Thursday, April 30, 2020 | 2 a.m.
Social distancing mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19 are keeping most of us at home, unleashing a spate of do-it-yourself projects to fill the time. From home improvement to baking bread, it seems nearly everyone on Instagram is a regular Martha Stewart. With store shelves still regularly sold out of coronavirus-fighting products like sanitizing wipes, household cleaners and face masks, many people are looking into DIY alternatives to supplement their own supply shortages. While everyone else is touting their sourdough starter, make soap instead. It not only annihilates the coronavirus, it smells good, too.
What you'll need
• Slow cooker
• Stick blender
• Digital kitchen scale
• Soap mold (can be recycled, plastic, silicone or wood molds)
• Parchment paper
• Silicon spatulas (one for mixing lye solution, one for mixing soap)
• Plastic measuring cups (Do not use glass containers when mixing or storing lye solution. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH) will weaken glass over time, leaving it vulnerable to breakage.)
• Safety gear (eye protection and gloves)
• Soap cutter
How soap kills viruses
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says regularly washing or disinfecting your hands is one the most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19, since we can unknowingly pick up droplets containing the virus before we unconsciously touch our eyes, nose and mouth. Hand sanitizers have been flying off the shelves, but good, old-fashioned soap and warm water work just as well, if not better.
While gentle and soothing on the skin, soap is actually quite destructive at a molecular level. Coronavirus particles are self-assembled nanoparticles surrounded by a fatty layer called an envelope. Soap molecules are attracted to fat and repelled by water, giving them the ability to bury themselves into the virus’ fatty layer and protein shell, ultimately breaking down the virus’ coat. Once soap pulls the virus apart, it becomes soluble in water. But this process takes time. That’s why the CDC recommends hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Hot process vs. cold process
This hot process recipe yields 25 ounces of soap:
• 14 oz. olive oil
• 12 oz. coconut oil
• 4 oz. castor oil
• 9.2 oz. distilled water
• 4.609 oz. lye or NaOH (available at hardware stores in the drain cleaning aisle or online)
• essential oils of your choice for scent
• exfoliants of your choice (i.e., oatmeal, salt, sugar, coffee grounds)
Hot and cold processes are two methods for making soap from scratch. Both involve combining a lye solution with oils until the mixture reaches trace—the point at which the combination emulsifies—during saponification, when soap molecules are created. The main difference between hot and cold processes is the cooking time. Cold process is typically poured into a mold once it has reached a thin trace (about the consistency of milk). Hot process is kept on heat to accelerate the saponification process until it reaches a mashed potato consistency.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method. Cold process typically takes three to four weeks to cure, but it allows the flexibility to add in swirls, embeds and designs into a soap batter before you pour it into the mold. Hot process only takes a couple of days to cure but has a more rustic appearance, and fragrances added typically last longer.
Measure oils and place them into a slow cooker until evenly melted. Measure lye and distilled water in separate containers. (Wear protective gear while handling the lye.) Slowly add lye to distilled water, making sure you’re in a well-ventilated space, since the reaction will emit fumes. Mix with a spatula. Keep your eyes and mouth as far away from the solution as possible. (Note: Always add lye to water. Never add water to lye unless you’re trying to simulate a volcano.)
Once the lye and water are settled, slowly add to the crockpot mixture. Mix with a stick blender until trace occurs. (The mixture should have a custard/pudding consistency at this point.) Put lid on crockpot and set on low. Check after 15 minutes and keep stirring with stick blender.
You’ll know the batch is nearly ready once it reaches a mashed potato consistency. At this point, you can start adding oils and exfoliants. Line mold with parchment paper and pour soap mixture. Let harden for 1-2 days. Remove soap from mold and cut.
Don’t like this recipe? You can make soap with any combination of melted fats/oils and lye. There are many resources online for calculating the amount of lye and distilled water you’ll need in your recipe. (Examples: brambleberry.com/calculator, soapee.com/calculator, soapguild.org/lye-calc.php)
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.