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Making Soap

Are you a creative person looking for a new hobby? Or are you perhaps simply looking for a more natural alternative to commercial soap? Then soap making might just be the thing for you! What exactly is soap making? It is the creation of soap via a basic chemical reaction between fats or oils and lye. You can choose to use quality oils combined with fragrance or essential oils and coloring to create a charming bar of soap. Making your own home made soap combines the elements of chemistry knowledge, cooking skills, artistic input and frugal living. In this article, we aim to inform you more about soap making, from methods to recipes.

Why should I make my own soap

According to Ann Bramson, one of the pioneers of today’s natural hand made soap making community, “home made soap has character. It charms… it smells good… feels good… is comforting in ways which manufactured soap can never be.”

Information on home made soap

Home made soap is made by combining two parts, lye and water, plus a mixture of oils. These do not combine easily, so they must be brought to similar temperatures in order to ease the combining process. When mixed, lye and water tends to get very hot. The oils must be heated gently, and carefully. Each type of oil has a different saponification index, which is a measure of how much lye you will require to turn that particular type of oil into soap. This means that oils cannot be mixed in the making of soap, as they have different saponification indexes (e.g. you cannot mix coconut oil with olive oil when trying to make soap).

CAUTION: Do take care as lye is a very caustic substance.

This means that it is capable of burning, destroying, and corroding living tissue. So do be careful not to get any on your skin. Also, lye tends to give on some nasty fumes that can be harmful to human health. So when you are going to handle lye, do ensure that you wear a pair of thick rubber gloves to protect your hands, and wear goggles to protect your eyes from the fumes. It is also advisable to work in a room with good ventilation, or to use a respirator.

The hardest step in making your own home made soap is to know when it is done. To correctly identify when your soap is complete, look out for a state called ‘trace’. In this state, a dribble of soap would stay on the surface and slowly flatten out instead of sinking into the pot, sort of like how a drop of honey on a counter top will slowly flatten out.

The methods of making your own home made soap

There are four main methods to make your own home made soap. They are:

  • The melt and pour method: The melt and pour method is a method of home made soap making where pre-made blocks of soap are melted, and you add in your own fragrance. This is a rather easy method since you do not have to make your own soap from scratch.
  • The cold process method: The cold process method is the most common method of making home made soap. It entails making the soap from scratch, using oils and lye.
  • The hot process method: The hot process method is a variation of the cold process method. It also entails making the soap from scratch, using oils and lye, but in this method, the soap is actually cooked in an oven or a crock pot.
  • The re-batching method: The re-batching method of making home made soap is somewhat like the melt and pour method. In the re-batching method of making home made soap, pre-made bars of soap are grinded up, and additional milk or water is added before the mixture is reblended.

Each method is used for different purposes, and have their own pro, cons, and variations. This article will discuss the two most popular and common methods of home made soap making – the melt and pour soap making method, and the cold process soap making method.

The home made melt and pour soap making method

The melt and pour home made soap making method is rather similar to the process of baking a cake with a cake mix. In the melt and pour soap making method, pre-made blocks of unscented and uncolored soap bases are bought. These are readily available from soap supplies or even from craft stores. The soap base is then melted in a doubler boiler or even in the microwave. When it is fully melted, you can add in your own coloring, fragrance or essential oils, or even additives such as rose petals, for aesthetic appeal. You then pour it into a mold, and wait for it to harden.

The following are some things that you will require for the melt and pour home made soap making method:

  • Some blocks of plain, uncolored, unscented soap for your soap base
  • A clean, flat workspace
  • A microwave or a double boiler
  • Some spoons or whisks to mix the melted soap
  • Some measuring spoons
  • Any fragrance, essential oils, colourings or additives that you may want to add in
  • A mold to mold your soap in

Pros and cons of the melt and pour soap making method

The melt and pour method is not only an easy way to ease you into the world of soap making, but it is also an inexpensive method, since most soap bases do not cost much. It is also a very safe method as compared to other methods, since it does not involve having to deal with the dangerous lye substance.

It is also a very fast method of home made soap making, as you can use the soap once it has hardened, and do not need to go through the curing process. However, it is not a much preferred method because it does not offer you much control over your ingredients since the pre made soap bases are already made with certain types and combinations of oils. Also, the melt and pour soap method is not really as ‘natural’ as other home made soap making methods. This is because many mass scale soap manufacturers add chemicals into their soap to increase the amount of lather and also to better allow the soap to melt, whereas natural home made soap usually does not contain such chemicals.

The cold process method of home made soap making

As compared to the melt and pour home made soap making method, the cold process home made soap making method can be likened to making your cake from scratch rather than using a pre mix. You have the ability to control every single ingredient in the cold process method. However, the process will be a little more complicated, and also a little more dangerous.

In the cold process home made soap making method, you need to first heat the oils you have chosen to use in a pot until they are about 100 degrees in heat. Then, you slowly add in the lye and water mixture, and then blend the soap mixture until it thickens, to the ‘trace’ state as we have talked about above. Once the ‘trace’ state is reached, you can add in your colouring, fragrance and essential oils, and additives. You then pour the mixture into your mold. It will then take about 24 hours to harden and then about another four weeks to cure before it is ready for use.

The following are some things that you will require to carry out the cold process home made soap making method:

  • A clean and flat workspace
  • A heat source
  • Access to water
  • Some animal fats or vegetable oils
  • Some lye water
  • A soap pot and some other tools and equipment such as spoons and a whisk
  • Fragrance or essential oils, if you want to use them
  • Natural or synthetic colourings, if you want to use them
  • A mold to mold your home made soap in
  • A cool and dry place for your home made soap to cure

The cold process method of making home made soap is a popular method since it is a truly natural method that gives you a lot of space for variation and experimenting. You have full control over the ingredients you use, unlike in other processes such as the melt and pour soap making method. However, it is a slightly more dangerous method because you will have to work with lye, which is a caustic material, as discussed above. Also, the cold process soap making method is slightly more expensive and time consuming since you need to get more ingredients and the entire process involves more work and also more mess. You also need to wait for the curing process to be complete before you can start using your soap.

So how exactly do you make your own cold process soap? Well, that is exactly what we are going to discuss now. Soap making is actually a rather straightforward process, if you have a good guide to follow. The first thing you will need is a recipe. For those who are just beginning to learn the art of soap making, you may want to follow some tried and tested recipes. When you have become more familiar with the materials and process, you may start to experiment and try out using different types of ingredients and combinations.

Next, you want to assemble all the necessary equipment, materials, and ingredients, and organize your workspace so that you do not have to scramble around looking for any tool or ingredient later in the middle of your soap making process. For instance, it is essential that you have your colorings and fragrances and essential oils near by so that you can quickly add them into your soap mixture after it has reached the ‘trace’ state, before it hardens so much that you are unable to mix in these extra elements.

You should prepare your lye solution first, because it will take quite some time to cool. First, weigh out the amount of distilled water required for your particular recipe. Next, weigh out the lye. When you are doing so, be careful that no stray specks or beads of lye drop onto the floor or stick to your gloves and shirt sleeves. Next, you want to add any sugar or salt you intend to add to your water, before you add in the lye. You will want to put on your safety goggles before starting to do so. When you are adding the lye, do it very slowly, and be careful to not make any splashes.

NOTE: it is always the lye that goes into the water, not the other way round, because adding water to a huge amount of lye causes a volcano-like reaction. Stir gently until the lye is completely dissolved. Do not be alarmed if the mixture gets extremely hot and starts to bubble and steam. This is completely normal. Just keep on stirring until the solution is well mixed. Set your solution in a cool and safe place, it will be ready to use when it is about 100 degrees. You will want to keep it away from young children, and even label it if there are other people in the house. Rinse the spoon, or whatever tool you used to stir the solution with immediately, just in case you or someone else accidentally touches it later on.

Next, weigh out the oils that you are going to use. Be careful, because once you add too much oil in, you can’t remove it anymore. Also, it is advisable to weight solid soap making oils (e.g. coconut, cocoa butter) and liquid soap making oils (e.g. olive, canola) separately.

Heat the solid oils on the stove in the soap pot, over medium heat. Stir them gently while they melt. Turn off the heat once the oils are about 110 degrees, but keep on stirring until they are all completely melted. Next, add the liquid oils to the soap pot. Ensure that your liquid oils are at room temperature, because that will help to bring the overall temperature of the oils down to about 100 degrees, which is exactly what we want.

Slowly add the lye-water mixture into the soap pot, with your oils. If you see your oils start to turn cloudy, that is a good sign. Stir the mixture, ensuring that the two solutions are roughly blended together. At this point, the saponification process begins, and you will need to move quickly, you cannot afford to leave your mixture here and get distracted by other things such as a TV show. Once the mixture is roughly mixed, use a stick blender and blend in short bursts of about 3 to 5 seconds, until the two solutions are completely mixed together. Once they are completely mixed together, it has almost reached the ‘trace’ state. The ‘trace’ state only requires a few minutes to be reached with the aid of a stick blender, but if you do not own one and are using a spoon, it may take up to an hour or even more.

Next, we add your extra ingredients. Before the soap mixture gets too thick, slowly add in your fragrance or essential oils. This is also when you add in any special additives you would like, such as flower petals, spices, or even moisturizing oils. When you are done, blend the mixture briefly with the stick blender to ensure that everything is mixed well. Following that, we tackle the coloring. There are two ways. If you want your entire block of soap to be of just one color, add the coloring straight into the pot and stir. But if you want a sort of ‘swirl’ effect, ladle out a bit of your soap mixture (about ½ to 1 cup) and add the coloring to that. Then slowly pour it back into just one corner of the soap pot. Using a spoon or a spatula, slowly swirl the colored soap through to the rest of the pot. Don’t overdo it, though, or you will just end up with one block of colored soap instead of having the swirl effect.

Now, pour the soap mixture into your mold, making sure that it spreads out smoothly. You can use your spoon to even out its surface if it is uneven. Gently tap the mold on the counter top as well. This will help to dislodge any trapped bubbles as well as even out the top surface. Set your soap in a warm place for it to begin curing. Your work for the day is now done. Wash up your utensils, ensuring that you are still wearing your safety equipment, as there may still be some lye residue left.

After your soap has hardened, about 24 hours later, pop it out of the mold, and slice it into as many bars as you like. You then need to leave it for about 4 weeks to cure before you can start using it.

Soap making ingredients

There are many different types of ingredients that you can use. Choose carefully, because each one gives you a different type of soap. In this section, we will discuss oils, fats and butters, and what results they will give you in general. Oils, fats, and butters can be classified as soft, hard, or brittle. Soft oils usually give you a softer type of soap. They are also usually liquid oils at room temperature. Because soaps made with high percentage of soft oils tend to be soft and sticky, they can be difficult to remove from the mold. To deal with this, simply leave the soap in the mold for a few more days before trying to remove it. If all else fails, you can freeze your soap to help it harden a little more. There are many examples of soft oil, including castor oil, sweet almond oil, rice bran oil, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, hazelnut oil, hempseed oil, and olive oil. However, olive oil is a little different in the sense that soap bars made from a high percentage of olive oil will be soft upon removal from the mold, but will cure to become really hard bars of soap.

Hard oils are usually semi-solid at room temperature. They are thick and viscous liquids that give you a hard bar of soap. Keep in mind that if you use a lot of hard oil, your soap mixture will be hard to swirl or to make advanced designs in because the soap mixture tends to harden more quickly. Examples of hard oils are tallow, lard, coconut oil, shea butter, palm oil, and mango butter. Brittle oils are oils that are completely solid at room temperature. To break them up, you will need to chip at them for a while. Keep in mind that if you use a lot of brittle oil, your soap mixture will be hard to swirl or to make advanced designs in. Brittle oils generally give you hard bars of soap, and make your soap mixture reach the ‘trace’ state more quickly. Examples include cocoa butter and palm kernel oil.

Creating your own recipe

The first thing you need is a recipe. When starting oil, use a tried and tested recipe from a book or website. Though you can make soap by using just one type of oil, some of the best soap recipes utilize a combination of oils as each oil will contribute a different quality to your bar of home made soap.

There are four main types of qualities – hard, lathering, conditioning, and moisturizing. To have a balanced bar of soap, you should have oils of at least the first three properties. Of course, some oils will contribute two qualities to your soap. For example, coconut oil is great for lathering but also makes your soap bar hard. Shea butter makes your bar of soap hard, but also gives it moisturizing properties.

So to have a balanced bar of soap, a basic recipe would be something like 30% tallow (for hardness), 25% coconut oil (for lathering properties and hardness), and 45% olive oil (for softness and conditioning). So your end product will not be too hard, and will have the properties of lathering and conditioning. For those ‘soap vegetarians’ who want a more ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ bar of soap, it is possible to use just vegetable oils and not any animal fats. For example, you could use 25% palm oil (for hardness), 25% coconut oil (for lathering and hardness), 25% olive oil (for softness and conditioning), 10% canola oil (for conditioning) and 10% sunflower oil (for softness and conditioning), 5% castor oil. This combination will give you a relatively soft bar of soap that has lathering and conditioning properties.

TIP: Castor oil is a wonderful type of oil that you can and should add to every single bar of soap you make. By adding just 4 to 6 % of castor oil, you will get an end product that has a high degree of lathering properties and has a nice creamy texture.

Here are more types of oils and their properties:

  • Babassu Seed Oil

Makes your soap hard and gives it a fluffy lather. Brings your soap mixture to the ‘trace’ state more quickly. Great for both oily and dry complexions as it gently moisturizes the skin without leaving it with an oily sheen. Especially suitable for those with eczema, and itchy, dry, and inflamed skin.

  • Beeswax

Makes your soap somewhat harder. Acts as an emulsifier while blending your soap mixture to trace. Can also help to prevent soap ash during the curing process. Contributes to lathering properties, and gives your soap the smell of honey. Great for soothing and softening the skin, helping it to retain moisture.

  • Borage seed oil

Makes your soap great for lathering and conditioning. It also contains some important vitamin and minerals that flourish and hydrate the skin. It has also been said to be good for aged or damage skin as it aids in the regeneration of skin cells. However, it goes rancid quickly as it is degraded by light, humidity, oxygen and heat. Hence it must be stored in a cool and dark place.

  • Emu Oil

Emu Oil is a type of oil that has been reported to have skin healing and regeneration properties. It also helps to draw the other soap ingredients into the skin, making them more effective.

  • Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil makes your soap great for lathering, conditioning and emollient. It has a great texture that is easily absorbed into the skin and is a fantastic source of an essential fatty acid called Gamma Linoleic Acid. Evening primrose oil is also good for those with eczema, dry skin and psoriasis.

  • Kukui Nut Oil

Kukui nut oil is fantastic for lathering, conditioning, and gives your home made soap a ‘silky’ sort of feeling. It is especially useful for skin conditioning after you have been exposed to the sun. Kukui nut oil is also easily absorbed into the skin, and has been said to be beneficial for eczema, acne and psoriasis.

  • Lanolin

Lanolin makes your soap hard and helps it to reach ‘trace’ more quickly. It also makes your soap great for conditioning and gives it a silky feel. It is also great as an emollient and a skin lubricant and protectant. However, it is temperature sensitive, so if you decide to use it, ensure that the temperature of your soap is around 110 degrees before adding it in.

  • Macadamia Nut Oil

Macadamia nut oil contributes to the lathering, condition, and moisturizing properties of your home made soap. It also gives your soap a silky feel and a long shelf life. Macadamia nut oil is easily absorbed into the skin, and is a great emollient. It has also been said to give you better skin condition by helping to protect skin cells from deterioration.

  • Monoi de Tahiti Oil

This type of oil is made from coconut oil. It is fantastic as a moisturizer, and is great for the skin overall. However, it is quite expensive and is considered a luxury product.

  • Neem Oil

Neem oil makes your soap fantastic for lathering and conditioning. It has also been said to be good for treating a variety of skin disorders. One such skin disorder would be dandruff.

  • Peach Kernel Oil

Peach kernel oil helps your home made soap to become good for lathering, moisturizing and conditioning. It is rather similar to apricot kernel oil, and the two can be used interchangeably.

  • Peanut Oil

Peanut Oil gives your oil nice lathering and conditioning properties. It also makes your soap slightly softer. It is also a good source of vitamin E and so is good for your skin. However, it is prone to spoilage, so use it sparingly.

  • Pine Tar

Pine Tar is a traditional soap ingredient. It has been said to be helpful for those who suffer from eczema, dandruff, psoriasis, or other similar skin irritations. However, pine tar is brown in color and has a distinctive scent, so do take note of these when making your soap. Also, pine tar normally consumes a little lye in the soap making process, so you should ensure that you use it as one of the base oils or superfatting oils in your soap formula.

  • Rosin/Gum Rosin

Rosin and gum rosin gives your soap a voluminous and creamy lathering. It is also considered to be a foaming agent, so add some rosin or gum rosin into your home made soap recipe if you prefer your soap bars to create lots of foam. It is also typically considered to be a hair body enhancer. The color of rosin and gum rosin can vary greatly, ranging from clear colored to a deep reddish brown color.

  • Sesame Seed Oil

Sesame Seed Oil is great for making your soap have good moisturizing, conditioning and lathering properties. It also makes your home made soap bars softer and have a silky feel. Sesame seed oil has said to be good for persons with eczema, rheumatism, arthritis and psoriasis. It is also an excellent superfatting oil, but do take note that sesame seed oil may give your home made soap bar a strong nutty scent. It is also preferred due to its excellent longevity.

  • Turkey Red Oil (also known as sulfonated castor oil)

Turkey Red Oil is a modified castor oil that is fully soluble in water and is completely unsaponifiable (i.e. it will not change at all throughout the entire soap making process). This makes it the only oil that can be used to superfat clear liquid soaps without causing the resulting product to be cloudy. It is great for shampoos and soaps for emollient with rinsability.

  • Walnut Oil

Walnut Oil is great for emollient, and has been said to be good for the regeneration, toning, and moisturizing of damaged and dry ski. Walnut oil has also been said to be helpful for preventing wrinkles and controlling dandruff, eczema, and rough, sunburned or dry skin.

  • Wheat Germ Oil

Wheat Germ Oil is great for giving your home made soap lathering and conditioning properties. It is anti-oxidant, emollient and a rich source of natural vitamin E. Wheat germ oil has been said to be great for nourishing cracked or dry skin and for soothing skin problems such as psoriasis or eczema. However, should you decide to use it, please note that wheat germ oil needs to be kept refrigerated.

Sample recipes

Here are some simple cold process method and melt and pour method soap recipes to get you started.

Shea Butter Cold Process Soap Recipe

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces of coconut oil
  • 18 ounces of olive oil
  • 16 ounces of palm oil
  • 4 ounces of shea butter
  • 16 ounces of tallow
  • 23.1 ounces of water
  • 9.815 ounces of 5% superfatted lye

Honey Bee Cold Process Soap Recipe

Ingredients you will need:

  • 32 ounces of olive oil
  • 16 ounces of palm oil
  • 24 ounces of tallow
  • 23.8 ounces of water
  • 9.48 ounces of 5% superfatted lye

Aloha Melt and Pour Soap Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of white soap base
  • 1 pound of clear soap base
  • 2 ounces of coral mica
  • 2 ounces of shamrock green mica
  • A flexible plumeria mold
  • Some island coconut fragrance oil
  • Some tropical vacation fragrance oil

Cold Processed Soap

Here is a cold process soap making recipe complete with detailed steps that you can follow to get yourself familiarized with the soap making process.

Ingredients

  • 4 ½ cups of olive oil
  • 2 cups of coconut oil
  • 2 cups of grapeseed oil
  • 700 ml of distilled water
  • 9 ¼ ounces of lye
  • 10 millimeters of cinnamon oil

Directions for Preparation:

  • Slowly pour your lye into the water and mix well, before setting it aside and allowing it to cool to about 110 degrees. Heat and melt your coconut oil to about 110 degrees before pouring in your coconut oil and grapeseed oil (both at room temperature) and mixing well.
  • Mix your oils with your lye solution when both are about the same temperature. Ensure that you mix well. Use a stick blender, and it will only take a couple of minutes to reach the ‘trace’ stage. But if you do not have a stick blender, you can also mix it by hand using a whisk or spoon, but that will probably take more than an hour.
  • At ‘trace’, add in the cinnamon oil and mix. Then pour the mixture into your soap mold. Wrap it in heavy blankets for about 24 hours to keep the heat in and help the chemical reaction to move along faster.
  • 24 hours later when the soap has set, cut it into bars of your desired size, and store them in a cool place. Turn them after two weeks. After another two weeks, you can begin using your home made soap bars.

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