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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Viva Espagne!

Ok, so this post is about some iffy soap I made with friends in Spain.  Why was the soap iffy I hear you ask?  Well.  The whole idea was to make something cheap (therefore using local produce) and pure if possible.  The purpose of the soap was to be twofold - a cleaning product for the kitchen as well as something that you could wash your hands with.  This is a tall order as the two are usually completely separate items.

The lovely people who asked me to teach them to make soap were so enthusiastic about the whole project that we simply 'had a go' with the best ingredients that we could find in the village shop.  Sometimes you just have to do it and see what you get.

The only caustic soda that we could find was this stuff.....

It said on the packet that it was 90% caustic soda and 10% 'other ingredients'.  It did not specify which or what other ingredients were included.  I speculated that this could have been bleach or something equally horrid that you would not want to put on your skin.  Would it even turn into soap I wondered? 

The olive oil, the cheapest we could find at the village shop, turned out to be a rather good quality olive oil that I just knew would take some stirring to turn into soap.  But what the heck... lets see what happens.

Firstly I have to point out the deliberate mistake here and say BAD GIRL JANE.  BAD BAD GIRL!!!  Can you see?

I am not wearing safety goggles.  This is a huge NO NO NO!  and I debated whether to do this post at all because of it.  I hold my hands up, it was entirely my fault, my suitcase weighed in at 19.6kg when I was only allowed 20kg on the plane and I had turfed out of the case all my soap making equipment in favour of toys and clothes for my grand daughter.  So I turned the soap making experience into a very dangerous one by proceeding without the goggles.

The first problem we encountered was that the caustic soda did not entirely dissolve.  The nameless 10% was left solid at the bottom of the jug.  I carefully poured only the dissolved solution into the oils.  This means that I actually was unsure how much caustic soda I was using - likely alot less than the recipe called for (recipe given at the bottom of the post).  since I was pretty confident that it would be less caustic rather than more I thought it was worth continuing.

As predicted it took a lot of stirring.  Then we left it still liquid and had a cup of tea, checking back every ten minutes or so to give it a quick stir. After doing this a couple of times it finally started to come together, when it was the consistency of a nice creamy custard (looked just like creamy custard too!) we stirred in some out of date essential oils that my daughter had knocking about the house.  They still smelled lovely even though they were quite old - lavender and sweet orange in equal quantities. 

We poured the mixture into an empty cardboard box that we lined with greaseproof paper and then we set off for the village bar.  After a couple of hours and a couple of beers we came home and checked on it.  It was still quite runny but it was very carefully transported to Angela and Michele's house.  It was then that I realised that I had forgotten to take a photograph of the finished product.  D'oh! (must have been the beer!)

According to Angela it set beautifully by the following morning and they cut it and left it to cure.  They are now in the UK for a holiday so perhaps when they get back they can take a photograph of the soap and let me have it so I can update you all.

This type of all-olive oil soap is traditionally called a Castile soap after the Castile region in Spain where it was first made.  The final test of how good this soap is - whether it will be suitable for using on the skin or left under the sink for washing the floor will be down to Angela and Michele.  They understand that we don't really know what was in the caustic soda, or if we managed to screen out the 'bad' bits or not.  At the end of the day, if it is used solely as a kitchen cleaner, it is still going to be the cheapest kitchen cleaner you could ever buy... costing only a couple of euro's to make. 

The recipe we used:
1 litre Olive Oil (cheapest we could get)
275g water (weighed)
127g caustic soda

10ml Essential oil


  1. I finally had a go at making Castille soap yesterday. It was much easier than I thought. i will write about it later today - just doing my company accounts at the moment

  2. It's true there is a lot of 'hype' about castile soap being difficult to make. This is not necesssarily true - it can take a lot longer to stir to trace but this is also not always the case. It can turn out crumbly around the edges too (no idea why) but again, not always - perhaps it's the unpredictability of it that has earned it the reputation. I would urge anyone who wants to try making it to simply give it a go and see how it turns out.

  3. Hey Jane!

    Good job you know all about making soap with what's available locally! I think the 10% of "other ingredients" in your sosa caustica were probably anti-caking agents. I also at one time was using lye I bought here that didn't all dissolve - turned out it had to be dissolved in HOT (well, hand-hot) water - who'd have thought it! Tell your soap students that if they are near a Mercadona supermarket, they have 100% sodium hydroxide.

    When are you going to detour to Malaga on one of your Spain visits? It's much nicer than Belfast .... xxGed


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