The dreaded lye

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Images of Fight Club came to mind at the thought of dealing with lye. Maybe I’ve seen the movie too many times. I watched all the YouTube videos of ladies talking about how to safely use lye in their soap making and became convinced that it really isn’t that big of deal, and I could do it to.

I prepared for weeks to make my first goat’s milk soap. I read recipes and pros and cons bout various methods and became set on creating a recipe for extremely dry skin, full of luscious oils and luxurious smells. I also decided against trying anything too fancy just yet, with colored swirls and chunks of herbs, until I at least found out if I could follow a recipe enough to create a solid bar of soap.

After some research I ordered a soap mold and vowed to keep to organic and food grade materials. Then I froze my goat’s milk.  I learned this method more quickly cools the lye that I would be pouring onto the eventually frozen cubes.

DSC_0023_loveI tracked down food grade lye (the kind used to make pretzels) and found castor oil from the nearby Sprouts store. Having dry skin, I have a decent back-stock of body oils and essential oils but was surprised at the amounts of oils to be used in the recipe! Everything else necessary to make my homemade goat’s milk soap, I had around the house: safety goggles, lavender, lemon, olive oil and coconut oil. I even have the proper thermometer from my cheesemaking adventures.

DSC_0142_ingredients2As long as the lye is poured over the frozen milk and not the other way around, there will be no volcanic eruption. And if you can keep all your liquids in the mixing bowl, also easy to do, there should be no splashing. I kept a sink full of soapy vinegar water ready just in case. I wore long sleeves, jeans, closed toed shoes, gloves, goggles and a mask to ward off the fumes. Although I never smelled any.

Panic did ensue for a moment after mixing the huge amount (25.2 oz) of mixed oils together with the milk-lye mixture, thinking that it must be impossible for two such liquids to solidify into a trace form. The initial concern was because I had to modify recipes using ready made melt and pour bases, because I was using actual raw goat’s milk, and I was worried I had calculated something wrong. I was essentially whipping the mixture until it hardened slightly, but to me it felt like I was just stirring oil and water. That is because I began by mixing it by hand, which doesn’t work.

After quickly looking up my concern online, I found that I at least needed to use a hand mixer to whip the mixture, or I could be stirring for days. Even with the hand mixer it took 20-30 minutes of mixing before I began to see the little lines forming a trail behind the mixer, what is known as “trace”. Soap makers recommend stick mixers.

Next, the mixture was poured into my new silicon mold, but I was already slightly concerned of its olive, orangey hue. A milky lavender soap should not be orange. I wrapped it tightly in two sheets of plastic wrap and put it in the freezer, as instructed. I crossed my fingers that this would lighten the mixture to the creamy, luxurious milk soap appeal I was after.

DSC_0168Luckily, after taking the mold out of the freezer the following day I found that it had indeed lightened to the creamy color I had hoped for! I dumped the hardened block onto the cutting board covered in parchment paper and sliced it with my new wavy soap cutter. The first end piece broke in half. I think it was because I had tried to cut it too thin. The rest of the bars were larger and stayed together well.

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Making fun and artsy looking bar soap was much easier than I expected with that wavy cutter. Even the jagged in happens all on its own through pouring into the mold. So my adventure is actual proof that homemade goat’s milk soap bars with lye, taking a few precautions into consideration, is do-able for the soap making newbie. Now we wait four weeks to allow the soap to cure. I covered mine in a sheet of parchment paper and placed it on top of the refrigerator.

If, after curing, my soap proves successful, I’ll share my recipe. Happy soaping!

Was your first soap experience successful?

NOTE: This blog includes affiliate links, which means I may receive a nominal commission when you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. I have not been paid for my opinion and any commentary on the efficiency of a product is solely my own opinion and experience.

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