Basic Tallow Soap

It’s been over a month since my last post and my apologies if you’re wondering if I’d ever get around to writing something again. There’s lots of things going on to blog about but doing those things gets in the way of writing about it. A recent project involves helping to get an ecommerce website tweaked, and learning the backend of the shopping cart as well as customizing the style sheets has taken some time. I’ve really enjoyed it because it has built on a HTML & CSS coding course I took in the spring via Ladies Learning Code. Another thing to blog about. Soon.

lettuce has bolted

Wonder what bolted lettuce looks like?

In the meantime, the garden has run amok and other interests like cooking, making soap & body creams, blogging, and reading have languished. There are still a few bars of soap left from the last batch but it takes several weeks for new bars to cure so I thought it best to make it now to be ready in a month or so. So far I’ve made soap three times and all have turned out well. However, I’m still in the experimenting with the whole soapmaking stage, and add in a concern that the essential oils lose their scent and therapeutic value as the fats & lye undergo saponification (the chemical voodoo that turns fatty acids into bubbly goodness), led me to investigate a process called rebatching or handmilling. The former is a term commonly used to refer to the salvage of a batch of soap that has not cooperated either from mistakes or bad luck; I like the sound of handmilling. It sounds artisanal or craftsman like; a deliberate act of making extra work is more like it, but what the heck.

In anticipation of handmilling soap I made this Basic Tallow Soap recipe without additives like essential oils etc. I used the same procedure as the very first batch I blogged about earlier this year. Read that for cautions on handling lye if this is your first attempt at making soap. Soapcrafting is fun and personally rewarding, but only if one respects the dangerous nature of working with a caustic ingredient.

This soap differs from my first attempt with the addition of shea butter for conditioning and castor oil for lather. I use SoapCalc to determine a correct measurement of lye and water in proportion to fats, and their default 5% Super Fat/Discount and Water percentage (38%). A Super Fat/Discount means extra fat/oil is calculated to ensure there is no lye leftover after the saponification and results in a milder, conditioning product. Water is mostly necessary to dissolve the lye and provide a medium to move it into the fatty acids during the chemical reaction; adding a lot means the soap will take longer to cure–curing being the evaporation of water to make a harder, longer lasting bar. Experienced soapmakers experiment with both these defaults. For instance, in the making of laundry soap one often reduces the fat discount to as much as 0% to reduce the leftover fat which is not necessary and may cause greying in clothes.

After a couple days I’ll come back here and write about using this soap for handmilling (rebatching).

Basic Tallow Soap
A basic soap recipe with a balance of cleansing, conditioning, and lather.
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  1. 338.20 gr Distilled Water
  2. 125.32 gr Sodium Hydroxide (lye)
  3. 255 gr Tallow
  4. 227 gr Coconut Oil (76 deg)
  5. 227 gr Olive Oil
  6. 136 gr Castor Oil
  7. 45 gr Shea Butter
Getting Started
  1. Assemble your ingredients and tools: large non-reactive cooking pot, silicone scraper or spoon for stirring, stick blender, rubber gloves, dust mask type of face covering, safety goggles, and newspaper to cover your work surface.
  2. Prepare a mold for your soap; this can be pretty much anything that is strong enough to hold the mixture and also heatproof & non-reactive. Line with parchment paper or butcher wrap (shiny side facing soap) to ensure easy removal.
Weigh & Melt Fats
  1. Set a heat proof, stainless steel pot on a digital scale and press tare to zero the scale.
  2. Measure the olive oil into the pot. Press tare to zero the scale.
  3. Measure the tallow into the pot. Press tare to zero the scale
  4. Measure the coconut oil into the pot. Press tare to zero the scale.
  5. Measure shea butter into the pot. Press tare to zero the scale.
  6. Measure castor oil into the pot.
  7. Set the pot on medium low heat to melt the oils together, then set aside to cool.
Weigh & Mix Lye and Water
  1. Set a heat proof, non-reactive container on a digital scale and press tare to zero the scale.
  2. Measure the water into the container; remove and set aside.
  3. Set a measuring cup on digital scale and press tare to zero the scale.
  4. Measure the lye into measuring cup.
  5. In a well ventilated area (outside is ideal!) slowly add the lye to water (ALWAYS Lye TO Water) while stirring constantly with a silicone utensil; avoid inhaling fumes. The lye-water mixture will heat up from the chemical reaction. Set aside to cool.
Time to Make Soap!
  1. When both fat mixture and lye mixture are the same temperature, it will be time to begin blending. Use separate thermometers to measure; there are mixed opinions on what is the optimum temperature for this step--this particular recipe was mixed when they were 95F.
  2. Slowly add the lye-water to fats until all incorporated, stirring constantly; the chemical reaction between the sodium hydroxide and the fats will begin instantly and continue as you stir (and stir). Stirring and blending until identifying trace is the fine art of soap making. The stirring can be sped up with the use of a hand blender (15 -30 minutes instead of 2-3 hours of hand stirring). Using a hand blender must be done with care because the soap mixture is caustic until saponification is complete in 48+ hours. Ensure the blender head is always submerged and blend in intervals between stirring; blend for 10-15 seconds, then use blender head to hand stir for a few minutes--repeat. You may read references to light or medium trace in soap books--let's just say when the soap becomes like pudding, it's time to add the essential oils. Continue stirring and blending. Finishing with stirring several minutes will give one a better sense of the soap trace becoming evident.
  3. When ready, pour into prepared soap mold and cover top with plastic wrap. Cover with blankets and leave in mold undisturbed for 24-36 hours.
  4. Remove from soap mold and cut into bars; bars should be cured on a rack in a well ventilated spot away from direct light. While most of the saponification will take place in the first 48 hours, the soap will continue to cure and improve (i.e., become harder as more water evaporates) the longer it sits. Three to four weeks would be good for this recipe.
Clean up
  1. Many soap crafters use dedicated pots, containers & utensils they've picked up from a thrift store, which I'd recommend doing.
  2. After you're finished making soap, wash the containers used to measure and mix lye in water mixed with vinegar & dish soap.
  3. Do not wash the pots and utensils used to blend the soap; instead, wait 48 hours or longer until the residue has saponified into soap. Otherwise, you may clog your plumbing with the fats. Always wear gloves when cleaning up--the lye is still caustic until the saponification is complete.
  1. Since I intended to use this soap for handmilling (rebatching) the cutting-into-bars step was skipped.

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About Leslie

Trying a little bit of everything: writing, learning Wordpress & basic coding, cooking, playing with grandkids, travelling, gardening, making soap & body treats, and getting older. Not necessarily in that order.