A Soap Making Class instructed by Soap Alchemy owner Jordan Henderson was recently featured in an article in the New Castle News by reporter Lugene Hudson. The story was originally printed on November 16, 2010.
By Lugene Hudson – New Castle News
BESSEMER, PA — For the first few minutes, I had flashbacks of my late-afternoon high school chemistry lab.
Who knew soap making involved equations, precise measurements, thermometers, gloves, masks and flasks?
It’s a time-consuming technique — with just a simple recipe — that in the end, yields a product everyone uses. In a way, this was like chemistry class.
During a four-hour demonstration at the F.D. Campbell Memorial Library in Bessemer, Jordan Henderson of New Galilee’s Soap Alchemy first explained the steps involved in what is called cold process soap making.
Discussion started inside, but for the action segment, we headed outside. After all, pioneers didn’t run to the store for a bar of Dove. They made it.
Jordan started creating his own about 13 years ago when his body reacted to store-bought soap, which can contain harsh chemicals. Today, he produces soap almost every day in his soap kitchen, turning out 150-pound batches at a time.
Soap is described as a cleansing agent, manufactured in bars, granules, flakes or liquid and made from a mixture of the sodium salts of various fatty acids of natural oils and fats. Alchemy basically means any magical power or procedure of changing a common substance of little value into one of great value, Jordan said.
His first batch used olive oil, which is very good for the skin, he explained “It took me nine months to make it,” he laughed. “I didn’t know what I was doing.” But once he perfected the formula, success followed.
Precautions are necessary, though. Besides having the essential tools, safety is an important facet. “Soap making is a chemical reaction and can be dangerous at points. You need a high level of respect for what you’re doing.”
Despite all that, the final product is skin safe. The method requires the perfect, well-calculated combination of crystals of sodium hydroxide — which if not used properly can remove skin — distilled water and, in this case, Greek olive oil.
Jordan keeps vinegar on hand, which neutralizes the soap acid if an accident occurs. “We’re working with high temperatures and the water goes from 60 degrees to 200 degrees in a matter of seconds. If it goes to steam, there’s a type of explosion.”
I stepped back quickly. Jordan cautioned class members who experiment at home to remember that no animals and no children or young adults can be in the area during this process. Inhaling the caustic fumes must be avoided, so working in a well-ventilated area is crucial.
The sodium hydroxide was poured into the water slowly — not the other way around — and the containers must be capable of handling the quick change in temperature. Those two elements are then poured into the oil.
When done correctly, the sodium hydroxide and oils are converted into a sodium salt of a fatty acid, and the pH quality is tested. It must be between seven and 10.
Once all the ingredients were measured, Jordan added a few drops of clove essential oil. The mixture was stirred using a whisk, poured into aluminum bread pans lined with plastic wrap, heated in the oven at a low temperature for at least eight hours, tested for pH quality, cooled, cut and air dried to last longer.
Risks aside, Jordan encouraged the class to try making soap at home. “It’s a lot of fun. I love making soap.”
He produces all types including goat milk, castile, unscented, shaving and specialty soap.
The group worked in pairs. Each person took home a bar of soap she had made during the class.
“I encourage everyone to learn,” Jordan recapped. This was a bubbly experience, bar none.
For the article as seen in The New Castle News, please click here. Tue Nov 16, 2010, 10:17 AM EST