Now that I’ve got most of my soap making supplies, I decided to make some honey soap this afternoon. I have a friend in London who keeps bees, and I thought she might appreciate some of this. Our soap-making teacher lent me a large mould with a honeycomb pattern with bees, which I was keen to try. I would have preferred it to have been a small mould because it held a lot of soap base and if things were to go wrong, it would be a waste, but there was no way to make a smaller amount, so I grasped the nettle and went ahead anyway! I weighed the mould filled with water to determine approximately how many grammes of soap base I would need, and discovered that there was enough in the 500g pack of honey soap base to make the large mould-full, plus two normal-sized square ones.
The honey base that I bought is a clear soap base, unfortunately not SLS free, which I’d have preferred, but I couldn’t find any online. Most commercial soaps have this chemical in them, and as long as the person using it doesn’t have an unusually sensitive skin, it should be fine. The base contained 3% honey, with no fragrance, so I bought a bottle of honey fragrance oil to add to this soap. I will generally not be using fragrance oils as I prefer essential oils whose flavour is completely natural and not a chemical approximation, but of course there isn’t an essential oil available from honey.
Here is the equipment I used to make the soap.
Back row: two plastic measuring jugs; bottles of liquid colour; spray bottle containing rubbing alcohol; large clear honeycomb mould; chopstick for stirring and paintbrush; small plastic container for mixing colour. Front row: 4-cavity soap mould made of silicone rubber; small square of bubble wrap; honey soap base; digital weighing scales.
My first task was to try and mix up some brown colour from the available colours I have – I ended up combining blue and orange (which came out green, not brown), to which I added yellow, red and black in various amounts until it looked brown enough – it would have been a lot easier if I had purple to start with but it came out OK in the end. I painted this colour neat into the depressions in the mould in the shape of the bees; of course, the clear plastic resisted the liquid and it ended up in blobs, but I thought it might be interesting to see if it would colour the soap base in a random sort of way, so I persevered with this.
The soap base melted ready for the bees. This was a small quantity of opaque white base, coloured with a small amount of the brown. This looked more or less OK to start with, but then in the mould it looked distinctly pink – pink bees??
I decided to use a plastic pipette to squirt the melted soap base into the bee-shaped depressions. This was successful at the beginning, but the pipette eventually melted and the end closed over, and was ruined, so I used another one, which held out to the end, and then also had to be chucked out. These cost pennies, so no great loss. Also, the soap base kept cooling and starting to set, so I kept putting it back for a few seconds in the microwave, until horror of horrors, I melted the jug!!! Never mind, I have 3 more (all cheapo jugs from the market so nothing too disastrous!) Possibly for things like this, where the process of pouring takes longer than usual because it’s so fiddly, it would be better to have the soap base melting in a double boiler, which would keep it liquid, rather than having to re-heat all the time.
The brown colour did mix in a random sort of way with the pale brown (pink) soap base and reminded me somewhat of those seashell-shaped Belgian chocolates! It all got pretty bubbly which isn’t very good, but I tried to disperse the bubbles as much as possible by spritzing with rubbing alcohol.
I was thinking I was going to have to wait a long time for them to set, but being so small, they set really quickly. What you are supposed to do is score the surface and spritz it with rubbing alcohol, and of course I forgot to do this, but as the surface of the bees was a bit bubbly and rough, I hoped that this would be sufficient to form a key between the two layers of soap.
Time to pour the honey soap base.
After melting this, I coloured it with a mixture of yellow, a little orange and a few drops of the brown mix, and added some honey fragrance oil, and then poured it gently from one corner where there wasn’t a bee. I left it to set, hoping it would pop out of the mould OK, without all the bees detaching themselves and flying away!
Through the golden colour of the clear soap, the bees look quite a nice colour, but the side in contact with the mould (which would be the top surface of the soap once it was turned out) would not have the benefit of this and would unfortunately be pink!!
Time to make the two normal sized soaps.
I cut a small square of bubble wrap and placed it in the bottom of the mould, with the bubbles upwards, as I’d seen done somewhere online.
I poured in half of the remaining honey soap base with its colour and fragrance. All seemed to be well and I started to clean up the jugs and stirrer etc. when I looked around, I saw that the piece of bubble wrap had floated to the surface. Grrrr. I quickly whipped it out and turned it over so that the bubbles faced into the soap, and left it to set. I couldn’t get it to lie absolutely flat, possibly because it was slightly too large. The remaining soap base was left in the jug, to be reheated to make the second square soap.
Time to turn out the soaps. This is the large one.
The pink bees don’t look too bad! There’s nice contrast between them and the honeycomb background, anyway. I like the fact that the bees are not all the same – some have their wings spread more than others, which gives it a more natural appearance.
As you can see, along one edge, some of the bees didn’t come out, but remained stuck in the mould. This was probably because I forgot to prepare them before pouring the honey soap base. I have tried to get them out of the mould, without success – if I could get them out, I could stick them back on with some melted soap base. As it is, this edge was to be cut off, and then the rest cut into smaller, useable soaps.
The trouble with clear plastic moulds is that they are much less flexible than silicone ones. I managed to pull the sides away from the soap, and press down on the middle, but the edges were more difficult, and it didn’t want to pop out easily. Some silicone soap moulds are very flexible and you can turn them inside out to pop the soap out, which is a lot easier.
Here are the two smaller soaps I made. You can see the impression of the bubble wrap on the bottom, giving the impression of honeycomb.
The underside of the soaps, showing the impression of the bubble wrap.
Cutting the large soap. You can see the three small soaps on the right, which I cut off the side where the bees did not come out of the mould.
The soaps, wrapped. I have put the bee soaps in pairs, and each soap is individually wrapped in cellophane.
I also wrapped the small reject soaps, because I shall use these myself, and the wrappers protect them until they are used.
I am pleased with the colour and scent of this soap. I am not sure if I shall make honey soap again, though, because my preference is for making more natural soaps.