Pine tar soap has been on my list of soaps to try. Pine tar has a long history of uses in veterinary and wound treatments, as it is antiseptic. It’s well known for treating horse hooves. It’s been used for hundreds of years as a wood sealant. Pine tar has also been used in soapmaking. It provides relief for a wide variety of skin ailments and is also safe for use on pets. Here is an excellent article on the benefits of pine tar soap.
Since I’d just had two batches of soap seize on me when trying new fragrance oils, I thought I might as well do a batch of pine tar soap. It’s known to set up extremely fast. Since there would be no color or fragrance going into it, I figured it should be a breeze.
Many soapers on Facebook and YouTube have mentioned that pine tar stinks, smells bad, stinks up the house, or some version of that theme. Your mileage may vary, but I think it’s the difference between the Auson pine tar, made in closed kilns in Sweden (http://www.auson.se/en/wood-protection/pine-tar/dale-burned-pine-tar-773), and the Bickmore brand, made in closed tanks in the U.S. (http://bickmore.com/faq).
I bought Bickmore because it seemed a lot less expensive than Auson. I ordered it from Amazon because I live in an urban area, and that’s the only way I can get it. If you live in a rural area, pine tar can be obtained in tractor supply stores in the equine care aisle for less. I assumed pine tar was pine tar, and it should all smell the same. I was wrong.
The Bickmore pine tar didn’t smell particularly strong, certainly not anything like when they tar a roof or re-asphalt a road, which was kind of what I was expecting. It was far more tolerable than the smell of neem oil when I made neem soap. The pine tar did not stink up the house. It didn’t smell as strong as the Healthy Porcupine pine tar soap I bought online to try out before deciding to make my own. I liked the Healthy Porcupine pine tar soap a lot. They use Auson pine tar in their soap, and it has a nice, smoky campfire smell that the Bickmore doesn’t have. I was disappointed that the Bickmore pine tar didn’t smell as good as the Auson.
Did a lot of research on pine tar soap recipes, and I made my own version using Anne L. Watson’s pine tar soap recipe as a model. Basically all I did was reformulate her recipe for a different sized batch that would fill up my wooden loaf mold, left out the sugar and reduced the ratio of hard to soft oils. Her recipe was 44% hard oils to 56% liquid oils. I changed mine to 40/60. Her recipe doesn’t give superfatting or water ratio, but when I ran it through SoapCalc, it looks like it was full water (38%) and 5% superfat. She also used a very small pine tar concentration, possibly only 5%.
I used full water, superfatted at 8% and used a 20% pine tar concentration, which is what was used in the Healthy Porcupine soap. I thought about substituting shea butter for lard because I thought it might give more skin conditioning qualities, but I decided against it. Shea butter accelerates rapidly, and pine tar does, too. Not a good combination. Lard’s conditioning numbers are practically the same as shea, so there would be no real benefit. I also added salt (for hardness), sodium citrate (reduces soap scum) and kaolin clay (many benefits), each at 1 teaspoon per pound of oils.
I’d read that pine tar is hard to work with, that it’s messy and hard to clean up. I had none of those problems. It was very liquid when I opened the can. If you work with pine tar in colder temperatures, the tar may be more viscous. If so, you can either put the can in a pot of hot water for a while or warm a small amount in the microwave.
Because pine tar has a strong scent — or at least I thought it would before I opened the Bickmore can — I removed the silicone liner from my wood loaf mold and lined it with freezer paper. I didn’t want to take the chance that the pine tar scent might permeate and linger in the silicone liner and interfere with the fragrance of the next batch of soap I made.
Pine tar is oil soluble, so I measured it in the same plastic cup I used to measure my liquid oils in. That kept it from sticking, and the cup was very easy to wipe clean and wash afterwards. In fact, all the utensils were very easy to clean up. If anything had been sticky, I would have wiped it off with a little oil first before washing it.
Since pine tar sets up so fast, it’s recommended to soap with it at room temperature. I used ice for the lye water. When all the ice had melted, I added the salt and sodium citrate to the lye water. I combined the melted oils with the room temperature liquid oils, added the kaolin clay and blended well. Once the temperature got to about 107, I added the lye water, which was at 84. I blended to emulsion, probably less than 30 seconds.
Then I added the pine tar, stirred with a spatula for less than a minute and poured the batter into the mold while it was still liquid. I don’t understand why so many soapers keep stirring until it’s at thick trace and have to glop it into the mold in a hurry. It goes from liquid to mashed potatoes in a flash. Then you have to rush it into the mold and end up with very rough textured soap.
The batter does not need to be mixed that much, and it will still turn into soap. It was starting to trace but was very liquid when I poured. But by the time I was scraping down the batter bucket with the spatula to get the last of it into the mold — less than a minute — it was setting up already. I pounded down the mold, but that didn’t level off the top because it was too thick already, so I gave it a quick swirl with a chopstick, and I was done. It could not have been easier.
The next day I unmolded it. It’s solid but still very soft and picks up dents and fingernail scratches easily. Pine tar soap takes a long time to harden, so it won’t be ready to cut for several days to a week. However, the more exposure to air it has, the faster it can evaporate the water, so being out of the mold is going to help.
Three days after making it, I cut the pine tar soap. It sliced easily, no tearing. And the texture was perfect!
Pine tar is known to stay soft longer than most soaps, but I noticed mine were hardening rapidly on the fifth day after I made them. I stamped them, and it was none too soon. I’d tried the tip of covering the soap with plastic wrap before stamping to keep the stamp impression crisp and the stamp clean, but that didn’t work too well for me. This time I experimented and sprayed the stamp with rubbing alcohol first. I got a good impression, a clean release and nothing stuck to the stamp.
Did some further price comparing on Amazon. Auson pine tar (imported from Sweden) is $27.50 for one liter, which is almost 34 ounces. (They sell several types of Auson pine tar on Amazon, but Dale Burned 773 — sold on Amazon under the name of Kiln Burn Pine Tar — is recommended on the Auson website for soap and veterinary uses.) Bickmore pine tar is $14.50 for one quart (16 ounces). If you multiply Bickmore x2 to get 32 ounces (nearly one liter), it costs $29 a liter vs. $27.50. If you live in an area where there are tractor supply stores, you can get Bickmore for a lower price than it sells for on Amazon. Both can be purchased on Amazon with free shipping.
Based on my purchase of one bar of soap made with Auson (the one made by Healthy Porcupine), the Auson pine tar has a much more potent aroma than Bickmore. I could smell the bar of Healthy Porcupine soap from several feet away for about three weeks before it began to fade. Considering that the aroma would have been that strong or stronger for the six weeks cure time, I can understand why it could be overpowering for some people. Bickmore does not have that powerful of a scent out of the can, but it smells more like Pinesol or Hexol, where the Auson-made soap smells more like a smoky campfire. The soapers who say that pine tar “stinks up the house” may be using the more potent smelling Auson. If strong scents bother you, you may be more comfortable using Bickmore. It did not have a very strong smell either during the soapmaking process or 24 hours later when the soap had hardened.
Soapers on Amazon who have reviewed the Auson Dale Burned pine tar have given it rave reviews. The consensus is that it’s better quality and smells better than Bickmore. Based on the price per ounce and the smoky campfire smell which I like better than Hexol, I will be using Auson Dale Burned pine tar once the can of Bickmore is used up.