Making milk soap DOs and DONTs
About 3 years ago my husband and I brought home our first dairy goat. I was beyond excited and in all truth had every intention of creating a commercial dairy someday. Once we got her home and started enjoying our own farm fresh milk, cheese, butter and ice cream, I quickly realized I was still left with gallons of milk that went to waste. I could barely stand watching this valuable resource dumped down the drain another day so I started researching what else could be done to fully utilize the milk we'd accumulated. At the top of the list was goat's milk soap, which wasn't as popular as it is now and seemed like a fairly odd way to use milk, but the more I researched the more excited I was to try it. I'm a sucker for all things DIY, homemade and hand crafted so, adding soap making to the mile long list of projects I constantly started seemed like a good idea. So I ordered some books and supplies and jumped in head first. I was immediately addicted.
It's taken years for me to figure out the ins and outs of soap making and the one thing I've realized after hundreds of failures and successes is that milk soap is finicky and unpredictable but, absolutely worth the difficulty.
Why add milk to soap?
I didn't realize the benefits to adding milk to soap at first, but after using just about every liquid you could think of in it's place, I quickly understood how much the milk changed the overall feel and quality of my soaps.
I found countless recipes using water as the main liquid but very few reliable recipes using milk. The first thing I wondered was "Can I use any liquid with any recipe?" The answer to that isn't a simple yes or no. Some work and some don't, but I've found that your recipe almost always ends up differing from those using water because the milk adds things the other recipes are in desperate need of, so some ingredients weren't as necessary in milk soaps as they were in water soaps.
Goat's milk is packed with skin loving minerals like selenium and vitamins like B2 and vitamin A, so just the simple addition of milk instead of water already boosts your soaps nourishing capabilities. The fats and sugars contained in milk creates a stable, creamy and moisturizing lather that water just can't compete with. Plus, as an added bonus, adding lye to milk doesn't create those caustic, horrible fumes like adding lye to water can.
I wanted to share with y'all what's worked out for me and some tips and tricks I wish I knew when I got started.
-Get fresh milk! I can't stress this enough. If you don't have the ability to track down a small dairy or a farm selling direct, check your local farmers market. The difference between higher grade, unprocessed milk and store bought milk is absolutely drastic in results. If you search high and low and still come up empty handed in the fresh milk department, don't stress. There's so many other types of milks available now, trying various kinds will only help you learn what you like to work with best.
-This sounds like a no brainer but, make sure your recipe is formulated correctly. Adding too much lye, or not enough can create disastrous outcomes. There's a lot of misinformation out there including bad and quite frankly, dangerous recipes. Make sure you've used a lye calculator to ensure safe and gorgeous results.
-Try a basic, easy beginner batch. Hold off on using too many additives, colorants or designs and leave the fancy stuff for later. I tried recipes that were well out of my range when I first started and all it leaves you with is wasted resources, ugly soap and heartache.
- Invest in the right equipment! I'm a homesteader at heart and spending money is probably my least favorite thing to do, but if you're serious about soap making then it's absolutely necessary in order to be successful. A lot of bloggers will tell you to repurpose old kitchen tools or whatever you have lying around and that's normally how I tackle most DIY projects but, soap making is dangerous and you can't put a price on your safety. I've found the most important items to invest in are a digital scale, infrared thermometer, immersion blender, silicone whisk and spoons, silicone molds, and a heavy duty, oven safe glass batter bowl for mixing your lye solution. Lye reacts badly with aluminum and most metals, so the safest bet is glass or silicone.
- make soap hot. Milk scorches at temperatures over 115. I've found the best way to soap is to freeze my milk in ice cube trays overnight and add the lye slowly to your milk, keeping temperatures around 90 degrees is the key to success. Anything over that and you'll get a funky smell, dark yellow coloring and rapid acceleration. Once your oils are fully melted, let them sit until they're around 10 degrees of your lye mixture before mixing them together.
-add extra sugars. A lot of soap recipes now add honey, or sugar to boost lather, but milk already contains quite a bit of naturally occurring sugars, so adding more only increases the risk of overheating your soaps which can cause cracking, burning and scorching.
-gel. Gelling soaps is a "controlled" method in which you cover your soaps, allowing them to increase in temperature as they saponify. In my opinion this method should be reserved for soapers using water only. While the colors in your milk soap might look 'brighter or prettier' after gelling, the smell is anything but. Milk does not like too much heat and the last thing you want to do is shower with a soap that leaves you smelling like spoiled milk and rotten eggs....... trust me on this.
-get crazy with ingredients. My main soap recipe contains only 5 things, and it's honestly the best feeling soap I've ever used. More doesn't always mean better and the saponification process soap goes through changes everything so much chemically all these costly, extra additives only get lost in the end.
Making milk soaps is such a rewarding, creative outlet for me and I think everyone that enjoys creating would enjoy it. If you put in the time and effort, I promise you'll end up with soap that not only moisturizes your skin but gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment.
I'm slowly working on more posts to help y'all with your soap making journey. If you have any specific questions, or you'd like to learn more about a particular area of soaping just shoot me a message and I'd be happy to help.