We made soap! This has caused great excitement in our class this week. Soap is one of those things that we rarely stop to think about but has a rich history in nearly every culture.
There is a fairly comprehensive history of soap here which opens the door for all kinds of investigations. We are just beginning to make a timeline of soap but there are so many other directions you could go with it.
Our interest came about because each year when we go on school camp we try to meet as many of our fundamental human needs as possible. Last year, we focused on food and shelter (you can read about it here) and this year we want to take things a step further by making our own cleaning products.
The children have been researching soap making for a couple of months in the lead up to the visit they arranged from an expert. This week, Laney, a local soap maker came into the class to show us how it’s done.
During our research we made a few discoveries that were surprising to us:
1. Soap is made essentially from fat. This seemed odd, as we use it to break down oils and grease.
2. There are very few ingredients in natural soap.
3. The ingredients are expensive – making us wonder what the cheap soap we buy in the supermarket is made from.
4. You have to use a nasty chemical called 'lye’ to cause ‘saponification’ - the chemical reaction that turns the fat and the lye into a salt. When it is fresh, lye will burn your skin so you can't touch the soap, but after a few weeks it is completely harmless.
If you are going to make it yourself you will need a recipe but here are the basic steps just to show you how easy it is:
Measure out your fats and heat. We used olive oil and coconut oil and heated over a bain-marie.
Mix your water and lye VERY CAREFULLY. This will become hot.
When your fats and lye water are the same temperature, slowly pour the lye water into the fat whilst mixing with a stick blender.
Add the fun stuff: colour pigments, dried flowers, essentials oils etc. We decided to make two batches - one pink one blue and layer them for a two tone soap. Of course, these second-plane children did not just add a little bit of the pigment - they wanted ALL the colour!
We also added an essential oil blend called On Guard by DoTerra. This contains all sorts of anti-bacterial goodness so we thought it would be good for camp.
Pour/spoon into molds. Leave to set for at least twenty four hours.
Turn out of the molds and leave to cure. This is the hardest part. The soap needs to harden and the lye needs to mellow, will take several weeks of looking but not touching
We tried turning our soap out after two days but it was still very soft so we decided to leave it a few more days. Laney says the softness is due to the high olive oil content, but it will harden with time.
This project has drawn so much interest. We had a huge group of children from our class gathered around to watch the process and have had visitors from other classes coming in to have a look and ask if the can do it too.
Obviously we haven’t tried the fruits of our labours yet, but at this stage, I would highly recommend making soap with your students. There are plenty of resources around to give you all the information you need. You do have to be careful with the lye, but with adult supervision and careful adherence to the safely guidelines, there is no need to shy away from it.
Our next step is to cut each soap in half and sew little waterproof bags for them so that each child has a soap to carry around with them on camp.