Soap Making (for the beginner)

I have always wanted to make my own soap. Mostly because of the skin sensitivities my two daughters have to soap and different skin care products. I have always been afraid to try because of the lye factor. I did a lot of research and there simply is no way to get around it – you must use lye to make soap. I was afraid because it was a chemical and I thought something crazy would happen and I would blow up the house (not that serious but something bad can still happen if you don’t do this right). I was afraid because I hate any science… However, I must keep in mind that I cook and bake a lot, which uses science and math without realizing you are using it. If you actually enjoy cooking and baking, you don’t mind. If you hate it, then it will feel like work.

The second thing that concerned me was still the lye. Isn’t this the same lye that is found in straightening relaxers, drain cloggers, oven cleaners and some others that I can’t think of now? I was concerned that it wasn’t healthy and it would irritate the skin (it can if you don’t have excess fat in your soap – more on that later). The fact is, lye is all around us. Don’t ask me to explain why or how. It just is in many of the household products and foods (pretzels) we may possibly use/ eat.

The good thing is that once you understand the soap making process, you will understand that lye is a necessary evil component of soap making. Lye actually gets cancelled out when mixed with the oils, thereby creating the soap or saponification process. I am not going to attempt to explain this chemical reaction but this site explains it better than I ever could.

Some tips for soap making:

  • Oils: If you are doing this for cost effective reasons, definitely be careful. Use oils that you may have already or try going on the cheaper side buying oil in bulk at Costco’s or when they are on sale at your local supermarket. It took me a combination of 25.5 ounces of oil to make this soap.  No matter what type of oils you are using, that is expensive. You don’t have to go crazy buying Shea butter, cocoa butter, jojoba oil. I happen to already have these because I make a lot of my own hair products. I do have some canola oil in my pantry and I will use that the next time to get rid of it since I don’t cook with that kind of oil anymore.
  • Supplies: Make sure you are prepared to make soap. Don’t go out there and buy all the soap making “materials” that may be advertised as such. Check what items you already own that you can use. I bought these at the $1 store: rectangular containers, spatulas, and plastic measuring cups. At Hobby Lobby I found a glass measuring cup and was able to get 40% off with my coupon. The soap cutter (you could use a regular knife) I got at Michael’s with my 40% coupon as well. I already had a small crock pot which I have used once, but it probably costs about $19.99 in most retail stores. I got my hand blender online for less than $20. Scale – I bought one at Bed, Bath and Beyond for less than $20 with a coupon.
  • RIF (Reading is Fundamental): Definitely read your instructions before you start. There are three methods to making soap: melt and pour method, cold process and hot process. Take the time to know what you have to do each step of the way.
  • Chemistry: Even if you are following someone else’s soap recipe to the tee, you are still working with chemicals and you want to make sure that you have the proper amount of lye in your recipe or else you risk having more lye in your soap than fat (which a lot of commercial companies do, possibly the reason your soap may irritate your skin). Use a lye calculator which tells you exactly how much water (or other liquid) and lye you should use depending on the oils that you enter in the calculator. You want to have excess fat, which helps produce a softer soap. Another reason you want to use a lye calculator is that the measurements are all by weight – this is where you need a scale and not a measuring cup. So you may be measuring out an oil or butter that goes a little over what the recipe called for. You may not be able to return it to the bottle or container it came from. You want to be able to account for that overage with the lye calculator. I used the one found on this website.
  • Safety: Always wear protective goggles, gloves and other safety clothing (long sleeve old shirt) when handling sodium hydroxide (lye). Just think about that time in science class where you had to mix chemicals – you had gloves, goggles and white lab coat.
  • Vegan or not? I wanted a soap that was vegan (no contact with animals or made from animals, no animal contact). If this is something you are conscientious about, be sure to double check the fats (oils) you are using. Some recipes call for animal fat and you may not realize that. If it doesn’t matter then sky is the limit when it comes to the type of fat you use for your soap.
  • Mixing: You mix the dry ingredient (lye) into the water, not the other way around or else you could get a volcanic like reaction. Repeat: The lye powder gets mixed into the water. The liquid mix will get hot like tea, therefore, do this in a heat safe measuring cup and possibly do this under a vent or outside since this does have  a strong smell.
  • Cleaning: Any equipment the lye touches needs to be neutralized in a mixture of white vinegar, soap, and water. Once you have poured your soap into its mold, you can leave the remains overnight in the crock pot or until it gets hard in the pot and then you have soap to wash out your crock pot and your hand held mixer.
  • Quantity: If you want to make a lot of soap, you will have to do this multiple times or get a bigger crock pot and double your recipe. This recipe only made one batch (one rectangular container).

My first recipe after literally researching soap making for over a year!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz Olive Oil
  • 3 oz Babassu Oil
  • 4 oz Cocoa Butter
  • 6 oz Grapeseed Oil
  • 3.5 oz Shea Butter
  • 1 oz Rose Hip Seed Oil
  • 10 oz Water
  • 3.3 oz Lye (6% excess fat, the lye calculator helps with this)
  • 1 dropperful Lemongrass Essential Oil

Method:

  • Measure the oils using a scale. Make sure to tared to eliminate the weight of the glass measuring cup and only account for the weight of the oils.
  • Combine oils and heat in crock pot. I turned on crock pot in advance so it could warm up before I put my oils in.
  • Measure the water in a large measuring cup (heat safe cup). Measure the lye (by weight with a scale) into a separate measuring cup. Pour lye into the water. Stir well. Set aside and let cool for 5-10 minutes. It will heat up and give off a strong smell.This is best done outside. Wear safety goggles and gloves when working with lye.
  • Once the oils are completely melted, pour the lye mixture into the crock pot with the oils and stir gently, being careful not to splash.
  • Switch to mixing with your handheld blender for about 3 minutes when the mix gets to what is called trace. Trace is simply when the mixture thickens. It will go from the clear liquid, to opaque to thick like custard. It will be fluffy too. Once you have done this for 3-5 minutes, cover and let cook for about 50-60 minutes.
  • At this point you can add your essential oil of choice. Stir in essential oil gently but thoroughly.
  • Prepare your mold. A lot of folks line their molds with parchment paper. I pay too much money for parchment paper to use it here so I just lightly greased the mold with olive oil. It worked fine.
  • Spoon soap mixture into molds. This recipe was able to fill one of my rectangular molds.
  • Allow soap to cool and harden for 24-48 hours. Remove from mold onto cutting board and cut into bars with knife or a soap cutter with ridges for a cool look.
  • Place bars on a tray with good airflow so that they can harden further and cure (age).
  • You can use these bars immediately but as they age they will get harder. Put them on a tray with good airflow so that they continue to cure properly.

There was really no way to make this post short at all! It really is a process that requires you to be there. This is not something you should do while multi-tasking or taking care of little ones! I definitely am going to try this again using coconut milk, green tea, hibiscus, lavender buds, burdock root, olive oil only…  Will post pics as I do them. The sky is the limit. As a matter of fact the brown soap is what I tried immediately after doing the first batch. The brown soap is made with coffee – recipe to follow.

Some sites I used in this whole process:

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