There are several different methods of making your own soap. Once you understand the basics of how to make soap, you can get started right away. Soap is the result of a basic chemical reaction between fats or oils and lye. It is a simple process but requires some safety measures.
Lye is caustic. It can eat holes in fabric and cause burns on your skin. Always be extra careful when using lye. Use gloves and eye protection and a mask if desired. When you mix the lye with water, it will heat up and fume for about 30 seconds to a minute. It may cause a choking sensation in your throat. Don’t worry, it’s not permanent and will go away after a few minutes. Always add lye to water (not water to lye), and start stirring right away. If allowed to clump on the bottom, it could heat up all at once and cause an explosion.
Even though lye is caustic and dangerous to work with, after it reacts with the oils in your soap (through a process called saponification), no lye will remain in your finished homemade soap.
Four Methods of Making Soap
Cold Process: The most common method of making soap from scratch with oils and lye.
Hot Process: A variation of the cold process method, where the soap is actually cooked in a crockpot or oven.
Rebatching: A method of grinding up bars of soap, adding milk or water, and re-blending them.
Melt and Pour: A process in which you melt pre-made blocks of soap and add your own fragrance.
Customise your soap
Use this Soap Calculator to figure out how much Lye and water are needed for whatever type of oils you want to use.
All herbal material must be dried. Lavender is popular, as well as chamomile, lemongrass, and oakmoss, though not together. Use about ¼ cup of dried plant material per batch of this size.
Essential oils are from plants. They come from the roots, stems, flowers or seeds. Fragrance oils can be blends of essential oils or they can be artificially produced. Be sure you know what you have. Most oils can be used at the rate of 15-20 drops or around a teaspoon per batch of this size.
Natural colors are easy. Use cinnamon or cocoa powder for a brown soap, powdered chlorophyll for green, turmeric for yellow and beetroot for orange. However, sometimes things change colors, like magenta beet powder turning yellowish orange.
To get started making soap, you’ll need:
- A flat, uncluttered workspace with a heat source and access to water;
- Some animal fats or vegetable oils;
- A pitcher of lye-water;
- A soap pot and some other easily found tools and equipment;
- Fragrance or essential oil, as desired;
- Natural or synthetic colorant, as desired;
- A mold to pour the raw soap into;
- A cool, dry place to let the soap cure;
- You can also add seeds, grounded shells or dried fruit peel to make the soap exfoliant.
- For the mold, you can reuse packagings like yogurt, milk or other boxes.
To make cold process soap, you heat the oils in your soap pot until they’re approximately 100 degrees. Slowly add the lye-water mixture and blend the soap until it thickens to trace. After the mixture reaches trace, you add your fragrance, color, and additives and pour it into the mold. The raw soap will take about 24 hours to harden and about four weeks to cure before it’s ready to use.
Hand & Body Soap Recipe
Yield 5 3.5 ounce bars
- coconut oil ⅔ cup – to produce good lather (buy it in bulk here for soap making here)
- olive oil ⅔ cup – which makes a hard and mild bar
- other liquid oil ⅔ cup – like almond oil, grapeseed, sunflower or safflower oil (find them here)
- ¼ cup lye – also called 100% sodium hydroxide (find it here or at local hardware stores)
- ¾ cup cool water – use distilled or purified (find the best water purification systems here)
- Cover your work area with newspaper. Put your gloves and other protective wear on. Measure your water into the quart canning jar. Have a spoon ready. Measure your lye, making sure you have exactly ¼ cup. Slowly pour the lye into the water, stirring as you go. Stand back while you stir to avoid the fumes. When the water starts to clear, you can allow it to sit while you move to the next step.
- In the pint jar, add your three oils together. They should just make a pint. Heat in a microwave for about a minute, or place the jar of oils in a pan of water to heat. Check the temperature of your oils – it should be about 120° or so. Your lye should have come down by then to about 120°. Wait for both to cool somewhere between 95° and 105°. This is critical for soap making. Too low and it’ll come together quickly, but be coarse and crumbly.
- When both the lye and oils are at the right temperature, pour the oils into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the lye, stirring until it’s all mixed. Stir by hand for a full 5 minutes. It’s very important to get as much of the lye in contact with as much of the soap as possible. After about 5 minutes, you can keep stirring or you can use an immersion blender (like this). The soap mixture will lighten in color and become thick. When it looks like vanilla pudding it’s at “trace” and you’re good to go. (Watch this video to see what trace looks like.)
- Add your herbs, essential oils or other additions at this point. Stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into mold(s) and cover with plastic wrap. Set in an old towel and wrap it up. This will keep the residual heat in and start the saponification process. Saponification is the process of the base ingredients becoming soap.
- After 24 hours, check your soap. If it’s still warm or soft, allow it to sit another 12-24 hours. When it’s cold and firm, turn it out onto a piece of parchment paper or baking rack. If using a loaf pan as your mold, cut into bars at this point. Allow soap to cure for 4 weeks or so. Be sure to turn it over once a week to expose all the sides to air (which is not necessary if using a baking rack). For a DIY soap drying rack, I took an old potato chip rack and slid cardboard fabric bolts (from a fabric store) through the rungs.
- When your soap is fully cured, wrap it in wax paper or keep it in an airtight container. Hand made soap creates its own glycerin, which is a humectant, pulling moisture from the air. It should be wrapped to keep it from attracting dust and debris with the moisture.
When you’re done making soap, always clean your equipment that has been exposed to lye. You can neutralize the lye with white vinegar, then wash the equipment well as you normally would. For the rest of it, let it sit for several days. Why? Because when you first make soap, it’s all fat and lye. You’ll be washing forever and you could burn your hands on the residual lye. If you wait, it becomes soap and all it takes to clean it is a soak in hot water.
Hot processing adds an additional step of “cooking” the mixture which speeds the saponification process and makes the soap ready to use in days instead of weeks.
- 1 pound (16 ounces or 453.6 grams) coconut oil
- 1 pound (16 ounces or 453.6 grams) olive oil
- 0.303 pounds Lye (4.844 ounces or 137.339 grams)
- 0.760 pounds water ( 12.16 ounces or 344.73 grams)
- Up to 1 ounce of essential oils of choice (optional)
- Make sure that your work area is clean, ventilated and that there are no children nearby. This is not a good recipe to let children help with since Lye is caustic until mixed with water and oils.
- Measure the oils in liquid form (by weight) and pour into the slow cooker. Turn on high just until oils heat up and then reduce to low heat.
- While oils are heating, carefully measure the lye and water separately. TIP: This is the only thing I ever use disposable plastic cups for. They don’t weigh anything on the scale so they make measuring easy and I keep three separate cups labeled: Water, Lye and Oil to use for this purpose only. I reuse them each time so they aren’t wasted and I don’t worry about anyone drinking out of them since we don’t usually use these types of cups.
- Carefully take the cups with the water and the lye outside or to a well ventilated area. Pour the water into a quart size or larger glass jar. With gloves and eye protection, slowly add the lye to the water. DO NOT ADD THE WATER TO THE LYE (this is really important). Stir carefully with a metal spoon, making sure not to let the liquid come in contact with your body directly.
- As you stir, this will create a cloudy white mixture that gets really hot. Let this mixture set for about 10 minutes to cool. It should become clear and not cloudy when it has cooled.
- When the oils in the crockpot have heated (to about 120-130 degrees F), slowly pour in the water and lye mixture and stir.
- Quickly rinse the container used for the water and lye mixture out in the sink. I rinse well and then re-rinse with white vinegar to make sure all Lye has been neutralized.
- Use the metal or wooden spoon to stir the lye/water mixture into the oil mixture in the crockpot. Once it is evenly mixed, use the stick blender to blend for about 4-5 minutes or until it is opaque and starting to thicken.
- Cover and keep on low heat to thicken. I set a timer for 15 minutes and check it every 15 minutes until it is ready. It will start to boil and bubble on the sides first. After about 35-55 minutes (depending on crock pot) it will thicken enough that the entire surface is bubbly and the sides have collapsed in.
- At this point, turn the heat off and remove the crock. If you are going to use essential oils for scent, add them now. I added lavender and orange.
- Quickly and carefully spoon into molds. I’ve often heard of people using empty Pringles containers but haven’t tried it. I have used empty boxes lined with parchment paper.
- Cover the molds with parchment paper and set in a cool, dry place.
- After 24 hours, pop the soap out of the molds. It can be used right away, but I prefer to let it set for a few more days so that it lasts longer.
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