I had one of my frequent writer’s block wanting to write about something else. This stuff kept floating back into my consciousness and I figured why not let it out.
It’s basic info – meant to help me later, but if you are considering trying this on your own, you will probably find a few details that could make life easier for you.
And this is not exhaustive, I’m most likely leaving a detail here or there out of what I am writing since I am still learning this.
If you have ever gone to a flea market and saw someone with boxes of soap to sell, it’s probably one of three processes to make the stuff.
If you can bake from scratch, anything, I’d wager you can do this. Just be careful, lye can be dangerous.
Basically Soap Making is one of three processes.
Melt and Pour. This isn’t what I do. You go to a arts and crafts store, buy a brick of this clear stuff, melt it down, add scent and color, pour it into a mold, and call it done. That is all. It usually has a brilliant color and a pleasant looking result, and it works well enough. But you’re not really “Making” soap so much as re-batching someone else’s work.
Cold Process Castile Soap. I’ve done this and got excellent results. My very first batch was this soap. You mix your oils together, add them to a cooled down mixture of Lye and water. Stir constantly until it begins to thicken and moving your spoon through the mix will leave a trace of your path through it. This is referred to as Trace. It will still be liquid when you pour this into a mold. Unmold and slice this tomorrow, and allow it to air dry and cure. I allowed my soap a month to cure.
Hot Process Castile Soap. I did this to make a bread loaf sized block of soap that I sliced about four hours later. You mix your oils up and warm them to the temperature of the Lye and Water mix (140F or so). Then add them together in a double boiler, and stir until trace begins. Pour into molds, and allow to firm up before slicing. This should be ready to use a week later or so. The heat speeds up things greatly. If your soap is firming up in the pot, pour into a mold immediately.
Castile Soap is named after the Kingdom of Castile, a precursor to Spain, where it was popularized like other similar soaps. There were people there that realized you can make soap out of Oilve Oil, Water, and Lye. This formula came about separately, elsewhere, before the Spaniards got it, but they popularized it in Western Europe. My second batch was strictly that recipe and, as expected, it did not foam up for me well. It was an excellent cleansing soap.
Yes, I know I am oversimplifying that story. This is a damn long article.
Recipe. Look around your house for what oils you have that you want in your soap. My first batch was all out of date oils. I fed them into a “Lye Calculator” and it told me what I could do and how much water/lye mix I could add to my oils to make this into soap. To the fraction of an ounce – or to the gram. Absolutely use the Lye Calculator! It makes this recipe stuff into Child’s Play.
Then refer to the next link for what properties you want in the soap…
Different oils will change the properties of the soap. Olive Oil makes for a firm soap but does not foam well at high concentrations (over 50%). Coconut Oil will aid in foaming. Shea Butter or Shea Nut Oil will make for a moisturizing soap and you only need about 10% so it goes a long way.
My first soap was a mix of every old oil I had in the house that was past its sell by date. Olive, Coconut, Corn, Safflower, Shea Nut Oil, and perhaps others. That “mutt” had less than 50% of Olive oil. I ended up with a pure white bar of soap that made huge amounts of lather.
Lye. Lye is caustic. Nasty stuff. It can be used as drain cleaner. ALWAYS wear eye protection while working with lye. ALWAYS, even you! Even ME! Long sleeved shirts and long pants are recommended. Cover up.
Don’t let this scare you, you should be able to do this.
What you need is 100% Lye Drain Cleaner with zero additives. It must say 100% Lye or Sodium Hydroxide. If the package specificially says For Soap Making, that will work well instead of Drain Cleaner.
I paid just under $6 a pound with tax at an old line hardware store. You can get it cheaper in bulk, however you are using it a few ounces a time per batch and it will degrade if it picks up moisture from the environment.
Work with Lye under a stove hood that vents outdoors, or preferrably work with it outdoors. The fumes that Lye makes when added to Water are poisonous and will burn.
Yes, do this outdoors if you can. I did in a well ventilated area.
If you are well prepared, you can use ice instead of water, freezing the correct amount and adding the lye to the ice to counteract the heat the lye will give off. This will allow you to add the mixture to the oils quicker since the two liquids should be within 20F/11C of each other to minimize risk of any flare up.
Lye Discount or Superfat. There is a trick to making moisturizing soap. What you are doing is making a Chemical Reaction called “Saponification“. The Lye and Water mix will react with the fats in the oils to make soap. If you follow the recipe you can choose to have a discounted amount of Lye (Lye Discount) or not. A Lye Discount results in leaving some of the oils unconsumed by the chemical reaction and your skin may appreciate it. I used a 4% lye discount on my first two batches, but will reduce that in the future.
Fragrances. Optional. I used Rosemary essence in mine which was unnecessary but pleasant. There are different calculations for when you add the essences depending on which of the three kinds of soap you are making. They are available on the Lye Calculator that I keep referring to. Add after you get Trace.
Other Ingredients. My second batch I used no water. Substituting milk for water meant that it would be more of a moisturizing bar since there are proteins, solids, and fat in the milk that would not be saponified. Glycerin is used in making Melt and Pour soap base.
Preservatives are typically added so that you do not get the “Dreaded Orange Spots” on the bars. One of the bars from my first batch of Cold Process had some of the Dreaded Orange Spots. They are mold. I cut the mold out and used that bar immediately. This is stopped by adding preservatives to the mix when you go to form your bars or your cake. I still have to research that for my next soaps.
Supplies. Your utensils can be silicone, plastic, wood, or stainless steel. Whatever you use for soap making should be separate from the normal baking supplies because of cross-contamination. Wood will absorb the soap and the mixes so I personally won’t use it.
Goggles for working with Lye are required.
You will want a stick blender, again at the thrift stores. I got mine for $8, and ended up saving that new one for later since the older one I had in the house would be sacrificed for soap making. You can use a stick blender to mix the soap mix until it is ready to trace. At that point you can pour the soap into the mold. Making soap will be tough on a stick blender so if it gets too hot, let the thing cool down.
A silicone soap mold that has multiple molds is an excellent suggestion, however if you are making a large “ingot” of soap that will be sliced down later, I found my silicone bread loaf pan will hold 40 ounces of soap and will be used for that on my next large batch.
Line the bottoms of your flat bottomed molds with parchment paper. Yes, and you will thank me later. You will also want to tap those molds to let trapped air float upwards and out of your soap.
Go to a Thrift Store or Dollar Store or Pound Shop for as many supplies as you can get. I spent $8 and got all my mixing spoons, many molds, and a gallon (4 liter) stock pot for this process. Buying retail for this process is a bit spendy – take advantage of the thrift stores.
Absolutely you will need an electronic gram scale. It should do both grams/kilos and ounces/pounds. Which ever measurements that you are more used to using, do use them. Smaller batches I have found are best done in grams, larger in ounces. Round numbers are easier to work with after all.
Curing. Times will vary due to how hot/humid/drafty the room is that you are curing your soap. Hot Process soap will cure much faster, and I was able to use my hot process soap in a week. I allowed my Cold Process soap to cure 5 weeks. Curing allows the excess water in the soap to evaporate and produce a much more firm bar. It also mellows the causticity of the soap because the Saponification process does not stop when you pour it out of the pot and into the mold at trace.
An excellent way to test for curing is to segregate one specific bar of soap for this test. Weigh it In Grams as soon as it is ready to be set in a frame to cure. Write the weight down. Repeat this every second day (or so). When the weight stops dropping, the soap is cured and ready for use.
Sensitive Skin issues. Here’s the disclaimer. I am not a doctor, nor do I give medical advice. This is merely what I have noticed from using this soap exclusively for two months now.
I love this soap. There’s nothing in this stuff that I didn’t put into it.
Your results may vary since if you have skin problems, you may be allergic to your ingredients, you could have something that irritates the eczema, or you may be lucky like me and have it just about completely clear up any problems you have. I noticed a week after switching over to the hot process soap (90% olive oil, 10% shea nut oil) that my skin was softer, my hair was softer, my eczema was clearing, and I was even getting a better shave.
Don’t take my word for it, but do go into this intelligently. If you are allergic to Coconut Oil, do not use it because the allergens may still be there. You can use a very long list of oils to make this soap. I did the first time, and the second time was simpler. Both soaps cleaned the same. My skin is much better than it was.
So it may work for you, it may not. Like I said, eczema is a very tricky beast. I never thought I would find a soap that worked better than Ivory. My hands do not burn when I handle the homemade soap.
Conclusion. The best suggestion I can give is that if you do try this, make a small batch first. A bath sized soap bar is between 3 and 5 ounces. You can scale the batch down to make one single soap bar. That is about 3 ounces of oil plus water and lye.
Find a Soap Calculator and use it make the calculations and proportions for you and your particular preferences, needs, and mixes of oils. I could not calculate a soap recipe for the life of me, but I don’t have to. It’s a matter of fiddling with the numbers until I get what I want. My first batch was 20 ounces, the second was 45. You don’t have to do things the same way every time. I’m sticking with tiny one bar (5 ounce) batches until I find the soap for me.
After all, it really is all about getting what you want. If you can’t do better than what you find in the market, why bother? On the other hand, there’s a great feeling of satisfaction of walking down that soap aisle and thinking “Nah, I can do better!”.