The soap in the photograph, with its heavy marbling on some bars, is simply how my Dragon’s Blood soap turned out. It was unintentional—a happy gift from the soap fairies. While I was pleased with this effect, I was also curious to find out what caused it and, perhaps, how to reproduce it in future batches, so I posted a picture on a couple of soap-making forums, and asked if anyone could explain this.
The consensus was that the marbling was caused by re-solidification of part of the Shea Butter content of the soap during the mix. Shea Butter is the only hard oil included in this recipe.
Why did the Shea Butter partially re-solidify? The real, true answer is because the weather had turned colder and I have a tendency to soap a little “cold” to begin with. That is, I do not warm the oils or fats any more than necessary to liquefy them, and I allow my lye water to cool down quite a bit—to about lukewarm—before adding it.
Since my kitchen—and thus my ingredients and containers—were much colder than they had been during the summer, the soap was mixed at a lower temperature even than my usual.
The only worry about this effect is the possibility that any failure of all fats to saponify could result in lye-heavy soap. I was advised to “zap test” the red part of the soap, to make sure it was safe to use. It was fine—not lye heavy—because of adequate superfatting in the recipe.
Can this effect be reproduced? I can’t really answer this one. The re-solidification of the Shea Butter is probably a sure thing if you soap cold, but it’s impossible to say if the resulting marbling will always dispose itself artistically.
This marbling also occurred in my Black Soap, and the effect is less pleasing—probably because this recipe contains several hard oils. I’m guessing that only Shea Butter will clump together artistically, but this is just a guess.
This is one of the best of several recipes for homemade soap on this site.
I would call this recipe a "Bastile" soap--a name coined by soapmakers to define a soap with a very high olive oil content, to distinguish this type of recipe from "Castile" soap, which purists define as a soap made from 100% olive oil. According to some sources (one being Brambleberry), a Bastile soap is one that contains at least 70% olive oil. This recipe is 66.6% olive oil.
There are some disadvantages to pure 100% olive oil castile soap. The main objection is that it lathers poorly, and many people feel that the lather has a "slimy" feel--at least without a long cure. Hence, a Bastile soap--a soap made with mostly olive oil, but which includes other oils that add desirable qualities--is arguably better than Castile soap.
Bastile soaps have the same qualities of mildness and gentleness found in Castile soap, but the substitution of some other oils for part of the olive oil results in a formula that will come pretty near to astounding any who are gifted with your soap.
The recipe shown here is one of the favorites--if not the favorite--among people who've used my soaps. It is wonderfully luxurious! Bastile soap is a good choice for a beginning soap maker partly because it is so sure to please.
Bastile soaps may use up to 30% of oils other than olive oil. I have fudged a little bit here, since this recipe is 66.6% olive oil, and not a full 70%, per the accepted definition Many different oils can be selected for the 30% non-olive-oil portion. I would encourage new soap makers to experiment with variations of this formula. One of the most popular variations of Bastile is made with 70% olive oil and 30% coconut oil, but that 30% can include a combination of coconut oil and other oils and/or butters. So this recipe is a good jumping-off point for experimentation. You almost can't go wrong with a Bastile. (Be sure to run your recipe through an online lye calculator. You can't just put in different oils and expect the amount of lye required by the recipe to remain the same.)
This recipe uses almond oil, shea butter, and castor oil for the other (33.4%) of oils, with olive oil being almost 66.6%. I have selected almond oil because of its wonderful emolient "feel," shea butter because of its skin-conditioning properties, and castor both for its conditioning properties and its ability to stabilize lather.
Since almond oil isn't especially noteworthy for producing lather, I have included sugar in this recipe. Sugar is often added to soap recipes to improve lather. Sugar should be dissolved in the water before the lye is added.
I have discounted water to 30% in this recipe, to encourage the finished soap to harden and cure sooner. In my opinion, both Bastile and Castile soap recipes work best if water is discounted to 30%. The superfat is 8%. (See the screenshot from SoapCalc, a popular online lye calculator, at the bottom of this page, for details.)
You can color and scent this (or any) soap recipe any way you want. You may much prefer a different color and/or fragrance, especially since Dragon's Blood will darken the soap to a deep chocolate brown without red oxide. If you choose a fragrance that does not discolor soap (or not much), you can choose just about any color.
But the deep, brilliant color of red oxide is always fun, and the Dragon’s Blood fragrance is a popular one, and this recipe can serve as an introduction.
Here’s a discussion of the peculiarities of this color and fragrance choice:
The Trouble with Dragon’s Blood—and Some Soap Colorants
I’ve called this soap Dragon’s Blood because of the fragrance: BrambleBerry’s Dragon’s Blood Fragrance Oil, selected for its popularity and rich vanilla-incense scent.
It is difficult to color soaps made with Dragon’s Blood FO, because the vanillin content discolors soap brown—which will darken over time. The vanillin also reacts with most soap colorants in such a way as to “disappear” them. The only soap colorants that will work with this FO are those which are very chemically inert, such as clays and pigments, and probably micas—and any of these will be overlaid with brown as the soap ages.
A vanilla stabilizer can be added to this and other fragrances to minimize and delay this browning effect. Some people find it works and others say it doesn’t. It works mainly by greatly delaying browning, so there is the hope that the soap will make it through curing and subsequent use before it’s had time to turn brown.
If you like Dragon’s Blood—and many soap makers report that it’s their most popular fragrance—you may have to find a way to embrace the brown. If you like brown soap—no problem! If you wish to color it, good choices are Moroccan Red Clay (orangey red), Red Oxide (brick red), and Charcoal (black).
I chose Brambleberry’s Brick Red (red oxide) for this batch. Red oxide is a pigment that, if used in large amounts in soaps, can produce a pink or reddish lather. The color will also show up on wash cloths. Again, this is temporary and rinses right out, but some people are bothered by it. I suppose the color could show up on towels if people showered without rinsing well.
If you are selling your soap, or giving it as gifts to people whose bathrooms boast fine and much-prized bath linens, it might be best to include a tag or label on this soap, saying, “Soap might temporarily stain washcloths due to bold colors.”
Or, simply choose a different color and/or fragrance for this soap. Temporary discoloration of bath linens is not a problem with most other fragrances and soap colorants, used in moderation.
When working with clays and pigments like red oxide, you have to use a little extra care to make sure the color is even. The red oxide is mixed with a small amount of oil, taken from the blended oils after weighing them out. This mixture is then blended back into the oils before adding lye water.
The Oils Used in this Soap
Since two of my daughters have sensitive skin that is especially prone to dryness and irritation in winter, I worked out this combination of the most conditioning oils available, without including any of the very high-end oils, so this soap is not too expensive to make. The cost of the shea butter may be jaw-dropping, but a single 7-ounce container will make two big batches of soap and, if you look around, you may be able to find shea butter at a far better price.
The 16-ounce container of almond oil is also enough for two batches, and each batch should yield 12 fat bars for family use and gift-giving. You could make the second batch with the same recipe, with a different color and scent, for a different version of this same rich, moisturizing soap.
This recipe has about 6% superfatting. It is usually suggested that all soaps include at least 5% superfatting—meaning that, if all goes well, all lye included in the soap recipe will be saponified, with a little left to spare, and these free oils in the soap will act as moisturizers and conditioners for the skin. If all does not go well, superfatting allows a margin of error, to avoid the possibility of excess lye in the soap, which could burn the skin.
Some people prefer far higher levels of superfatting in their soaps, and this is one of many areas where you can customize soaps to suit yourself, your family, and—maybe someday—your customers.
28 ounces Olive Oil
8 ounces Almond Oil
3 ounces Shea Butter (I bumped this up from 3 oz. in original)
3 ounces Castor Oil
5.2 ounces lye
12.6 ounces water
1 Tablespoon sugar (optional--improves lather)
1.4 ounces Dragon’s Blood fragrance
4 teaspoons red oxide powder mixed with 4 tablespoons carrier oil. This is about 1 teaspoon red oxide per pound of soap.
Yield: Soap weight before CP cure or HP cook: 61 ounces = 3.8 pounds
For this recipe, you will need to melt the Shea Butter before adding it to the other oils. To do this, warm one of the other oils in the recipe gently in a saucepan, add the Shea Butter, and stir until the Shea Butter is melted and the two oils are blended together. Then mix the melted oils with the rest of the oils.
To prepare the red oxide, mix it with a few tablespoons of oils taken from the total oils in your recipe. You can use more than 1 tablespoon oil per tablespoon of red oxide. Make sure the mixture is well blended and free of lumps, or your soap will have spots.
Both red oxide and fragrance are added at trace.
Getting Ready to Soap
Suit up! If you are unfamiliar with soap making, this means rubber or plastic gloves, eye protection, and preferably long pants and long sleeves. Soap splashes won’t harm most kitchen countertops, but they will mar wood surfaces. You may want to protect your work space.
Use a stick blender. These allow you to quickly bring soap to trace—and they don’t splash soap around, if used correctly.
Have you molds ready. You can use clean quart-size milk cartons (no need to line with anything) or cardboard boxes (Velveta boxes are popular), Pringles cans, or PVC pip (with cap), but these others must be lined with freezer paper.
Purchased molds are wonderful! If you become a soap-making addict (a distinct possibility)—and even if you make soap only for friends and family—it’s nice if you can splurge on a few pretty molds.
Have towels or blankets on hand to insulate the soap after putting it in molds.
Set out a small bowl of white vinegar, in case soap splashes on your skin. You can quickly dab the spot with vinegar and rinse it off.
Mixing the Soap
Weigh out the oils (except fragrance oil) individually and put them in your crockpot. Mix them up a little with the stick blender, to make sure they are well blended. Now remove about ¼ cup of the oil from the crockpot and thoroughly mix in the red oxide. Now thoroughly blend the red oxide mixture into the oils in the crockpot.
Weigh the lye in a plastic or Pyrex container and set aside. Weigh water in any type of container.
Dissolve the sugar in the water before adding the lye to the water. (The sugar won't dissolve if the lye is added first.)
Add lye to water and stir with a stainless steel or plastic spoon till it has dissolved and turned clear. Let it cool to about lukewarm. (The temperature is not really critical, but it’s best if not used while still really hot.)
Now you are ready to mix the lye water with the oils, adding lye a little at a time and blending with the stick blender in between.
Blend until the mixture comes to a light trace (you can see a trail if you drizzle some of the mixture across the surface). It will have a thin, pudding-like consistency. It will probably come to trace pretty quickly—as, in a few minutes. Stop blending at a light trace.
Add fragrance oil and thoroughly mix in by hand. Now, if you stopped stick-blending at a very light trace, you can blend a little more with the stick blender, to make sure fragrance is evenly distributed. Be careful not to overdo. You don’t want the soap to get too thick, and it can thicken rapidly when stick blending.
Once everything is well blended, the soap can be poured into molds. A stainless steel or plastic ladle works well for this.
Wrap the molds well in towels or blankets to keep them warm. Leave the soap in the molds for at least 12 hours, or until molds have cooled.
Soap in molds gives off quite a bit of heat during the chemical reaction of saponification. Insulating to hold in the heat allows the soap to complete the “gel phase,” which enriches the color and gives the soap a slight translucence. Insulating the soap really well and leaving it in the molds until it has cooled off ensures that the soap will complete the gel phase—important in terms of the looks of the finished product.
If the soap is not well insulated or is taken out of the molds too soon, you will get the “partial gel” appearance—soap whose outer surfaces are lighter and more opaque than the center. While this doesn’t harm the finished soap in the least, as far as it being good soap, it is a cosmetic issue if you want pretty soap. If partial gel affects only the ends of the soap, you can trim them off.
Once the soap has cooled, you can remove it from the molds. If you used milk cartons, they can be torn away. If the molds left marks at the ends of the loaf, it’s a good idea to trim off just a sliver of the ends.
Cut the soap into bars with a sharp knife, and set them in an airy place to cure.
If you’ve used purchased soap molds, pop the soap in the freezer for 30 minutes before attempting to remove the soap from the molds. After 30 minutes in the freezer, your soap should pop right out of the molds, and look perfect!
The slivers you cut from the ends of the molds—not to mention the pot scrapings? You can hand-shape these into small bars. After 48 hours, these should be safe to use, so that you’ll have a chance to try out your soap right away!
Soap of any kind should cure for 3-4 weeks before use. While it is safe to use after 48 hours, the bars will harden over time, and the soap will last longer in the shower. The quality of many soaps—especially those made with all liquid oils like this one—will continue to improve in quality for up to a year, though fragrance (depending what kind you use) may dissipate.
Some people like to tidy up the corners of finished cured soap—or soap that has cured to a reasonable hardness—or even bevel soap edges. This is easily done with a potato peeler. If you want perfect beveled edges—because you intend to sell your soaps and want a professional level of perfection, or simply because you are a perfectionist—you may want to purchase a soap plane.
To Purchase Dragon's Blood Ultra-Conditioning Soap
- Dragon's Blood Soap by sharonvile on Etsy
This hand-crafted cold-process soap is colored a rich red-brown using iron oxide and lightly marbled with shea butter. Its loaded with
Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on December 18, 2015:
Thank you! I'm a fan of Dragon's Blood too.
Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on December 18, 2015:
I've pinned this for use later on. If the Dragon's Blood fragrance is anything like the Incense sticks I have of the same name, this will smell lush!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 07, 2015:
Sharon, this was an interesting hub about that soap. It looks and sounds interesting, too. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!
Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on April 21, 2015:
This recipe is a "Bastile"--almost 70% olive oil--so it wonderful on the skin.
Audrey Howitt from California on April 21, 2015:
These are so useful. I love handmade soaps