Sunday, July 15, 2012

Inaugural Batch of Goats Milk Soap!

Everything is at hand: coconut oil, olive oil, frozen
cubes of goats milk, lye and reference!
Like starting any new craft or hobby, the amount of information available on making soap is monumental, and conflicting.  We've been planning on making soap for a couple of years and I have collected a number of books, bookmarked a number of soap websites and watched a great amount of YouTube videos!  The amount of info is dizzying!  As the time grew closer that I'd actually be making soap, I had to get serious.  I've focused on two books, with slightly different methods and ideas.  I've become a big fan of Anne L. Watson and her 'Milk Soapmaking' book, as well as her website.  I have Anne's other soap book and her lotion book, too.  She makes things simple and no-nonsense.  She dispels myths, writes from great experience, streamlines processes and just makes you really believe you can do this.

The other book I'll be using is 'Making Milk Soap from Scratch' by Anne-Marie Faiola of Bramble Berry fame (a huge Internet web site and supplier of ingredients and accessories).  There's a Soap Queen blog, YouTube channel and Bramble Berry's website has tons of info.  Anne-Marie is an expert, with wide-ranging interests and loves to share what she knows about soap making.  I also love her little book because it's got a hemp-goats milk recipe and a shampoo bar recipe!  She does tend to get a little fancier with both ingredients and methods.

Getting organized for my first batch I chose Anne L. Watson's basic recipe of coconut oil, olive oil, milk and lye.  Simple, skin-loving ingredients and I already had coconut oil for my lip balms and lotion bars.  We usually have extra-virgin olive oil around the house, but because I'd like a pale soap I purchased regular olive oil which is golden and not green.  Lye was the only other thing I had to purchase.  Then, I needed to decide on a mold.  Anne L. recommends sheet molds: she says that a loaf-type mold allows too much heat to build up in the middle which can discolour the soap and you should pour milk soaps to only an inch thick.  Anne-Marie Faiola's book doesn't mention this at all but I will eventually try it both ways!  I had decided to use just a matched pair of plastic storage containers for my first batch, rather than buying anything fancy!

Lye reacts chemically with the milk and oils to create soap.  Lye is serious business: it's extremely alkaline and can burn the skin and ruin surfaces.  There are many precautions for handling lye, choosing proper utensils (no aluminum) and staying safe in both books.  I followed everything carefully, got everything organized, appropriate pots and utensils all out, and fats measured and ready to go!  Then, into the long rubber gloves and goggles and I measured out the lye.

Because of the heat that the chemical reaction of milk and lye creates, milk can scorch and be less skin-loving and less lathering.  The soap can darken in color or get splotchy with too much heat.  Anne-Marie's book offers four ways to make milk soaps, and has a great picture of the color differences depending on the method used.  Anne L. Watson's book has two variations and recommends freezing fluid milk for a paler soap.  I'd weighed out the amount of milk needed for the recipe a few days ago and frozen it in ice cube trays, noting that the amount made ten ice cubes.  I just kept freezing my excess milk in the trays and, when weighing out cubes this morning, I needed eleven cubes.  I had a panic moment that maybe frozen milk weighed less than room temperature!  Nobody mentioned that!  Because of the knowledge that I do from all my reading I figured I had a little wriggle room because the recipe is 'super-fatted', and if I was putting in extra milk I'd just have a creamier soap!

So, I began the process of mixing lye granules into the ice cubes, being careful not to splatter.  Much of knowing when the things are 'done' in soap making is by temperature: lye heats up an incredible amount as it combines with the other elements in soap and when temperature levels out the process is finsihed.  Problem: suddenly the digital thermometer I had just tested didn't want to work!  Rather than mess with it, I just stirred for a really long time, saw the mixture thicken up, stirred some more and then declared it mixed!  Anne L. advised pouring the lye/milk solution through a sieve into the oil mixture and I did capture some granules of undissolved lye - so lesson learned!  Stir some more!  Or get a better digital thermometer!

In the mold, ready for the fridge!
Adding the milk/lye mixture to the oils was interesting!  As I stirred it up, it began to thicken quite quickly and I could feel the pot warming up.  Anne L. has good descriptions of what's going to happen and what to watch for.  A stick blender is used in most modern soap making and I carefully started blending (you still don't want to splatter this mixture, the lye could still burn).  The mixture changed from oily, thin and pale greenish-yellow to thick (almost like pudding), creamy smooth and a nice ivory shade.  Again, the thermometer would have been used to gauge when I was done, but I just kept blending and blending until it seemed really thick.  I stopped and hand-stirred for a while because Anne L. says that if the mixture starts to thin out you're not done!  Love that she's gives you 'Plan B' methods!

So into the molds!  Weighed the two containers to make sure they're even.  Tried to smooth out the tops, but that's hard; these will really be the 'sides' of bars so I'd like them smooth but.....According to directions: into the freezer for about half an hour, into the fridge for three more hours, out of the molds in about twenty four hours, cut into bars then cure for at least three weeks!  It's also recommended to test with pH strips to make sure the lye has been fully used up!  Now, it's just the waiting!  Whew, we've been planning for a couple of years - and we've finally made goats milk soap from scratch!


  1. It sounds really complicated but I'm excited that you are finaly able to make some soap. Does it lather up nicely? Does it feel smooth and luxurious? I can hardly wait to try some!!

  2. Cathy, nobody will know for three to four weeks. Soap must cure - sometimes for up to eight weeks! The chemical reaction that turns the fats, oils, milk and lye into soap takes a while to complete and the bars must harden. I'll let you know...or I'll send you one and you can be my guinea pig!

  3. In my experience you can't really gauge "trace" by temperature because there are so many different variables. Instead there are stages the soap will go through that you look for. I'm sure Anne-Marie covers that, if not in the book she does on SoapQueenTV. Sounds like you've done all your research. I remember the first time I made soap. I thought I was making it cold process but turns out I did the hot process method. I've made lots of mistakes and learned so much along the way. But believe me, it gets much easier as you do it. And you'll start to feel adventurous and try new things. Pretty much anything goes with soap, as long as you have your measurements right. If you ever run short of goats milk in the future, just sub the difference with water. If you have any questions (no question is stupid is soap making!) just ask. Wish I had someone to quiz while I was starting

  4. Frozen milk should weigh the same as liquid milk unless you have lost molecules... which can happen if you have a self-defrosting fridge. The warming and cooling means there is always a little evaporation.

    Do you have difficulty finding lye? I have been trying to find pickling lime with no success. Fear of botulism seems to have driven it out of Canadian stores. (I don't want it for pickles, I want it for nixtamal...)

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