Sunday, May 5, 2013

Trials and tribulations of a soap maker

I make soap. I like making soap. I can control what ingredients go in and its a lovely old, fashioned, home spun skill.

But I hit a snag with my last batch. You see soap is dangerous stuff until it fully cures: 4-6 weeks after you make it. I need to keep the soap where no animal (equally dangerous for children, but there aren't any in my house) will eat it, or even take a lick.  Soap is made from animal fat and caustic soda and it remains caustic until the saponification process finishes. When I make my soap I put it on an outside table and cover it will some old food covers. Today I went to check on the soap I made over Easter - 5 weeks ago. Every piece was covered in tiny claw marks. One piece had a massive hole in the centre and I yelled RAT.

Yuck! I have chosen to save you the horror of photos. I couldn't bear to throw it all out. What to do? I considered just washing it. Hmm, not sure that would be enough. Rodents aren't usually associated with health and hygiene after all. Some pieces simply went in the bin.  For the ones I could salvage I sliced off the contaminated parts. I used a fishing line wire like you do with pottery to slice through under the parts the rodent had been in contact with. I estimate I lost half the soap, or should I say saved half :)

Whether the rodent was mouse, rat or antechinus (marsupial Australian mouse = cute) I'll never know. We wonder if it is alive or not too.  Caustic soda in the belly can't be good.

I made another batch of soap today - goat's milk and olive oil. I don't use colour because I want my soap to be pure and I don't use essential oils because they evaporate during the curing weeks. The solution to that is re-milling - grating, melting and re-molding  - but you can't do that with goats milk, it separates.  Howard has turned my old meat safe into a soap safe.  The other rule with curing soap is that it can't touch metal so Howard has put a mesh covered timber frame into the shelves of my little meat safe. In a day or two when the soap can come out of its molds I will place the soap into the safe and leave it until late June.

Meanwhile we have a plentiful supply of homemade soap to keep us clean.  I will make the next batch when I have space to store it.  

I'd like to teach soap making - I have taught friends and family - but am thinking about classes. Let me know if you are interested!

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