Category Archives: Skin Care Products

posts related to lotions, soaps, creams, salves, and other skin care items made from hive products like beeswax and honey

Adventures in Soap Making

This past month Grace and I had the crazy idea that since there isn’t much bee work to do in the winter, maybe we could keep ourselves busy by making soaps and lotions. It was a crazy idea because we were already swamped with things to do, but I guess we thought we could squeeze in one more quick task. We had attended a talk on soaps and lotions at the fall Indiana Beekeepers’ Conference and the speaker made it sound sooooooo easy. We started with the lotion, with a plan to crank out some soaps as well and give them for Christmas gifts.  (See my post How To Make Creamy Lotion for how our lotion turned out)

After we had the lotion project successfully under our belts we thought soap would be a breeze. The last two weeks has taught me that pride really does go before a fall! After giving Grace instructions on how to be safe around lye and detailing the horrible consequences of a mishap, “we” quickly turned into “I” as Grace firmly decided she wanted nothing more to do with this adventure. I really can’t blame her. I had purchased soap supplies 2 years ago and am just now working up the nerve to open my first bottle of lye.
Despite being abandoned by the child who helped cook up this scheme to begin with, I was ready! I had a recipe, I had oils (so many oils!), color, scent, molds, lye, and all the other odds and ends I thought I might need. I even purchased an infrared thermometer so I wouldn’t have to dip a regular one in and out of the lye mixture. I bought it for safety reasons……..ok, fine. I bought it because every new project needs new tools!
Time to start! I chased the kids out of the kitchen and locked the pets in the basement. I donned enough personal protective equipment to pass as Walter White. I mixed and melted and measured until I had a pot full of beautiful white soap almost ready to be poured into the molds. The last ingredient was a couple ounces of honey. I drizzled the honey on top of the soap and reached for my spatula to stir it in. I’m thinking “Oh yeah, I got this!”, but in reality I did not have this at all! The honey began to turn my creamy white soap to a golden tan (ok, ok, we are still doing fine here) and then brown (wait…whut????) and finally to a seized up mass of useless crap. I molded it anyway because I was already deep into this batch. Final result: 4 POUNDS (yes, a test batch would have been a good idea) of caramel popcorn smelling burnt soap. It’s not suitable for resale, but at least it works for laundry soap.

Burnt Honey Soap
Burnt Honey Soap

Not to be deterred, I scratched up enough ingredients to try again, but only a half-batch this time. I decided to leave the honey out because I’m trying to make Christmas presents and the clock was really ticking on getting this project done in time. I didn’t want a repeat of the last disaster. Well, I got a whole new disaster this time! Everything was smooth, right up until it wasn’t. As soon as I added the scent, the entire batch went from creamy pudding to a spoiled cottage cheese texture. No amount of stirring would have fixed this but I tried anyway. Again, I thought I’m invested so I might as well mold it. At least this batch didn’t look like something I fished out of the toilet. Final result: It’s lumpy and clumpy, but it lathers, cleans, and is good enough for the kids.

Time to attempt batch number 3. I gave up on the fancy stuff. No olive oil, no sweet almond oil, and no pretty colors for this batch. We, I mean I (because although Grace isn’t afraid anymore she wants nothing to do with complete failures), decided to go back to my roots. I was going to make a straight up lard and lye soap, with just a little scent. Generations of my Appalachian grandmothers did it, so surely this skill flows in my veins. WRONG! Consistency was great since it didn’t seize up, so appearance wise I was very happy with it. I let it cure for a few days before trying a small sample of it to wash my hands. It felt like rubbing a block of lard over my skin. It even still smelled a little like lard after it got wet. Even though it cleaned, it hardly lathered and seemed to leave a film behind. A film that smelled like pig fat. This batch wasn’t a complete failure though. I traded it to a friend for a bottle of apple wine. He’s using it to wash his dog.

lard soap
Lard Soap

On batch number 4 I made a rookie mistake (its ok, I AM a rookie). I tried a new recipe without running it through a lye calculator to make sure it was correct. Wayyyyy too much lye. It shattered as soon as it dried and had to much “zap” to it. Side note: I’ve learned there is a thing in soap making called the “zap” test. Basically, after hearing repeated warnings about the dangers of lye causing severe burns to your skin, you’re supposed to LICK THE SOAP to see if it “zaps” your tongue! Here’s a helpful hint-if your soap is brittle DON’T LICK IT! It will really, really zap you. Very unpleasant! This batch went into the trash.

Onward to batch number 5! I found another basic recipe (no lard!) with olive oil, coconut oil, and lye. I felt brave and added some purple colorant and lilac scent. I even poured it over bubble wrap to try and give it a honeycomb effect. This batch turned out…..ok. The color is kinda flat and not as uniform as I would like and it’s only mildly scented. I’m calling it good enough for family.

At this point I was losing sleep over my inability to make a simple bar of soap! Time to hit Google again. After spending another couple of hours browsing blogs and watching videos I now know more about the vegan soap movement than I ever needed to know. I also felt1 empowered enough to try again. Go big or go home, right? So back to the original recipe This time I was more careful to keep the oils at lower temps and ever so slowly added the honey. Voila! It worked! No stinky brown mass! This batch is smooth, has a nice pastel purple, and a moderate lavender scent. FINALLY! VICTORY IS MINE!!!!!

Finally! A presentable batch of soap!

In closing, if you get a bar of soap from me for Christmas, it will be the most expensive and most worried over bar of soap you have ever held in your hand, unless you’ve tried making your own 😉 Merry Christmas!