I made four batches of soap this weekend, and learned a lot. I made a travel sized grapefruit shampoo; it didn’t reach gel stage and when it I cut it, it looked like white cheddar cheese, specifically Beecher’s. I tested it with phenolphthalein solution, and it turned danger pink! So I put that on the shelf to mellow for 6 weeks. What a bummer.
My second soap was a shave soap. These ones did reach gel stage, and I got a picture of it. The secret was wrapping the mold in towels and stuffing it in a beer cooler. When I tested it with phenolphthalein solution, it turned pink again. Dang it! Another soap in soap jail.
I tried making a second batch of the shampoo soap, and this time I made a rookie mistake; I didn’t stir the lye water enough, because I was afraid of it. When I dumped the lye water into the oil, I discovered a precipitate; a lye puck at the bottom of the container. It was stuck there. Shrug. So I just kept going, knowing that this batch would be oily and have a short shelf life. It turned out soft and translucent, but passed the phenolphthalein solution test.
Finally I made a 40 oz loaf of coffee/cocoa butter soap. It was perfect, a perfect soaping experience, and all my soap is going into the beer cooler from now on; it gelled up beautifully. And when I tested it with phenolphthalein solution, I got danger pink again.
Listen, most people make soap from recipes and then have to let them mellow in soap jail for 4 to 6 weeks. I am trying to go a different road; I have Certified Laboratory Reports of all my oils and I do the chemistry to make sure the water is adequate to saponify my oils by the next day. My soap coach said that it should be safe to use immediately. So I was disappointed that the soaps I did without mistakes were turning danger pink.
Then I thought, wait a minute, phenolphthalein solution tests for alkalinity, and all soaps should be alkaline, right? That’s why it removes grease from your skin. I must be reading the “danger pink” wrong. So then I tested all the soaps in the house with phenolphthalein solution, and guess what… none of the commercial soaps contained any alkalinity. But all of the homemade soaps I tested, including the one from my soap coach, turned pink under the phenolphthalein! I must be reading the results wrong. I googled to see if I can get a better idea of the spectrum, maybe danger pink was not really danger.
What I found was that people don’t really test with phenolphthalein solution anymore, apparently it’s hard to read and some people say it’s wholly unreliable. I mean, finding un-saponified lye crystals is alarming, but just because the surface of the soap gives a pink reading doesn’t mean that the soap is dangerously alkaline. So I resorted to something I had hoped to avoid: I did the old fashioned test, the test that soap makers without the benefit of chemistry have been doing for centuries; I licked the soap to see if the lye would zap me.
The first soap I licked was my original shampoo bar. It didn’t taste bad; it tasted like all the oils and fats I used and a little bit soapy. Most importantly, the lye didn’t zap me. That soap is safe to use today.
So then I went around the house and licked all the soap. Soap soap soap, lick lick lick. It’s all safe.
I used the shave soap to shave my face yesterday. It was fine, it didn’t burn me. This morning I used the grapefruit shampoo bar, it was fine, I didn’t get burned or lose my eyesight. I’m going to try the cocoa butter coffee soap in the shower tomorrow. It all seems safe.
Yes I will keep trying to figure out how to use phenolphthalein solution properly, I need to get to the bottom of that. But the good news is that all my soaps pass the old fashioned zap test. I can lick them all. I’m a soap licker.
Of course, yuck. But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.