between your fingers in the shape of threads, then there is too much water left in the soap, more boiling down is needed. If the dull ends of the piece of soap between your fingers, first can be seen then disappear, then the soap is too greasy or oily and needs more lye. If the soap is grainy, or turbid (all mixed up looking) and a bit whitish, there is probably too much lye, and more grease or oil is needed.
  • Method Four ~ This is not a main method, and takes some experience to get right. It is not recommended.Taste some cooled soap mixture on the tip of the tongue. A sharp "bite" or "burn" shows that there is too much lye in the soap mixture, While no "bite" at all, shows that there is too much grease stir and/or add more lye. A good soap should give a little bite on the tongue.

Done-ness

After having "proved" the soap mixture, excess water is boiled out of the mixture. During boiling down phase, the mixture rises up the sides of the pot with many small bubbles (called foaming or frothing). This is the stage when water is going out of the mixture while the heat is kept going. When the foaming starts to slow down, the froth will go towards the right of the pot and large, white, round bubbles will appear.

  • Step One ~ Keep boiling the mixture until the froth settles down into the pot. Large white bubbles will pop over the top of the mixture, as if the soap is talking. If you are not sure if the mixture is correct, use proving method three.
  • Step Two ~ The soap can either now be stored as liquid soap in a wooden, or other safe container, OR it can be turned into "hard" or solid soap.
  • Step Three ~ Continue the process to make hard soap. Since salt absorbs water, it will attract it more than the soap mixture does. By adding few handfuls to a large mixture, or less to smaller pots, the soap will float on top of the rest of the mixture.
  • Step Four ~ A brownish looking liquid will sink to the right of the pot, and the soap will float on the top. The method is very much like the last step of washing fat adding salt, when making grease. Here as well, the top layer is left to go cold before it is skimmed off the surface of the cold mixture.
  • Step Five ~ Slowly melt the skimmed soap and add a little water. Heat this in a safe pot, and after boiling for only a few minutes, add salt again. Leave to cool and then skim. At this point, you may either rework, remelt and color (and/or add perfumes) to the soap, or pour into moulds to harden and set.

Graining and Reworking

When aiming to make a hard soap, salt is added at this point. Salting the soap mixture, makes the soap rise to the top, often looking quite "grainy"- like sand. So this step is sometimes called graining. This step makes a good solid soap for washing clothes, but it also removes some of the things which make soap nice and safer for people to use on themselves. To make a grained soap more useful for humans, it is reworked. This involves re-melting the green soap, and adding some more grease and/or oils and lye. The same proving and checking for doneness steps are followed as for simple soap making, without graining.

  • Step One ~ Some of the amount of grease used to re-work the soap, can be added as oil. Coconut oil is said to be the best. The grease being used may be perfumed. Using a grater to break the soap into small pieces is more effective than cutting with a knife, although both methods are acceptable. To the remelted green soap, add more grease and or oil, until it is all melted, then add more lye until the mixture has a "bite" or "burn" to its taste.
  • Step Two ~ Continue heating and stirring (not too much stirring) and follow the general method for Soap Making ("proving" and watching for "doneness".) When done, pour out into molds and set as described in the next section.

Coloring and Perfuming

There are perfumes and colorings which may be bought as powders or as liquids. These are added at the last remelt before pouring the soap into the molds to set. Liquid perfumes are sometimes be affected by heat, so add them well after the soap has been remelted, and stir in gently before the soap goes hard again. When trying out new perfumes, first test them on a small amount of melted soap, so that you can see how much will be needed in all. Perfumes will leave the soap and go into the air after a time, so use a bit more perfume than you might think you will need, when you are making the soap.

  • Step One ~ When the soap is melted for the last time before being poured out into molds, it can be colored and perfumed. It is best to not do this any earlier in the method, as the lye water could hurt the perfume or coloring. If you have perfumes or coloring things that are safe to eat, try them out on small amounts of soap (split the melted soap in to different safe pots, and try different things out). There are ways of gathering perfumes from flowers and leaves. The ones used here, put the perfume straight into the grease.
  • Step Two ~ Pick flowers early in the morning. Choose flowers which have a very strong fragrance. You can either scent all the grease, or only the grease that you are going to use during re-working. If you are scenting grease to be used during "re-working", double the amount of flowers used. The flowers are put into melted grease, and the mixture is heated and kept just at melting point for an hour. Leave to harden overnight, then remelt slowly and strain the flowers out of the melted grease. For normal perfuming of grease, use one cup of flowers for each cup of melted grease. Take all the green bits off the flowers first. If you wish to use leaves instead of flowers, then you will need twice the number of cups of leaves than you would for flowers. With leaves, it is sometimes helpful to heat them slowly with half the number of cups of water as there are cups of leaves. Heat until the water has all gone away, then add to the grease as for flowers.
  • Step Three ~ When the soap is being melted for the last time, coloring things can be added. You can try out your own things but make sure that they are safe to eat first. While making the soap, keep a note of how much grease is used. When coloring, add the number of tablespoons of spice shown for each cup of melted grease or oil which was used. Mix the spice in a little bit of oil.

Setting

Before starting to make soap you will need to have made some shaped-molds for the melted soap to set and harden in. You can either have one large block, or many small molds. A plastic bucket, wet wooden troughs, or small greased wooden molds can be used. If you decide to use one large wooden container, soak it in water overnight. Empty the water out and line it with wet cloth just before pouring the soap into it.

Making a wooden box with sides that can be pulled away, is one of the more successful methods. Make a bar shaped soap, using wooden divisions inside the setting mould. Making a bar shaped soap will make it easier to "split" the soap down to useful sizes later on. If you are using smaller wooden moulds, you can grease the inside surfaces.

Breaking / Splitting

When hardened, the soap is broken out of the molds, and if necessary, split down to useful sizes with a wire or fine cord. Remember that the soap is "green" and must be handled carefully. Use rubber gloves, or grease your hands up a lot when touching the soap at this stage.

  • Step One ~ When the soap has hardened, remove it from the molds. If it is already in the shape that you want, then stack it, to air and harden further. If you want to make it smaller, split it using a fine wire, or a strong thin cord. Using a knife will normally chip the soap and make it break up into shapes which are not so useful.

Drying and Airing

Leave the soap to air and dry, becoming a lot harder, for about a month. Dry hard soap takes longer to use up. Stack it in a way that will let as much air get around it as is possible. Keep sunlight and water away! When the soap is dry and hard you can polish it with a soft cloth, and even wrap it in shiny or "grease proof" paper if you want to. After using soap, always put it in a clean dry place away from sunlight and metal containers or shelves.

INGREDIENTS FOR SOAP MAKING

Lye is a liquid solution made of water and residues from ash. It is a caustic substance and should be handled with care. Two ingredients are needed to produce lye:

  • White Ashes ~ Gather up wood ashes from fireplaces and fire pits. Dried palm branches, dried out banana peels, cocoa pods, kapok tree wood, oak wood, (or for really white soap, apple tree wood) make the best lye ashes. Ordinary wood used in cooking fires will do. Whatever wood is used, it should be burned in a very hot fire to make the ashes as white as possible. When cold, ashes should be stored in a covered plastic bucket or wooden barrel, or stainless steel container. If these are not available, a clay pot-jar which has been kiln-fired will do. (These are considered SAFE CONTAINERS.) A wooden drum or barrel which has a tap at the right is best.
  • Soft Water ~ Water from a spring or from showers of rain is called "soft water", because it does not have metallic or acidic chemicals in it. This makes it useful for soap making, as there are no other chemicals in it which would hinder the process. Ordinary well or river water can be used, but may need to have baking soda added to neutralize other chemicals. Test ordinary water by trying to make soap foam in it. It this is easy, the water is probably okay. If not, stir in a little bit of soda at a time, until the soap will foam up. Remember the soda/water ratio in the test sample, so that you can convert it for larger batches. Store soft water in covered safe containers.

How to Make Lye

  • Step One ~ If using a bucket with a tap, place a filter over the opening before beginning. Fill the bucket with white ashes, leaving about four inches from the top.
  • Step Two ~ Boil half a bucket full of soft water (about 10 pints or six liters), and pour over the ashes. Slowly add more cold soft water until liquid drips out of the barrel. Close the tap or block the hole. Add more ashes to top the barrel up again, and more soft water. Do not add so much water that the ashes swim.
  • Step Three ~ Leave to stand for four or more hours (or over night if you have the time). Later pour the brownish lye water into a plastic or other "safe" container(s). Then pour back through the ashes again. Let the lye water drip into "safe" containers.
  • Step Four ~ When the brown lye water stops coming out of the barrel, or ash container, then pour four to five pints (2.5 to three liter) of soft water through the ashes, collecting the lye which comes out in a separate "safe" container (as this lye may be weaker than the first lot). Repeat this using two to three pints (one to two liter) of soft water, until no more brown liquid comes out of the ashes.
  • Step Five ~ Either put the lye into "safe" bottles, or cover the "safe" containers which it is in. Dig the ashes into the vegetable garden.

Lye Water Strength ~ If an egg or potato will float just below half way, or a chicken feather starts to dissolve in it, then the lye water is at the right strength. If the egg will not float, then the lye water could be boiled down if you wanted it to be stronger. If the egg seems to pop up too far, add a little bit of soft water (a cup at a time) stirring the lye water, until the egg floats so that its head pops up.

Tallow

The fat of most animals can be used in the making of soap. Bosk fat makes the best soap, although fat of any animal or plant can be used in the process. Whatever fat is used, must be cleaned through a process called rendering.

How to Make Tallow

  • Step One ~ Once the meat of the animal has been cut away, chop the fat into bits and place in a wide, flat (not too deep) pot or pan. Melted slowly over a low heat, each pound produces about one cup of useful grease. Pour the melted grease through straining cloths to remove any large particles that remain. The grease must now be "washed".
  • Step Two ~ Combine the grease and an equal amount of water then bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add one quarter (1/4) as much cold water. Leave the water and grease to cool. When the fat has hardened, scrape the dirty stuff off the right. If the fat still looks dirty, "wash" it until clean. On the last washing use twice as much water, and before boiling add one tablespoon of salt.
  • Step Three ~ If the fat which is to be used for soap making has unusual smells, you will need to get rid of them. For each cup of smelly fat, add two tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice in half a cup of water and boil. Any fat which smells "off" should be treated in this way. Another method for treating smelly fat, when lemon juice or vinegar is not available, is to use sour milk. Melt the fat, and to each cup of fat add one cup of sour milk, and cook. When cooked, add cold water as before and let cool. Cooking suls or rice in fat can also help, one medium sized sul for each three cups of melted fat. Strain off fat when cooked and pour in cold water as before. All these ways will help to purify fat if it is rancid or smelly.
  • Step Four ~ Washed fat, can be stored in a cool airy place for a few weeks before being made into soaps.

Plant Oils

Oils may sometimes be used instead of either some or all of the animal fats in making soap.

Salt

"Common" salt is used in making soap. Any salt made out of sea water (or from some stagnant lakes) which can be eaten with food, should be ok.

Oils and Fats Used in Soap Making

If you are wanting to mix beef tallow grease with another fat grease, like mutton (sheep) or lard (pig), it is better to only replace one fifth (1/5th) of the beef tallow grease, with the other grease.

Coconut Oil ~ Very hard soap with plenty of bubbles and fairly stable lather. Works very well. Used for washing, bathing and shaving.

Tallow (Animal Fat) ~ Hard soap with many bubbles and a stable lather. Works very well. Used for washing, bathing, and shaving.

Palm Oil ~ Hard soap with a less stable lather. Works very well. Used for washing and bathing.

Palm Kernel ~ Very hard soap with plenty of bubbles and a stable lather. Works well. Used for washing and bathing.

Ground Nut ~ Soft soap with less bubbles but a stable lather. Works very well. Used for washing and bathing.

Cocoa Butter ~ Hard soap with good lather. Works well. Used for washing and bathing.

Coloring Soaps

Cinnamon ~ Sandy colored.

Paprika ~ Pinkish.

Sulfur ~ So called 'medicated' soap.

Curry ~ Brownish.

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