Want to make your own soap, whether to enjoy at bathtime or give as gifts? Here's how. By Kirstie Allsopp.
'Making soaps is Jenny Elesmore’s passion - she’s been doing it for over 10 years. Her shop is a temple to soap making, and I went there to pay homage. Using traditional methods and only the finest ingredients, Jenny whisks each batch by hand and decorates them to create some of the prettiest bars of soap I’ve ever seen. It’s the perfect gift. Using just five household ingredients, Jenny showed me how easy it is to make your own bars of soap.'
For the fragrance
When using caustic soda, make sure you follow the manufacturers instructions. Always wear protective clothing and work in a well ventilated room. When mixing, always add caustic soda to cold water, not water to caustic soda.
Easy, but it's not safe for children to make soap, due to the dangers of some of the raw ingredients. Even the most sensible of adults will need to protect themselves with a pinny, rubber gloves and goggles, and be very careful of splashes and spillages. Make sure you get all the measurements correct - the balance between the acids and alkalis in your mixture has to be spot on, or your soap won't work as soap!
Caustic soda: approx £2 per 500g; Coconut oil: approx £6.50 per kilo (or you can use vegetable fat - stearin - which is cheaper and easier to get hold of); olive oil: approx £10 per litre; sunflower oil: approx £5 per litre.
A couple of hours to mix the recipes, 24 hours for the soaps to set, then six weeks for them to dry.
Step One: Mix The Caustic Soda In The Water
Pour 900ml of water into the bucket. Making sure to wear your apron, rubber gloves and goggles, carefully whisk the 295g of caustic soda into the water and watch as the chemical reactions cause it to heat up. (Make sure you add the soda to the water, NOT the other way round.) Once this reaction is happening, it's time to add the oils.
Step Two: Prepare The Oils
Jenny buys coconut oil in massive slabs, but you can buy it in specialist shops and online. An easy alternative is vegetable fat that you can get in the supermarket.
Put the 615g of coconut oil into a large pan on a low heat and it will melt very quickly. To this, add 800mls of sunflower oil and the same again of a good quality olive oil. (I’d normally have olive oil on a salad, but it’s been used as a moisturiser on skin for thousands of years. And if it’s good enough for the ancients, then it’s good enough for me.)
Step Three: Mix Everything Together
When all the oil has melted together, pour it into the bucket with the caustic soda and water.
You'll need to stir it now, for around 40 minutes. You're looking for a change of colour and texture in your mixture.
40 minutes? That'll give you a bit of time to make the big decision on what flavour of soaps you want to make!
Step Four: Choose Your Flavours
Once the mixture has started to change colour and texture, it's time to add the lovely bits.
The delicious scents come from the essential oils - and there are so many flavours to choose from. From fresh fruity scents such orange or grapefruit to the more Christmassy scents of frankincense or myrrh. I made three flavours: a zingy lime and parsley, a fresh lemongrass, oats, and honey, and a festive cinnamon and orange. So first, I divided my base soap mixture into three mixing bowls.
To the first bowl, I added a handful of parsley, then measured 20g of lime essence into the mix.
To the second, a handful of porridge oats, a glug of honey and some lemongrass essence.
To the third, I added cinnamon and orange essence, as well as some fresh orange zest.
Step Five: Transfer To The Moulds
Now you just need to transfer your mixtures to the moulds to set. I’m using simple plastic tubs that you’ll probably have in your kitchen cupboard - but you can essentially use any manner of plastic containers you like.
Once mine were in the moulds, I added some thin slices of (real) orange to my cinnamon and orange soap, which will look lovely and decorative when it sets.
Then my tubs of loveliness were wrapped in a blanket for 24 hours to slowly cool down and set.
Step Six: Dry Out The Soaps
Once the soaps have cooled down and set, take them out the moulds and leave them to dry in a cupboard for six weeks so the caustic soda dissolves and the soap won’t have any harmful effects on your skin.
Step Seven: Add The Final Decorations
Finally, when the six weeks are up, you can divide the soaps up and decorate them. The blocks can be cut into smaller slices and wrapped with ribbons and bows. I also used a couple of different shaped pastry cutters, which you can buy in any cook shop, to make pretty, shaped soaps which I finished off with dried rosebuds.
Step Eight: Give Your Soaps As Presents
Everyone loves to get smellies, so if you're looking to steer clear of big brands in favour of homespun gifts worth giving, these soaps are perfect.
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