Soapmaking: Starting out

So, I decided to start a short series on finding fun things to do while we’re all home. This first one is perhaps one of my favourite things to do, but if you want some of the ingredients you’ll want to go now and stock up because hardware stores are closed.

Soap is an incredibly rewarding hobby to get into because the finished product lasts a little longer than say cooking/baking. Also, if you’re really into art you can play around with colours and scents. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past, creating loaves of soap that had fancy patterns, etc. I’d still love to get into the peacock swirl (google it, soooo cool), but I don’t soap as much as I used to due to active kids always being around.

Use Soap-Specific Utensils

The one thing about making soap is that you need to be careful that you’re taking the necessary precautions when doing it. One, you want to make sure that you only use utensils for soap-making. Once used to stir the lye before it saponifies, you will not want to use that spoon, pot, etc. for food. I know some people who said they have, but it’s really not safe.

These should be glass, if possible. Be careful with aluminum as lye can react with that. I usually use a wooden spoon to mix my lye and water, glass jars and bowls to mix the lye/water and melt oils, a silicone spatula to scrape out my crockpot after it’s done, and plastic spoons and containers if I want to add colour.

I am going to just talk about hot-process soap in this series as it is the simplest method for making soap, but it does require a crockpot. If you only have one crockpot you can line it with parchment paper to protect it.

Be Careful Around Children

Lye is caustic, which means it will burn you if it comes in contact with your skin (dropped a whole pot of freshly-made soap on my foot once, not cool). Once the lye has set with the oils you use, it saponifies and becomes safe for our skin. All soap is made like this. Lye is the product our grandmothers would have gotten from ashes. One cool thing is that we have lye calculators now that tell us exactly how much to use so that our soap turns out, where years ago soap often did burn their skin if their calculations were off.

When we mix our lye and water at the beginning of the process, you want to make sure that jar stays away from where it could be spilled. I have done it out on my deck (it will give off fumes) but most often I mix it in my kitchen sink with the window cracked and just stand back a bit as I stir so I’m not breathing it in. I like doing it in the sink because then my kids can’t pull the jar over onto themselves, etc. If it does fall over, it’s just going down my drain.

One safety precaution for lye is to keep vinegar handy to deactivate it. If you do get some on you, running it under water right away is one of the best ways to get it off your skin. When I dropped the soap on my foot, I grabbed my jug of vinegar and ran to my shower. I poured the vinegar over my foot and then turned the shower on. It didn’t end up blistering or hurting past that night so it worked. Whenever handling the lye, try to wear gloves, just to be safe if it splashes or anything.

When we wash the dishes after soaping, I add vinegar to the water and wash with gloves on because the lye does irritate my skin. A dishwasher is great for washing everything up if you have one (I don’t, lol).

Although lye can sound pretty scary, outside of dropping the soap on my foot, I’ve not had an issue in almost 6 years of making soap. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re following safety precautions when around it.

Where to Find Lye

This is going to be the biggest issue for many people as it’s not an easy product to go pick up. First of all, you need to make sure that it’s 100% lye crystals. You can purchase it at Home Hardware (in Canada) stores usually, but in this time many of you might not be able to get to those specific stores. Some of the forums online said they ordered online from the Home Hardware website. Amazon had it but be aware you’re paying for dangerous goods handling for it to be shipped, so it’s going to cost a lot more than what I pay from Home Hardware. This is what I typically buy from HH. The larger one is 3 kgs and the smaller is 500g. For a 1lb recipe the smaller one will probably last for 3 or 4 recipes. If you are looking online it can also be called Sodium Hydroxide or Caustic Soda.

In the next post, I’ll share the recipe I’m going to use using ingredients you can get at any grocery store.

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About Amanda Cunningham

Amanda worked as a full-time school teacher for two years before getting married and having three wonderful kids. She blogs about faith, family, food, and fun. While crafting takes up a lot of her extra time, Amanda also strives to help others through ministry in her church and in the community. Amanda, also known as Mae, works as the church music director and homeschools two of her three children