Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Do you Smell That?

Stayed up until 3 am one day this week making soap. Going into my third year I'm thinking this is something I might just stick with!

Wavy top scented with tea tree and orange EO's

One of the hardest things for me as a new soap maker  though, was scents. I have an annoyingly sensitive nose. Just ask my long suffering husband. I am forever asking the question "Do you smell That?' or "WHAT is that smell??"

Being a dairy owner, smells just come with the territory. They are not all bad, (fresh hay, newborn calf) but most are intense. When I started making soap the smell situation improved at least IN the house it improved. Nothing like coming into a home smelling of Sweet Tangerine and Rosemary after you've been cleaning stalls.

Antique Watch Makers tool box for soap display
Christmas gift from son Colton

But I was totally intimidated by the mixing of these scents, and therefore stayed with one essential oil per soap batch. And like so many other newbies, I had tons of Lavender soap. Really creative huh? I did try some fragrance oils in the early months of my sudsy self taught internship but just never really loved them the way I do EO's so I'll just be talking about the essential oils in this post.

The soap under the waves...two layers of indigo colored soap.
Should've been blue, oh well.

The best trick I learned involved toothpicks. Starting with just two EO's you like on their own, dip the end of a toothpick into the oil and set them aside, touching each other. After a minute or so, while keeping the two toothpicks together , smell them, Now you have a better idea of how they will smell when combined.

Although not thrilled with this color combo I am happy to see that
all natural colorants (Spirulina for green, Alkanet for purple, Maddor root for red
and Yellow clay for uh...yellow) can make such bright design.

From there you can add another EO dipped toothpick or two or three or more. After that it is helpful to understand how EO's are grouped by their "notes". A Frenchman called Piesse (First name Cro?) classified the odors of essential oils in the 19th century according to musical scales, and this is where the top, middle and base notes originated.

As a rule of thumb, the combination between top, middle and base notes should be in harmony and the following formula is normally used. Select oils from all three categories but use less of the top and middle notes than that of the base note.

Colored with what grass powder and scented lightly with fruity EO's I really like
this one. It's so delicate, so peaceful, so angelic in appearance. Just like its maker.

There are some "rules" that people like to mention, and these being that a well-rounded fragrance will normally be composed as follows:  Top notes 15 - 25% of the blend. Middle notes 30 - 40% of the blend. Base notes 45 - 55% of the blend.  Can't say I follow these rules but makes for a good staring place.

So where do the EO's fall in this category? Here is a short list.

Top notes:  Basil, Bergamot, Clary Sage, Eucalyptus,Grapefruit, Lemongrass, Lime, Orange, Peppermint, Petitgrain, Tea Tree, Verbena
Middle Notes :Black Pepper, Chamomile, Cypress, Fennel Geranium, Lavender, Litsea Cubeba, Marjoram,Nutmeg, Pine, Rosemary
Base Notes:Cedarwood, Cinnamon, Clove. Frankincense, Jasmine,Patchouli, Rose, Sandalwood, Vanilla,Vetiver, Ylang Ylang

Some EO's float between the three categories. Lemongrass can be used for example as a top or middle note. Some of my own favorite combinations are listed at the end of this post.

I tend to be more heavy handed with my EO's. Even though they are expensive, some crazy so like Sandalwood ( over $300 for 1 oz) or Chamomile ($72/oz) , I want folks who buy my soap to really ENJOY my soap. Rule of thumb for many soapers is .75 to 1 oz of essential oil to every pound of soap. I run closer to 1.5 or even 2 oz to every pound of soap if the EO's are ones known to fade like Sweet Orange. Some EO's can be very irritaing to skin so those must be used in SMALL amounts. EO's like Basil, Black Pepper, Cinnoma, Clove and Wintergreen to name just a few.

Anothe shot of the tool box I'm using for soap display. At least I think its and old
artisan tool box. Any other comments appreciated

The most imporatnt thing to remember is to have fun. Even though you may not like the end result, one of your family members or customers will end up loving it. And some of my worst EO combinations have made the best laundry soaps and foot scrubs.

When it comes to the note game, I'll start there with the above recommendations but then, depending on what music is playing, I will just create my own concoctions as I go.  The last time I made soap I had a John Cougar CD in the boom box. You can imagine how my soap smelled after listening to him sing "Dance Naked"

It smelled clean...really clean, you animals.

Super Sweet: 1 part Geranium Rose, 1 part Lavender, 1 part Litsea Cubeba
or 1.5 part 5X ornage, 1 part 5x Lemon, 1 part Bergamot

Slightly Sweet: 1 part Patchouli, 1 Part Bergamot
or 1 part Rosemary, 1 part Pink Grapefruit

Earthy/Slighty Sweet:  1 part Patchouli, 1 part Amyris, 1 part Cedarwood, 1 part sweet Orange 1 part Lemongrass

Earthy/Manly: 2 parts cedarwood, 1 part Eucalyptus, 2 parts Lemongrass


  1. Donna, I can smell all the sweet scents you are relating to us in this post. How about almond mixed with honey and something warm smelling? Your tool box is just smashing! The soaps look wonderful displayed in the drawers - nice present!

  2. Thanks for posting your own blends. I am always afraid of trying to blend my own - I don't want to spend a fortune making something awful.

  3. I like the swirly tops, but they always make me want a piece of cake that is never in the house. Ughhhh!

  4. I hate any scents that suggest the soap could be edible, I have to say. There was a gardening program on the radio here which said that if you want to deter squirrels from a tree (we have mainly American grey ones...), then all you need do is hang a piece of scented soap from the branches, and they don't come near it.

  5. Hi, Donna, I'm nominating you for the Versatile Blogger award because you're one of my favorite bloggers. I understand if you can't accept (because there are some rules to be complied with if you do), but I want everyone to know what a great blog you have. I discovered you from my Zephyr Hill blog, but I want my WordPress readers to know about you, too.

  6. You angel you! Now I can see how the decision process works. Very well thought out. Love the multi-color soap--cheerful.

  7. Toothpicks! I never would have thought to use toothpicks to test EO blends. Ingenius, you are.

    Kinky Witch Soap

  8. I'm a big chicken when it comes to blending EOs (or FOs, for that matter). Thanks for the lesson and I think I'll make myself do some blending in the near future.

  9. I've recently discovered argan oil and wonder if you have had any experience using that for soap? Always interested to read about your adventures with soap making. I'm sure you've already posted this, but how can one order soap from you?

  10. DH. Go on, start blending, you have nothing to lose, except your reputation

  11. Broad, I have not yet used in soap but understand it is very conditioning for skin. Think I need to put on my soap wish list!

  12. Thanks for sharing this info on essential oil blends and notes, Donna. I've been trying to play around a bit more with EO combos, but I've still got so many FOs begging to be used, too. Your soaps are so pretty - I love the colors in the spirulina/alkanet/madder root/yellow clay soap. It's so awesome that those are all natural colorants!

  13. Jenny. Thank you. You are too kind. I love the one with the crazy colors too but often with the natural plant and clay powders, the colors do fade over time. I've notived some oils keep the color strength better. One day I'll remember to write down WHICH oils do this.

  14. Try having acute hearing. My neighbours alarm clock wakes me up!!!!

  15. Hello, thanks for a wonderful post. I was wondering whether you'd recommend bottling essential oil blends without a carrier oil (which would dilute them) for when needed, or whether you think it's better just to add at trace in cold process soaps.