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Jane Jacobsen

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I'm new to soapmaking and have a couple of questions.

1. What is a good substitute for palm oil? They're tearing up the Amazon forests to plant more palms and I'd rather avoid that issue. I know different oils have different characteristics and don't want to mess up a batch by experimenting.

2. I just read a post that you shouldn't use Pyrex bowls for mixing the lye and water. I also read a beginners recipe that suggested using a Mason jar for that purpose because they are made to withstand the heat of canning. I used a quart wide mouth Mason jar and it worked beautifully. Am I inviting trouble?

Thanks for the advice
 

jcandleattic

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What is a good substitute for palm oil?
Tallow is a good substitute, but you will have to run it through a calc to get the correct lye amount.

don't want to mess up a batch by experimenting.
Experimentation is how you learn what you like and what particular oils bring the properties you value in a recipe. It's the best way to get what you want.

I just read a post that you shouldn't use Pyrex bowls for mixing the lye and water. I also read a beginners recipe that suggested using a Mason jar for that purpose because they are made to withstand the heat of canning. I used a quart wide mouth Mason jar and it worked beautifully. Am I inviting trouble?
It's not the heat that is the biggest problem. It's the caustic properties that will etch the glass eventually causing it to shatter. And since you never know when that will happen, you probably shouldn't take the chance of it shattering when it's full of lye solution, causing harm and damage to yourself or equipment.
 

Dean

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Soy wax (100% hydrogenated soy bean oil) is the inexpensive veg alternative to palm.
 

Obsidian

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I use lard instead of palm.

I also used a mason jar when I first started and had one explode.
Luckily it was in the sink and I didn't have a big caustic mess everywhere.

Now I use stainless steel to mix my lye in. Plastic with a recycle code of 5 will also work.

You're gonna mess up at some point, we all do, its how we learn. I would stick to cheap oil for now.
 

dixiedragon

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Instead of palm try lard, tallow or soywax. Maybe try this:
40% lard, tallow or soywax (with lard I'd recommend 50%)
20% coconut (not liquid coconut)
5% castor
35% olive or sunflower (or a mix)

All of these (except maybe soy wax) are available at Wal-mart. Looks like Hobby Lobby carries soy wax. Just don't use their fragrances or colors - those are meant for melt and pour and probably won't hold up to CP or HP.

I like to mix my lye in a pitcher with a lid. That way I can mix the water + lye, let it cool overnight with the lid on so no dust or pet hair flies in. Write LYE on it in big letters!

You will at some point mess up, so don't let that paralyze. Make small batches - 1 or 2 lbs if you have a good digital scale (a food scale, not a postal scale). You can always post a recipe here and ask our opinion.
 

Jane Jacobsen

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Thanks everyone. My local Publix grocery only carries lard at the holidays so I'd better stock up asap. Plus finding another source for the time between holidays. And I'll scout the thrift stores for suitable steel pitchers and bowls. I carry a small magnet in my pocket to check the metal content on thrift shop bowls, since there aten't mfgr's labels on them

Here's a hint I discovered by accident: the last batch I made left my equipment very greasy. I scrubbed everything with baking soda and rinsed well. The greasy gunk rinsed off immediately and left everything spotless.

I'm not afraid to experiment--just cheap. I hate to waste good ingredients
 

shunt2011

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Thanks everyone. My local Publix grocery only carries lard at the holidays so I'd better stock up asap. Plus finding another source for the time between holidays. And I'll scout the thrift stores for suitable steel pitchers and bowls. I carry a small magnet in my pocket to check the metal content on thrift shop bowls, since there aten't mfgr's labels on them

Here's a hint I discovered by accident: the last batch I made left my equipment very greasy. I scrubbed everything with baking soda and rinsed well. The greasy gunk rinsed off immediately and left everything spotless.

I'm not afraid to experiment--just cheap. I hate to waste good ingredients

I just use dawn detergent and have not issues with greasy equipment. Welcome to soapmaking, it's not a cheap hobby. Especially when starting out. If you keep things simple you can rein in the expense somewhat. Lard is cheap and generally readily available at Walmart year round. As stated, make smaller batches that way less cost if there's a problem.
 
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... I'll scout the thrift stores for suitable steel pitchers and bowls. I carry a small magnet in my pocket to check the metal content on thrift shop bowls, since there aten't mfgr's labels on them ...

Hello Jane.

The magnet idea mostly works, except that it won't distinguish between stainless and aluminum (most stainless isn't magnetic and all aluminum isn't magnetic).

The best way to tell them apart is by weight and colour - polished stainless usually has a slightly deeper blacker/bluer look to it, where polished aluminum is has a whiter/pale grey look.

Aluminum is also much lighter than stainless, but still check the colour (if it's a layered metal, sometimes it may have copper inside the base, which will add weight).

They sound slightly different too - stainless is brighter than aluminum (more of a high pitched bell sound - some bowls can be made to "ring" when struck, where aluminum sounds much duller, and doesn't have much of a bell sound).

The reason this is important is while stainless may resist the caustic, aluminum will be dissolved by it (fairly rapidly, with black fume clouds).

If you are still not certain, when you get your container home, make a tiny amount of lye solution (literally tilt the pot, put a tablespoon or so of ordinary water in, and drop a few grains of sodium hydroxide in ... if the hydroxide dissolves and the solution heats up then goes clear, and stays clear until the solution cools to room temperature, then you don't have aluminum :) ... do this test outside, and don't breath the fumes.

Your test liquid can be diluted (add water) and poured down the drain (it's the same ingredient that's used in drain cleaner), alternatively you can use scrunched up newspaper to soak up the lye solution - left alone it will react with the air and become relatively harmless fairly quickly in this small quantity.
 
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1. What is a good substitute for palm oil?

The most similar 'single' fats to palm oil are the animal fats lard and beef tallow. They are both pretty much interchangeable with palm oil, up to a point, and where I live they're less expensive … tallow being less than 1/3 the cost of palm oil. Tallow is cheap because there's a fair bit made around the world each year[1], and it is the basis of many high turnover cooking products.

The most similar common single vegetable fats are cocoa and shea butters but they're not as similar, by quite a margin, as those animal fats. They are also a little more expensive for me.
You can obtain the same fatty acid composition as palm oil by mixing a number of other oils. While that's not difficult conceptually it'd be a fairly fiddly undertaking. Ditto, you could get the same soap characteristics using a mixture of other oils, but also fiddly.

Soybean oil or wax is often mentioned as a palm oil substitute. Depending on how you characterise soap soy wax provides more hardness and creaminess, at the expense of conditioning, cleansing, and bubbliness. Soy wax, for me, is quite a bit cheaper (around half) than palm oil.

2. I just read a post that you shouldn't use Pyrex bowls for mixing the lye and water.

I use large pyrex beakers for my saponification. I use stainless steel for weighing out and mixing my lye. I plan to stop using the pyrex sometime soon™ in favour of stainless steel.

Pyrex is the brand-name that was originally applied to low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass that is stronger and more resistant to chemical attack … but not entirely immune. More modern 'pyrex' products are not made of that same type of glass (it costs more to manufacture) but use tempered soda lime glass instead.

Glass is relatively inert but is attacked by hot strong alkali (lye) and some powerful acids such as hydrofluoric and phosphoric acids. Strong alkali attacks the silica - oxygen bonds that are the basis of glass and simply dissolves the glass. Over time that weakens the glass, and makes its strength variable throughout its structure. The weakening irregular-strength walls, coupled with expansion and contraction due to temperature change, (possibly also coupled with the 'tempered' nature of the glass), results in glass exposed to caustic solutions and hot-cold being more likely to break apart somewhat explosively.

Here's a hint I discovered by accident: the last batch I made left my equipment very greasy. I scrubbed everything with baking soda and rinsed well.

I use very hot water and either our regular commercial dishwashing detergent or a liquid detergent / soap that I have made. Usually I wash between steps, but sometimes I leave the entire collection and wash-up some days or weeks later.

1. Still, only about 10% of the annual production of palm oil … with the margin trending markedly in favour of palm oil.
 
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