Today I wanted to share my first time soap-making experience with you, a basic explanation of the process, along with some recommendations if you’d like to try it yourself! Learning how to make my own soap from scratch was one of my New Year’s resolutions for this year. In the past couple years, I’ve started this journey of trying to be more self-sufficient and old fashioned. The idea of being able to make the things we need instead of buying them commercially-made at the store just seems so fun and quaint and awesome to me. I just love it for some reason! Its an empowering feeling to be able to make your own things from the raw ingredients. It saves money, allows you to control exactly what is in the product, is superior in quality, and it also gives you that wonderful productive, proud feeling of handcrafting something all by yourself! Looking at a beautiful batch of homemade soap that you created gives you all those wonderful feelings. Its also just great to have this kind of knowledge and to have so many various skills. ALSO…I just have to add this in there- Homemade soap is worlds better than store bought. (Isn’t everything homemade better than store-bought?) I think so! Interested in soap-making? Read on to learn about soap making, and my personal recommendations for equipment and safety gear!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links that earn me a small commission if you make a purchase through them. They don’t cost you any extra. As always, I only link to products I actually use and recommend myself!
The Basics of Soap-making
Soap is a mixture of oils or fats and lye that have undergone a chemical reaction to saponify the oils and turn them into soap! (In a nutshell!) Lye is sodium hydroxide (NaOH is the chemical name) which is a strong alkaline substance. It is very dangerous to work with lye, so safety must be the top concern when working with it or making soap. Once the soap has become neutralized, no lye remains in the finished soap so it is perfectly safe. Measurements must also be calculated very precisely to ensure that you have the appropriate amount of lye and oils. Most people use a lye calculator online, like this one, or follow tried and true recipes very carefully. I’ll explain the process roughly, but if you wish to make soap and you haven’t done this before, I highly recommend reading a book about it, watching video tutorials, or making your first batch with an experienced soap-maker who can show you the ropes! I read The Everything Soap Making Book to learn everything I could before I dove into the project of actually making my soap. I highly recommend reading this book, or a similar soap-making book to learn more in depth about it!
Cold Process Soap
The traditional method of making soap is cold process. In this method, the soap must “cure” for 4-6 weeks before using it. The soap bars are still highly alkaline when you finish making them so they must sit out to neutralize the lye. Here is the basic process:
1.- Melt your oils together.
2.- Prepare your lye solution by pouring lye (I ordered this one) into water or other liquid (Never pour water into lye, always pour lye into water!)
3.- Your lye/water solution will become extremely hot. Wait for the temperature to drop below 130 degrees. I use this thermometer which is perfect for soap making!)
4.- Pour your lye solution into your melted oils.
5.- Stir until the soap batter has come to “trace”. I use an emersion blender (this one is great!) to speed up the trace process. It usually takes 3-4 minutes of stirring with an emersion blender before the water and oils have emulsified and become trace. Trace is when the liquid thickens and becomes almost a cake-batter-like consistency.
6.- Add any fragrances or add-ins to your soap batter, mix, and pour the batter into your soap mold. (I use this one and love it! The soap pops out easily and the mold maintains its shape without bowing out from the soap batter. Its a little more expensive than other options I found, but this one had the best reviews. Most of the other molds required a heavier duty frame to put the mold in to prevent it from bowing out.)
7.- In 3-4 days, un-mold your soap and cut into bars. (I use this wavy crinkle cutter, which I love. The texture it creates is lovely.)
8.- Let soap bars cure for 4-6 weeks or until neutral. I use this solution to test my soap. You put a few drops on your soap bars and when it remains clear, it is neutral!
Hot Process Soap
Hot process soap is still great and yields a very similar end result, but its the quick, sped-up, cheating version! The process is similar to cold process but you have to cook the soap until it is neutral. To make hot process soap,
1- Follow instructions 1-5 above which is the same for cold process, except use a stainless steel stock pot or a slow cooker to melt your oils. Then when you have your lye mixture ready, pour it right into the slow cooker.
2- Leave the slow cooker on low for 3 hours. The catch for this method is that you can’t just make your soap batter and leave it in the slow cooker and come back to finished soap. You must stir it up at least every 30 minutes or it will get super weird!
3- Using your pH testing liquid, test your soap to make sure the lye has neutralized.
4- Assuming it is complete, stir in any add-ins or fragrances to the neutral soap batter, and mold your soap.
5- After a few hours your soap will be set. You can cut your bars whenever you think the time is right. You’ll be able to tell if its still too soft to cut. After this, you’re all done and can start to use your soap right away!
My Experience with Cold Process vs. Hot Process
I have tried both methods and liked each one for different reasons. I made a cold process batch first because the book I read suggested that you understand how to make cold process before moving on to hot process. I made the soap batter in probably about 30 minutes and waited about one month before I started to use the bars. The texture of the cold process soap is so creamy and smooth. I love it so much! It lathers very nicely. The hot process soap took me about 30 minutes to make the batter and then 3 hours of cooking it, and then several more hours of waiting for it to set. The downside of hot process is that it takes basically all day to do it seems like! The texture of the soap also gets really weird when it cooks. It starts to harden on the sides and bottom of the slow cooker if you don’t stir it often enough, and it was very thick and grossly goopy when it was all done. It didn’t pour nicely into the mold like the cold process soap did. Ryan said it looked like animal poop, and I have to agree with him. (See photo below of my coffee soap. It didn’t help that it was greenish brown from the brown coffee and green olive oil. Haha sorry.) The harder parts of the batter were lighter in color than the gel-like softer parts, but in the end once the soap had hardened, I trimmed off the ugly “animal poop” parts and the soap itself didn’t look half bad! I think in the future I’ll use both processes just depending on the type of soap I’m making. I enjoyed both!
So maybe I’m a tad over cautious, but I’ve always been this way. Better safe than sorry! To keep yourself safe while handling lye, here are my recommendations and what I’ve done for both types of soap-making.
-Wear rubber gloves like these when handling lye, or raw soap batter.
-Wear goggles to prevent splashes of lye into your eyes.
-Wear a mask so you don’t inhale the fumes of the lye mixture. I didn’t notice fumes when I made my first batch of soap with water, but when I made soap with the coffee, the fumes were terrible and the mask was definitely handy! I ended up putting the lye/coffee mixture outside to cool down because it was fuming up the house pretty bad.
-Wear a shirt you don’t care about. I had one very small splash incident where I lifted my emersion blender just a tad too high and I got a few small dots of the soap batter on me. I did get one small speck on my arm, and it did burn slightly but just for about 5 minutes. It wasn’t bad at all, but if you got a big splash of that on your skin it could really burn you, so long sleeves are definitely a good idea too if its not too hot.
Well that’s about it for making soap! Its really quite a simple process, but also requires a bit of knowledge about the chemical reactions, what to look out for, and how to be safe doing it. Stay tuned for a post for the green bentonite pine cold process soap I made, as well as the hot process coffee soap recipe shown in these photos! 🙂