Making Soap for beginners: What they don’t tell you
September 19, 2019
In this post, I will go straight to the point! What Youtubers do not tell you about the preparation of soap for beginners with the cold process. On Youtube, I saw several tutorials about the production of soap and everyone made it look very simple and suitable for everyone. This is partially correct. Anyone can start making their own soap, buying the suggested ingredients, and carrying out the recipe at home. But it is not emphasized much that it is required a chemical product that is highly corrosive, not only if it, unfortunately, ends up on our body but also if we breathe it. This post is an excerpt from my course: Soap making 101 with the cold method, have a look at it by clicking here. You will find all the information to master this hobby.
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Making Soap is Chemistry
My scientific studies focused on chemistry have allowed me to work for years in laboratories. Every day, I handled products that were not always healthy and safe. For this reason, I had to attend seminars every year aimed to remember how much the awareness of the dangerousness of products and the immediate reaction to dangerous situations were among the most important factors for chemists. Creating your own beauty products at home can be considered a pleasant hobby, but requiring chemical compounds (although of natural origin, they are still chemical products) demands us to pay more attention to every single ingredient that we will use.
With this introduction let's return to the soap.
What they don't tell you
As I wrote in my previous post on How to make your own soap and basic cold process soap, soap is nothing more than the result of a chemical reaction. It is one of those educational experiments that are carried out at the university to become aware of the saponification reaction and the theory behind it. Making soap at home is nothing more than performing a chemical reaction but in our home.
1. Working environment
We commonly see tutorials on how to make soap at home in kitchens. Wrong! In the kitchen we prepare our food for lunches and dinners, I would never prepare soaps there. During the preparation, drops of caustic soda solution could end up distractedly on the work table that could remain contaminated, if not cleaned up well. Too dangerous! If you choose to produce your own soap at home, do it in a garage or in a room where there is no contact with food.
Thankfully, Youtubers are partially careful to this point. They always recommend wearing protective gloves, laboratory glasses, and long-sleeved clothing, and closed shoes. But I'll add another thing. A mask! Wear a mask to protect yourself from any fumes released during the production of the caustic soda solution!!! THIS SHOULD BE MANDATORY! If you are still convinced to produce soap at home wear a protective mask!
3. Aired environment
This point is connected to the previous ones. Given the production of corrosive fumes from caustic soda, choose a room with large windows, and open them throughout the process! If you want to produce soap, open the windows! It will help to disperse the fumes as soon as possible!
4. Production of corrosive fumes
And here's the thing! In none of the video tutorials on Youtube or other platforms, I heard people mention it. I think it's so important to point out this aspect of the process because it can be really dangerous! During the production of soap, you must prepare a solution of caustic soda. Caustic soda, as the name also says, is extremely corrosive whether it is as a powder, dispersed in water, or in the form of fumes. When we dissolve caustic soda in water, heat is developed and the water from room temperature reaches temperatures up to 80°C (176°F)! Corrosive fumes are generated at high temperatures and they are highly harmful to the respiratory tract. For this reason, this phase must be highly controlled to prevent the temperature from rising dramatically.
I also saw some tutorials to remind me of the whole process and evaluate the steps. It seemed simple to me and I thought that with my experience as a chemist I would certainly not have any problems. What I didn't consider was the context. Yes, because I conducted the same reaction a thousand times but in a laboratory. There, I felt protected because the reaction was conducted behind protective glass and the fumes were sucked in by a fume-hood. When I started preparing soap at home, I realized that I no longer had these protections! I was handling highly corrosive products at home and alone. Panic!
After the first attempt, I tried to optimize the steps as much as possible to limit the risks as much as possible. I so decided to share this post to explain what many makers do not tell you but what it is essential that you know.
DON'T Do IT
The first mistake was not having a good organization. I had everything on the work table. Oils, soda, water, and many glass/plastic containers of different sizes. I started weighing the oils in a plastic container and once I did, I measured the soda.
At this point, I made my second mistake.
Do not check the temperature of the soda solution. As mentioned above, when soda is dissolved in water (always pour caustic soda into water and NEVER EVER the other way around) heat is released, the temperature of the water rises rapidly and corrosive fumes develop. When I poured the soda, the solution immediately turned hot and in a short time, I began to cough! Opening the windows helped me but by now I was afraid. To lower the temperature, I put the glass with caustic soda in a bath of water and ice. After it, the temperature decreased and I continued the preparation of the soap.
From this experience, I learned that the best way to avoid problems is to try to control the temperature as much as possible. What I do is weighing the water including a few ice cubes. For example: if I need 60 mg (0.002 oz) of water, I will weigh 2 ice cubes weighing i.e. 30mg (0.001 oz) and what remains will be distilled water. Once poured the caustic soda, when the ice cubes are dissolved, I put the glass in a bath of water and ice to keep the solution of soda at a temperature that does not exceed 40°C (104°F). With this little trick, I improved a critical point during the preparation of my soaps.
If you want to produce your own soap at home, follow these steps. Just have fun but with the awareness of what you are handling and mixing. 🙂
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