Hello everyone! I hope you all are well.
Recently, I got back into making soap. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve made a loaf of soap so I basically had to teach myself all over again. Soap making can seem really intimidating. Working with lye can seem scary. If you take the proper safety precautions and treat it with respect there’s really nothing to be scared of!
There are a few things you need to have before you start. The nice thing is that most of these things you can find a second-hand store.
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Must-haves for soap making
- Stainless steel bowls – 4 – 5 small ones and 1 or 2 larger deeper ones. The larger ones really should be stainless steel as they will be for mixing the lye. Glass and plastic sometimes don’t hold up to the heat the lye creates. The other smaller ones can be anything really as they will be for the other ingredients.
- Emersion blender
- Digital scale
- 1 or 2 Silicone spatulas
- Safety glasses
- Thermometer – I don’t use one currently because I only make 1 loaf at a time, so small batch. It’s probably a good idea if you’re making a larger volume so you can get the temperature of the oils and lye water within range.
- Some sort of mould. It doesn’t have to be a mould specific to soaping. You can be creative with this. Examples – tetra juice container, an old Tupperware container, silicone moulds of almost any design. Currently, I’m using a mould I made from lego. There is also a good selection of moulds on Amazon.
Ingredients to have
~You’ll need a selection of oils, butter (cocoa, shea etc.) lards or tallows. There are too many to list and it really depends on availability and preference.
Olive oil is always good to have as well as canola oil and I like grapeseed too. Vegetable shortening and tallow make nice soaps as well. I suggest finding a simple recipe with 3 to 4 different types of oils that aren’t too expensive or hard to find and go from there. Do some research because each type of oil or butter provides something different to a bar of soap. Some are more conditioning, some provide a nicer lather etc.
~ You may also want to get a selection of essential and fragrance oils. These are easy to find on amazon or in a health food store.
~ Adding colour is nice. There are a couple of different ways to do this. You can use soap colourants or powdered mica. Keep in mind that some synthetic colours can morph the colour. I’ve used a royal blue soap colourant and it turned purple, it was a beautiful purple but I was wanting blue. You can also use spices such as turmeric, paprika, cocoa etc. There are also clays and plant-based powders you can buy. I haven’t found any in any stores near me but amazon and online soap supply stores will have those.
~ You may also want to get a few additives such as lavender buds, chamomile flowers and teas but these are optional. They make a nice touch to some bars but aren’t necessary.
The best thing to do when starting a recipe and probably the best tip I can offer is to be organized! Measure out all your oils and fragrances and have all your additions ready. This is where all those little bowls I mentioned earlier come in.
Working with lye
As I said earlier lye isn’t as scary as it seems if you take the proper precautions. Make sure you wear safety glasses and gloves and use them in a well-ventilated area. Make sure kids and pets aren’t going to get underfoot. Personally, I measure out the water (in the stainless steel bowl) then, put on my safety gear and take that container along with an empty one and the scale and lye outside. Measure the lye and add it to the water – NOT the other way around, to prevent unneeded splashing! Once you add them together they will get really hot. You’ll need to stir until the lye has completely dissolved. This process takes about 5 minutes. After that, the fumes are basically gone and I take it back inside and continue with the rest. Not so scary, right?
Finding a good recipe that works for you
When I first started researching soap making I looked and looked for recipes that would work for me to use oils that I already had. Most seemed to have ingredients that I couldn’t find. The first one I did was simply olive oil and coconut oil. It worked out great but I had other oils I wanted to use and couldn’t find a recipe. That was when I found the soap calculator. You can make any recipe you like.
http://www.soapcalc.net/calc/soapcalcwp.asp The soap calculator seems a little confusing at first but it’s actually ridiculously easy and truly is easy enough for beginners. Just find the oils you want to use, add them to the column, add the amount of each oil (I find it easiest to work in grams) and push the calculate recipe button. After that hit view or print recipe and it’s all there for you! Easy peasy!
If you do find a recipe you like but want to change an amount or a type of oil, that’s totally fine. Just be sure to run it through the soap calculator first to be sure the amount of lye and water is correct!
As I said, I like to work with grams, some work in ounces some do percentages of oils, lye and water. Whatever works for you is really fine as long as you work with weights and not cups and teaspoons. That is very important! For this recipe, I didn’t add scent or colour but you could if you like. Keep in mind that it takes quite a lot of most essential oils to hold up in the soap making process. For this recipe, the soap calculator suggests almost 28 grams of fragrance.
- 300 grams – olive oil
- 250 grams – grapeseed oil
- 200 grams – coconut oil
- 150 grams – shea butter
- 342 grams – water
- 122 grams – lye
I like a bar that’s around 800 to 900 grams as that’s what most of my moulds are. Bigger is fine and smaller is fine – again just use the soap calculator.
If you want you can substitute the water with aloe vera juice. I wouldn’t try things like milk until you have a good handle on soap making.
~ Process ~
Firstly, you’ll want to line your mould with freezer paper or parchment paper. You don’t need to worry about this step if you’re using silicone moulds and for the lego mould I just line the bottom. Just a piece going up the side to help ease the bar out later.
Measure out all the ingredients with a kitchen scale. Put all the oils to the side and take the water and lye outside with a silicone spatula or stainless steel spoon. Make sure you’re wearing long sleeves, safety glasses, and gloves. Add the lye to the water and stir it at a distance until the lye is dissolved – this takes about 5 minutes. After this, it doesn’t give off a smell so it’s safe to take it inside. The reaction between the lye and the water makes it get quite hot. Take care when you’re picking up your container because the outside of it is hot!
At this point put your hard oils (coconut oil and shea butter) in a saucepan to melt on medium heat. Once melted add the other oils and turn off the heat. Most people say the oils and the lye water have to be within a few degrees of each other so they suggest a digital thermometer to be sure. I have never done that and (knock on wood) I haven’t had a failed recipe yet – (knock knock)
Now out the oils into a large bowl and add the lye water mixture. Stir with your spatula for a bit then get your immersion blender and pulse that a few times. Stir again and repeat (pulse for a bit and stir of a bit) until it gets to trace – trace is when it starts to look like pudding. This process is saponification which is the conversion of fats or oils into soap.
This is where you would add any fragrance and colour and continue with your immersion blender.
Pour your soap into your mould, cover with a towel to keep it insulated and put it in a safe place for 24-48 hours. Check your soap after 24 hours as you might be able to cut it by then if it’s not too soft. If it is too soft leave it for another 24 hours and it should be ready by then. If you use a lot of really soft oils like olive, grapeseed, canola etc it will take a few days to a week to be ready to take out of the mould. Using things like coconut oil, shea butter, the beeswax will allow a harder bar. Those will likely be ready in the 24 – 48-hour window.
Once you’ve cut it, it needs to sit and cure for 4 – 6 weeks. This allows for further saponification as well as water evaporation which helps you get a harder bar of soap.
That’s really it. Once it’s done curing you can use it or wrap it up in a creative way and give it to friends or family.