I have been making soap for about five or six years. After being intimidated by the idea for about 3 years, I finally just did it. And then I wondered what the big deal was. Making soap is really not worth being intimidated by. With the easy online soap calculators, you can not go wrong. You can choose the oils you want to use and they will tell you the properties your soap will have. You can put in the amount of soap you want to make, and it will generate all the measurements for you. There is no guess work. I have never had a batch fail. I have had some I liked better than others though.
This is one of my favorites
The three oils I like to use are olive (very moisturizing), coconut (it gives a very good lather but can make a drying soap), and either lard or tallow. I like to use one of these animal fats because they make a harder soap. I really like the results of this combination. You can usually get these fats free from grocery stores, butchers, or sausage makers. I render them myself and keep them in quart jars. These are shelf stable and I just keep them in my cool, dark storage room. I have also stored them in the freezer. The rendering process isn’t hard, but I like to run it through a meat grinder to break up the fibers and help it melt more quickly.
The lye can be a little hard to find. I buy it at Ace Hardware labeled as drain cleaner.
Lye of course is dangerous, and should be treated with respect. I like to make soap after my kids go to bed, or when they are playing elsewhere. I also use latex gloves when I handle it. There are a few materials that need to be gathered before starting:
A stick blender can save thirty minutes or more of stirring. Stirring soap by hand can take forever.
spraying them with a little bit of cooking spray helps to remove the soap from the mold when it is time.
I like using rectangular containers that are about two inches deep and slightly flexible.
You will also need a thermometer. I just use a meat thermometer that has a long stem, so it reaches down into a tall jar.
A digital scale (I bought mine at Costco for $20)
A coffee filter to weigh out the lye.
You will need to wrap your finished product in blankets to keep the soap warm as long as possible. You want the chemicals to react completely. To do this I cover my mold with a cardboard lid (just tape it on) and wrap it (carefully) with a baby blanket or something similar.
When making soap, use only glass or stainless steel. I actually use a wooden spoon to stir my lye into the water, but of course it lives in the soap making box and never gets used for anything else. Once I made the mistake of using an aluminum cookie sheet for a soap mold. It had to be thrown away. I also like to use gloves will dealing with the lye. I have had it irritate my hands with even the slightest exposure. If this happens, just wash it off with a little vinegar.
The general idea of soap making is, add your lye to water, melt your fats, when they are the same temperature (110) mix them and stir until it traces (leaves a trail on top when stirred). I will describe the more detailed process, but always remember, it is really that simple.
Using the scale and the coffee filter measure out the amount of lye needed in your recipe. Measure out the correct amount of water in your glass container. When you add the lye to the water, it will get hot, surprisingly so. It takes a while to bring the temperature down, so I do this step first and put it outside on a cool night (nights are always cool in Cedar City). Then I weigh out my fats and start them warming in a stainless steel pot on low. If you get your fats too warm, they cool more slowly and will require an ice bath to bring them down, so don’t be in a big hurry to warm them up, go slow. You can use this time to get your molds and blankets ready.
When both the lye and the oils are the right temperature(110), slowly pour the lye into the pot of oils (remember this from high school chemistry) so that if it splashes, it is the oil, not the lye that splashes. Then using the stick blender, start stirring. I like to do this with the stove on warm because it seriously speeds up the tracing process. If the temperature drops even a few degrees it can take 30 minutes or more to trace. If it stays at 110, it should trace in less than 10 minutes. I have stirred soap for nearly an hour before having it trace. Keep it warm, it saves lots of time.
Once it begins to trace, it is now time to add color or scent. I use essential oils (peppermint is my favorite) to scent my soap and it is fun to come up with all different combinations. It takes more than you would think (about 45 ml) so cost is often a factor when I choose an oil. For color I have used turmeric, chocolate, paprika, and even orange peel. Paprika and turmeric are my favorite. When your colors and scents are in (if you want them), work quickly to get it into the molds.
Then cover it with cardboard and wrap with a small blanket to keep in the heat and put it in a flat, undisturbed place. Resist the urge to look at it for at least 24 hours. At this point, you can cut your soap (or if it is soft, roll it into balls) and let it sit for nearly a month. The chemical process takes a while to complete. This isn’t something you can do for a last minute gift.
I love using my homemade soap and use it exclusively. I actually wash my hair with it, but that is another post. It is the only thing I wash my face with, and I love giving it as gifts. If you are interested in making soap, but a little afraid to do it, go for it because it is not as difficult as you might think.