The following 101 comes from brand new HOMEGROWN member Jessica, an avid soap maker from Alabama who is eager to spread the suds love. Thanks, Jessica, and please keep the good ideas foaming!
A little over a year ago, I bought a bar of homemade soap from a vendor at my local farmers market. That little, oh-so-creamy bar got me hooked! Being the frugal homemaker that I am, I decided to figure out how to make soap for myself. I read every blog I could find and watched countless YouTube videos. My new hobby quickly became a small business as friends and family hit me up for their own bars of goodness.
Before we get to the steps of how to make your own, let’s cover a couple of basics. First, there are three common processes for making soap at home: cold process, semiboiled, and fully boiled. In this 101, we’ll stick to cold process, which, you’ll notice, calls for lye. Before you ask, no you cannot make cold-process soap without lye. Yes, lye can be hazardous. You can get burned. But if you use proper safety procedures, you'll be fine. Once the soap has properly cured, it will be nice and hard, with no lye remaining that can burn you. Why go the lye route, if it requires so much caution? Cold process lets you make your soap from scratch and gives you lots of control over ingredients so you can create your own unique recipes.
I use a basic recipe containing olive, palm, and coconut oil. I also like to add a bit of shea butter for a nice, creamy lather. Palm oil isn't always easy to find and can be quite controversial. If it concerns you, check out the video below on how to make soap using only olive and canola oils, courtesy of the Crafty Gemini, and visit the links at the bottom of this 101 for more recipes.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED: TOOLS
» safety goggles
» rubber gloves
» candy thermometer
» digital scale
» stick blender (also known as an immersion blender)
» heat-resistant glass or plastic pitcher
» disposable cup
» stainless steel pot
» mold of some kind
» freezer paper
• Make sure to label everything that comes into contact with the lye. In the future, these items will need to be used for soap making only. You definitely don't want to use them again for cooking.
• Lye doesn't react well to aluminum, so be sure to use stainless steel, glass, or plastic for all of your containers and tools.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED: INGREDIENTS
» 9.6 oz. olive oil
» 8 oz. coconut oil
» 8 oz. palm oil
» 6.4 oz. shea butter
» 4.48 oz. lye
» 12.16 oz. water
» 1 oz. essential oil (optional)
WHAT TO DO
1. Before you begin, line your mold with the freezer paper. For my mold, I use a plastic drawer divider that I found for a buck at the dollar store. Here is a great video from the Soap Boss showing how to line your mold.
2. Using your pitcher, measure out your water. Remember to weigh everything, including your water, on your digital scale.
3. Put on your gloves and goggles, if you haven't already. Using the disposable cup, measure out your lye crystals. Simply throw the cup away after measuring. Lye can be difficult to locate, but I've found it in the plumbing section at my local Lowe's and Tractor Supply stores. Just make sure the label reads “100% lye.” You can also buy lye online if you can't find it locally.
4. Slowly add the lye to the water. Make sure to ALWAYS add the lye to the water and NEVER add the water to the lye, as this can cause an eruption. You'll want to do this in a well-ventilated room. Stir gently to dissolve all the lye crystals.
5. Now you'll want to measure your oils. I like to measure mine directly into the pot. Place your stainless steel pot on your scale then hit the tare button to zero out the pot’s weight. Add your coconut and palm oils, being sure to hit the tare button in between.
6. Heat the pot on the stove over low heat. Once the first two oils have melted, measure your olive oil into a separate bowl then add it to the pot.
7. Remove the pot from heat and use your thermometer to test the temperatures of the lye water and the oil mixture. You want both of them to fall around the 100-degree mark, within roughly 10 degrees of each other. If you have to, put the lye pitcher in ice water to cool it down. It cools quickly, though, so make sure to keep an eye on it.
8. Once your lye and oils are both at the correct temperature, slowly add your lye water to the oils. Stir in short bursts using your stick blender. At this point, you’re aiming for a consistency known as "trace." To test if you’re there, simply pull out the stick blender while it’s turned OFF and swirl it around a bit, allowing the dribbles to fall back into the pot. If these dribbles stay on the surface of the mixture, leaving a trace, you're good. If you are adding any essential oil, do so now, when the mixture has just reached a light trace.
9. Pour your soap into the mold, cover it with plastic, and drape a large bath towel over it to provide insulation.
10. After about 24 hours or so, remove the soap from the mold. It will still feel a bit soft, but trust me: It will harden in time. Use a knife to cut the soap into bars. Place those in a box and let them cure for about four weeks before use. The first recipe I ever used called for putting the soap in a paper bag while it cures, so that—or in a box with the lid loosely closed—is what I do. Simply putting your soap on a bookshelf would work, too. Many people recommend turning the soap from time to time for even drying, but I haven't been doing this and have had no problems. Good luck!
MORE FROM HOMEGROWN AND THE BEST FROM THE REST OF THE WEB
• HOMEGROWN member El Vigilante documents her own soap-making efforts.
• This About.com page is a great resource for everything you need to know about soap making and includes plenty of recipes. Also check out the Soap Queen, as well as her YouTube videos, and Teach Soap, Do It Yourself, and Wiki How.
• Bramble Berry’s soap-making kit includes all of the ingredients you’ll need to make two 2-pound batches, as well as an 80-plus page ebook.
Got a question for Jessica? Or a recommendation for an essential oil to add to the pot? Post your comments below and keep the conversation rolling! You might also be interested in Charlyn’s Beeswax Candles 101 or Clare’s Solar Beeswax Melter 101, Nora’s Homemade Tinctures 101, or 101s on making your own toothpaste and sunscreen. You can always find more things to make, craft, plant, grow, cook, preserve, and store in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
PHOTOS: JESSICA SHERROW
Good to see this discussion started. I have been making cold process for just over nine years and am always surprised to see how many people find the process slightly intimidating. Hopefully an open discussion will help others help themselves and save their skin.
I love to make soap:) I even make some for washing my laundry!
What kind of carrier oils do you prefer...and do you use your homemade bar soaps to make your laundry soap?
For my soaps, I use organic coconut, organic and sustainable palm, organic extra-virgin olive, castor, sweet almond and avocado oils for my base. If you have any insights into an organic avocado oil provider that would be awesome. I am trying to keep my soap as environmentally friendly as possible, but some organic oils are just hard to find.
For my laundry soap I use the Sustainable palm oil and some kind of lard or shorting nothing fancy and I use a bit more lye than I would use in a bath bar.
I like to make soap with Fair trade shea butter, organic coconut oil, organic soy bean oil, Sustainable palm and local lard. I was so surprised at what a nice bar of soap lard made, and if you render it your self from a local farm it is very economical:)
I actually started making soap from rendered fats...they always did end up being very good bars. Over time my soaps have morphed into more vegan varieties...really settled into a veggie bar now (<1% animal product...beeswax) There is a trade off with bar hardness, but they do well. Started really playing around with oil combos to make a bar that was really good for sensitive skin (ie. baby nephews) and shied away from lards because of their slight drying effects on my skin. I noticed you use goats milk...how does that do for moisturizing?
For the laundry soaps, I was wondering what pH range you typically aim for. My favorite degreasing bar has a pH of 8 which seems to work pretty well on laundry...do you think a higher pH is better?
Beeswax sounds like a good idea do you find the soap sets up faster when you use it in the recipe? I put it in my bio soap cus of the extra veggi glycerine I add. Its left over from a local bio diesel manufacturer after they make the bio fuel.
I like the goats milk in the soap I think it helps with the moisturizing . It's not the pH it's the excess fat range I am trying to avoid with using more a bit more lye than I normally would. I want to be sure all the oils have been saponified.
great recipe! Have you ever grated your soap and turned it into laundry soap? There is nothing better to clean grimy steel foundry clothing it takes all the black out of my husbands clothes..
Laura: Awesome! There's also this laundry detergent 101, with both liquid and powdered recipes. If you have tips to add, please share 'em!