Activated Charcoal Soap (Circling Taiwan Swirl)
Have you heard of the Soap Challenge Club?
It’s a monthly challenge that you can join to learn new techniques and have fun with your soap making. (Plus, you can win some pretty great prizes!)
I’ve been following Amy Warden’s Great Cakes Soapworks blog for a few months now and loved seeing how everyone interpreted the challenge in their own creative ways, and finally couldn’t resist joining in myself.
This month’s project was the Circling Taiwan Swirl.
The technique involves using dividers to pour stripes of soap batter and then swirling them so when you cut the bars, you find a variety of designs inside, most notably a lotus blossom design created by the bars on each end of the loaf.
I’ll admit juggling my homemade cardboard dividers was a little harrowing at one point, but I had so much fun with this challenge, that I ended up making a few different batches using this method!
While I’m going to share a couple of process pictures and my recipe used for this activated charcoal version, I didn’t document every single aspect, so to get the full step-by-step details check out Elaine Wright’s video on making the soap (HERE) and her video on cutting the soap (HERE). You can also buy detailed video tutorials for past challenges (which this one will soon be) through Great Cakes Soapworks (HERE).
(This article contains affiliate links to Mountain Rose Herbs, Bramble Berry and Amazon. If you click on one and make a purchase, I earn a small commission for sending a customer their way. This costs you nothing extra, but helps support this website and lets me keep doing what I do. Thank you!) :)
Circling Taiwan Swirl (with Activated Charcoal) Recipe
Click HERE for a printable PDF of the recipe or click on the green “Print Friendly” button near the bottom of this post.
Oils & Butters:
- 15 oz (425 g) olive oil (41.67%)
- 7 oz (198 g) coconut oil (19.44%)
- 3 oz (85 g) rice bran oil (8.33%)
- 2 oz (57 g) castor oil (5.57%)
- 3 oz (85 g) sweet almond oil (8.33%)
- 3 oz (85 g) babassu oil (8.33%)
- 3 oz (85 g) sunflower oil (8.33%)
- 11 oz (312 g) distilled water
- 5.06 oz (143 g) sodium hydroxide (lye) (5% superfat)
- 1/4 tsp activated charcoal + 1.5 tsp chlorella powder (to color black portion)
- 1/2 tsp indigo + 3 tsp Cambrian blue clay (for gray-blue portion)
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) eucalyptus essential oil (optional scent)
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) peppermint essential oil (optional scent)
- This is a 3.25 lb recipe. (36 oz oil + 11 oz water + approx 5 oz lye = 52 oz)
- I used around a 3 pound mold and poured it thicker (taller) than my normal sized batches I use it for.
- Yield = 6 bars
- Local: distilled water, coconut oil, castor oil
- Bramble Berry: olive oil, rice bran oil, sweet almond oil, sunflower oil, charcoal, indigo powder, essential oils
- Amazon: babassu oil, lye (sodium hydroxide)
- Etsy: Cambrian blue clay
- Mountain Rose Herbs: chlorella powder
- Homemade: my mold (roughly a 3 lb. wooden mold) + dividers (made from cardboard)
Prepare the Mold, Dividers & Work Area
You can buy ready made dividers for molds (like these) or you can make some from cardboard like I did. I made mine by measuring my mold’s length and cutting three pieces that would fit snugly within.
The tip was given to use packing tape to completely cover the dividers, but Christmas pretty much tapped me out of my tape supply, so I went without. (I’ll definitely try it in the future though, when I restock supplies.)
This project gets messy! Line a large work area with freezer or parchment paper for easier cleanup later and make sure to wear your gloves at all times.
After my first batch, I had my husband help hold the cardboard pieces in place since they tend to shift easily, even with the rubber band system I tried. If you utilize a helper, have gloves and proper safety gear for them as well.
Instructions to Make Soap
If you’ve never made soap before, be sure to thoroughly research the process and precautions before proceeding.
Step 1: In a small bowl, combine the activated charcoal and chlorella with a few teaspoons of your soap making oils (I used sweet almond) until a smooth mixture forms. In a separate small bowl, combine the blue clay and indigo powder with a tablespoon or two of distilled water until a smooth mixture forms. Set aside until you get to Step 6.
Step 2: Wearing safety goggles, gloves and long sleeves, weigh out the water and lye. Carefully sprinkle the lye into the water and stir well until the lye is fully dissolved. It will heat up quickly and give off strong fumes that you should avoid breathing in directly. I like to do this step in my kitchen sink (next to an open window), in order to contain any spills or splashes. It’s important to have a fresh air source, work outside, under a kitchen exhaust fan and/or wear a mask. Set the solution aside in a safe place, out of the reach of children and pets, and let cool for about 45 minutes. The temperature should drop to around 100 to 110°F (38 to 43°C) during that time. (Drop a few ice cubes in, if you need to cool it more before proceeding with the recipe.)
Step 3: Weigh the coconut and babassu oil into a small saucepan or double boiler. Melt gently over low heat, keeping a close eye on it. Weigh the other oils into your soap making pot or container and then pour the melted oils into there too. The melted oils should bring the temperature up to around 90 to 100°F (32 to 38°C), though you may need to heat them a bit more, depending on your room temperature. (My house runs on the hot side.) Don’t get too hung up on trying to make the temperatures match, but for this recipe you don’t want to mix too hot so your soap batter doesn’t thicken too fast.
If you’re adding the essential oils, now is a good time to do so, so you won’t have to think about it later in the mad rush of color mixing and pouring. Hand stir them into your warmed oils.
Step 4: Now, you’re ready to mix! Working carefully and still with gloves, goggles and long sleeves on, pour the lye solution into the oils. Stir by hand for around 30 seconds then begin mixing with an immersion (stick) blender. Do not use a hand mixer – you want a stick blender that looks like THIS.
Step 5: Blend for around 20 to 30 seconds, then hand stir some more. With this soap, you want to emulsify it and then barely reach a light trace, so be easy on how much you use the stick blender. (“Trace” means that your soap batter has gotten thick enough so that when you drizzle some of it across the surface of itself, it leaves an imprint or “tracing” before sinking back in.)
Step 6: Once you’ve reached a light trace, divide your soap batter into 3 containers or pitchers.
- Pitcher 1 – pour in half of the soap batter and keep it plain and uncolored.
- Divide the other half of the soap batter evenly between Pitcher 2 and Pitcher 3.
- In Pitcher 2 -stir in the indigo/blue clay mixture.
- In Pitcher 3 – stir in the activated charcoal/chlorella/oil mixture.
If you need to give a quick whirl with the stick blender to make sure the colors are blended well, you can, just be careful how long you run it for. It should only take a few seconds.
Instructions for Pouring & Cutting
Here’s where it will really help to watch the videos I linked above!
I didn’t take many pictures of these steps because juggling a camera with the quick actions that needed to happen here, just didn’t work out.
Basically though, you want to pour double thick, because you will be cutting your bar vertically, as well as horizontally.
So, in the first section, pour some of your plain soap (Pitcher 1), but not all the way to the top. Pour just a partial layer, then put that pitcher down and grab up Pitcher 2 (indigo/blue clay).
Pour a partial layer in the second section with Pitcher 2 (indigo/blue clay) then grab back up Pitcher 1 (plain soap) to pour a partial layer in the third section.
In the final section, pour some from Pitcher 3 (charcoal/chlorella).
Go back and repeat the process again, to finish filling the layers.
You can see (in the photo just above) that my soap was thickening up quite a bit by the time I finished this process.
Once poured, pull out your dividers and set them aside on freezer or parchment paper. Use a chopstick to make a zig-zag motion and then a swirl.
Check out the video, so you can see the exact motions that need to be made. I watched that part over a few times before attempting.
I wanted my soap to go through gel phase, so covered it with the mold top, then a blanket, then tucked it a close, yet safe distance, from my wood stove for the night.
After a day or two, unmold and cut the loaf into approximately 2 1/4″ bars, then cut those bars again horizontally. (Video on cutting is HERE.)
To get the image shown in the very top photo on this post, I did a second horizontal slice within a finished bar, just to see what was inside. I was delighted to find an even more pronounced lotus flower when I put the two bars together!
Let your soap cure in the open air for at least 4 weeks before using or gifting.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. For every one comment from a real person I get, I receive 9 or 10 from spam bots. I have several spam filters in place to help with this, but unfortunately some legitimate comments get lost in the system. If your comment doesn’t show up in a week (it sometimes takes me that long to get to all of them), then try again with a different email address. I try to answer every single one that I see. Thanks for understanding!
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