Saturday, May 19, 2012

Update: Castile Soap

My Castile soap
If you've been following this blog from early on, you may remember this post about my Castile soap. I made that batch on January 6. As you may know, Castile soap benefits from a nice long cure. Well, mine has been curing for about four and a half months now, so I figured it was time to give you all an update on its progress.

Castile soap is traditionally made exclusively of olive oil. A more typical soap recipe may include several different oils and butters in a single batch.

Ideally, Castile soap is left on the curing rack for much longer than regular soap. Curing allows the excess water in the soap to evaporate, creating a harder, longer-lasting bar. Soap also becomes milder as it cures. My typical soap recipe usually includes olive oil, coconut oil, and sustainable palm oil, along with a small amount of another oil or two (like avocado oil, castor oil, shea butter, etc.). After about 6 weeks, a typical batch is cured and ready to be used. Castile, on the other hand, is best enjoyed after a longer cure - I've heard four months as a minimum, with six months to a year as being even better. (But it seems that any soap gets better with age, whether it is Castile or not.)

Castile soap's lather improves as it ages. Olive oil on its own does not create a fluffy lather - you need oils like coconut or palm kernel for that. Olive oil does create a stable, conditioning lather, though. In my typical soap recipes, coconut oil is what creates big bubbles and abundant lather. Castile's lather consists of smaller bubbles and has a more slippery feel. Some folks refer to this slipperiness as "sliminess." Castile does seem to be a bit stickier and tackier than my other soaps, but I don't find the texture unpleasant.

An interesting thing about Castile is that it is made entirely with a soft oil. Often oils such as coconut and palm are included in soap recipes to contribute to a harder bar. Although olive oil is a soft oil, Castile soap becomes very hard over time. Initially, my Castile soap was very soft and I had to wait almost a week after making it before I was able to cut it. If I had done a steeper water discount, my soap would have hardened more quickly and I could have cut it sooner.

Comparing the lather of my regular soap (l) versus Castile (r)

Below is a short video that I made comparing the lather of one of my regular soaps with the lather of my Castile soap:

It's pretty much me washing my hands and sudsing up a shower pouf with each, but it gives you an idea of how Castile performs. In the video, I used my Orange Patchouli bar (made with olive, coconut, sustainable palm, and avocado oils) as an example of one of my regular soaps. The Castile soap had cured for 18 weeks by the time I shot the video. I made the Orange Patchouli soap soon after the Castile, so it had been curing for about that long, too.

Castile's lather after 6, 12, and 18 weeks
With all of this talk about long curing times for Castile, I should point out that it is perfectly safe to use Castile after the usual cure of 4-6 weeks. It won't be as nice, though. I'll admit that when I tried my Castile for the first time after allowing it to cure for six weeks, I wasn't impressed. I had to work very hard to achieve any sort of lather, and all it seemed to do was run off my hands and down my arm. I will say that although my regular soaps feel very nice on my skin, the Castile left my hands feeling a bit more nourished and moisturized after I rinsed. I didn't notice too much of a difference after 12 weeks, but I did see a change after 18 weeks. As you can see in the photos to the left, the lather is a bit more bubbly and less slippery by Week 18. I think after 24 weeks, it will be even better.

I believe that the way to best maximize the lather of any soap is by using a mesh shower pouf, and this is especially true with Castile. The pouf kicks up more of a lather, and it seems that the more you scrub, the more lather you get. In the shower, the Castile's lather doesn't seem too different from the lather I get from my regular soaps when I use the pouf. Less bubbly and fluffy, yes, but still creamy and dense.

So, it was a bit of a rough start, but Castile eventually won me over. It seems that most folks either love Castile or hate it. Those who love it enjoy its luxurious, creamy feeling, and those who hate it don't care for its lack of bubbles or its "sliminess." And although I wasn't sure what to think at first, I did find myself liking Castile very much after it had cured for a while. I think the four-month cure as a minimum is a good rule of thumb, and, if you have the time and patience, an even longer cure is probably better.

How do you all feel about Castile? Love it, hate it, never tried it?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Soapy Haul: Essential Oils

Hi, my name is Jenny, and I'm a fragrance/essential oil addict.

I am. I can't help it. It's like, I get around fragrance and essential oils and I just become another person. A weak and powerless person. I don't even know what happens when I get around that stuff. It just takes over. It makes me do strange things with my credit card. And later, after I regain consciousness, I think, My God, what have I done this time?

My friends and family members have seen it. I will get into my stash and sniff and sniff and sniff while my life crumbles around me. The dirty clothes need to be washed and dinner needs to get cooked? Sorry, hon, but I'm busy hanging out with my good buddies Cucumber Melon, Patchouli, and Monkey Farts. Maybe there's a DiGiorno in the freezer, and you do have more than one shirt, don't you?

Me during some very dark times
It started innocently enough. When I first started making soap, I bought two - two! - fragrance oils. And with my next order, I bought more. And more the next time. Each time, more and more and more. Now, they've taken over an entire storage cabinet. Actually, my soapmaking addiction has taken over half of a spare room.

I justify my behavior. I tell myself, Oh, I'm not so bad. I know lots of other people who are in deeper than I am. People who have hundreds, nay, thousands more fragrance oils than I do. And half of a room is nothing - some soapmakers have entire buildings dedicated to their addiction. I've got this under control, and I can quit anytime I want.

And although I already have a bunch of fragrance oils that I really should use up before I buy new ones, I still somehow end up purchasing more. It's like it's never enough, and if one is good, twenty is better.

I don't know how much money I've spent on my soapmaking addiction. I'm afraid to do the math.

And yet, when one of my suppliers recently had a sale on essential oils, I lost control again. I bought ten four-ounce bottles of essential oils from Soap Making Resource. But I had to ... it was a sale! The oils I bought were anywhere from 12%-71% off! I couldn't afford to not buy them.

Although I have lots of fragrance oils, I have few essential oils. And this sale provided me with the perfect excuse opportunity to stock up so I can try some new blends.

So here's what I got:

Patchouli: Earthy and rich, like sweet dirt.

Grapefruit: Know what? I can't stand the taste of grapefruit. It's right up there with cantaloupe. Yuck-o. But I like how it smells. The scent is light and citrusy with a pleasantly bitter bite.

Spearmint: Love-love. Super strong and minty, like Wrigley's Spearmint gum.

Litsea Cubeba: Lemony and sweet, like lemon candy. Good for anchoring citrus scents.

Geranium Rose: Light rose scent.

Lavender Premium: Because the price was so good, I sprung for the Premium instead of the 40/42, which is what I usually use. The Premium is supposed to be more floral and less camphoraceous than the 40/42.

Rosemary: Green, woodsy, and slightly minty with a touch of camphor.

Sweet Basil: Green and herbaceous with a touch of licorice.

Lemongrass: Very lemony with a hint of greenness.

Cedarwood: Smoky and woodsy.

And some FREEBIES!

Sample of Tea Tree essential oil: Tea Tree is interesting. When I sniff just Tea Tree EO, I always think of my grandfather's workshop. He was an avid radio-controlled plane flyer, and I remember his workshop smelling of sawdust and gasoline. That's what Tea Tree smells like to me on its own. It's not a bad smell, but it's also not a pretty smell. When used sparingly in a blend, though, it's wonderful. (Lavender and Tea Tree is a personal favorite!)

Madder Root Powder: A lovely orange-red powder. I hear that it can produce a color anywhere from a light pink to a rich red, depending on how much is used. I haven't played around much with natural colorants, so I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Peppermint Leaves: I think I'll grind these up into a fine powder to add specks of color or to create a pencil line in my minty soaps.

Tussah Silk: I was so hoping that I would get some of this in my grab bag! I have heard so many good things about silk in soap, and I've wanted to try it. My understanding is that you add a pinch of silk to your hot lye solution and allow it to dissolve, infusing your lye. Silk is supposed to give soap more lather and luxurious suds.

What am I going to do with all of this stuff? Well, I have been keeping a notebook with fragrance blend ideas. Here are some I'm considering trying with my new arsenal of essential oils:

~ Cedarwood and patchouli
~ Cedarwood and peppermint
~ Geranium rose and peppermint
~ Grapefruit and patchouli
~ Lavender and grapefruit
~ Lavender and lemongrass
~ Lavender with rosemary, tea tree, patchouli, basil, litsea cubeba, or geranium rose
~ Lemongrass and tea tree
~ Lemongrass with peppermint and/or spearmint
~ Orange 10x with lemongrass or litsea cubeba
~ Patchouli with lemongrass and/or litsea cubeba
~ Spearmint with eucalyptus or peppermint
~ Blend of lavender and cedarwood with a bit of patchouli
~ Blend of lemongrass, basil, and rosemary

What do you think of my blend ideas? What are some of your favorite fragrance blends?