By Jessica Wilson
Years ago I attended a crafty party where we made melt-and-pour soap. It was awesome and crazy easy, and I could see how one could get hooked. It is so easy that when I decided to make soap for CRAFT, I thought I should tackle something a little less easy. Methinks I bit off a tiny bit more than I can chew.
If you have ever heard that soap making is a science, it is, and then some. For this project I thought I would attempt something one step up from melt-and-pour and a few steps down from made-from-scratch. I hadn’t figured on this being much more complicated than your basic melty goodness. Before I started, I scanned through a handful of websites and determined what it was I needed for milled soap, aka rebatched soap. Rebatched soap is made from grated-up, freshly made lye soap that has been slowly melted back down with happy scents and soft bits like milk or honey. (Soap makers out there please excuse my ignorance on the matter if I use the incorrect terms. I’m attempting to explain it in non-soap maker terms.)
After attempting to rebatch all sorts of soap, I can tell you that this business of milled soap takes a lot of practice. After six failed attempts I finally hit upon something that works. So follow along, throw caution to the wind, and go for it (and don’t mind all the steps – it isn’t all that much)!
2 bars Dr. Bronner’s unscented Pure Castile soap
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 cup water
4 tea bags of green tea or 4 tbsp loose
1 tbsp honey
Empty 1 qt waxed milk carton or similar
Step 1: Pour water into small saucepan with two tea bags or two tablespoons of loose tea. I used a green chai for its scent. Bring the water to a slow rolling boil, turn off heat to cool, add honey, and allow tea to continue steeping.
Step 2: While “tea” is cooling, grate soap bars into a bowl. I experimented with a couple of other brands of unscented soap, but found that Dr. Bronner’s was truly unscented. I picked up my bars from Vitamin Shoppe, but you can get it online as well. I used your average run-of-the-mill grater until my knuckles were threatened. I then switched to a rotary grater for the smaller chunks and it went much faster. My seven-year-old nephew even took a turn at it. Set aside.
Step 3: Pour powdered milk into glass measuring cup and add cooled “tea”. Stir to dissolve.
Step 4: Add a couple inches of water to the bottom part of your double boiler, then plop the top part in. Add grated soap to the double boiler then gently fold in your tea and powdered milk concoction.
Step 5: Turn on heat to low and let your soap mixture melt. This will take a while; make sure to check on it every 15 minutes or so. You should not need to stir your mixture, but if your boiler is a bit smaller than average, stir slowly to evenly heat the mixture.
Step 6: While your soap is melting, set up your molds. I used an empty one-quart container of half and half and a lid from a half gallon of ice cream. The lid needs no preparation other than a quick rinse to get the ice cream off of it. To turn the milk carton into a mold, cut out one of the long sides, pop the cut side back into the “mold” perpendicular, trim to the same height, and then tape into place along with the loose top so that it holds its rectangular shape. Next up, cut a piece of parchment to fit inside, overlapping over the long edges for easier removal of finished soap.
Step 7: Continue checking on the melting soap. Gently fold the mixture around the pan to expose un-melted pieces. As your soap melts it will look like all sorts of other food goods. Some websites say it will look like melted marshmallow while others mention mashed potatoes. Either way, it will look all sorts of weird. Hang in there and remember to keep your flame low, low, low!
Step 8: If your soap looks like most of it is melted but there are still lumps, add a little more water and let sit for a few minutes before attempting to stir it in. If you stir too soon or too fast you will suds it all up. I ended up adding another 1/2 cup of water.
Step 9: When your soap appears all melted and you have smoothed as many lumps as possible, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of tea leaves and fold in. Turn heat off and pour or spoon soap into molds, depending on your consistency.
Step 10: Pop into fridge or freezer for thirty minutes or so to set. Once set, remove from cold box and allow to cure until hard enough to remove from molds. I left mine in their molds overnight.
Step 11: Use a butter knife to cut soap into “bars,” running the knife all the way around the mold and then slicing. I turned my milk carton mixture into three bars. Remove them from the mold by pulling up on the parchment paper. For the ice cream lid, I removed the lid by cutting it off, and I used round cookie cutters to cut out guest-soap-sized soaps. Set bars on cookie rack and allow to dry in a cool place for up to three weeks. The bars need to feel solid all the way through. If your bars feel a little soft in their molds, pop them back into the cold box until they harden up. Your poured soap needs to be at least 1″ thick, otherwise your bars will curl and warp. My first batch was too thin and all my happy circles curled up as if they were dying.
Step 12: Once your bars have cured, you can wrap them up for gifts or use them. A length of wide lace makes for a pretty wrap, as does a band of pattern tissue and a faux stamp sticker. Steeping the tea into the liquid adds a slight scent to your soap. Adding the leaves later adds to the scent and gives a little texture and a wee bit of character to them. I tried many flavors and scents found in the garden and kitchen, and I found the tea to be the most reliable. I even stuck the bars under other people’s noses to see if they could identify the scent and they could! The use of powdered milk makes your bars silky soft. I tried coconut milk in one recipe and while the bars were exquisitely soft, they had a funky smell later. I’m not sure the honey did anything, but I used it thinking it would be soft and add a slightly sweet note to the soap. I can smell it in mine, but I may be imagining it.
Things to Consider:
The quality of your starter soap matters. I began my experiments with dollar-store soap, and while it looked pretty good and set up immediately, it got very, very hard and was not fun to use. I then tried other so-called unscented soaps, only to find their scents overpowering my humble herbs and such. If you want a stronger scent, shell out some cash for an essential oil. You won’t want to use a fragrance unless it is specifically prepared for soap making, as synthetic fragrances are unpredictable. If your double broiler is not HUGE, you will probably have a lumpy mixture. All my mixtures came out slightly lumpy. I read somewhere about using a crockpot and I think I will use that next time, once I get one. The idea of making your own soap is super delightful. The head will spin with fragrance ideas and such. The recipes out there are so vast and different that I encourage you to experiment and have fun with it. When all else fails and you find yourself hitting the roof with frustration, there is always melt-and-pour. Have fun and be clean!
About the Author:
Jessica Wilson is most happily known as ‘jek in the box’ and spends most of her time crafting it up and taking pictures. She can often be found standing on benches over on Flickr and creating all sorts of kiddie crafts on her blog scrumdilly-do! She lives a life of scrumdillydilly and loves to share.