Soapmaking 101

Let’s get soaping!

This post is probably going to be quite long so I can get all the info into one post. So beware and come back if you need to to reference the steps as you work. I’ll add photos to this post when I next make soap so you can see what you need.

Hot Process versus Cold Process

There are two ways to make soap. Hot process is the process of cooking your soap to speed up saponification. It is a really easy way to make soap as it does not require you to be as precise with temperatures, etc. This creates a rough-looking, rustic bar and can be ready to use in about a week, although the longer it sits the better it will be.

Cold process soap requires precision in temperature. It allows you to colour the soap much more easily, and produces a smooth-looking bar. It takes 6-8 weeks to cure properly and harden.

For our purposes, I am going to explain the hot process method.

Supplies:

  1. Glass Jar
  2. Spoon/Stick blender (you can get an Oster stick blender for about $25 on Amazon)
  3. Crockpot (check your local buy and sell groups for cheap ones)
  4. Measuring cups or bowls
  5. Box or silicone container for a soap mold
  6. Kitchen scale (there are some as low as $10 on walmart.ca)
  7. Gloves/Safety Glasses

Ingredients:

  1. Lye
  2. Lard
  3. Coconut Oil
  4. Olive or Canola oil
  5. Water
  6. Essential oils

I use lyecalculator.com to figure out exactly how much lye to use. Oils are not strictly changeable so usually you can’t just switch out one oil and expect the lye amount to stay the same. I have calculated this recipe with both olive oil and canola and it is the same, so for this recipe you’re fine to choose which you’d rather use. Canola is much cheaper than Olive oil.

Often I add castor oil which gives lather to your bar. If you put your recipe into soapcalc.net it will tell you how hard your bar is going to be, how bubbly, etc. There are so many different oils and butters that you can use, the sky is the limit really. Your only issue is going to be sourcing. I’ve tried 1 oz of beeswax to make a super hard bar. I’ve done 100% olive oil (which will produce a hard bar but takes almost a year to cure). I’ve done salt bars, which are a lot of fun (maybe I’ll share that technique at another time). I’ve added shea butter (but tend to not use that now since I have a friend’s daughter who is allergic to shea). You can also switch out the water for milk (like goat’s milk) but again, your technique will change as the milk needs to be frozen before adding the lye or it will burn

You can use a lot of different things for your soap mold. Silicone containers are definitely the easiest as your soap will literally pop right out, but any container lined with parchment or waxed paper will work. When I was first starting out I used every kind of box you could think of (cereal boxes, etc,) lined with wax paper. You can keep the cost down as much as possible this way. I used silicone muffin cups for a long time as well before I purchased silicone soap molds on Amazon. The dollar store sells them cheap. I have gotten ice cube molds, heart cupcake molds, etc. FYI: the hard chocolate molds are not that great. We found it difficult to get our soap out of them. I do know people who used them, though.

Before you start, fill your sink with water and add a 1/2 cup of vinegar to wash all your soaping utensils in. Alternatively, you can add everything to your dishwasher. Use gloves when washing up your dishes.

So, let’s check out our recipe on the lyecalculator:

I’ve included the recipe for a 1lb loaf (which is good amount for a first try) or a 2lb loaf (will give you about 10 nice-sized bars (around 4oz each). Again, you can play around with the percentages but keep in mind if you do use coconut oil, it should never be more 33% of your recipe. If you want to use more than that you’ll want to check out other blog posts on superfatting. Coconut oil can be drying if there is too much in a recipe. At this level it is moisturizing and amazing for skin. I’ve used this recipe for the past two years or so (with the addition of castor oil for bubbles which I didn’t feel like purchasing at this time) and everyone who uses my soap says it has been amazing for their skin, so I know this works!

When you go onto the lyecalculator site it will start with you choosing your oils, you put the amount of each oil that you’re going to use in the little blank next to the oil and then at the bottom of the screen you click “Calculate Lye” and the above is what you will see.

The first box tells you how much liquid to use (water or milk). It gives you an approximate, the more water you use the softer your bar of soap, the less water the harder it will be. For 2lbs of soap I typically use 9oz of water. But you can definitely use more than that. I use mason jars that are labeled for soap to measure my water and lye. That way, I can pour the lye right into the water and it won’t hurt anything. Once the lye is added to the water it will get very hot, so be careful when handling.

On the far right is the box telling you how much lye to add. Red is a no no. Green is the safe range and blue is probably not going to be enough to create a good bar of soap. Typically for 2lbs I do 4.5 oz of lye but 4.4 would be okay, too.

Safety: wear gloves and long sleeves when handling lye. Safety glasses are also a good option.

ALWAYS ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER!

Never add the water to the lye. You will create a reaction that will not be good if you do! When I add the lye crystals to the water I usually have my jar of water in the kitchen sink. I stand back a bit as I pour it in. Same with the crockpot: when I add the lye water to my oils, I stand back a bit so if it does happen to splash it won’t get on my face.

Step 1:

Measure out your liquid (water) and lye in separate containers on your kitchen scale. Place your water in a safe, ventilated space and carefully pour your lye into your water. Stir until the lye has dissolved and the water is clear. Let sit to cool.

Step 2:

Measure out your oils and melt them. I usually melt the hard oils/lard in the microwave and then add to the crockpot.

Step 3:

Carefully add your lye/water to the oils in the crockpot. Pour slowly and close to the oils so that there will be less chance of splashing.

Step 4:

Use a stick blender to mix the lye water and oils together. We want to bring the oils to what we call trace. This is the point where if you lift your stick blender out you will see a slight imprint of the stick left behind (in other words: you’re oils will start to thicken). You want to blend in spurts, and stir in between pushing the blender button.

If you just keep the blender on you can create a false trace which will mean that there will be pockets where the lye did not mix in properly. You can still use that soap for laundry but you won’t be able to use it on your skin.

If you don’t have a stick blender you can still achieve trace by stirring with a spoon, however, it will take a reeeaalllyyy long time, hah. Ask me how I know, lol. I think it took about 20-30 minutes to come to trace when I stirred by hand. Just think: that’s how our great-grandmothers would have done it!

Step 5:

Once you have reached trace, you can put the lid on your crock pot and turn it on low. Check it after 15 minutes and give it a stir. Let it go another 15 minutes or more. I have left mine as long as an hour. The more water that cooks off, the harder your bar will be but it also gives a messier-looking bar.

Step 6:

Add your fragrance. A lot of soapers use fragrance oils. I prefer not to and stick to essential oils. l often use cheap essential oils for soaping but have begun using more of my pure oils that I prefer. There is a great chart showing how to measure different essential oils for soap on modernsoapmaking.com. Again, if you have a good kitchen scale you should be able to measure in these small amounts. If you don’t want it scented you do not have to add anything to it.

Step 7:

Pour or ladle your soap into your mold. You can tap the mold on the counter to get any bubble pockets out and make it somewhat smooth on top. You can also use a spatula.

Place your soap out of the way overnight or at least for 12-24 hours. Unmold and cut (I usually make my bars just under an inch wide but you can cut it however you want), then place the soap where it can “cure” for at least a week or more. This just means that you want to place your soap where air will flow around each bar and dry it out. The harder your bar of soap the longer it will last when being used. A really soft bar of soap will be used up much faster.

There are many discussions about when the soap is safe to use, but, if you have followed these guidelines the soap could be safely used after you take it out of the crock pot (although, obviously, we want to wait until it has hardened to use). If you’re unsure you can buy PH test strips at stores like Micheals or Scholars Choice and check the PH of your soap. SoapQueen has a great soap ph scale that you can google. Your soap should be in the 9-10 ph range, though, which shows green on the test strip. I used to check every batch but haven’t in years and have had no issues. It’s a great science project for your kids, though. Lye will test much higher so if you’ve used too much lye in your recipe it will show that – and you’ll know to use that soap for laundry, lol.

Once I’ve completed my next batch of soap I will post a video showing the steps and add pictures to this post. I wanted to give you all the basic steps, though, and the list of supplies and ingredients you will want to collect. Most of these can be purchased on line to negate going out right now. Let me know if you have any questions!

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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