Sustainable Living: Soap, Revisited

When I started writing this series on Whole Foods, Catherine and I had embarked on this path in our lives for two reasons. First, health. I’ve often talked about the Nutritional value of various foods, and I’ve tried to provide resources that point to a need to rethink who we listen to in this country for nutritional information.

The second reason, was to be more self-sustainable. Partially, this was to save money, as we have in our garden, but much of it came down to a question of did the current socio-economic model make sense, and was it strictly necessary? Do we need to buy the kinds of things that we do, and create the waste (both seen and unseen) that buying into that process really require? I’m a Libertarian, I want the government to stay out of my, and for that matter everyone’s, business, but the last six months have really made me change a lot of my views of consumerism.

I’m renaming this column, because while there will always be a food component to this writing, that simply won’t be the entirety of my writing. So welcome to Sustainable Living, formerly Whole Food Adventures. And without further ado, onto the topic at hand.

Last time I wrote about Soap, it was to extol the virtues of shaving with real shaving soap as well as talk about my excitement about finding a good supply of hand-crafted soaps for a reasonable price. While I still use that soap daily for my shaving and showering needs, it was a little pricey for me to want to use it on my hands, and I really prefer liquid soap for hand washing.

About a week ago, I got this gem from Pearls of Country Wisdom by Debora S. Tukua via TipNut. Sorry you’ll have to follow the link for the recipe, it’s not licensed such that I can reprint it (as far as I can tell).

I learned a few things implementing this recipe the first time. First, not all soaps are created equal. I have no idea what soap they were suggesting be used, but we bought a four-pack of Ivory soap at the grocery store for $1.99, and while each bar of soap is only 4.5 oz (~127.6g), I ended up not with 5 or 6 cups of soap, but closer to 2.5 quarts (2.4L).

Actually, I’m lying, I ended up with almost 5 quarts (4.7L) because I decided to make one and a half batches because of the quantity of stuff I had. Needless to say, this was nearly unworkable.

I began by running the soap through the grater plate on my food processor, before swapping out the grater plate for the normal blade. While I boiled the water, I used the blade to break up the soap even further. Pouring the boiling water in, and then the room temperature water, I soon found that the bowl of my food processor was full (and was in fact, overflowing a bit) but I decided to trust the recipe and carry on, adding the honey and the glycerin.

I love honey, which is probably why I bought 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of it last year. That was right around $20US. Best sweetness bang for your buck, I promise. Actually, I still have most of the honey, but it never spoils, so you should never feel bad about stocking up.

As for glycerin, you’ll probably have to go to your local craft store. I was able to get 2 lbs (.9 kg) for $10US, and that should easily last at least 50 or so instances of this recipe. Clearly, I’m likely to save a fair amount of money making my own liquid hand soap.

Unfortunately, when I let the solution cool, it became clear that it really was taking up that much volume. Like an idiot, I decided to solider ahead, and made quite the mess I had to clean up later. This also included trying to fill up an empty milk carton, which I did, before I realized that the solution was nowhere near incorporated. There was a mostly water portion, as well as a soap layer which was about the consistency of marshmallow fluff. The majority of the solution was fluff.

Having already washed all the food processor stuff once, I proceeded to put it back together and split the solution in half. At this point I was able to add enough water to form an actual soap-like solution, which was nice because I was actually able to fill up the milk jug in a reasonable amount of time.

On the one hand, this soap is going to last me for months. On the other hand, that is going to make it a lot harder to master in a timely fashion. I know that my next batch is likely to include Ivory soap, as I still have bars I don’t intend to use anywhere else, but I may end up finding myself a different brand of soap after that. While I don’t necessarily dislike the soap that I’ve got, I’m not convinced that I can’t do a bit better.

That’s a large part of what this is all really about, after all, the thrill of doing it yourself. There are those who are claiming that this latest economic meltdown may well lead to a DIY Boom across the nation. I welcome that.