I used How to Make Soap: Without Burning Your Face Off by Raleigh Briggs for the recipe and for information about making soap with lye. I was really nervous to work with lye, so I picked up some goggles and chemical gloves from Lowe's beforehand. It was really fun making the soap, although it took much longer than I expected it to, especially for the lye mixture to cool before mixing it with the fats.
Since I was worried about working with lye, I enlisted the help of my husband. I figured if I was going to poison myself with toxic fumes, I might as well have some company. We suited up in our protective gear and ventured outside to pour the lye into water. This then needed to cool from about 400 degrees to 110 degrees. I brought the mixture inside, as it was supposed to be safe, but soon after I started melting the fats, I realized that some chemical fumes were coming from the lye mixture while it cooled. So I opened the window, and since it is December in Pennsylvania, I added a coat to my protective gear.
I am actually smiling under there! While I was geared up, I realized that our new neighbor was moving in--talk about bad timing! Our townhouses are arranged so that all of the front doors meet in a quad, and of course our kitchen is right next to the walkway to the front doors. I still haven't met our neighbor, but I really hope that she and her family don't think that we run a meth lab in our house.
I picked up a cheap immersion blender to use only while making soap and other concoctions, so the stirring process didn't take nearly as long as it would have if we were just stirring by hand, which could have taken up to 3 hours! I was able to reach the trace stage (where the spoon leaves a trail behind when you drag it through) within about 10 minutes. I used olive oil, coconut oil, shortening, canola oil, sunflower oil, and castor oil for the fats, added sea salt and sand for some scrubbies, and then added basil and peppermint essential oils for scent. I ordered the ingredients that I couldn't find at the grocery store from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Once everything was mixed, I poured the soap into molds. I used two short and long plastic food storage containers. The soap looks much like melted peanut butter, but it was much lighter in person. If it had looked like melted peanut butter, I would have been tempted to eat a large portion of it.
After a couple of days, you're supposed to take the soap out of the molds, cut it up, and then let it sit for a few weeks. My week got away from me and I didn't get to take the soap out of the molds for a couple days longer than expected. The soap came out of the molds so nicely! We used a pizza cutter to trace where we were going to cut the soap.
Then, we cut into the soap and it cracked a bit. I was upset at first, but then decided that the cracks just made the soap look more handmade! We were able to cut about 40 bars of soap from the two molds.
The soap went over really well with my co-workers, and I learned that a few are peppermint fanatics. About a half hour after I gave them out, one of my co-workers said she hoped I gave out peppermint soap again next year! Since I had a few extra bars, I gave her another to tide her over, and considered this year's co-worker gifts a success!