Getting Over My Fear of Lye…

Anyone who knows anything about soap knows that it can’t be made without lye (aka sodium hydroxide or caustic soda).

I’ve been doing melt & pour soaps for many, many moons because of my fear of lye. Okay, and also because I’ve read so very many horror stories of things that can go wrong while making cold process soap; acceleration (the batter thickening too quickly), ricing (little rice-like globules of soap in the batter) and the most terrifying of all; seizing (when the batter thickens so fast you can’t get it out of the pot).

I tried a new melt & pour swirling technique early last week that I was so anxious to try, because the video of said technique showed an absolutely lovely, defined swirl in the loaf slices. I was so excited to un-mold and slice that loaf. I mean, y’all have NO idea! That soap turned out okay. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have been raving about it, but it did not have the defined colors that I’d had in my mind’s eye:

Black Raspberry Vanilla Whipped

Black Raspberry Vanilla with goat milk with whipped topping loaf slices.

There is very little definition in this swirl. Yes, it’s pretty, but it wasn’t what I was going for, so I ended up spending the majority of the rest of my evening pouring over YouTube videos looking for a beginner-type cold process soap recipe. I found one, only it wasn’t exactly beginner level. It was called “in the pot swirl” and I decided to try it, because most of the beginner recipes were one color mold pours, and one color is something I can do all day with melt & pour.

The next night, Johnny and I went to our local home improvement store on our “meth run” to get the protective gear we’d need to do this soap. And the lye. Had to get the lye, because without lye, there is just oil, am I right? I grabbed what I needed and Johnny asked, “You’re getting drain cleaner to put in something people are going to put on their skin???” Well…yeah. I could pay more, plus shipping, to wait for something in prettier packaging online that contained less of the same thing, or I could grab what was right there in front of me. Total no-brainer.

I could get into the science now, but I won’t. I just told him to trust me, and we went home with our purchases (plus herb plants to soften our meth-maker-look, lol). I now have rosemary and an additional lavender planted in the herb garden, and we’ll sink the mint sometime this week.

Fast forward to Friday, when I was going to make the first batch. I got an order that I needed to deliver at 6pm that evening, and it was also the day my LLC came through, so I decided to wait until Saturday to make that batch, because chillaxing and celebrating were on the list, plus I was beat after a long week on the day job. I wanted to be fresh, mentally, when dealing with something that could eat my skin off. Can ya blame me?

So, on Saturday afternoon, after having spent my sleep-time the night before plagued with nightmares about lye solution exploding in my kitchen and covering our new flooring and making my dogs sick, I went about getting my stuff together. Johnny had to make a grocery run for Mother’s Day dinner, so I assembled everything I needed for the entire process, except for the lye. Having never worked with it before, I wanted to make sure I had someone in the house in case of … well, the worst case scenario. After all, somebody needed to be left to explain what happened.

So, Johnny got home, we got the groceries put up around the ingredient fiasco I had covered the counters and stove top with.

I donned my Breaking Bad goggles (that fit beautifully over my own spectacles, I might add), put on the rubber gloves, turned on the exhaust fan over the stove and opened the lye. It was granules. Simple, easy to pour, easy to measure granules. I don’t know if I expected hellfire to come shooting out of the bottle, or what, but nothing of the sort happened. I slowly added it to the pre-measured water. The more I poured and stirred to the room temperature water, the hotter it got, which I could feel through the gloves. I could also see the vapor coming out of the cup, as well. The fan took that right up. Once dissolved, I took a temp reading. 195 degrees!

So here was the first patience test; waiting for that lye water to cool to about 125 degrees. That was the longest part of the entire “making” process. It took about an hour.

Once it reached temp, I added it, slowly, to the coconut and almond oil that I’d melted and mixed. Johnny was a safe twenty feet across the room, LOL! “How’s it going over there?” he asked. So far, so good! I used my stick blender (not my good one that I use for food, but one Johnny had gotten for me for soaping-never use your soaping tools for food prep) to stir, then mix the batter.

Nothing got burned, nothing blew up, nothing happened, at all. It took a few minutes to get to trace, and I’d read so many stories about batter never reaching trace that I started to worry, but that was for nothing. The further along I got, the closer Johnny got to see what was going on. I picked up my five quart bucket to start pouring the batter into two smaller one-quart buckets to create colors. He was a little freaked out by that, but at the right consistency? Soap batter pours beautifully without splashing.

I got my colors mixed and commenced to pouring high at first, then pouring low to ensure the colors went to the bottom and stayed at the top and took my spatula to do the “in the pot swirl.”

I then poured into my first three pound mold, and filled it up. I still had more batter, so grabbed another mold and poured the remaining batter into it. By this time, the batter was thickening up, so I was able to make a nice swirl on the top of the full mold:

fresh pour 1

Full loaf swirl.

By the time I was done swirling the top of the full mold, the second mold was good and thick, so I could take a spoon to make a texture on the top:

fresh pour 2

It looked like waves!

This is where patience comes into play. You can un-mold a melt & pour 3 pound loaf within about 8 hours. Cold process? Not so much. At least 24-48 hours need to go by to allow everything to go through gel-phase and hardening.

Just shy of the 48 hour mark, I un-molded that half-loaf, thinking it would be the most firm out of the two. Not so much. Go figure. I still haven’t researched why that is. I had a good little bit of soap stick to the mold. The full mold came out much better, with no residual batter stuck to the mold. I inverted both, to let the undersides get some air and harden a little bit for a couple of hours, then I sliced.

To say that I was pleased with the swirl (especially being my first time) is an understatement. I was beyond thrilled! See why below:

ocean breeze cps

Full loaf tall, thin slices.

half loaf

The half-mold bars are definitely chunkier, but still really pretty!

So…I am really impressed with my first go at cold process. Now, I just have to flex my patience muscle for the next 4-6 weeks so these beauties can finish curing.

One of the girls at my day job told me that she will be really interested in getting some of these once I can show her that I can wash with one and not have exposed bone. I’m pretty sure she’s going to love a bar or two.

In case you are wondering how you can see all of the neat things I’m having such a blast creating, you can check out my Facebook page. I’m going to hold off sharing my web site until it goes completely live. It’s bare bones right now, given that the store needs a commercial PayPal account to get it configured, and since I am waiting on the PayPal folks to finish the process, I’m going to wait to share that with you when it’s fully functional.

So that’s all I’ve got for you guys this evening. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and also, if you are thinking about making cold process soap, but are freaked out by that whole lye-thing, that I’ve dispelled some of your fears.

Be well, be blessed, and go out there and spread some love!

Until next time…

About Julie the Workaholic

Mom of three (grown) sons and one (grown) step-daughter, wife of one, friend of many, and owned by seven 4-legged critters, writer, photographer, friend, huge fan of life, and most of all, lover of all things beautiful .….Getting healthy, and hoping to make a dent in the world in a most positive way! (And then there's my alter-ego, the Workaholic, who is me, just unfiltered.)
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