Lately my wife and I have been making soap again, trying some different things we have been wanting to try, like using botanicals to color the soap for instance. Since these were experiments, we decided it made sense to make smaller batches, in case we wound up with something we didn’t like. So we are using one pound recipes (oil weight) instead of our usual two pound batches. A one pound batch makes five nice sized bars of soap, which is plenty for testing and makes for less waste in case something goes awry.
For this testing we decided to use round silicone molds which make individual bars of soap. We had those on hand already, but it can sometimes be difficult to get the soap out of the mold. Popping the mold in the freezer for a bit usually solves that problem though, since the partially frozen bars tend to come out easier. But it definitely takes more time to pour into the individual molds, as opposed to pouring the whole batch at once in one bigger mold, and if the soap is setting up fast that can make it tricky. It can also be tough to get the top surface of the bar smooth, as you can see in the below photo. We’re not selling our soaps, so they don’t have to be perfect, but we do like to give them away to friends and it is nice to have them look aesthetically pleasing.
I mentioned that we wanted to try using some natural colors for our soaps. A while back I talked about infusing oils with alkanet root and annatto seeds for use in soap. We had those oils ready and waiting, so we decided to try two things at once and make a soap that was colored with annatto infused olive oil and also used our homegrown luffa sponges. We cut the luffa to fit the silicone molds, and then planned to pour the soap over the top of it.
That experiment went pretty well. The annatto infused oil colored the soap a lovely shade of orange, no doubt darkened a bit by the goat’s milk recipe we used that usually turns the soap a tan shade. And though it was tough to pour the soap around the luffa and get it all covered, we did get it done. This was a project long in the making, since I grew the luffa way back in 2011! We were anxious for the soap to cure enough so we could try it out.
I was the first to try the luffa soap in the shower. And I have one word for that initial experience: OUCH! The luffa was very rough to start with, even though I guess it would be great for exfoliating. However, I think an exfoliant is supposed to take off dead skin, not all your skin! I warned my wife before she tried it, and she agreed that it was too rough for her tastes too. It is good we only made five bars of this one! I wouldn’t give it to an enemy (if I had one), let alone a friend. At least the soap is usable if you use it to lather up your wash cloth. I guess it might be all right for hand soap too, but I prefer a pumice soap for that. It does make a great lather, thanks to our tried and true Avocado Goat’s Milk recipe. So all was not lost, as the annatto oil worked well even though the luffa didn’t.
And speaking of pumice, we also recently made one batch of a Patchouli Citrus hand soap that was colored with orange peel powder and had pumice added for scrubbing action. That one was a keeper! It uses our lanolin soap recipe that is my favorite for hand soaps. Some of our earlier hand soaps had too much pumice in them, but I think we have finally got it right for our tastes. It wound up taking a lot less than we originally thought, about 1 tsp of pumice per pound of oils. I think our first pumice soap had more like 1 tbsp/pound, which was way too much for our tastes.
The orange peel powder adds a little color to the soap, as well as a faint orange fragrance that goes well with the patchouli, grapefruit and lime essential oils. One reason I like the round bars is that they fit nicely in your hand, as you can see in the below photo.
For our most recent soap making session we decided to try using PVC pipe for molds. That way we could pour the whole batch at once, and then cut the soap into individual round bars once it had set up. We had been reluctant to use PVC molds, after reading the horror stories of people who had trouble getting them out of the pipe. But our favorite soap experts, Mary and Tracy at Soap Solutions, have been using PVC molds for some time now with great success so we knew it was possible. And Mary assured me it was a piece of cake to get the log of soap out. That became my mantra for the PVC project – “Mary says it will be OK”!
So I made a trip to the hardware store and bought some 3 inch (inside diameter) PVC pipe. It was easy to cut the PVC to length on my band saw. I also got some plastic test caps to use to plug up the bottom of the pipe. We lined the pipe with freezer paper before pouring the soap in, including some on the bottom end with the test cap. For our first pour using the PVC we prepared two one pound batches of soap. One was our Kitchen Sink Goat’s Milk recipe (so named because it has everything but the kitchen sink in it) that was scented with a new Clary Sage blend. The other was an experiment using French green clay added as a colorant, and with Tea Tree essential oil for scent as well as for its beneficial properties. I will post our recipes at a later date, as I am in the process of working on a new page for soap recipes.
It was easy to pour into the PVC molds, and that went off without a hitch. After pouring we insulated them to keep them warm, and waited about 36 hours before trying to get the soap out. One came right out easily, but the second one proved a bit more difficult so we popped it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. After that it came right out too, and we discovered that some of the soap had seeped out of the freezer paper and had acted like a glue to keep the soap attached to the pipe. Next time I will do the freezer paper a little different to keep that from happening.
After unmolding we cut the soap logs into bars. I love the color of the soap with the French green clay! It’s the one in the bottom row of the below photo, with the Clary Sage Goat’s Milk in the top row. We will let this batch cure for about four weeks before using, like we do all our soaps. I am thinking we will be doing another round of soap making before then, using our new PVC molds. That green color might be nice for a Lemongrass Rosemary soap I am planning, maybe with some bits of dried rosemary in it too. And we still need to make a soap with the alkanet infused oil, which should turn the soap a purplish shade. Why is it I always start humming Purple Haze whenever I think about a purple soap?
I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of our latest soap making adventures. I’ll be back soon with more happenings here!
The rounds of soap look great, I love the colors of both.
Ouch, is my reaction to your luffa soaps.
Keep up the the good work!
The luffa might work for a foot soap for folks who have rough heels (just brainstorming).
I wonder if there is a way to split the PVC into two pieces, hold it together temporarily (maybe strong rubber bands?), then, when is time to unmold, just separated the two pieces. Maybe freezer paper along the seams where the pipe is joined? Again, just brainstorming.
The soap looks good.
I believe they make two piece molds that work much like you describe, so I think it would work. As for the luffa – perhaps we need to use it in the kitchen to scrub out those hard to clean pots and pans!
I love using infused oils in soaps. Annatto really does impart a lovely color. I’ve been experimenting with Alkanet Root, but that’s a little more fussy, and the soap really has to fully cure before the color stabilizes. I’m also a huge fan of natural clays as colorants.
I’m glad to see you made the luffa soap. I’ve seen others put hunks of luffa in soap, and often wondered how scratchy they would be. I could see grinding the luffa so the bits are smaller, and then perhaps not using as much, or only using it in a layer on one side of the bar for a scrub soap. Almost tried that with my latest kitchen lemon soap, but then chickened out at the last minute as it was a 5lb batch!