Friday, June 25, 2010


Another personal challenge - learn to make soap.

In the future, I´m hoping this will be another way to use up adorable dwarf nubian goat-milk, and another crazy idea for making money in Galicia.

Turns out that, while kind of a process, it´s not that hard. Like many things, accumulating the ingredients and equipment was something of a trial. In Spain, sodium hydroxide is known as ¨sosa caustica¨, and is apparently found in grocery stores still in the drain-cleaning section. After canvassing Alcampo, Carrefour, Ahorra Mas and Día, I had no luck - but I also didn´t make the rounds of the local hardware stores.

I went to ¨Manuel Riesgo, SA¨ a wonderful discovery on Calle Desengaño in Madrid. (Disillusionment Street, for you non-spanish speakers)

They are in an old pharmacy with floor to ceiling wooden drawers all tagged with their former contents - sweet almond to rabbit skin glue to yeast. And you will find just about any substance you need to: Refinish furniture, help out in the garden (non-organically), make soap, and paint. I´d been there before to pick up some gold and silver leaf for a painting. They provided me with the sodium hydroxide, coconut oil, palm oil (not sustainable, I´m afraid)and for future projects castor oil and sweet almond oil.

I´ve read both ¨Soap Making Self Sufficiency¨ by Sarah Ade and ¨The Natural Soap Book¨ by Susan Miller Cavitch. Using a recipe from Cavitch, I cut it in half and converted to metric.
680 grms Water (should have been distilled, but I again couldn´t locate any - I used tap)
236 grms Sodium Hydroxide
907 grms Olive Oil (better not to use Extra Virgin - this was around 1 liter so better for the budget too)
567 grms Coconut Oil (I´d only bought a 500 bottle and came up 132 grams short - used more OO)
340 grms Palm Oil

All kitted out in gloves and eye protection, I mixed the lye into the water, and separately put the oils on to a low heat to melt. Half an hour later the lye was already cooler than recommended, and not completely dissolved. I tried heating it up in a hot water bath and finally got fed up and mixed them together, first with a whisk and then with an immersion stick blender. After about 5 minutes it had reached a gloppy ¨gravy¨ consistency (sort of like that unidentified brown stuff they serve you in Chinese restaurants over here or that red stuff that passes for cherry pie filling in the States) and when drizzled across the surface left a visible trail - ¨Trace¨ I assumed. I decanted the mix into my various recycled containers - a 1.5 liter milk brik, 2 plastic cream cheese boxes from the cheesecake, and a smallish plastic tupper-esque thingy. As was clearly stated in my research, you should line the containers with plastic wrap to help pursuade the bars to come out. I didn´t do that in the case of the milk box or the tupper. The box I could cut away, but the plastic container was a nightmare - and looks it. After waiting 36 hours they are now unmolded and drying on our washing machine. I think I´m supposed to cut them into bars sometime soon.

So after 4 weeks of aging these unscented, vegetarian-based soaps should be moisturizing and gentle (the Olive Oil) and with a creamy, lasting lather (the coconut and palm).

Next I´m going to order some essential oils to throw into the next batch and play around with the almond and castor oils to try to avoid using the Palm Oil because the plantations are contributing to loss of rain forests.

Interesting links:


  1. You can get distilled water from most supermarkets - they sell it in 1.5 L bottles in the cleaning sections, for steam irons, seeing as Spanish water is generally so hard it'll wreck a steam iron within a year or so.

  2. I´ve been told that, but we´ve got a Día, 2 Ahorra Mas, and a Lidl in the neighborhood and none had distilled water. There is a Carrefour, but it would require a bus-ride, and the Alcampo (which I loathe) means getting on the metro - problematic lately in Madrid.

  3. How did the soap turn out? I also have an urge to make my own and have tried to find a way of doing it without caustic soda, I am growing soapwort, used in the wool industry years ago but cant find any more info.Have you added any herb flowers to your soap?