One of the skills I have wanted to learn is making soap at home. During the last few months I have dedicated a few days to soap making sessions, and invited some friends along for the journey. We have enjoyed making soap at home from just a few easy to obtain ingredients. Gather some oils, butters, fats, lye, and distilled water. Most of these ingredients are available in natural food stores, grocery stores, on line shopping sites, and specialty craft stores. A quick internet search can lead you to many soap supply options.
As with many crafts, making soap at home can be done with just a few ingredients. Once you learn the basic model of how soap is formed, try some new recipes that include different oils and fats. Some of the basic soap recipes can be pulled together with distilled water, lye, and one or two oils. Essential oils add fragrance to the soap and are added at the end, just before pouring into the mold.
The method I am using is called Cold Process Soap. The soap is not cooked further after it is mixed together.
Material Used in Making Soap at Home
Mixing the distilled water and lye requires a container that is heat tolerant. If you use a metal pan, the pan will become very hot. I am using a heavy duty plastic container like this one for mixing.
Assorted oils and butters will be required. Lard, tallow and olive oil are common fats. Almond oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, caster oil, jojoba oil, shea butter and mango butter are some often listed ingredients. Some soap recipes call for a varied list of fats, while others are limited ingredient soaps, made with only olive oil and coconut oil, mixed with the lye solution.
Tools for Making Soap at Home
In addition to the container, a hand held mixer or immersion blender is very helpful. Of course you can stir with a wooden spoon but it takes much less time to reach trace when using the immersion blender.
Using precise measurements is very important in soap making. It’s important to use the same measurement across all of the ingredients. Measure in grams or ounces but use the same method for all. Don’t forget to tare the scale after placing the container on the scale. I like this digital scale that I purchased from Amazon.
It is entirely possible to guess at the temperature range of the lye mixture before adding the oils and other ingredients. One hundred degrees to one hundred and ten is a bit warmer than luke warm. Of course, do not put your hand in the solution to test this out! You can feel the heat through the plastic but why? Candy thermometers or digital laser thermometers are an inexpensive addition to your soap making gear. If you purchase a non- contact style, you can use it for cooking too, without the worry of cross contamination.
Round out your equipment with a few wooden spoons kept just for soap making, soap loaf molds, and safety equipment. The recommended safety procedure recommendations are, wearing long sleeves, safety glasses, and protective safety gloves. If you have sensitive lungs you should consider wearing a mask, too.
Be Organized When Making Soap at Home
Since time and temperature are factors during the soap making process, have all of your ingredients and materials ready before getting started. Because there are some fumes as a result of the chemical reaction of the lye and the water, I do this mixing outside on the porch. If you choose to mix the lye inside, make sure you have plenty of ventilation from an open window. After the lye and water are mixed there is some waiting time. Here’s the steps I have been taking when making soap. This method seems to best utilize my time, and everything is ready for mixing at the same time.
Assemble all ingredients and tools. Make sure you set up near electric outlets if using a hand mixer.
Carefully measure out water and lye in separate containers. Using a wooden or silicon spoon, add the lye to the water in a heat tolerant plastic bucket or pitcher. (don’t forget the safety gear in case of splashes) Gently stir until all the lye is dissolved. Allow the lye mixture to sit and cool down gradually.
Meanwhile, on the stove, heat the oils and butters together. I use a large mason jar set into a pan of simmering water. This is similar to a double boil type system, and prevents scorching or burning the fats.
Keep the oils warm. When the lye mixture has cooled to approximately 100 to 11o degrees Fahrenheit, carry the liquid fats to the lye bucket.
I like to use an immersion blender that was given to me second hand for this step. Stirring is, of course, going to take longer but is an option.
Slowly add the fats to the lye solution. Start the immersion blender and mix. Occasionally stop the blender to check how thick the mixture is. You are looking for the point where the soap is just becoming thick and leaves a “trace” when dripped back over the solution. For more on reaching the trace point take a look at this video. (we start discussing “trace” around the 30 minute mark)
Once you reach the trace phase, carefully pour the soap batter into the mold. Gently tap the mold on the table to release air bubbles. I don’t know if I actually read this somewhere or made it up but I do it anyway. Just keeping it real here.
Place the mold in an area where it won’t be disturbed. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and a kitchen towel. You are looking for the soap loaf to cool slowly and begin to harden further.
After 24 hours, check to see if the soap is ready to be removed from the mold. When using the silicon liners, this is as simple as peeling the silicon off the soap.
From the first experience to today, I have enjoyed the journey through making soap at home. I hope this has broken down the steps for you and helped encourage you to give soap making a try. Jan Berry has a soap making course on her website that is very helpful for leaning the process of soap making. And, pick up a copy of Simple and Natural Soap Making, for lots of additional information, tips, and loads of great recipes!