“Time for a Clean Start” Inauguration Soap

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Serves 4-5 bars | Prep Time about 2 hours | Cook Time

Why I Love This Recipe

Earlier this month I posted the question, “What would your inaugural soap look like?” The responses I got were entertaining and delightful. The winner for this challenge was Jeanne S., whose inaugural soap was described as follows:

“Time for a Clean Start”: Made from rich coffee and luxuriating cream, this rejuvenating soap bears the gentle hint of pineapple but is still gritty enough to clean up even big messes.

The recipe below is a slightly reworked version of Jeanne’s inaugural soap. As always, I use olive oil as the base to make a traditional Mediterranean ‘Castile’ soap. Ground coffee is a wonderful odor absorbent and, indeed, gives that deep clean-up-the-mess grittiness. I use buttermilk rather than regular milk to enhance the creamy luxuriousness of this soap. Finally, I replaced pineapple with sweet orange, which has a lovely sweet fragrance (and, incidentally, is great for removing gooey residues. Hm.).

Ingredients You'll Need

450g (16oz) Olive Oil (cold pressed)
90g (3oz) distilled water
60g (2.1oz) buttermilk
70g (2.5oz) lye (sodium hydroxide)*
2 tsp freshly ground coffee
2-3 tsp (to taste) sweet orange essential oil**
* Until not too long ago, you could purchase Red Devil Lye in your local supermarket, which was 100% sodium hydroxide. Lye is not quite as easy to come by these days, but there are still online vendors where you can purchase it (note that because it is getting shipped you will have to pay an additional HAZMAT fee). Some of my favorite vendors are Snowdrift Farm and Camden-Gray, but just do a quick search online and you should be able to find plenty of places to purchase lye. Just make sure you are getting a product that is 100% sodium hydroxide with no added ingredients.
** You can substitute essential oil (the real stuff) for fragrance oil (artificial stuff). Fragrance oil is cheaper and tends to smell stronger. However essential oils, which are extracted from the actual plant, have medicinal, aromatherapeutic, and cosmetic benefits that perfume (fragrance oil) cannot offer.

Good quality scale – preferably one that measures in grams
Stainless steel pot
Plastic container (for water)
Stainless steel or plastic container (for cocoa butter)
Plastic mixing bowl
Silicone or heavy duty rubber mixing utensil.
Blender (optional)
Meat thermometer
Protective gloves
Trays or molds

WARNING: Lye (sodium hydroxide) is some nasty caustic stuff. Do not let it come in contact with aluminum, Formica, tin, iron… and never never let it touch the skin! Use gloves and even goggles if you have them, cover your counter with newspaper or towels, and use only stainless steel, plastic, or silicone materials. Always keep a bottle of vinegar nearby in case your skin comes into contact with the lye. Wood spoons can be used, although the lye will slowly corrode them and you may eventually start finding tiny wood slivers in your soap.


Pre-preparation: Measure water and buttermilk into a plastic container. Blend well and freeze. Be sure to use a container that has plenty of extra space as you will be adding ingredients later on.

Protect your work area by covering with newspapers or towels; put on gloves.

In a stainless steel pot, heat olive oil to 95-100° f.

Slowly pour lye (sodium hydroxide) into the container with frozen buttermilk mix. Lye is extremely volatile and the solution will begin melting immediately so start stirring the solution as soon as lye hits the ice. This will ensure your personal safety, and also make for a uniform lye solution and a smooth bar of soap.

Stir vigorously until lye is completely melted into the buttermilk mix and you have a uniform consistency, put the container aside and let the solution cool down to 100° f. (Note: the longer the buttermilk solution sits, the more the final soap will have a rich caramel color).

Your goal is to get the olive oil and buttermilk solution both to ~100° at the same time. Depending on the initial temperature of your freezer, and on the temperature of the room, buttermilk solution may have to be set aside for quite a while. If your oil cools off too soon, warm it back up so that both components are 100° at the same time.

Pour olive oil into mixing bowl, and very slowly add buttermilk solution while stirring with a blender or silicone mixing utensil. Continue stirring until the ingredients are completely blended. If you use a clear mixing bowl you should be able to see a uniform color from the bottom to the top of your blend. If your bowl is opaque, be sure there are no streaks in the blend.

Once all ingredients are completely blended it’s time to add the passion fruit oil. NOTE: If you have made soap before you might be familiar with the term ‘trace’: this is when you can lift the spatula out of the mixture, let the soap drip off, and it leaves a ‘trace’ on top of the mixture. Olive oil soap is a bit odd in this way. You do not have to wait for trace to happen, and your mixture will still be quite liquid even when you are ready to pour into molds. However it *is* critical that all ingredients are well blended before you move to the next step.

Time to pour into molds! Make sure molds are flexible (so you can pop them out in a couple of days), and that they can sit somewhere warm, dry, and relatively out of the way for about 3 days.

Soaps are ready to come out of molds when they easily pop out of the mold… but they are still not ready to use! It takes a full 4 weeks for the sodium hydroxide to combine with the oils and for the soap to cure completely. Pop your soaps out of the molds when they are hard enough, then store them somewhere out of the way while they cure. The longer you let them sit, the lower their PH will be and the more gentle they will feel to your skin.

Once the four weeks are up, soaps are ready to use – enjoy!

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