Thursday, March 7, 2013

Making Liquid Laundry Soap (Day 1)

This was one of the two projects I tackled yesterday. I made laundry soap for my own family the year before last, but after I ran out of potassium hydroxide I switched back to store-bought. I decided this summer to get back into making liquid soaps and even sell a few. The first of these is my liquid laundry soap.

What you need:

  • A recipe for liquid soap - you can find many good recipes online. My recipe is a modified version of the 100% coconut oil recipe found in Making Natural Liquid Soaps.
  • The oil/oils called for in your recipe - I know of two suppliers I can recommend, both Brambleberry and Wholesale Supplies Plus are excellent companies that carry very high quality products. Brambleberry is maybe a little higher quality, and WSP has a much larger selection and free shipping on orders over $30. 
  • Potassium hydroxide - This is the type of lye you need for making liquid soaps. This is pretty hard stuff to find, but I always buy from The Lye Guy. He's based just outside of Syracuse, NY, and if you need sodium hydroxide (solid soap making) you can pick it up in 10 lb jars for a good price.
  • Water - The recipes all call for distilled for a clearer product, but I'll be honest, I use my well water. 
  • Borax - This is used to thicken, pH balance, and and add extra cleaning power to your laundry soap.
  • Washing Soda - Adds more stain-fighting power to your soap. (optional)
  • A scale accurate at least to tenths (0.1).
  • A large crock pot.
  • A glass candy or other thermometer accurate between 100º and 200º F.
  • A stick blender.
  • Safety gear - goggles, long gloves, long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks and shoes. (And please tie your hair back!)
  • Stainless steel pot 
  • Plastic, glass, or stainless mixing bowls for measuring ingredients.
  • Silicon or stainless spoon/spatula for stirring and transferring soap.
Goodness, that seems like a lot once you type it all out. All right, time to get to it.

Disclaimer: This tutorial assumes you have some experience with soap making. If not, please check out other online tutorials, such as those found on Soap Queen for basic information and additional safety guidelines. I am not responsible for anyone hurting themselves or others while following this guide.

1. Plug in your crock pot, turn to hot, and add your oils.
Coconut oil before it melts.
 2. While the oils are heating/melting you can mix up your lye.

If you don't look like this, you're not ready to work with lye.
 ALWAYS add your lye to your water. NEVER add water to lye. If you add your water to your lye you could accidentally make a very concentrated lye volcano. I've never seen it happen (because I always add lye to water) but it doesn't sound fun to me.

Also, If you have small children keep them out of the room. I've heard horror stories about 2-year-olds and chemical burns. I've also heard of husbands accidentally drinking lye. So, I always let my husband know which container (I always use the same one) has the lye, and I half-jokingly ask him not to drink it. He always rolls his eyes but better safe than sorry.

My lye container. You can use plastic or glass, but the lye will eventually etch glass.
Lye is caustic, meaning that it's very basic and will turn anything containing oil into soap. What that means for you is that if you spill it on yourself it will get to work turning the oils on/in your skin into soap. Ouch! If you do spill onto exposed skin flush it will cold water immediately, hop in the shower, hold your arm under the running sink faucet, whatever it takes.

When you start SLOWLY pouring your lye flakes or pellets into your water, stirring as you go, try to be outside or under your stove's vent (turned on) if you can. This is because when you mix up your lye it will produce some caustic gas that you'd be better off not breathing. I typically don't follow my own advice and mix it up in the sink just making sure not to huff any of that gas (it is visible).

Oil is ready for the lye.
While we were off playing with lye our oil has been heating up. Once the oil gets to 160º F it's time to add the lye. You don't have to worry much about the temperature of your lye since we aren't worried about the reaction happening too fast because of hot lye( as you would be making cold process soap) and we're working over heat, so too cold isn't an issue either.

3. Mixing in the lye. Are you still decked out in your safety gear? Good. Splashing can happen and you want it hitting your glove not your arm. Take your stick blender and use it like a spoon to stir as you slowly pour in your lye. Once all your lye has been added place your empty lye container in the skin and let cold water run into it while you return to your soap.

Now use your blender like a blender to mix together your lye and oil. Keep the blade submerged, we don't need splashing or any extra bubbles. Mix thoroughly until the mixture begins to thicken. You can feel this. Stop stirring before it gets too thick and you burn out your blender's motor. Now you can turn off the running water in your sink.

All done with the blender.

 4. Cook your paste. Turn your crock pot down to low and put the lid on. Let your soap cook for 10 minutes. Stir until uniform, or at least stir any liquid back in.

Let cook another 10 minutes and stir.

Then set a timer for 20 minutes, stir, 20 minutes, stir, 30 minutes, stir, 30 minutes, stir 30 minutes stir, 30 minutes check doneness. Exciting right? Be careful not to break your spatula while stirring... I may have done that once. This stuff gets really stiff.
After 1 hour cooking.
While your paste is cooking is a good time to wash some dishes. Wear your tall lye handling gloves, but don't worry once they're washed there's no lye or caustic material left.

Done cooking!
After 3 hours your paste should be translucent and dissolve clear or almost clear when mixed with 2xs the water (by weight). Test this by dissolving 1 oz paste in 2 oz boiling water and allowing it to sit for 5 minutes. If it's clear you're ready to go. If it's very cloudy you need to cook longer. If after 4 hours of cooking your soap still does not dissolve clear you may have a problem with your recipe.

2 lb paste in 80 oz water.
 5. Diluting your paste. Now you need to decide how strong you want your soap to be. A 20% concentration is typical for most commercial products. Certain recipes will only dissolve at a 30% concentration or lower. A pure coconut oil recipe can be made as strong as 40%. My laundry soap is about 28%.

Once you decide on your concentration and figure out how much water to add, mix your Borax (as per your recipe) with your water and bring it to a boil. Then add in your soap paste. At this point you can reduce the heat to a simmer (I moved the pot to my wood stove) and allow the soap to dissolve on its own, stirring from time to time to check it's progress.
All dissolved.
6. Now you can add any other additions you would like such as scent, color, or, in my case, washing soda. Once you have mix in everything you can test the thickness of your soap by removing a small amount and chilling it (like you would test jelly). If you think it needs to be a little thicker start by adding 2%-3% dry Borax by weight and retest.

Finished soap.
7. Now you have soap! My batch had become pretty cloudy by the next morning, but that's not a problem. The next step is to wait. You wait for the insoluble soaps (the cloudiness) to settle to the bottom of the container you have it sitting in. Then you pour the clear soap off the top and that's what you use (or sell). There's no harm in using the soap while it's still cloudy, it just doesn't look as nice.

Tomorrow I'll post about packaging and labeling.

1 comment:

  1. That's all very interesting! Thanks for sharing.