Antique soap recipe experiment - thoughts?

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Odekiisu

Member
For context: I am interested in various kinds of antique (mostly Victorian) cosmetics recipes, and since I got into soapmaking I've also started perusing the soap chapters of the various old books that contain cosmetics recipes. Now, most of those recipes are hot process and a lot of them are also made with tallow, which I haven't been able to source where I live yet. However, one of the books I've found (Encyclopedia Of Practical Receipts And Processes, 1872) contains an entire section on CP soapmaking, including this recipe:

596. Paris Toilet Round Soap. 25 pounds cocoanut oil, 75 pounds lard, 50 to 52 pounds caustic soda lye of 36° Baumé, will produce 150 pounds of the soap.

Now, after consulting several tables I've determined that 36° Baumé is roughly equal to a 23% lye concentration; and after playing around on a soap calculator a bit I've come to the conclusion that the quantity of lye given would give a 21-24% superfat.

I then recalculated the recipe to be a somewhat more reasonable quantity (I'm sure someone out there might need 70 kg of soap but I certainly don't):

Thoughts on this recipe? Is it worth trying out as-is? I'm beginner enough at this that just looking at a recipe doesn't tell me that much about how soap will behave, lol - it seems to have more water than and a higher superfat than most recipes, but what is the practical effect of that?
Also, is it worth trying without a stick blender? I'm still waiting on the one a colleague promised to give me, and I do not want to sacrifice my food-making stick blender to the soap gods (thus far I've successfully made pure coconut oil soap using just a whisk but I have no idea how fast a mostly lard-based soap will reach trace)

DeeAnna

Well-Known Member
wrong info ... deleted

Last edited:

AliOop

Supporting Member
What a fun experiment, and thank you for sharing it. I'm so impressed with your ability to do all those conversions!

One of my favorite soaps is 70% lard, 20% CO, and 5% castor oil; the castor oil helps to stabilize the lather, but isn't strictly necessary. In other words, your recipe would be great in my book! It will need a good long cure: at least 6 weeks, but 8 is better. At that point, this soap will produce a lovely, creamy lather - almost like a foamy lotion. Using a wash cloth or pouf will help get the lather going; otherwise, roll the soap in your hands under running water to get the lather started.

I do add some form of sugar to boost the lather, either in the form of aloe vera juice (AVJ) for the lye water, or sugar or sorbitol at 1.5% of oil weight, pre-dissolved in the liquid used to make the lye solution. If you wanted to stick with ingredients available in that era, sugar would be the obvious choice for you. The effects don't show on the soap qualities listed on the calculator, but sugar acts as a solvent that helps the soap lather more easily.

Regarding the strength of the lye solution, that would be a LOT of water even for a hot-processed soap. If you make it as CP, that will take a long time to trace, a long time (days, probably) to firm up in the mold, and the bars are likely to warp as they cure. If you want to make this as CP, I'd change the lye concentration to 33%. That will still give you a nice fluid batter without causing the other problems mentioned.

Regarding the stick-blender, you really don't need to worry about using your kitchen SB for making soap. After all, what do you use to clean your SB after you make food? Soap, right? Don't listen to old-wive's tales about the supposed dangers of undissolved lye, lurking in the crevices and waiting to attack your skin. First of all, it's very, very unlikely that any undissolved lye could escape from your well-stirred and dissolved solution. Second, any lye grains or flakes that don't get dissolved will turn into harmless soda ash after exposure to the air. Third, did you know that lye solutions are used to make olives, pretzels, bagels, and other foods?

So go ahead, use that stick-blender from your kitchen. Lard is very slow-tracing as it is, and if you have lots of water in the pot with it, you will have hours of stirring ahead of you. It's great to have separate tools when you can make that happen, or if you are producing soap for sale (GMP), but it isn't necessary for kitchen safety or soap safety.

Finally, I'd reduce the superfat to 5-10% at most. Lard makes a highly conditioning soap, and that will tend to off-set the stripping (cleansing) value of the high CO in this recipe. High superfat translates into LOTS of soap scum on your sinks and bath/shower, as well as high risk of early rancidity. This is especially true since you aren't adding any chelator. The other issue is that you will likely smell all that unsaponified lard, which can be a big turn-off. Honestly, I super-fat my high-lard soaps at 3%, and they aren't harsh at all, despite the relatively high CO.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

EDITED: I didn't see @DeeAnna's post before I posted, so pardon the redundancy.

DeeAnna

Well-Known Member
As far as the 75% lard, 25% coconut oil blend -- it would be fine. If you have dry or sensitive skin, you might drop the coconut down to 15-20%, but many people will be fine with 25% coconut.

I've made 80-85% lard soap with the balance being coconut (in other words, 15-20% coconut). It's a nice soap that lathers poorly at first, but lathers beautifully after several months of curing. I'd use a 33% lye concentration. I'd also use a 2-5% superfat for this type of soap, but that's my preference; others prefer higher superfat even though that's not critical for mildness when making a soap high in lard.

Odekiisu

Member
Y'know, I had the nagging suspicion that I either mis-estimated something or one of the tables I found may have had faulty data... Turns out that was correct! 36 Baumé is closer to a 30% lye solution, according to a better, more accurate table specifically made for these calculations with sodium hydroxide Goes to show, always check your maths and/or your units!

The original recipe is based on the soap maker using a "boiled" soap making method. It's not wise to take these old recipes too literally if you're not making soap with a boiled method.
Nope, this one is specifically a cold process soap. I checked the instructions this book has for boiled soaps vs cold process soaps and the latter is very similar to modern methods (minus the use of electrically powered equipment); the former is a bit too complicated for me to attempt without further research. I've also found that if one of these old recipes doesn't work out, there's probably an incorrect assumption somewhere in one's interpretation of it - whether that be the units used (see above), or the type/quality of ingredients. (Or very occasionally a typo in the recipe. That can also happen, lol.)

Regarding the stick-blender, you really don't need to worry about using your kitchen SB for making soap. After all, what do you use to clean your SB after you make food? Soap, right? Don't listen to old-wive's tales about the supposed dangers of undissolved lye, lurking in the crevices and waiting to attack your skin. First of all, it's very, very unlikely that any undissolved lye could escape from your well-stirred and dissolved solution. Second, any lye grains or flakes that don't get dissolved will turn into harmless soda ash after exposure to the air. Third, did you know that lye solutions are used to make olives, pretzels, bagels, and other foods?

So go ahead, use that stick-blender from your kitchen. Lard is very slow-tracing as it is, and if you have lots of water in the pot with it, you will have hours of stirring ahead of you. It's great to have separate tools when you can make that happen, or if you are producing soap for sale (GMP), but it isn't necessary for kitchen safety or soap safety.
My current stick blender is an absolute PITA to clean, but I'll consider it! tbh I'm mostly worried because said colleague who was supposed to give me hers said that there's gunk on it left over from her own soaping that's almost impossible to clean off. (Said colleague was also horrified when I told her I'm planning to use some silicone moulds I used for MP soap for chocolate as well. I guess it's a biology lab cleanliness thing spilling over to other things?)

Finally, I'd reduce the superfat to 5-10% at most. Lard makes a highly conditioning soap, and that will tend to off-set the stripping (cleansing) value of the high CO in this recipe. High superfat translates into LOTS of soap scum on your sinks and bath/shower, as well as high risk of early rancidity. This is especially true since you aren't adding any chelator. The other issue is that you will likely smell all that unsaponified lard, which can be a big turn-off. Honestly, I super-fat my high-lard soaps at 3%, and they aren't harsh at all, despite the relatively high CO.
Good news! My re-calculated lye concentration gives an approximately 2% superfat! I'm gonna double-check the numbers later when I'm not massively sleep-deprived, but everything seems a lot more reasonable now. I've even used the same method to convert several other recipes into modern equivalents (2 worked out nicely, 1 didn't - a wee bit too much lye). We'll see if/when I try to make them!

DeeAnna

Well-Known Member
Nope, this one is specifically a cold process soap...

I regret you didn't share this in your original post; if you had I wouldn't have wasted your time with my explanation. The large majority of recipes in the old soap making manuals I've read are for the boiled process. The semi-boiled (roughly what we call hot process) or for cold process generally got a little attention from these authors.

Zany_in_CO

Saponifier
I am interested in various kinds of antique (mostly Victorian) cosmetics recipes,
I went through that phase! Looooong time ago! Your recipe is fine to do a trial batch as you corrected your SF. BUT. I don't think I'd waste my time on that coconut/lard recipe. It's quite common and not all that special in terms of duplicating an "antique" recipe. JMHO

The most popular "Victorian" soap was Brown Windsor.
Brown Windsor soap is a classic, traditional-style spicy soap that was popular throughout the 1800s. Originating in Windsor, England, Queen Victoria was reportedly a fan, as were Napoleon and Lewis and Clark, so the story goes.
The primary attraction to the soap was its fragrance. Definitely worth the research if you want to make something "special".

Odekiisu

Member
I went through that phase! Looooong time ago! Your recipe is fine to do a trial batch as you corrected your SF. BUT. I don't think I'd waste my time on that coconut/lard recipe. It's quite common and not all that special in terms of duplicating an "antique" recipe. JMHO

The most popular "Victorian" soap was Brown Windsor.

The primary attraction to the soap was its fragrance. Definitely worth the research if you want to make something "special".
I do believe the book I'm using as well as several others I've referenced in the past have recipes for both brown and white Windsor soaps! I will check them out. I am actually looking for some fairly basic antique recipes because there are a lot more recipes I can find that are basically "this soap, but scented with this specific combination of oils". Thanks for the tip

Zany_in_CO

Saponifier
there are a lot more recipes I can find that are basically "this soap, but scented with this specific combination of oils". Thanks for the tip
You're welcome! Just keep in mind, old antique soaps were made from tallow (animal fats). The difference between them was not only fragrance but additives as well.

You might want to spend some time browsing @DeeAnna 's Soapy Stuff. It's a treasure trove of all things soap related. Definitely worth the time spent at the beginning of your soaping journey for a better understanding of the process.

AliOop

Supporting Member
My current stick blender is an absolute PITA to clean, but I'll consider it! tbh I'm mostly worried because said colleague who was supposed to give me hers said that there's gunk on it left over from her own soaping that's almost impossible to clean off. (Said colleague was also horrified when I told her I'm planning to use some silicone moulds I used for MP soap for chocolate as well. I guess it's a biology lab cleanliness thing spilling over to other things?)
Two things help me clean my SBs:

1. Have a container of hot soapy water waiting nearby, so I can immediately put the SB into that when I'm done blending. That way, the soap under the blades and against the gasket doesn't harden up before I can wash it.

2. To clean it, while it is still in the container of hot soapy water, turn it on and blend for at least one minute. If it is still greasy or has chunks on it after that, I put it in a fresh container of hot soapy water, let it soak some more, and repeat until it is clean. Usually the first round takes care of it.

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