Friday, 9 March 2012

On Soap and Patience


Sometimes I learn life lessons in the most unexpected ways.  Take liquid hand soap for example.  The last thing I expected as I learned to make it was a tangible lesson in expectations and patience, but there you go:  You take your lessons where you find them.

We’re on a pretty tight budget these days.  I'm always on the lookout for new means of getting by while spending less money.  The Internet is a big help to me in this regard.  There are lots of other families out there facing similar challenges, and they’re busy blogging about it; sharing ideas and recipes that will help make ends meet.  It’s a great resource.

One day, as I was browsing through Pinterest, I came across a blog on how to make liquid hand soap at home.   It first caught my eye because the photos are quite beautiful, and when I read the text I thought, “What a good idea! I can do this.”  

Do you ever make an impulse buy and then keep whatever it is you bought on hand even though you don’t really have a use for it?  I did that with some locally made sage and blackberry soap. Because I loved the fragrance, it had been sitting in a jar in the bathroom cupboard for more than a year.  We rarely use bar soap for washing our hands though, and never use scented soap in the tub or shower, so it wasn’t serving any purpose at all to keep it there.

I decided to turn that sage and blackberry soap into a batch of liquid soap.  The blog I found on Pinterest said that a single bar of soap would make a large quantity of liquid soap, so this idea would be frugal in two ways:  I’d be reducing household waste by making use of that impulse purchase, and I’d be getting liquid soap at a lower cost than when I buy it ready made.

The ingredient list for the liquid soap was pretty simple:  A bar of soap, some glycerine, and some water.  The blog suggested that I could buy the glycerine for $2.00 or less and that I use filtered tap water.  Further research on line suggested that distilled water would be a wiser choice than tap water because it would give the soap a longer shelf life.  There are only two of us here.  Longer shelf life seemed an important attribute. 

I set out to the store with $5.00 in hand and ended up coming home to get more money.  The glycerine cost $3.19, plus tax, and four litres of distilled water cost $1.99.

I noticed that two litres of my favourite commercially made liquid hand soap was on sale for $3.88. I was beginning to question the cost of my experiment but I was committed now and would follow through.

With my ingredients on hand, I set to work.  I brought 10 cups of water to a boil, removed it from the heat and stirred in a cup of grated soap (grated on my box grater) and a tablespoon of glycerine.  Then I waited for it to cool.

The blog I was working from told me that, as the soap cooled to room temperature, it would thicken into the slithery consistency of a commercial liquid soap, but at room temperature mine was watery. 

Perhaps I did something wrong. 

Perhaps I used too much water. 

Hoping to achieve a thicker consistency, I heated it back up and added another cup of shredded soap and another tablespoon of glycerine. 

At this point, the cost of my experimental soap was creeping ever closer to the cost of the sale soap at the store, and it still had a watery consistency.  Unwilling to throw good money after bad, I put the soap aside thinking, “We’ll use it anyway but I won’t make it again.”

Then a curious thing happened.  

Overnight, the soap thickened into a semi-solid mass.

Walking away from that soap for a few hours turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.  It needed time to set up.

Because of the extra shredded bar soap and glycerine I'd added, the finished soap was so thick that I couldn’t pour it through a funnel.  I transferred some to a pump bottle to see if it would pump, thinking that if it was too thick for the pump to work I’d put it back in the pot and stir in some more boiling water.  Despite its curious viscosity though, the thickened soap worked well in the pump bottle and felt almost identical on my hands to the liquid soap I buy at the store.

Would I make it again?  

Probably.

There was enough glycerine in that bottle to make at least two more batches of soap, and there was some distilled water left over.  If you were planning to make it this soap in a large batch and store it, three bars of soap, two bottles of distilled water, and a single bottle of glycerine would yield you about thirty cups of liquid soap.  Choosing a less expensive bar soap would greatly reduce the cost of the finished product.  

Broken down for cost using Ivory bar soap (on sale this week for $0.87/bar), that thirty-cup batch of liquid soap would cost me $9.78, plus taxes.  That’s quite a lot of soap for the price.

And the life lesson?

That was the most valuable part of this whole process.

I was reminded that things don’t always work out the way you expect them to right away.  Sometimes they require a little time.  Don’t give up on something just because it doesn’t immediately appear to be what you wanted.  Sometimes, if you wait, it turns out just the way it should.
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original soap recipe courtesy of Altelier Cecilia Rosslee http://ceciliarosslee.blogspot.com/p/sew-couture.html
label source:  http://www.graphicsfairy.blogspot.com/

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