Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pineapple Ginger Salt Bars

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I'm actually starting to get low on soap for the first time in a while. I made several batches as gifts for family and friends - the holiday soaps are gone except for a few end pieces that I kept. And because I was saving the holiday soaps for Christmas, we used up most of our older bars.

Which means I can make more new batches! I try to stagger my soapmaking sessions so that we don't have too much soap around here. Christmas helps thin the herd some, as do birthdays and other gift-giving occasions. If I have more soap than I know what to do with, I'll pack a box to send off to my mom and dad. 

With a dwindling supply of soap, I am itching to experiment with some new techniques. Something I've been wanting to try for a while is making salt soap.I saw a wonderful tutorial on salt bars by Sarah from Ladybug Soapworks some time ago and I have been looking forward to trying it.

Making salt bars is similar to making regular soap, but the recipe is a bit different. Salt is usually included at somewhere between 50% - 100% of the oil weight when making salt bars. Suppose my total oil weight is 32 ounces - if I want my salt ratio at 100%, I would add 32 ounces of salt to my traced soap; if I want my salt ratio at 50%, I would use 16 ounces of salt.

Pink Himalayan Salt
Because salt is a lather-killer, the soap recipe must be adjusted. Salt bars are usually high in coconut oil, which is typically anywhere from 80% - 100% of the total oils in salt soap. Why coconut oil? Because it is the only oil that lathers well in salt water, making it perfect for salt bars. For my salt bars, I followed Sarah's recipe and used 80% coconut oil, 15% avocado oil, and 5% castor oil.

But won't all of that coconut oil be drying to the skin? After all, soapmakers normally use no more than 30% coconut oil in their recipes because the soap can be drying otherwise. The answer would seemingly be yes - unless you do a high superfat. Superfatting means that the soapmaker uses more oil than is necessary to react with the lye, leaving a portion of the oils unsaponified. The unsaponified oils create a mild, moisturizing bar, and they also assure that the soap is not lye-heavy by providing a buffer. (Superfatting is also sometimes referred to as a lye discount.) I usually factor a superfat of 7% into my regular soap recipes, meaning that 7% of the oils in the recipe do not react with the lye, leaving them unsaponified and sort of free-floating in the bar. But because coconut oil can be drying in high amounts, a higher superfat is needed. Most soapmakers go with a 15% - 20% superfat for salt bars. I went with a 20% superfat.

A slab mold with dividers keeps salt bars simple.
The kind of salt that you use is important, too. I have read that epsom or Dead Sea salts are NOT good choices for salt bars, as they draw moisture from the air and will cause the soap to "sweat" excessively. I found some pretty Pink Himalayan salt and used it at 65% of my oil weight (which worked out to be 21 ounces of salt to 32 ounces of oils). Why 65%? Because that was how much salt I happened to have. I wanted to try 70% to start, but just didn't have quite enough salt to get there. I'm betting that 65% will be wonderful, though, and I can try different ratios in future batches.

Another thing to keep in mind is that salt bars get rock hard very quickly.They need to be cut soon after molding, like within a few hours or less. If you wait too long to cut a loaf of salt soap, it will likely crumble and be generally difficult to deal with. To avoid the anxiety of cutting bars ("Do I cut now? Is it too soon? Or have I waited too long?"), I opted to use a slab mold with dividers so that I would not have to cut anything.

And for the scent? Salt bars seen kinda spa-like to me, so I chose something tropical. I settled on a yummy Pineapple Ginger fragrance oil from  Elements Bath & Body. Sadly, it appears that Elements no longer carries this scent, as I cannot find it on their website.

Here's a video of the making of my Pineapple Ginger salt bars:

What's so great about salt bars anyway? Well, I have never tried salt soap before, but I hear that it produces a creamy, lotion-like lather that leaves the skin feeling moisturized. My mom and I once visited a boutique in Sandestin, Florida that had a salt scrub that was apparently very popular. A shipment had just come in and the salespeople were pushing the scrub pretty hard, inviting customers to try it out in the store. We asked, "Won't the salt be drying?" The saleswoman said, "Oh, no, not at all. Come try some." And she did a little demo and let us try out the scrub ourselves. It left our hands surprisingly soft and smooth. We didn't buy any of the scrub (it was kinda pricey), but she told us that they can barely keep it in stock and that it sells out as quickly as it arrives. I'm wondering if salt soap performs similarly and can't wait to find out!

I did try a bar from this batch about two weeks after making it, just to see how it compares to my regular soaps. The lather was creamy, rich, and dense and it left my hands feeling soft. "Lotion-like" is a good way to describe the lather. Not in the sense that the lather itself has the consistency of lotion, but in the sense that it felt like I had applied lotion to my hands after using the soap. The soap is nice now, but I'm sure that it will be even nicer after another four weeks or so of curing time!

Have you ever made or bought salt soap? How did you like it?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Shaving Soap, Then and Now

Melt-and-pour shaving soap that I made for Valentine's Day, 2010.
Let's go back to early 2010 for a moment. The Winter Olympics were about to start in Vancouver, a U.S. postage stamp cost 44 cents, and Steve Carell was still on "The Office." And I had been making melt-and-pour soap for about a year.

Valentine's Day was approaching and I wanted to give my hubby, Ken, something special. With Christmas over, I was fresh out of gift ideas. I decided to make something for him. In the past, I had baked him something sweet or made homemade pralines. In 2010, I realized that I could make something else:


Yippee, right? I mean, we were drowning in soap. Why would anyone in my household get excited about, well, more soap?

Because this soap was just for him. See, I made him a shaving soap. I went out and bought a shaving kit, tossed the soap that came with it, and filled the bowl with my own. I used Bramble Berry's melt-and-pour shaving soap base, added one teaspoon of bentonite clay per pound of soap, and scented it with a Eucalyptus and Cedar fragrance oil. I even made some red soap hearts (created with a candy mold) to stick on the top.

Ken liked the shaving soap very much and asked that I keep making it for him. So I bought another shaving kit - so I'd have another bowl - and replenished his supply as needed.

Flash forward to the summer of 2012 when I made shaving soap from scratch for the first time. While the melt-and-pour shaving base is very nice, I wanted to create my own since I now knew how to make cold process soap.

Cold process shaving soap, July 2012

I found this shaving soap recipe courtesy of Steve from Soap Making Resource and decided to give it a try:

~ Olive oil (45% of total oils )
~ Coconut oil (20% of oils)
~ Castor oil (20% of oils)
~ Palm oil (8% of oils)
~ Sweet almond oil (7% of oils)

Steve's recipe makes five pounds of soap, but I needed only one pound to fill three of my shaving bowls. (I now have four bowls so I can make three more shaving soaps when Ken starts on his last one.) So I plugged the percentages of oils into SoapCalc to customize the recipe to my needs. (It's a good idea to run a recipe through a lye calculator to double-check it. And always run a recipe through a lye calculator if you make any changes to it.)

Steve also includes some additives in his recipe. I adjusted the amounts of the additives so they would fit into my parameters. I ended up using:

~ Bentonite clay (one Tablespoon per pound of oils)
~ Colloidal oats (one Tablespoon per pound of oils)

Bentonite clay adds a layer of protection to the skin and gives the blade some slip, and the colloidal oats (I used finely ground regular oats) make the soap extra soothing. I added the bentonite clay at trace and stickblended briefly to fully incorporate it into the batter. Then I stirred in the oats. Once the clay and oats are added, the batter gets pretty thick.

One thing worth noting is that bentonite clay has a tendency to clump. To get around this issue, I used a mini whisk to mix the clay with some liquid glycerin before adding it to my soap batter. I would think that mixing the clay with some oil would also work, although I have not tried that myself.

Grinding oats, mixing clay with glycerin, and pouring soap into shaving bowls

For the scent, I chose Bramble Berry's Blue Man fragrance oil, which behaves beautifully and smells great. The fragrance oil does discolor to a medium brown due to the vanilla notes, which make this scent a bit sweet but masculine.

Probably one of the first things you'll notice about this recipe is that it has a high percentage of castor oil. This is to help create a rich lather for shaving. It does make a soft soap initially - I had some batter left over that I poured into individual molds and the soap bars were quite soft when I unmolded them a few days later. After a few weeks of curing time, though, the water evaporates out and the soap hardens nicely.

I actually made this soap several months ago, but I decided to save this post until now because I have been focused on holiday soaps the last few months. So, Ken has had some time to use this shaving soap, and he enjoys it very much. He reports that it feels good on the skin and that the lather is creamy and dense. The shaving soap lasts quite a while, too - he's been using the same soap for about three months now and still has a bit to go before it's gone. And he's got another bowl of shaving soap from the same batch waiting to be used. I figure the pound of shaving soap I make for him will last him somewhere between 9-12 months.

Are you a fan of shaving soaps? Do you make or buy them for yourself or someone else? Got a favorite recipe?