Fun with pH Testing Strips

9 November 2014 at 20:38 (Random Randomness) (, , , , , , )

My sister used to have a really cool chemistry set when we were younger. She was so lucky. Chemistry sets in those days weren’t like the airy-fairy elfin-safety crap we have now. Her set had meths (methylated spirit, what were you thinking), iron “fillings”, a mini bunsen burner, copper sulphate and all sorts of awesome. Also, she had UNIVERSAL PAPER.

She was so lucky to be able to test out the pHs of all kinds of things.

Well, some 20+ years later, I finally get to live the dream!

So lately I’ve been trying to elimate SLS/SLES-based products and go towards simpler, safer skin- and haircare. Facewash is easy. Finely ground porridge oats mixed with water do a good job cleaning excess oils without drying out my skin. Be careful, though, not to get it into your hair. Strong bush tea makes a great toner. For moisturising, I have argan, coconut and rosehip oils (the latter for my hands, the other two for my face). I use Jason sticks for my deos, although not ideal, at least they are aluminium-free and good enough for the job.

But shampoo is the one thing I am having difficulty finding a good substitute for. I did try the bicarb thing almost a year ago as I mentioned in another post, and the results were disastrous. I abandoned that after two washes because it seemed worse than even using just water. You see, it made my hair incredibly greasy and DUSTY. So much dust every time I brushed my hair. As in, clean brush pre-brush, and post-brush, a brush that looks like it’s been dragged through a tray of talc. THAT bad. And the thing is, though I’ve not used bicarb since, I still suffer from DUSTY HAIR.

I think I’ve found the culprit: me. I think in an effort to reduce my SLS exposure, I only shampood once per wash rather than twice, and for the last three weeks I’ve gone back to two shampoos per wash and the dust problem is no more. Although the thing is, I somehow remember doing only one shampoo per wash even before the bicarb, so who knows. Anyway, I now have a temporary solution, although by no means an ideal one.

So, what to do?

I really do want to cut out the SL/ES, so I’m not going to give up yet. I REALLY want to try Mistry’s Shampoo. I mean, look at the ingredients:
Aqua, Sapindus laurifolia, Acacia concinna, Simmondsia Chinensis, Aloe Barbadensis Rosmarinus Officinalis, Urtica dioica, Saponaria officinalis

In English, that’s: water, soapberry, a type of acacia from India commonly used for haircare, jojoba oil, aloe vera, rosemary, nettle, soapwort.

Do you see why I want it? But at £3.49 for a tiny 200ml bottle, I’m not sure I can afford that level of extravagance.

So what I am going to trial now is the use of liquid castile. I used it diluted about 1:1 in my last shampoo, twice per wash, but it was hard to judge how much I actually needed. Though the dust is there, it’s not so bad as it used to be [update: no, it is just as bad. Another one bites the DUST). Now the thing that worries me a bit is the pH (hence the title. Sorry, I do tend to meander). Soap’s pH is supposed to be well over 8, and too alkaline for hair, which is naturally around (ballpark figure) pH5-6. So I fulfilled a childhood dream and got myself some universal indicator paper.

And here are my results.


And this is what I tested:

Apple cider vinegar rinse — To be honest, I don’t really measure it, I just chuck a bit in the spray bottle, and top up with water. The brand is Aspall’s (I save the fancy stuff for cooking). According to this, I’m not doing such a good job diluting it as it’s showing as pH4.

Castile bar — This is a purely olive-oil based castile from Caria Soaps on eBay. It’s a very nice soap, no problems with it, but look at the vastly differing pH readings I’m getting. When I rubbed the bar onto my wet hands to work up a good lather, the strip showed a pretty neutral reading, but check out my attempt at making liquid soap from a bar. This was made from a chopped up chunks from the same bar, mixed up with hot water and left to stand for nearly a month until completely dissolved. And the strip is showing a pH of about 12-13. That’s pretty darned high. Can someone more clued-up than me explain the vastly differing readings?

Liquid castile — This from the MotherNaturesGoodies brand. It is made from olive and coconut oils, with citric acid to regulate the pH. Whether diluted (as I used for my shampoo, as mentioned above) or neat from the bottle, I’m getting a reading that’s close to neutral. Again, I’m baffled. I mean, I’m not complaining, but shouldn’t there be some alkalinity there? It is soap, after all. From what I’ve read about soap-making, if the pH goes too low, the process will reverse and you’ll end up back with the oils and the lye. Am I doing it wrong?

Lastly, the Pantene that I’ve been using for the last couple of years. It has both SLS and SLES 😦 But its pH is pretty cool at around 6.

Could be that my strips aren’t very accurate (they are cheap imports, after all). Some other things I tested:

Tap water — pH7
“Natural Strength” lemon juice — pH closer to 1 than 2!! Is that right? I need to check fresh lemon juice and see what I get for that.
Malt vinegar — pH2
Tallowate-based soap — pH8-9


Bicarb solution — ph8 I think? Although it technically should be 9, no? At least according to this site, and she knows what she’s talking about, not just fulfilling a childhood dream (mind you, her test strip set looks identical to mine, doesn’t it?).


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