Soap-Makers Extraordinary

Every Thursday, the 11th graders at Pathashaala have ‘cow time’, which has surprisingly little to do with these beauties.

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Cattle with humps don’t need much water, and were once common in throughout south India. Govinder the Bull and his lady friend live at Pathashaala as part of a conservation project.

Instead, ‘cow’ stands for Community Oriented Work. It’s a day devoted to activities such as taking stock of maintenance issues in the dorms, painting the paving stones outside the dining hall white to prevent burnt feet, and other projects that benefit the community. Today they were making their second batch of soap for the school’s use; at some point they will also be called upon to assist in soap-making workshops for women in nearby villages. I’ve always been interested in learning to make household staples like that myself, so I tagged along and took notes…

It’s a surprisingly easy process; the ingredients are easily obtainable, and preparation only takes about 45 minutes at most. After three weeks’ drying, the result is a deliciously lathery bar of soap in your chosen shape, fragrance, texture, and colour.

Materials

A glass or plastic bowl

A long non-metal stirring device

Some plastic sheeting to cover a counter or table

Frames (silicone praline shapes, plastic cookie cutters…) We used slices of PVC piping.

Sieve

A low-humidity environment for drying

Plastic gloves

Ingredients (for about 10 cakes of soap)

120g sodium hydroxide (caustic soda)

240ml water

680g oil (what kind is up to you; we used coconut.)

116g chickpea flour (what kind of flour is also negotiable, but chickpea is considered good for the skin in this part of the world.)

5ml fragrance or essential oil of your choice

(Although I haven’t tested this myself yet, it should be possible to add food colouring for a different shade, herbs or petals for decoration, or a little bit of clay to make it more of a scrub. Be creative, and let me know how it goes!)

How to make your soap

1. Soak the sodium hydroxide in the water overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

2. Oil the plastic sheeting and the soap frames, and lay them out somewhere where the soap can stay to dry for some time.

3. Sieve the flour; pour the sodium hydroxide through a sieve into your bowl, and add the (liquid) coconut oil. Mix.

4. Stirring continuously, add the flour little by little. Sprinkling it through the sieve can help remove residual clumps. Continue stirring for half an hour, until you have a thick, smooth consistency. If you’re in a cold place, you’ll probably reach this point sooner – you may want to stir over a very low heat, just enough to keep the oil fluid.

5. Pour the soap into the frames. You may want to use a little pitcher. Do this fairly quickly to prevent your soap acquiring an oily finish.

6. Allow your soap to dry for 21 days, turning it daily. You can remove the frames after about an hour, depending on the room temperature where you are.

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The finished product is hard and smooth. You may want to scrape off the topmost layer to remove dust collected during the drying period.

When I’m in Bali I intend to try out a natural deodorant recipe I also stumbled across while here – if it’s a success, you’ll get the recipe. If it’s a disaster, you’ll get my reflections. Everybody wins, really. Until then, happy soapmaking!

 

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