Using Infused Oils in Soap

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Calendula-Infused Olive OilUsing herb and flower infusions in soap can add a little something extra special to your soap. I love using both chamomile and calendula (marigold) infusions in my soap. Both impart a pretty butter yellow to the finished soap. There is a slight scent in the oils, too, but I find that scent doesn’t usually survive the saponification process, and I have used fragrances and essential oils successfully in soaps with infused oils.

There are a couple of techniques you can use for infusing oils. You can put the flowers or herbs in a jar, pour your oil over them, and let them infuse for several weeks, but I like the slow cooker method, mainly because it’s quicker, and I’m impatient.

I purchased these handy “tea bags” from Bramble Berry (who is not sponsoring me; I just like the product). While you can pour the oils directly over the botanicals, I have found it is pretty messy, and you have to strain the oil later. The tea bags allow the botanicals to infuse the oil without making a mess. I try to use about ½ to 1 ounce of botanicals (which is a lot more than you’d think—they are light). I put the botanicals in the tea bags and seal them closed with an iron. Then I put them in a jar, I pour olive oil over the filled tea bags. I put a few inches of water in my slow cooker, turn it on low, and gently lay my jar in the water. I let the oil infuse in the heat of the slow cooker for about five hours, turning the jar over every once in a while (be careful; it’s very hot). The jars can be hard to open afterward, but I have a nice infused olive oil to use in my soap when I’m done.

Aloe & Calendula Soap

This soap is made with calendula-infused olive oil and decorated with calendula petals.

If you want to try out infused oils in your own soap, check out this recipe for a one-pound batch.

Calendula Soap
Print Recipe
Infuse dried calendula flowers in olive oil for this conditioning soap. This soap is superfatted at 6%.
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Calendula Soap
Print Recipe
Infuse dried calendula flowers in olive oil for this conditioning soap. This soap is superfatted at 6%.
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Ingredients
Servings: pound
Instructions
  1. Put the calendula petals in the tea bags and iron edges to close.
  2. Place the calendula bags into a large jar.
  3. Put the jar on a scale and tare the scale. Add a bit more olive oil than you need. This recipe calls for 170 grams, but some of the oil will be soaked up by the calendula petals and the bags; it will be hard to get every last drop out again.
  4. Screw the lid tightly on the jar and place it in a slow cooker on low. Let the oil infuse from 2-5 hours.
  5. Set the infused oil aside to cool. It will be too hot to soap with right after the infusion.
  6. When your infused oil is cool, prepare your water and lye. Measure out 162 g distilled water and set aside. Measure out 59 g lye in a separate container and set aside. Carefully add the lye to the water and stir until it is dissolved. Set the lye solution aside to cool.
  7. Measure out your hard oils (106 g coconut, 106 g palm, and 22 g shea butter) and melt them down.
  8. Add 170 g infused olive oil and 21 g castor oil to the melted hard oils.
  9. Once your lye water has cooled (I usually combine my oils and lye water at about 100ºF), add the lye water to the oils and blend to a light trace.
  10. Add your fragrance (optional) and either whisk in or stick blend carefully.
  11. You can add calendula petals to your top for extra decoration. Calendula petals keep their color in cold process soap, so you can even add it to the soap itself.
Recipe Notes

Whether or not the soothing qualities of calendula survive the saponification process is up for debate, but the infusion does impart a nice, light color to the soap. Why not try it and see if it works for you?

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Spotlight on Ingredients: Heavy Cream

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Cream Drop

Cream Drop by Kyle May

Do you ever read over recipes or watch soaping videos and wonder why soapmakers use the ingredients they use? After all, the only essentials for a good bar of handmade soap are oils, water, and lye. However, certain additives do impart some nice qualities to your soap, and in a series of posts, I wanted to share some of the “extra” ingredients I use in soap and why I use them.

Heavy cream has a lot of fat in it—36% fat or more. Goat milk typically has 4-5% fat. Cream is very rich and smooth. While the benefits of milks—especially goat milk—are widely known, not as many soapers use cream, possibly because of the expense. I wouldn’t try substituting all of the water in a recipe with cream, and not only because of the cost, but also because of the high fat content. The cream will likely congeal fairly quickly, even if you freeze it first, because the lye will react to the fat in the cream. If you have made milk soaps, you may have noticed that if you set the milk and lye mixture aside for a few moments, it does start to thicken as the lye reacts to the fats in the milk. Another reason you might not want to use cream as a total water replacement is that the high fat content might really throw off your superfat percentage.

So how do I use cream in soap? I usually add about 4-5% of the amount of oils to a batch of soap. So, for example, if I make a batch of soap that is 500 grams (I always measure in grams; it’s more precise than ounces and easier to convert), then I would add about 22 grams of cream to the batch. I admit this is approximate because I usually add a round number of grams of cream to my soap. For example, my typical batch is about 2.5 pounds of oils, or 1120 grams, and I usually add about 50 grams of cream to a batch that size. I would recommend using heavy cream at a rate of about 3-5%. You really don’t need to use a lot. When I use cream in my soap, I remove the same amount of water from the recipe. For example, in my batch with 50 grams of cream, I remove 50 grams of distilled water from the recipe. If you use full water and cream, you might find your soap takes a little longer to harden. I have not experimented with using full water and cream.

Before I add the cream to the oils, I warm it up a bit so that it is the same temperature as the oils (more or less). Then, I add my cream directly to my oils and stick blend it before adding the lye. I have noticed that it will not emulsify completely with the oils. Typically there are tiny white flecks of cream floating on the top of my oils. I usually give the oils one more quick stick blend before adding the lye water, but it probably isn’t necessary because once the lye water is added, it will all blend.

I first noticed the benefits of using cream in soap by accident. I made a batch of Creamy Coconut soap with coconut milk and cream.

Creamy Coconut

I mainly added the cream because I felt it would be in keeping with the name of the soap to have both real coconut milk and real cream in it. When I used it in the shower, I noticed how smooth the bars felt. If you can believe it, I didn’t immediately realize this smoothness was because of the cream. I thought it might have been the coconut milk.

I started noticing that other soapmakers used cream in their soaps, and when I ordered soaps from these soapmakers, I noticed how smooth their bars were. At first, I wasn’t sure why their soaps were so much smoother than mine either because there are so many variables—oil recipes, other additives, and the like. But eventually I realized it was the cream in the soap that added smoothness. I have used cream in almost all of the soaps I have made since that discovery (I typically do not use it in milk soaps, with the exception of Creamy Coconut).

In addition to smoothness, cream adds some of the same benefits as other milks in soap—extra conditioning being the main benefit imparted by heavy cream. I mainly enjoy the feel of soap with cream in it. It is definitely smoother than soap made just with water. It feels silky on the skin. I typically do not have to use much lotion at all because of the conditioning oils and butters in my soap, but I have noticed even less of a need to use lotion in those soaps made with cream.

Adding just a little bit of cream can add some great qualities to your soap. With my recipe of just 50 grams, I am adding 18 grams of fat, so my superfat percentage will not be drastically different from my calculation.

As usual, David Fisher has experimented with cream and shared his results. You can see what will happen if you add lye to cream in his tutorial. I personally have not found it necessary to freeze the cream I use in my own recipes. In addition, I have never noticed any discoloration as can happen when you use goat milk in place of water. I actually haven’t tried using just a small amount of liquid goat milk and adding it directly to the oils as I do with heavy cream, so you might find that solution works just as well for you.

Creamy Soap
Print Recipe
Make your own version of my creamy soap.
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Creamy Soap
Print Recipe
Make your own version of my creamy soap.
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Servings Prep Time
1.4 pounds soap 1 hour
Ingredients
Servings: pounds soap
Instructions
  1. Dissolve the lye in the distilled water and set aside to cool.
  2. Melt coconut oil and palm oil.
  3. Add olive oil and castor oil to melted hard oils.
  4. Add heavy cream to oils and blend.
  5. Combine lye water with blended oils when both reach about 100ºF. The temperature doesn't need to be exact, but it should be close.
  6. Blend with stick blender until you reach trace.
  7. Add fragrance or essential oil and stir well until thoroughly combined.
  8. Pour into a mold, cover mold with plastic wrap, and drape with towel. One pound of oils will make approximately 1.4 pounds of soap.
  9. Let soap go through gel phase and saponify for about one day before unmolding.
Recipe Notes

Note: you can substitute coconut milk, like I did, for the water simply by using 151 grams of frozen coconut milk and slowly adding the lye to the milk until the lye is dissolved. You can also use colorants. I have not had issues with this soap overheating or acting strangely in gel phase, but keep and eye on it, and remove some insulation if it appears to be getting too hot. Also, you can opt not to gel this soap and instead put it in the freezer overnight. The cream might make the soap heat up in the refrigerator, so it might need the additional chill of the freezer to prevent gel phase if you choose not to gel.

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