A Crash Course in Soap Making

soap making kit

Scrolling at Pinterest boards again? I agree that fruity soap looks really cute. But hey, just saving your favorite soap recipes and how to make soap tutorials won’t do you any good. Why don’t you try making your own soap already! You know you want to.

Remember your first batch of cookies in Home Economics? Soapmaking is like that, hazardous and your graduation depends on it… just kidding. It’s a combination of science, artistry, and a big dose of patience and love. Yeah, pretty much like cookies.

We’ll teach you how to make soap.

Okay, enough talk. Let’s get to it!

 

What soap is made of

First off, let’s define what a soap is. According to the Food and Drug Administration, soap is a mixture of lye and oils. Simple math for the commoner. But in reality, it takes more than two ingredients to make a beautiful and heaven-smelling bar of soap. Why don’t you get to know the specifics!

Water is the universal solvent

Any recipe cannot stand without this one ingredient. It’s like a wingman/woman you need at a party. It’s Snoop Dogg’s hypeman before every performance. Water dissolves the lye so it can interact with the oils.

The amount of water used in each recipe should always be carefully considered. It’s different with every recipe and sometimes the recipe needs a water discount or using less water than what is usually called for.

Discounting water will speed up the drying and curing process of cold process soap. For this, you need to use a lye calculator because no one wants a crumbly soap.

There are recipes that don’t require water. What?! That’s preposterous. How do to make soap without water? Well, some use milk or fruit juice instead, so don’t be freaked out.

Truth: Real soap has lye!

If you walk down the soap aisle of the supermarket you will see boxes labeled as cleansing bars, beauty bars, or moisturizing bars. Surprise! They do not contain lye, therefore, they are not soap bars. That’s why they just call themselves bars.

So if you want the real deal, you need lye.

I know you’ve heard bad things about lye. So you may be wondering, how to make soap without lye. The answer… you just can’t.

Lye is a metal-based chemical and is very harmful in its natural form. You can buy it at hardware stores and does a lot of other amazing stuff like cure food, extract bones from animal carcasses, and clean drains from grease and other yucky stuff.

There are two types of lye used in making soap: sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is for solid soap and potassium hydroxide is used to make liquid soap. When you combine the two, you can make soap creams! (Or a volcano if you’re not careful).

The ratio of lye to oil on recipes are always different depending on the oils used and the desired outcome you want to achieve. Read more about lye and soap recipes here. 

If you want to make a recipe from scratch, always use a lye calculator available online or as an app for your phone.

Guess!…. 

It’s used in cooking!

 

One of the key ingredients of soap is oil. This is what you mix with lye to create a chemical reaction resulting to the product we know and use as soap.

Anciently, soap-makers use animal fats like lard and tallow (beef) that gives creamy lathers. The most basic oils you can use for your handmade soaps are coconut and olive oil.

There are many oils you can choose from! You can use grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, amaranth oil, or jojoba oil.

If you’d like extra lather, we recommend using coconut oil, cocoa butter, castor oil, and mango butter. Note: Using lots of castor oil makes your soap really soft.

Does your skin scream “moisturize me!?” Then lanolin, hazelnut, hemp seed, avocado, sweet almond, and camellia oils are the best ones to use!

Here are other ones you would want to experiment on:

 

Apricot Kernel Oil

Avocado Oil

Babassu Oil

Borage Oil

Calendula Oil

Canola Oil

Crisco

Emu Oil

Shea Butter

Tamanu Oil

Evening Primrose Oil

Flax (Linseed) Oil

Kokum Butter

Kukui Nut Oil

Macadamia Nut Oil

Meadowfoam Oil

Monoi de Tahiti

Mowrah Butter

Neem Oil

Walnut Oil

 

Palm Kernel Oil

Palm Oil

Plum Kernel Oil

Pomegranate Oil

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Rice Bran Oil

Rosehip Seed Oil

Safflower Oil

Sesame Oil

Wheat Germ Oil

Essential oils: Le parfum naturel

The phrase in itself says it all. Every. Soap. Needs. Some. Essential oils give that natural fragrance to every soap.

In my opinion (and you can quote me on this), the oils make a bar of soap beneficial while the essential oils make the soap unique in a very special kind of way.

To be specific, a recipe must only be made of 3% essential oils. Not a .01 more. Why? Because too much will cause skin irritation or photosensitivity.

But before you run to the soap making supplies store near you, remember that these oils cost a few dineros, so you better not buy a whole shelf.

Pick some scents that you are familiar with or have fallen in love with through the years and try to experiment with those first. Explore and find your own Chanel No. 5.

Some noteworthy oils you need to have in your soap-making labs are lavender, lemongrass, tea tree, vanilla oleoresin (my personal favorite), lemon, and eucalyptus (or peppermint or anything minty and fresh does it).

You can also blend oils to recreate the nostalgia of that summer afternoon stroll at Greece, or the comforting memory of your granny’s cinnamon rolls.

Be inspired and get creative on this part. It’s where your personality will really show!

Thirsty for more handmade fragrance oils making? Read it on! 

Express yourself through colors

Nothing screams boring than just plain white rectangular bars of soap. Color is not just for cool marketing stunts, it’s also a good way of labeling which soap is which if you’re making one whole batch after another.

There are a lot of options for soap colorants. But for making handmade soap, you should opt for all-natural ones like liquid dyes and mica.

Mica is a mineral found on rocks and has many uses. Mica powder is used widely for cosmetics for its glittering effect when applied thinly on the eyelids. Highlighters and bronzers also contain mica giving your makeup look a bit of that deserved shimmer.

In soap-making, powdered mica needs to be dissolved and the more diluted it is in water, the weaker the color would be, just like your watercolor palette in kindergarten. It’s readily available at your local soap making supplies store.

You can get creative and do all stuff with the color. Mix it, ombre, marble. You can finally let out the inner Van Gogh or Da Vinci in you. The possibilities are endless!

Add-ons and extra special something

Other add-on ingredients are dried herbs like green tea leaves, chamomile petals, lemon slices, and lavender buds. You can also add oatmeal, ground coffee beans, coconut meat shreds, etc. to add that desired texture and authenticity, especially for exfoliating soap bars.

A quick word of warning

In soapmaking, we use lye, pure 100% sodium hydroxide crystals. This chemical is very hazardous to tabletops, children, pets and full-grown adults like you.

Do not eat or drink lye. Don’t even dare touch it with your bare hands. Do not inhale the fumes coming from it. Don’t let it splatter on your eyes.

Please do yourself a favor and idiot-proof your soapmaking labs, aka your kitchens or garage to eliminate the risk of potential danger.

Wear long sleeve clothing, rubber gloves, and goggles. And most importantly, water should be added to lye and not the other way around.

For more information on lye, read here.

Are you scared of lye now?

Good. But just enough to make you realize that you need to be careful. You may be wondering how you can make soap without lye. The answer is no. Why, because the FDA says so.

Lye is like your pet husky. It is a wolf breed and needs a lot of training before you can let it play with your kids. With the right supervision, your husky might be on the path to Youtube stardom like all the doggos before him.

The same with lye and soapmaking. If you master the craft, you will reap the rewards.

You see, you don’t need to be scared and decide to walk away from lye forever. Lye is your friend. It is good but is often misunderstood. Lye needs love too.

Remember to always use a lye calculator to check if a recipe is safe to work with.

If you don’t want to handle lye per se, you can try melt and pour soap-making kits.

Soap making supplies you need

Now you have the ingredients, let’s talk about the equipment. As I have said over and over again, we are dealing with chemicals. You don’t need to blow your card on super expensive stuff. You may even have some of these sitting inside your cupboard.

Stick blender – mixing lye water with the oils is really time-consuming and requires all your arm muscles. So to avoid the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome use one of these babies!

Scale – yes, the same inexpensive one you use for baking. All the ingredients are presumably in their solid state when measured so scales are really vital for any recipe.

Thermometer – this is used to take the temperature of the lye and oils. Lye needs to cool down before it is mixed with the oils and oils needs to heat up to the right temperature especially if you are using two or more oils in your recipe.

Invest on an infrared laser thermometer so you don’t have to touch a bead of lye. Keeping track of the temp in the right temperature will save the soap you’re making, your life, and the kitchen countertop.

Containers for measuring and mixing lye – for this, do not use aluminum ones because it reacts with the lye. It’s best to use heavy-duty plastic cups for measuring and stainless steel for mixing and you’ll be fine.

Note: Tempered glass has the potential to crack because lye can turn very hot (200F) when mixed with water. So just don’t.

Heavy duty spoons and spatulas – best to use rubber or heavy-duty silicone ones. Wooden spatulas are okay too but wood is corrosive when mixed with lye. Not too long before you will find some splinters on your soap bars. Again… no aluminum.

Gloves and goggles – please please invest in heavy-duty plastic or silicone gloves and some chemical resistant lab goggles. Safety first!

Soap molds – wooden molds are best when drying and curing soap as it absorbs water. But you can also use silicone molds so you can easily take them out without any damage whatsoever.

Heck, you can use cardboard boxes too! As long as it’s not aluminum, you can bet you can use it!.

Crockpot – this one is used for hot processed soap. It doesn’t need to be brand new.

You can use an old one or buy from a thrift shop. As long as it works, it should be good enough.

These are just the basic things you need to get started. If you enjoy soap-making so much or want to venture into the soapmaking business, you may want to upgrade to more durable equipment over time.

It is so important to label your containers and only reserve them for when you are making soap. Lye poisoning causes death. Again, separate containers and measuring cups and spoons from the ones you use for food.

Okay, now you can rush to your soap making supplies shop!

Basic procedures to make soap

You need to be familiar with all these methods:

Kid-friendly melt and pour

Another term for melt and pour is soap casting. It’s basically like making chocolates for V-day.

You can usually find big bars of clear soap to begin with. You can melt it under a stove, and then you can add stuff as you please. Add some fragrance oils, colors, flower buds, or a cute toy. Then, put it on a mold and voila, a customized soap!

Melt and pour is really easy and the safest method by far. You can even make it with kids. This method is also perfect for beginners.

Note: Clear bar soap used in soap casting is called glycerin soap which has a higher pH level. It cleans very well… sometimes too well if you know what I mean. So, be careful.

There are a lot of soap-making kits that you can purchase if you’re not sure where to start or if you’re out of ideas.

Cold process for the novice

This is the most popular way of making soap from scratch. No premade stuff. No shortcuts.

It involves mixing lye with water and oils to create a chemical process called saponification. Saponification is the process by which soap is created. It is also the longest method because it has the longest curing time which can take up to six weeks.

The great thing about cold-process soap is that the resulting soap bar will not dissolve easily in the shower and it won’t be dry and crumbly if you did everything right.

And, good news to you, my fellow handmade soap maker, because natural colorants like pure mica won’t bleed, fade, or morph on cold process soap!  You can always buy soap-making kits to make sure you’re ending up with quality ingredients.

But of course, like ballet and cooking, making soap is a skill that needs both mastery and artistry. The more you practice, the better you will be.

An alternative to the cold process

Hot process soapmaking is basically the cold process method except everything goes inside a pot, sitting under a stove, or a crock pot.

You need to be extra careful using this method as it uses heat. This is where the infrared thermometer comes in handy. A lot of skill and mastery is needed before you ace your batch of soap.

Awesome soap projects are clear glycerin soap used in melt and pour. Compared to cold process soap, using this method gives your soap bars fewer periods of curing time of 1 week to 3 weeks.

Advise on the best soapmaking method

Well, all the methods presented here have their own pros and cons. If you are just thinking of an activity for your PTA party weekend, you may opt for melt and pour.

But for the beginners out there who is up for a bit of challenge, I suggest getting your hands on cold process soapmaking. There are tons and tons of ideas and advice you can get online.  And there are hundreds of recipes you can try.

There are also a lot of soap-making kits you can purchase online!

May I suggest giving a go with my original recipes. Scroll down below to know more!

Cold process soap from scratch

Here are 3 specially formulated handmade soap recipes you will surely fall in love with. I incorporated all of the basic ingredients I mentioned earlier just to give you lovelies a full-blown soap-making experience one recipe after the other.

This first one is very simple and easy to make.

Naturally Fairest of them All Soap

A cup of distilled water

122 grams of  lye

57 grams of Jojoba Oil

435 grams of Coconut Oil

227 grams Olive Oil

57 grams Lanolin

38 grams of Rosehip Seed Oil

57 grams of Rice Bran Oil

3 tablespoons of Crisp Apple Rose Fragrance Oil

2 tsp mica powder in Whisper

A couple of dried wild rose buds

Procedure:

First, pour lye into your water and mix well until the lye is dissolved. Then, set aside and let it cool.

Next, heat your oils in a stainless steel pot under medium heat. Set aside and let it cool.

When the lye water and oils have the same temperature (90 to 115F), take the lye water and slowly pour it in the oils.

Take your stick blender and make the mixtures know each other. This part is really crucial. You don’t want to mix it too much. It should have the viscosity of a pancake batter. We call this a light trace.

After your mixture has reached a light trace, you can now add the mica powder. It’s important to mix them really thoroughly so you can have an evenly-colored bar when you take it out of your mold.

Then, add the crisp apple and rose fragrance oil.

When the fragrance oil is fully incorporated, pour it into your choice of mold.

Take a spoon and create some kind of texture at the top and sprinkle some wild rosebuds.

And… you’re done! Wait 24 hours before unmolding the soap. Want more roses? Click here!

Ready for the next one?

Lavender is always a go-to on cold process soap-making! You just cannot go wrong with this one. I tried to use some unfamiliar oils in the mix, but I kept the olive oil as the base. I will teach you a swirl coloring technique, as promised!

This pretty soap bar will give you maximum moisture this summer.

 

 

Purple Mauve Mist Soap

A cup of cool distilled water

110 grams Lye

57 grams of Avocado Oil

227 grams of Babassu Oil

340 grams of Olive Oil

57 grams of Shea Butter

113 grams of Sunflower Seed Oil

3 ½ tablespoons of Lavender Green Tea Fragrance Oil

2 teaspoons mica powder in Lavender

2 teaspoons mica powder in Edens Garden

A handful of Lavender buds

Procedure:

In a container, dissolve lye into the water (again, pour lye into the water and not the other way around). Set aside on a safe place and let it cool until it reaches 90 to 115F.

While the lye water is cooling down, combine and heat your oils on a stainless steel pot (reserved for soap making) and let it cool.

Ideally, the oils and lye water solution should reach the same temperature before you mix them up together. But since we can’t control everything in nature, it’s okay if they are little degrees off from each other.

Slowly drizzle the lye water into the oils. Then, wangle-jangle them up using a stick blender. Do not overmix it because we are doing swirls on this one! Ye should achieve a light trace, kinda like a pancake batter.

Now pour half of the mix in a separate container. Then, add lavender mica and stir with the blender. On the other container, add the Edens garden mica and mix.

You can now add the lavender green tea fragrance oil to both mixes.

Now, the fun part! Pour the lavender-colored mix all the way to the bottom of the white mix. Then stir lightly with a chopstick.

Finally, pour the mix into your mold of choice. And for the finishing touch, sprinkle some lavender buds on top and dust it with some leftover white mica powder.

Remember to wait for 24 hours before cutting and cure it before using (or gifting, selling, etc).

This last recipe is a fun and natural cold process soap that is inspired by the trendy charcoal peel off masks and one of Arcy’s famous shakes, but with a twist!

Dark Jamocha Shake Soap

A cup of distilled water

176 grams of lye

453 grams of Canola Oil

226 grams Coconut Oil

453 grams Olive Oil

113 grams Coffee Oil

3 ½ tablespoons of Chocolate and Amber Fragrance

1 tsp activated charcoal

1 tsp mica in Forbidden Black

2 tsp  mica in Purity 

2 tsp mica in Tangerine

Procedure:

Step one: Take all your mica powder and put them in separate containers except for the purity white mica. Now, instead of using water to dissolve the other two powders, we are using olive oil. Mix 6 tsp olive oil to each color.

Finally, add the activated charcoal to the forbidden black mica and set aside.

It’s basically the same process from here. Pour lye into the water. Then, heat the oils and combine them when they are about the same temperature. Next, mix with a stick blender but not too much!

Remember that we’re making swirls in this recipe so we are looking for a light trace.

Once you’ve achieved that light trace, you can now add the purity white mica we prepared earlier. Mix, mix, mix and add the chocolate and amber fragrance oil and mix yet again.

It’s time to put the mix in a rectangular mold. If you’re using wood, line it with parchment paper first. Once the mix is sitting in the mold, quickly take your tangerine mica oil and drizzle it lightly on top using a spoon or a plastic pipette. Now, drizzle the charcoal mica oil the same way.

Take a chopstick and stir a light swirl hitting all the drizzles. This technique is called mica oil painting. It will give a shining, shimmering, splendid soap bar! The colors we add made it look like a shake too.

All you have to do now is wait for 24 hours to cut your soap and let it cure.

We forgot the special ingredient!

Oops! Sorry about that.

The special ingredient in making soap would be lots and lots and lots of patience. It’s okay if you don’t get your first batch right. Just keep trying.

Now you know how to make soap! Congratulations!

If the recipes don’t work for you, feel free to modify them. We don’t mind. I swear! Just don’t forget the safety precautions in using lye. If you have your own recipes and soap business tips that you want to share, let us know! 

And.. feel free to ask me anything about how to make soap in the comments below!

Happy Soaping!

 

 

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