Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Charcoal soap, and getting rid of ashy soap tops

Everyone raves about those charcoal soaps! But what exactly is this charcoal, and why is this soap so great?

Activated charcoal is derived from bamboo, and also known as bamboo powder. It is harvested and "carbonized" at extremely hot temperatures to increase it's surface area, and therefore it's absorption capabilities, allowing the charcoal molecules to absorb large amounts of impurities (dirt, toxins, oils) that clog pores. Oh, and odors. Woohoo. The charcoal also has antiseptic properties that can help to heal wounds (aka ZITS), and is used for everything from industrial water filtration to medicinal supplements. Sounds pretty awesome, huh? Oh yeah, and it's a terrific, all-natural and reliable soap colorant. :)

Fun fact: it is said that one teaspoon of activated charcoal has the surface area of 10,000 square feet! Holy moly, my 2 pound batch of soap has two teaspoons of this black goodness mixed in.....20,000 square feet!! That's a lot of soap....

So by special request from my weekend coworker (who did some charcoal research of her own), I ordered some (okay, a lot) of activated charcoal online for this soap project, as well as a combination mask with clays and essential oils (more on that, when I actually make it!)

That's a lot of charcoal!
(photobomb by junocat)

I did some looking around for oils that would be best to use in an acne or facial soap, or in particular a charcoal soap recipe. It seems that the general consensus was that any basic recipe would do, and offer most of the same properties. Alternatively, some specialized and more expensive oils, or even ones with not-so-pleasant odors all their own. We'll see, another time perhaps.....

I was very very low on grapeseed and avocado oils, which I wanted to use. :( So I used a basic olive, coconut and palm oil recipe, added in some soothing aloe vera liquid, the charcoal of course, and tea tree and lavender essential oils for their anti-acne and antibacterial qualities. And cuz they smell good yo!

I added a few dollops of uncolored and unscented soap to the top of my loaf, and gently pushed them down and around with a silicone whisk for a slight decorative touch. 

Here is a charcoal soap from LUSH (who I love but, geez louise 13 bucks!!!) Yeah, mine'll be more to the tune of five dollaz. And more ounces to boot! (Quite a bit of harsh and artificial ingredients in there too, despite their reputation for the contrary...)

Lavender essential oil is known to form a dusty (yet harmless) layer of soda ash on the surface of soaps, so this was my opportunity to try out a steaming technique for sort of polishing that off without a ton of scrubbing that would've messed up my "delicate" design. I put a pot of water on the stovetop to boil, and held the soaps over the steam for a minute or two each, simple as that. I used a paper towel to hold the soap bars with, because they can get a bit slippery, and also to sort of protect my fingers from all that hot steam. I kept another paper towel close by to also dab a bit of the moisture off the bars afterwards. Here is a photo I took of a bar I'd steamed already versus what they originally looked like with the soda ash on top.


Steaming the tops of the soap.
Of course, like all other cold process soaps, these will need to cure for at least 4 weeks, so we have a bit of a wait before we can try out this much acclaimed charcoal soap. :(  I will try another batch in hot process either this evening or tomorrow though, to see how that goes, which will only need a one week cure. Yay!

What do you guys think?


  1. Looks amazing, keep up the good work!

  2. Love how the charcoal soaps turned out, especially with the pretty dollop of white on top. I want to try out some activated charcoal someday, too. And isn't steaming just the best for getting rid of ash? I do the same thing - holding a bar over a pot of boiling water for a few seconds really does the trick! It's so much easier than trying to wash or trim the ash away. :)

  3. Yes, the steaming is very easy! I think I first saw that on your blog, so I have you to thank! (ie. I probably should have linked you!)

    I love the charcoal so far, and have been wanting to try to a pencil line. But, like you said, a messier one. I am always bookmarking inspirations, and I think I might finally have a base design in mind with some of the other new stuff I got from SMR.

    Thank you for commenting! I am a little intimidated to share my blog in forum signatures just yet, but I do enjoy reading yours and have followed quite a few from your blogroll.

    1. Aww, thanks for the kind words, and thanks for reading my blog, too! I'm so glad that I found your blog! I hadn't heard of using steam to remove ash until recently, but it is such a great idea and I'm glad that soapmakers are sharing it! Somebody first mentioned it on the soap forum, and then another blogger friend of mine posted about using steam from a tea kettle. Then I found a video on YouTube about using a clothes steamer. I didn't have either one of those, so I just boiled some water on the stovetop and it worked great! I don't like ash, but I dislike trying to get rid of it even more. I thought I would just have to sometimes live with ash before I heard about the steaming trick!

  4. Where do you get your charcoal from?

    1. Hi Adina, I bought a rather large bag (more than I will ever use, looking back...) from Soap Making Resource. Their prices are always great.

  5. a charcoal soap recipe. It seems that the general consensus was that any basic recipe would do, active coal