Soap-making is one of my favourite pastimes. I usually make soap during the winter because it makes me feel close to home and hearth. This is my favourite time to do any type of handcraft. The smell of the curing soap reminds me of the holidays and has become a personal tradition for me every year.
I have a variety of oils and herbs on hand for making my soap such as lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and sage. Sometimes I use other ingredients in my soaps such as milk or coffee. Whatever I decide to use in my recipes, my soaps are always 100% pure and natural.
Soap-making is an ancient practice that has been passed down from one generation to the next. The last three generations, however, have had little need to make their own soap, so this art has become all but lost to most people.
Today, soap is made in factories using animal fats and chemical softeners. Natural soap contains glycerin which softens and nourishes the skin. Factories extract this glycerin for use in lotions and replace them with harsh chemical softeners that can leach the skin of its natural moisturisers.
Handmade soap, on the other hand, still contains its glycerin and is naturally nourishing.
Nothing is more pleasing than waking up in the morning and slipping into a nice hot shower with a bar of naturally-scented soap. Natural soaps also have a much thicker lather than the factory-made chemical soaps. With prices as high as they are on handmade soaps, who wouldn’t want to make their own? The cost of making your own soap is very low and the results are much more rewarding than those detergent-scented bars you get from the store.
I use soy oil to make my soap along with organic milk and organic scented oils. Decide which scents you like best before creating your batch of soap. Making soap takes a lot of time, but it is not difficult.
For soap-making, you will need:
a 1 gallon or a 3/4 gallon stainless steel pot or large ceramic bowl,
thick rubber cleaning gloves,
goggles or other protective eyewear,
a wooden spoon,
a soap mold,
and some type of oil. This can be clarified lard, soy oil, coconut oil, almond oil, or olive oil. Coconut oil makes the best smelling soap and almond oil is second best. I like to use soy oil, however, as it is very cheap and works just as well. Soap made from extra virgin olive oil is called castille soap and is very gentle on the skin. It is often used in baby soaps and soaps for sensitive skin types. I buy my soy oil from the grocery store in gallon containers. The label will say “vegetable oil.” Look on the back and make sure it says “100% soy oil.” Never use anything but pure lye.
Lye is a caustic substance but, when mixed with oil, it creates a chemical reaction that changes the lye and oil into pure and harmless soap. There is no lye in finished soap.
If you want your soap to be scented you will need essential oils of the scent you would like and/or ground herbs. Note: ground herbs by themselves will not scent soap as strongly as essential oils. Essential oils can be purchased online or at your local health food store.
There are a number of different things you can use for soap molds. Here are a few you can try:
The best type of mold to use is probably a plastic Tupperware type dish. Be sure the inside of the mold is completely smooth. You can also use a Pringles can lined with coated butcher paper or Saran wrap. Don’t let the soap touch the aluminum on the inside of the can. Another type of mold can be made from a cardboard box carefully lined in coated butcher paper or a plastic trash bag. Make sure there are NO HOLES or the soap will burn through the box and leak everywhere. You can make your soap mold out of wood with collapsible sides if you are good with wood. You can also use fancy soap molds from the craft store, but be warned that they are very expensive and you will need lots of them. A cardboard mailing tube lined with coated butcher paper will also work nicely. Plastic and fancy molds will need to be put in the freezer once the soap is done so it will contract slightly and easily pop out of the mold. Fancy shaped molds can be used, but they are expensive, messy, and generally a hassle more than they are worth putting up with. I prefer large molds where I can cut my bars of soap myself into whatever size I wish. I like to use a 12x15x4 inch cardboard box with the flaps cut off. Cut a flat piece of cardboard to fit exactly inside the box (with the same dimensions as the bottom of the box). If the bottom of the box is not perfectly flat, lay some newspaper on the bottom to make it smooth. Use a single large piece of waxed parchment or waxed butcher paper to line the inside of the box. There should not be any holes or any way for the soap to leak out. I like to use the paper they wrap my meat in at the grocery store. Cover the flat piece of cardboard with this paper as well. Secure the bottom and sides of the box with tape. Lay your mold to the side.
Making lye soap is a dangerous process and should never be tried by anyone but an adult. Never use lye when children or feeble-minded people will be in the area. Lye is extremely caustic and will burn through clothing, skin, plastic counters, wood, Teflon and even the thickest aluminum in only seconds. Never let lye come into contact with aluminum. It will cause an immediate chemical reaction and start to spew deadly gasses into the air. (Believe me, I know this from experience!) Never let anything but stainless steel, rubber, iron, Pyrex glass, or ceramic touch your soap. If you don’t know what your pot is made of, DON’T USE IT!
Also, NEVER pour water into lye. ALWAYS pour the lye into the water. Pouring water into lye will cause an explosion. Also, always pour the lye mixture into oil not vice versa. All measurements MUST be exact, so use small measuring cups you can level off easily with a steel butter knife.
There are two methods to soap-making from scratch. Both will be discussed here. Cold process soap-making is the most popular method and allows you to add scents and other ingredients and use a mold to make smooth soap. Hot process soap making takes between 1 1/2 to 2 hours but results in an ugly soap that cannot have scents and will not come out smooth. Hot process soap begins the same way as the cold process soap so follow these instructions until you get to the end. Read the instructions completely before undertaking this handcraft. This recipe makes 1/2 gallon of soap.
You will need:
6 cups of clarified lard or oil
3/4 cup pure lye
2 1/4 cups distilled or rain water
a large ceramic bowl or a stainless steel pot
a wooden spoon
medium Pyrex glass or ceramic bowl
paper towels (in case of emergency)
long sleeves, long pants, and shoes
handheld drink blender – DO NOT USE eggbeaters
First, have your soap mold(s) ready. Lay newspaper thickly over countertops to protect your work area. If you are doing cold process, you can use either a very large ceramic bowl or a 3/4 gallon stainless steel or iron pot. If you are doing hot process, you will need to use the pot. Heat your oil on the stove until it reaches about 110 – 120 degrees F. Be careful not to let it get too hot.
Put on rubber gloves and protective clothing and eyewear and measure out the water into a medium sized Pyrex glass bowl or ceramic bowl. Measure the lye into a coffee mug. If you drop even a single grain, clean it up IMMEDIATELY with a paper towel and put in the trash. Carefully take the water and the lye outside your home and set the bowl on the ground away from any open windows. Hold your breath and slowly pour lye into the water as you stir it with a wooden spoon. If you need to take a breath, set the lye down and walk at least five feet away to breathe. The gas emitted from the lye and the water is toxic and is quite painful to breathe. Once you pour the lye in the water, it will start to get very hot, so avoid touching the bowl. If the lye hardens on the bottom of the dish, don’t worry, just keep stirring. It will eventually dissolve.
Put on rubber gloves and protective clothing and eyewear and measure out the water into a medium sized Pyrex glass bowl or ceramic bowl. Measure the lye into a coffee mug. If you drop even a single grain, clean it up IMMEDIATELY with a paper towel and put in the trash. Carefully take the water and the lye outside your home and set the bowl on the ground away from any open windows. Hold your breath and slowly pour lye into the water as you stir it with a wooden spoon. If you need to take a breath, set the spoon down and walk at least five feet away to breathe. The gas emitted from the lye and the water is toxic and is quite painful to breathe. Once you pour the lye in the water, it will start to get very hot, so avoid touching the bowl. If the lye hardens on the bottom of the dish, don’t worry, just keep stirring. It will eventually dissolve.
Set the pot of oil on the stove and turn it on low heat. NEVER leave oil alone on the stove – it can catch fire! Heat the oil until just before it begins to boil. When you see little bubbles forming on the bottom of the pot, take it off the heat and put it into the sink. By now, your lye should no longer be emitting toxic fumes. Once the lye mixture has cooled enough that you can carry it (about 110 degrees), take it into the kitchen and SLOWLY pour the mixture into the oil. Do not let it cool too much, as you need the heat to start the soap-making process.
Blend the mixture slowly with the hand blender until it reaches trace.
Trace is the point when you can scoop out some soap with your spoon and pour it back into the mixture and it sits a little on top of the surface like a pudding.
It should take around 30 minutes to an hour for the soap to reach trace if you are using liquid oil.
NEVER use an eggbeater.
The lye might splash on you or onto the counter and will destroy anything it touches.
Use the mixer for five minutes every fifteen minutes until the soap reaches trace.
If you want to add scents or herbs, add them to the soap as soon as it reaches trace.
You should use about two tablespoons of essential oil for this recipe.
If you want to use herbs, add as many as you want, but no more than 3/4 cup or it will cause your soap to break apart.
Once the soap reaches trace and you have added all of your ingredients, pour it into the mold.
Gently lay the flat piece of cardboard on top or lay a piece of smooth plastic over the top and lay a folded towel you don’t mind getting ruined over the top of the box.
Wrap another junky towel around the outside of the box and put it somewhere it will not be disturbed for one week.
The towels will keep the heat in and will cause the soap to saponify. Saponification is what makes the lye turn the oil into soap.
After a week, uncover the soap and slice it into bars. It should be as thick as chilled fudge. Wear gloves while slicing your soap as it is still quite caustic. If it is too soft, put it in a cooler place and wait one more week for it to cure. Slice the bars with a butter knife, a handheld vegetable slicer, or a piece of wire (this makes the smoothest cuts) and lay them on a paper plate or a piece of cardboard for one more week to dry.
After at least 4 weeks, the bars will be ready to use. The longer soap is allowed to cure, the better it gets. I have noticed that soap is best after it has cured for about one year.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
–Sometimes, a thin layer of white chalky substance will form on top of your soap while it is curing. This is caused by the lye reacting with the oxygen. It won’t hurt you, but it isn’t very pretty. You can shave it off, wash it off, or wipe it off with a towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. To prevent it, lay a piece of thin plastic wrap on top of the soap and smooth it out so there are no air bubbles.
–Superfatting your soap will make it more moisturizing. I don’t need to superfat my soaps, but if you have dry skin, you might want to try adding an extra 1/4 to 1/2 cup of oil to your recipe.
–Non-natural oils such as petroleum jelly, petroleum candle wax, etc. will not saponify so don’t use them in your soaps.
–Don’t try putting toys or other items in your soap. They will usually be destroyed by the lye. Melt-and-pour glycerin soaps are best for toy embeds. Some plastic toys may be unharmed in regular cold-process soap, but try them in your own soap before giving it to someone.
–Soaps as Gifts: Everyone loves handmade soap. Because it is inexpensive to make, but very expensive to buy, handmade soap makes great gifts. You can spend a lot of money buying fancy soap molds, but it isn’t necessary. Hand-cut soaps look pretty and rustic and you can provide gifts for a lot of people for just a little money. Wrap soaps in parchment or tie them with raffia ribbon.
–Animal fat soaps usually don’t make as much of a lather as plant-based soaps. Soy oil makes a wonderful lather. Coconut oil can be hard to come by, but it makes the best soap with a nice lather. I have also heard you can use vegetable shortening, but I don’t know what sort of lather that gives off.
–Adding colours to your soaps is mostly an experimental process. You can try adding food colourings, but most of them will deteriorate in the lye. You can also try using vegetable dyes such as beet juice and blueberry juice, but it may not come out the colour you expect. If you want to be sure that your soap will come out a certain colour, add earth pigments to your soaps. These are usually powders or clays and can be purchased online or in the soap-making section at craft stores. Wax colours can also be used and need to be melted before they are poured into your mixture.
–Exfoliating soaps can be made by adding certain exfoliating ingredients. Try using poppyseeds, clay mixes (according to directions) or sand in your soaps. You may need lots of poppyseeds (1 to 2 cups), but only use a little bit of clay and sand as they can build up in your pipes, not to mention get in your eyes while you are washing. Ground oatmeal is also supposed to be a great exfoliator.
–All sorts of scents and herbs can be added to your cold-process soaps once they reach trace. here are some ideas you can use:
Coffee Soap: add 3/4 to 1 cup fresh coffee grounds
Cappuccino Soap: separate two cups of the traced soap and mix in 1/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg. Add 3/4 cup fresh coffee grounds to the larger portion. Pour the coffee mixture into the molds and pour the milk and cinnamon mixture on top for a layered soap that looks and smells like a cappuccino!
Honey: I’ve never made honey soap, but I hear it smells good and makes a pretty brown soap. Add 1 cup of honey to the mixture and 1/2 to 1 cup of milk. You can also add some beeswax to the mixture in order to superfat it or to replace some of the regular oil in the recipe.
Oatmeal: Add 1 1/2 cup oatmeal to your soap for a healthy and nice-smelling bar. Ground oatmeal will also work. Ground the oatmeal using a blender. You can also add maple syrup or cinnamon for a nice-smelling soap. Use cinnamon extremely sparingly as it can sometimes irritate skin.
Lavender: Lavender has a pretty and calming scent. It also has antibiotic properties so add it to your soap for a nice-smelling antiseptic soap.
Peppermint: I use plenty of essential oils and the ground herb for a fresh minty smell.
Pet Soap: The herb pennyroyal smells wonderful and is hated by fleas and will make a great soap to use on your pets. Just be careful to keep the soap out of their eyes.
Using Teas: I sometimes like to use my teas in my soap. They come already ground and measured in their teabags so I only have to tear them open and pour the herb in. I use peppermint, chamomile, and jasmine tea in my soaps.
Citrus Soaps: Don’t be tempted to use fruit in your soaps to get a nice citrus scent. It won’t work. You will just get a brown smelly mess. Instead, use the herbs lemon balm or lemon verbena along with essential oil of lemon, lemon balm, lemon verbena, or lime.
Glycerin: glycerin is another moisturizer and can be found in drugstores. Add it to your soap instead of superfatting it.
Milks: Goat and cow’s milk are popular ingredients for skin-friendly soaps. Add up to three cups to your traced soap.
Beeswax: Melt beeswax and add it to your soap as a superfatting agent or to replace some of the oil in the recipe. Beeswax is very good for your skin, smells like warm honey, and will make your soap a little harder. It will also help your soap to reach trace a lot faster. Make sure it is thoroughly melted before you add it to the hot oil. Beeswax should go in before you add the lye. Never melt beeswax in the microwave or in a pot on the stove. Beeswax should only ever be melted using a double boiler or by placing a glass jar of the wax in a pot of boiling water over medium heat. Heat the jar with the water. Do not add the jar after the water is already hot. It can crack or explode.
TYPES OF OIL YOU CAN USE:
Almond oil – Smells lovely and is good for your skin, but it can be rather expensive.
Canola oil – any vegetable oil is okay. I have never used canola oil to make soap.
Coconut oil – Makes the best smelling soap and is often used for expensive handmade soaps. It has a sweet smell. It is expensive, but not as expensive as almond oil.
Corn oil – I have never tried this, but I expect it would smell like corn. Soaps end up smelling like the soaps that were used to create them.
Olive oil – Olive oil soap is called castile soap and is renowned for its skin-soothing properties. This is the most gentle of oils to use in soap and creates a fine beautiful bar.
Soy oil – Oils labeled in the grocery store as vegetable oil are usually 100% soy. Check the label for ingredients. The resulting bar has a strong soy smell that is easy to recognize. The soap is a plain, cheap way to make soap, but it will not be as sweet smelling as coconut or almond oil soaps. I use it to make all of my soap and I find it great because of the cost and versatility.