Remilling Handmade Soap

When I first became interested in soapmaking, I checked out several books on the subject from the library. One of them was full of recipes for handmilled soap, aka remilled soap.

You chose a base recipe, made the soap, shredded it, melted it, and added fragrances and other additives such as french clay, dried herbs and flowers, conditioning oils, or exfoliants. The accompanying photographs looked irresistible. The book promised remilled soap was hard and durable in the soap dish and sped up the curing process considerably, even finishing it. And, fragrances were supposedly more long-lasting not having gone through the heat of the saponification process.

However, once I tried it, theory and reality collided a bit. The soap melted okay, but it was a seriously porridgy consistency. I had been warned that remilled soap was not preferred for detailed decorative molds, but this didn’t concern me because I was fine with the hand-hewn, rustic look. Still, the end product was a little too rustic even for me. I was not destined to be a master handmiller.

Most concerning was the fact that this soap, with the amounts of added water or other liquid called for in the recipes, took FOREVER to dry out. I mean months of extreme mushiness. Long enough to introduce —duhn duhn duuuh—D.O.S.!!! Dreaded Orange Spots!– the bane of the soapmaker.

I scoured the soap forums to see what I had done wrong. The conclusions I reached were twofold:

1. If you must remill, use only a tiny bit of water, a sprinkle, a mist, or none.

2. Most soapers remill only as a last resort when a batch has gone awry or to reform leftovers, seldom as a main practice.

Ohhh . . .
I’m still a bit nostalgic about the promise of those perfect remilled soaps. But, after a bit of experience I have a more pragmatic view. After all, you made your own soap from scratch. Enough already without shredding it, melting it, and remolding.

That said, I am now going to remill some soap. Hey, I have a good reason: lots of good soap scraps from trimming wonky bars:

1. Shred large pieces and wayward bars. At this point I could make soap balls by pressing the scraps together, but I want some more bars, so here I go:

2. Sprinkle and toss with just enough water barely to moisten the shreds.

3. Cover tightly and allow to sit overnight. This step is not mandatory, but it seems to help the soap melt more easily.

4. Next day, melt the soap. Here we have several choices:

a) Boil-in-bag
You may put your shredded soap in a purchased boil-in-bag and simmer it like a Lean Cuisine from the ’80′s. Simmer until the soap is melted, taking it out of the water occasionally to give it a mush to “stir” it. Snip off a corner and squeeze it into the mold.

b) Double-boiler
Place shredded soap in the upper pan of a double boiler over simmering water and cover, stirring occasionally, until soap is melted. Keep a close eye on it. Pour/spoon into mold. (Note: Do not use aluminum pans as any uncured soap may cause a reaction).

c) Crock pot
With the crock pot set on low, melt soap gently, stirring occasionally, until completely melted. Pour/spoon into mold.

d) Microwave
In about two minute increments, microwave soap on medium until melted. Watch out for the volcano or you may have a VERY clean microwave in your future (after you clean up the soap lava, that is).

e) Oven
Place in an oven-safe (non-aluminum) dish, covered, on the lowest temp. Melt and mold. This may take hours, depending on your oven and your soap.
Pour into mold.

These are all good choices, it is just a matter of personal preference. There are many, many variations of melting methods. Whichever method you choose, be careful of the hot molten soap.

I chose the microwave method this time. Here it is starting to wilt after about 4 minutes:

Continue microwaving. If it “balloons” up, stir it down and see if it’s sufficiently melted. Keep melting and stirring until you are able to stir the shredded soap into a homogeneous mass with no outstanding chunks.

5. Spoon/pour into mold. Here’s my (baking soda box) mold:

6. Allow soap to cool completely.

7. Unmold–it’s pretty craggy:

8. Cut into bars–not pretty, but bars nonetheless:

In addition to being one of the things to do with soap scraps and botched batches, remilling is a good way to experiment with different combinations of essential oils and other additives to see if you like them and want to use them for a whole batch. Make up one base with no scent or additives, divide up the soap into experimental batches, and try out something new on each one.

Make sure you write down how much you added to each batch by percentage so you can recreate the ones you like best.

For those of you who make tallow soap, or want to, the news is good. Word is that these soaps take better to remilling than vegetable-only
soaps.

Here is a very helpful page of tales of rebatching woe and victory with far more detail than I have described here. Maybe you will be one of the lucky ones with a real knack.

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Hey kids–we wanna see your chickens, your gardens, your knit and crochet projects. We are dying to see a pic of a bacon grease candle or a bucket full of your best homemade laundry soap.

Go to our Flickr Group and post photos of your glittering triumphs and glorious failures. Got any seedlings started yet? Tell ‘em to purse their lips and fluff up their hair ’cause it’s close-up time. If you already have broccoli ready to harvest, go ahead and brag–we’ll try to not to be too jealous.

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  1. I made some laundry soap (liquid) recipe I had was for a gallons, I doubled everything and put it all in a 5 gallon bucket, it lasted about 2 months, much longer than store bought laundry soap..

    My daughter needed to make something for a class at school (showing the various steps in the process) and write all the steps out for a book. Instead of her making a ‘food item’ as most of her classmates will certainly do, I had her make our next batch of laundry soap..of which she put some in a glass jar for her teacher to take home and try..

    I’d like to try my hand at making some bar soap next..just need to gather the ingredients and give it a whirl..

  2. DDavis–The residual lye in the fresh soap will react with the aluminum and try to eat through it. If you heavily lined the aluminum it might be okay, but with so many alternatives from paper cartons to glass pans I wouldn’t trust any liner enough to try it.