And when I say disaster, I’m hardly exaggerating. It was a veritable explosion of lye and oils that roiled like a monster from the deep as it transformed into soap all over my table.
The facts were these:
One week ago, in the quiet, cool early morning, I set out to make a batch of soap. Intending to use up the last of my lye, and thus make space on my overcrowded shelf, I’d carefully calculated and reviewed instructions the night before. I’d sniffed through my stock of essential oils and dry herbs and settled on a lovely combination of petitgrain, rose and benzoin. I’d measured all the ingredients into clearly marked containers to ensure that in my early morning foray I wouldn’t make a mistake. When I set to work the next morning, I had no clue as to the devilish disaster that would unfold.
That morning, with the oils heated, I mixed my lye. As expected, the lye solution heated fast…too fast. The oils were still a hundred degrees hotter than needed when the lye solution began to cool off. I scrambled for a way to heat the lye safely while controlling the temperature of the oil. Possibly, the stage for fiasco was set then, as I realized I’d have to mix my components at a temperature fifty degrees lower than I’d intended to achieve. Does lye soapanify oil faster at low temperatures than at high?
I don’t know if temperature was the factor that caused what happened next. What I do know is that when I carefully combined my lye solution with my heated oils, the reation kicked off post haste. In seconds, my mixture was at trace and looking like it might set equally fast. Quickly, I added my essential oils and herbs. This is the second point at which, possibly, I might have avoided calamity had I chose to forego those heavenly scents in my finished soap. Instead, with the speed of a gazelle, I stirred in the final ingredients and poured.
My first clear sign of trouble was when the first mold started to morph in shape. By then, I’d already poured the small molds and was nearly done with the big one. I watched as the mixture in that first mold boiled over with the others quickly following suit. Somehow, the temperature had spiked.
As you can well imagine, chaos ensued as I scrambled to make something useable of the situation. I managed to save about two thirds of the batch. It has set-up into about the ugliest soap I’ve ever seen. Lumpy in varying shades of brown, these will be no gift bars. I’ve encountered no pockets of lye when I extracted the soap from my large mold, so it looks like we’ll be able to use it…perhaps as a shower soap so’s no one but family will have to experience its hideous cleaning power.
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