Soap making is not a complex process and is pretty simple if you know the basics. But not many opt for making soaps at home thinking it as a waste of time. Not, really. Handmade or homemade soaps are better compared to company-manufactured soaps. You know your soaps in and out and you can avoid all the skin allergies associated with soaps. Homemade soaps are perfect for people who have sensitive skin or suffer from skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis etc.
Soap is the result of combining fats (like beef tallow or lard) with some sort of caustic agent like lye (sodium hydroxide) using water as a catalyst. It is the oldest cleansing agent and is said to have been used by the ancient Egyptians, even Cleopatra. The process of soap making or saponification is simple if you are aware of a few things:
1. Beef tallow: Beef tallow is the common fat used in soap making. Most of the market-famous soaps contain an ingredient called ’sodium tallowate’ which is nothing but rendered beef fat. Though many modern manufacturers prefer vegetable oils to prepare soaps, not all do as vegetable oil soaps do not give much lather. Beef tallow soaps are harder, give rich lather and make better soaps. Soaps made out of lard are softer while those made of chicken fat are the softest.
However, you need to check if your tallow is cleared off impurities before using it in soap making. This is because rancid or dirty beef tallow can give a nasty smell to your soap. To clear your tallow of impurities, boil it in water and then set it for cooling. Once all the water is boiled, you can see pure tallow sticking to your pan. Remove it by pouring hot water outside the pot, scrape all the dirt from the bottom of the fat. Now, your tallow is ready for use.
2. Saponification value: Saponification is the name given to the chemical reaction that happens between lye and fat as they turn into soap. Saponification takes time depending on the heaviness of your fat or oil. Lighter fats or oils takes as long as days to saponify while the heavier ones settle into soap sooner. There are different levels to this process and all you need to do is find the “trace” of soap formation. You can find out that your soap is actually in the formation when you find ‘traces’ of the mixture as solid particles, without blending it. You can trace it with the thickness of the mixture too. It has the thickness of a pudding after cooking.
3. False trace: Sometimes a false trace appears if the temperature of your mixture is below that of the melting point of your fat. This happens mostly with beef tallow as it turns solid at room temperature. When a false trace happens, your fat starts solidifying, fooling you into believing that it is soap. To avoid this, always keep your soap mixture’s temperature above your tallow’s melting point.
4. Lye or Sodium Hydroxide: Using lye to prepare soap is the best method available. But you need to be careful while handling lye crystals as it can cause damage to you. Always use rubber gloves and goggles while using lye. Also, never pour water into lye or sodium hydroxide. Pour lye crystals into water. This would not just make the crystals dissolve quickly but will also prevent them from exploding all over.
5. Mixing lye and fat: When the lye water and the fat (tallow) is at the right temperature, very gently pour the lye water into the fat. Stir in only one direction till you finish adding lye water to the tallow. Keep stirring to prevent tallow from solidifying. Your soap will slowly solidify, resulting in saponification.