Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dolphin Soap, Miami-Style

My husband, Ken, is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan. Being from Florida, his penchant for the Dolphins began in childhood. He fondly recalls how they had a perfect season in 1972, going undefeated and winning the Super Bowl. And he suffered through their nearly winless 1-15 season in 2007. He is loyal through both good times and bad, his affection and devotion to his beloved Fins evident with the start of each new football season.

And the new football season has now begun. I am not a sports fan myself, but I thought it would be fun to combine my passion for soap with his passion for football. Specifically Miami Dolphins football. Actually, Ken suggested that I make a Dolphins soap a while back, but I didn't think of it again until the season started.

So here it is! A Dolphins soap using Miami's team colors: aqua, orange, white, and navy.

And the scent? Energy, of course. It's fresh, clean, and sporty. Perfect for sports-themed soaps. Because the word "sport" is right there in "sporty." Can't have the sporty without the sport.

I envisioned a white soap with orange and aqua swirls and a navy blue dolphin embed in the middle. As I've mentioned, I'm pretty lazy when it comes to making cold process embeds. So, I decided to do a cold process soap with melt-and-pour dolphin embeds.

Making the melt-and-pour dolphin embeds.

I bought this silicone dolphin ice cube tray several years ago - I don't even remember where I got it. Each dolphin weighs about a half-ounce, making it a perfectly sized embed. I chopped up some clear melt-and-pour soap base, melted it in 30-second bursts in the microwave, and colored the soap with a few drops of ultramarine blue liquid colorant. Then I poured the soap into the mold cavities and placed them in the fridge to set up while I got the rest of my soap ready. (I was a little sloppy with a couple of the pours, but no worries. I just used an X-Acto knife to tidy things up after unmolding the embeds.)

Preparing cold process soap.

For the cold process soap, I used a slow-tracing recipe of olive, coconut, palm, and avocado oils so I could make swirls. And Bramble Berry's Energy fragrance oil behaves beautifully and doesn't accelerate trace at all. I mixed it into my cooled oils before adding the lye solution. Once I reached light trace, I poured two 8-ounce portions of soap into separate plastic measuring cups.

Colorants mixed with glycerin.

For the swirls, I used hydrated chrome green pigment with just a few drops of the liquid blue and a bit of titanium dioxide to get an aqua color. For the orange, I used orange mica with a bit of titanium dioxide to soften the color and make it a bit more coral. I added the aqua color to one of the eight-ounce portions, and the orange to the other. The base is colored with titanium dioxide to whiten the soap.

Coloring the soap and making swirls.

I poured the base of white soap into my slab mold, and then poured the orange and aqua from up high to make sure it penetrated through, reserving some for the swirls on top. I poured the remaining aqua and orange close to the surface so it would stay on top, and then dragged my skewer (my thermometer stick worked perfectly) through the soap vertically and then horizontally. After I placed the dividers and let the soap set up a bit, I gently pressed the embeds into the center of each bar. I decided that I liked the bottom of the embeds better than the tops. The bottom had more of a dolphin shape, I thought, and I could make the dolphins lay flush with the tops of the bars by embedding them bottom-side-up.

Swirling and adding embeds.

Then the mold went into the freezer overnight so that the soap wouldn't gel and melt the embeds.

I'm pretty pleased with this soap, but I think I can improve upon it. Mainly, I wish that I had held back less soap for the swirls. I always hold back too much. I should have either used maybe five ounces of soap each for the aqua and orange, or reserved less soap for the surface swirls. I was going for something a bit more subtle, although I think the end result is still pretty good.

And the scent is fabulous - lots of citrus with a bit of effervescence from the champagne notes.

I think it's a fun soap, sure to please any Dolphins fan. Or at least my husband.

It's only the beginning of the season, but so far so good for the Fins! I hope that they have a good season. No matter what happens on the field, though, at least we know that we'll have good soap.

Any Dolphins fans out there? Sports fans in general? Have you made or bought any sports-themed soaps?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Adventures in Candlemaking

Yes, my friends, it appears that I may have picked up a new hobby. And while this isn't soap-related, it kinda is. I mean, I know that many soapmakers make candles. And it seems that people who like soap also usually enjoy candles, too. I guess we tend to like pretty things that smell good, especially if we can either rub those pretty smell-good things all over our bodies or set them on fire.

And I found candlemaking to be rather similar to melt-and-pour soapmaking. You start with a base, melt it down, add color and fragrance, and pour it into a container.

I've always loved candles. I can go into a candle shop and easily spend half an hour sniffing everything. Which is why no one wants to go to a candle shop with me. And also because I constantly shove candles in their face and say, "Ooh, smell this one."

I don't love paying twenty bucks for a candle, though. So, once I had burned down all of my expensive candles, I started thinking about making my own. I researched candlemaking on the interwebs to find out what I would need to get started.

I decided to start with container candles. I figured that mason jars might make good containers. They're cheap, widely available at local stores (no shipping costs), and they have lids. I opted for wide-mouth Ball mason pint jars, which I found at Target. They are pretty little containers, and I'm planning to reuse the jars that I use for my own personal candles to reduce waste and save money.

I found a couple of nifty resources online: this video by Melissa from Homemade Candle Creations, and this photo-packed tutorial from Something Turquoise. Both feature mason jar candles. Hooray!

While I was searching around online for supplies, I stumbled across Lone Star Candle Supply and discovered that they had everything that I needed. One-stop shopping is always a bonus!
Candy Cane candles

I was particularly interested in soy waxes, and, after doing some reading, I chose to use EcoSoya CB-Advanced because I had heard good things about it from other candlemakers online. It reportedly has good scent throw and a nice smooth pour, and it resists frosting and retains color well.

I also bought a few liquid dyes to color my candles. I went with primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), figuring that I could mix them to create other colors, and brown and black. That should get me pretty far.

Other stuff I bought: five bow tie wick bars (which can accommodate 1-3 wicks per candle), wick stickers (to secure the wick to the bottom of the container), a pouring pot, warning labels (CYA!), and Candy Cane fragrance oil. (I also bought some Cinnamon Buns fragrance oil, too, but I haven't used it yet. It smells yummy, though!)

It seems that the toughest part of candlemaking is choosing a wick. First, you have to settle on a wick type. And there are all kinds: zinc core; paper core; cotton core; square braided; flat braided; wooden wicks; RRD, CD, TL, ECO, LX and HTP series ... oh, my gracious, it just goes on and on and on. I did some research online and decided to try the CD series wicks first. CD wicks are flat braided with a paper core woven into the wick. It seems that many candlemakers especially like the CD wicks for soy candles because they burn nice and hot and resist mushrooming.

So, after deciding on a wick type, I needed to settle on a wick size. The CD wicks come in a range of sizes - anywhere from a 4 for small containers to a 22 for large containers. The diameter of your container is what matters when choosing a wick size. My wide-mouth mason jars have a diameter of about 3.25 inches. According to Lone Star's chart, I would need to start with at least a CD-12. Bramble Berry recommends at least a CD-16, and CD-20 for a container of that size using EcoSoya Advanced soy wax. Melissa from the Homemade Candle Creations' video above likes CD-18 wicks for her mason jar soy candles. But which one should I use? If a wick is too small, the wax won't create an even burn pool and the melted wax will tunnel through the middle of the candle. Also, a too-small wick may not create enough heat for a good scent throw, especially in soy candles. I figured that I should try a few different wick sizes to see what I liked, so I bought a CD series wick sampler kit so I could try a few sizes. For this batch of candles, I decided to test the CD-16, CD-18, and CD-20 wicks.

Clockwise from top left: measuring wax, melting wax, wicking jars, prepping with bow tie wick bars.

Once I had all of my supplies, I got busy making candles. First, I measured out my wax with my scale. The wax is supposed to be in flake-form, but it was, like, 100 degrees out when I ordered my supplies, and the wax melted a bit in transit and solidified into a block. Not a problem, and I totally expected the wax to melt in the back of a hot delivery truck anyway, but things would be easier if the wax was in flakes instead. I'll have to remember to stock up on candle wax during the cooler months in the future. I was making three candles, with each container holding 16 ounces. But I needed to account for the fragrance oil and leave enough room at the top for the wick and the lid. So, I went with 14 ounces of wax per candle, but I probably should have used 13 ounces to give myself a little more room at the top. The fragrance load for this particular wax is 6-10%. I used approximately one ounce per 14 ounces of wax, which works out to be a little more than one ounce per pound.

I opted to melt the wax in a double boiler so I could keep a close eye on the temperature. I filled a saucepan with a bit of water and brought it to a simmer, and then put my pouring pot in the water and melted the wax in it. I clipped a candy thermometer to the pot so I could monitor the temperature, but I think I will just use my infrared laser thermometer in the future. It's less messy and seems more accurate.

While my wax melted, I attached the wicks to the jars using wick stickers, which are double-sided sticky dots. One side sticks to the bottom of the wick tab and the other affixes to the inside of the jar. It's important to use your fingers or something sturdy to really press it into the container to make sure it's secure. Try to get it as centered as possible. You can even buy cool contraptions to help with this step.

Then I placed a bow tie wick bar across the mouth of each jar, carefully pulled the wick taut, and then slipped it into the middle slot to hold the wick upright. Pencils, chopsticks, chip clips, clothespins, or something like that can be used to hold the wick upright and taut as well.

Top:Freshly poured candles. Bottom: After 24 hours.
Someone suggested in a review of the wax I was using to heat it to 150 degrees F, add the fragrance, and then pour at 110 F. That was my plan, but I think my candy thermometer may have been a little off. I accidentally heated it a little higher to 160 F according to my candy thermometer, but my laser thermometer said it was 170 F. No worries, though. My laser thermometer is probably a bit more reliable, so I went with it for the rest of my measurements. When the wax was at about 155 F, I added the Candy Cane fragrance oil and then poured the wax into my jars after it had cooled to about 110 F. After adding the fragrance, I stirred and stirred and stirred to make sure it was well-incorporated. (I had read that stirring was very important to make sure the wax and scent bind. Stir for longer than you think you need to, at least two minutes. I stirred pretty much continuously while I waited for it to cool to 110, so it got mixed in plenty well.)

By the way, there seems to be some debate about at what temperature the fragrance oil should be added to this particular wax. Some say to heat the wax to 185 F and add the FO. Others say to add the FO at a cooler temp of no less than 135 F. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

If I were coloring the candle, I would have added the dye before I added the fragrance. I decided to keep things simple my first time out, though, and not color the wax. White works nicely for a peppermint scent anyway.

After pouring the candles, I set them aside to a place where they would be undisturbed for at least 24 hours to allow them to set. The next day, I noticed that there was some cracking on the tops near the base of the wicks. My first thought was, "Oh, noes," but then I remembered reading somewhere that a blowdryer or a heat gun can fix blemishes on the tops. I had a heat gun from my melt-and-pour shrink wrapping days, so I used it to remelt the surface of the candles. Once they had set again, the cracks were gone!

All that was left to do was to trim the wicks down to about 1/4 of an inch. Scissors work well for the initial trimming, and I like to use nail clippers to trim the wick before each burning.

Remelting cracked surface with heating gun and trimming wicks.

Like soap, candles also need to cure. During the curing period, the wax and the fragrance oil bind together. Ideally, candles should be allowed to sit and cure for at least a few days, and it's even better to let soy candles cure for at least a week before lighting them. I let mine sit for four days because I was a bit impatient and wanted to get started with testing so I could report my findings here in this blog post. Otherwise, I would have waited a week or two.

So how did they do? I was very happy with how my candles turned out. I burned them each for about four hours the first night so that they would have ample time to burn evenly across the container, creating a uniform wax pool. Nearly every night, I burned them for about 3-4 hours each time. It wasn't long before I noticed that the candle with the CD-20 wick had the most even burn pool, reaching all the way across the container. The CD-20 candle burned slightly faster than the other two, but not by much. As you can see below, the CD-16 and CD-18 wicks performed well, but the CD-20 has an even burn pool across the width of the candle's surface. The burn pools for the CD-18 and CD-16 wicks didn't quite reach all the way across, leaving some unmelted wax on the side of the container. I kept a running tally of the hours burned and got about 75 hours worth of burn time for the CD-20 wick. (The CD-18 and CD-16 candles maybe could have burned for another hour or so, but they were getting pretty near the bottom of the jar, too.)

Top: Candles lit for first time. Middle (left-right): CD-20, 18, and 16 after four hours. Bottom: After 75 hours.

And after the candle was done with its last burn, I wiped the warm wax out with paper towels and pried the wick tab away from the bottom of the jar. Then I soaked the jars in warm soapy water, wiped them out with paper towels again, and then washed them with dish detergent. Now I can reuse my glass jars!

So, I think for this container, I like the CD-20 wicks. They burn cleanly, and didn't smoke or mushroom. I'm happy with the wax, too! No frosting that I could tell, although I didn't color the wax. It adhered nicely to the container, too. Another bonus is that the containers do not have to be preheated before pouring the wax into them, according to Bramble Berry's tips. I poured my wax into room-temperature jars and did not have any problems. The candles looked beautiful, and the scent throw was good!

Do any of you make candles? What kind of wax, wicks, and containers do you like to use? Do you have a favorite candlemaking supplier? I enjoyed my purchases from Lone Star, and I know that Bramble Berry and Nature's Garden are great places to shop, too. If you buy or make candles, what are some of your favorite scents?