Are you being sucked in by the soapmaking craze and you can’t get out anymore? I know you’re thirsty for more than just a HowToBasic that tells you how to make soap. So here’s a something juicier you can bite your teeth into.
Soap making looks so easy in theory, especially when we see it on Pinterest and Youtube tutorial videos. I know I had a hard time making my first batch. It’s perfect for the “reality vs. expectation” meme. I was telling myself “well, this doesn’t look anything like the photo.”
But we’re going to change that.
Here’s some in-depth knowledge on how to make soap like a pro!
Know your oil classification
Oils you use can greatly affect the outcome of your soap. Oils are responsible for the texture, lathering, and conditioning properties of your soap. But before we get in-depth with this important stuff, we need to go back to oil basics.
There is three main classification of oils used in soapmaking: soft, hard, and brittle. Don’t worry. This is an easy one. No more science mumbo-jumbo.
It is basically the condition of the oil at room temperature. Soft oils are liquid at room temperature. Some examples of soft oils are castor oil, avocado oil, and olive oil.
Brittle and hard oils and butter are both solid in room temperature. The difference is that brittle oils are not very scoop-friendly and needs a bit of effort to chip.
Examples of hard oils and butter are coconut oil, shea butter, and lard. Cocoa butter, palm kernel oil, and babassu oil are brittle oils and butter.
The perfect soap needs to have a balance of both hard and soft oils. Ideally, a good soap recipe needs to have 40% soft oils and 60% hard oils. Notice how quality soap recipes online require more than 3 oils? This is the very reason why.
Soap-making kits don’t tell you that.
Later, I will give you some soap recipes applying these principles!
Look out for allergens!
Whether or not you’re making soap for personal use, gifting, or selling them, it is important to consider oils that you may be allergic to. Peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy are all on the shortlist of common food allergens. A lot of people are surprisingly allergic to coconut and palm oils too.
The best way to avoid these allergens is to substitute them with another oil that is equally nourishing, etc.
If you are allergic to palm oil, you can try using tallow or lard instead. You can also use cocoa or shea butter or any other hard oil.
Is coconut oil not doing it for you? Replace it with avocado oil or palm kernel flakes!
Scroll down below to know how to make soap that is allergen-free.
What makes soap lather?
It’s time to break into some lather science. Yes, if you thought you could get away with chemistry, you’re totally wrong! Let’s have a review.
How to make soap? As you may all know, the formula is lye + oils = soap.
Now soap has chemicals called foaming agents. These bad boys break the surface tension. Surface tension is the property of water molecules being intact and really close together.
When you use soap, you break this barrier. Foaming agents also interacts with the air molecules and the grease and oils on your dirty skin. Combine all of that. And that’s how bubbles are born.
Thirsty for more soap science? We’ve got you covered, read everything about PH and soap here!
I have zero bubbles
So, your worst case scenario would be this. You have minimal to zero lathers. It will go on like this:
You may have asked yourself “what did I do wrong?” Or you may have tried looking the soap straight in the packaging saying something like “can we just work it out, like rebatch or salting?”
Girl, stop asking yourself who’s at fault because clearly, it’s an “it’s me, not you” scenario. Ask yourself these questions instead:
- Was I patient enough to wait 4-6 weeks for my cold process soap to cure?
- Did I use too much sodium lactate?
- Did I use a good lathering soap block for my melt and pour?
- Was I really keeping an eye on my hot process soap while it boils?
These are just some general reasons why your soap wouldn’t give you lather. After your quick self-evaluation, forsake your bad ways, fellow soapmaker. Wipe those containers clean. Get your lye calculator running and start all over again.
Achieving the perfect lather
Somewhere down the road of life, you and I both have had the chance of making a batch of soap that opened up our senses.
It had you at “moisturizing.” You fell in love with it’s crisp, distinct, and addicting scent. And you awed on its recipe saying the sweet promise of the word “hypoallergenic”. You love the soap bar you produced because it is nice to your skin.
However, despite it’s good and angelic qualities, you cannot overlook it’s one flaw. Maybe it’s the sentimental value that keeps you holding on to it. But no matter how hard you try you can never be satisfied with its per-foam-ance.
The secret to the perfect lather is simple: a careful mix of the right oils and additives.
The first tip, use coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or babassu oil for that perfect lather.
If you want a medium creamy lather, do what our forefathers did and use lard and beef tallow to make your soap.
Finally, use lather-increasing additives. You can try a variety of milk products such as powdered or fresh goat’s milk, canned or powdered coconut milk, canned evaporated milk, and yogurt.
Want a hazy lather? Splash some of that Bud Light or his Ballast Point, why don’t cha? Just replace it later. He won’t even notice you drank another bottle.
And my personal favorites, honey, and sugar. I’ll discuss using honey on a recipe later on.
Pop! Goes the bubble
Now that you know how to make soap lather like there’s no tomorrow, how do keep it that way?
Refrain from using too much olive oil. It destabilizes the lather you want to create! Instead, use butter! Try cocoa, shea, and mango butter! They help sustain the foams too.
Why don’t you mix a shot of castor oil to intensify your bubble production! Warning: Do not use more than 10% of castor oil. It will turn your soap really soft.
Hard… like your life!
There’s nothing more annoying than a brittle batch of soap right out of the mold. I know… I hate rebatching too! But what are you supposed to do?
That’s why I’m here to tell you how.
First, increase your olive oil. Okay, I know, I know. I’m contradicting myself a bit here. But please go back a little after the title of this blog post. All we need is a balance. And I said, “refrain from using too much”. Before I get super dopey and defensive, here’s why…
Olive oil has a high saponification value (SAP value). This means it has enough fatty acids to hold on to lye, thus making the soap more solid. Don’t know what lye is? Read about lye and soap and the recipes here.
Second is using less water or a water reduction. So, how does this work? Just decrease the water by 10% from what the recipe calls for.
Third, add beeswax. You know how long-lasting your Burt’s Bees lip balm is. Zero doubts on that! We advise you use only 1-2% of beeswax in your recipe. Too much beeswax will compromise your lather game.
But if you didn’t read this part of the article and put too much too late, you can always add more castor oil.
You can also put salt. The ratio should be a ½ teaspoon of salt per 1 pound of oil. Add to the lye solution when it reaches 130F.
Oh, and did I mention sodium lactate? It’s a product from fermented sugars found in corn and beets. It also helps palm oil-free recipes to counterbalance the effect of soft oils on drying and curing soap. It gives a little “oomph!” to your lathers too!
The sodium lactate ratio should be the same as the salt ratios.
A splash of color
There are many ways to color your soap. A lot of soapmakers use cosmetic-grade mica. Mica is a mineral found in rocks and works really well with melt and pour soaps. It comes in powder form that has a bit of shine to it.
The only problem with using mica is that it reacts with the high pH in soap mixture and often result to either morphing of colors or fading altogether during curing. Another way to use mica is to mix it in oil to paint a freshly poured soap mix in a mold.
Wanna try it now? Here are recipes you may wanna get your hands into!
You also have the option to opt for food grade colorants like this one.
Now, there are soap recipes that only require the use of crayons as colorants. Although this is a possible pursuit, it is not very advisable to use crayons on a soap. It may cause irritation to the skin because it is not made for cosmetic use.
But if you like living on the edge and still wanna give it a go, shred it and dissolve it in the lye water before mixing it with the oils. (But I really don’t recommend it!)
Use nature’s true colors
Knowing the natural diva that you are, you want every single thing in that handmade soap organic. Lucky for you, there are lots of natural colorants mother nature has to offer.
For that natural black color, use activated charcoal and get some antioxidants as a bonus! If you want brown, you can play with cocoa powder, coffee, and beetroot powder.
Maybe you want some rustic pink? Use rose clay or tree lichen.
Why don’t you try dried and ground alfalfa for that pretty green color? Or use alkanet or red sandalwood powder for that royal purple.
Want that sunny yellow on your soap recipe? Use calendula powder, saffron powder, turmeric, or ginger! Now you can make the most of those extra flowers on your soap-making kits
What about hues of blue? Try indigo powder for an intense blue and woad powder for a lighter blue.
But if you want a bolder red, sprinkle some madder root powder or Moroccan red clay. For a fresh orange tint, you can add annatto infused oil and paprika powder.
Remember, these colorants may react to certain ingredients and have a color change.
You may need to experiment with little batches of soap first to really know since different oils and fragrances react with the color consistency of your soap.
Get it in shape!
Another factor we need to consider when making the best batch of soap is the molding. This is one thing not included on soap-making kits.
You may have the best lathering and conditioning soap recipe but if it breaks when you unmold it, it’s back to step one for you.
Your mold choice will decide the shape, size, and if you ever want to venture into the soapmaking business.
Here are your best options:
This is the most popular mold at the soap making supplies stores nowadays. It’s flexible and easy to wash and store. You don’t need to line it before pouring your soap.
But the cooling and drying process is a bit longer because silicone keeps the air out of your soap. It also has the tendency to overheat, so be careful!
I consider myself a non-conformist. So, even though I use silicone, I still go back to the classic wood. It’s sturdy and out of it results in a professional-looking handmade soap masterpiece. It has enough air to go around to cut on the curing and drying time.
But wood is not very durable and you need to line it with freezer or wax paper before using. The thing I really like about wooden molds it that I can have it customized at soap making supplies shops.
It’s less expensive and you have so many shapes and sizes to choose from! This works best with melt and pour soaps. But plastic molds are not for bulk bars because it can melt and overheat easily.
This is readily available too, like the plastic. It is heat resistant and can never be flimsy. But you need to always line it with either wax or freezer paper. It lasts a little longer than wood too.
For that unique, rustic look, you can use cereal boxes or yogurt cartons as molds for your handmade soaps. You can easily customize the size and length of the mold. It’s eco-friendly and cuts on the production cost of your lovely soap bars.
The downside of this type of mold it that it’s not sturdy. There is a chance that your mold is not strong enough and you might spill some soap on the counter while it’s cooling! You also need to line it properly or you’ll end up with soap looking like a paper mache.
Soap theories in motion
Now that you know more about soapmaking, it’s time for application. The following recipes are made with 60% hard oils and 40% soft oils. I also formulated these recipes with natural colorants in mind.
Something Hard and Sweet Soap
This next recipe is inspired by an Australian beekeeper friend of mine that taught me everything I know about honeybees. In this soap recipe, we will use honey and beeswax.
There are three varieties of beeswax you can find at soap making supplies stores. White beeswax, yellow beeswax, and absolute beeswax.
Yellow beeswax is the plain, raw one. White beeswax is yellow beeswax but bleached, while beeswax absolute is treated with alcohol.
Honey, on the other hand, has lots of variety, depending on the flowers the bees get their pollen from. For this recipe, any raw honey would do. Honey is also a natural colorant in itself and will give our soap a light brown color!
81.96 grams Lye
186 ml of distilled water
133 grams of palm oil
76 grams of shea butter
133 grams of coconut oil
76 grams of babassu oil
65 grams of sunflower seed oil
32 grams of rice bran oil
24 grams of beeswax
10 grams of castor oil
1 teaspoon raw honey
Pour lye into water and stir until fully dissolved. Set it aside and let it cool.
Next step, melt shea butter first then add the other oils, including the beeswax. Our beeswax makes our soap last longer in the shower. It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Fun fact: Beeswax is made from bee sweat.
For the beeswax to stay liquid, the oils need to be at least 160F. This is very hot so be very careful.
After making sure you have the right temperature, pour the lye to the oils and wangle-jangle with your stick blender until it has a medium trace.
You can now add pure honey in the mix. There’s nothing really to it when using honey. All you need to know is that you should use 1 teaspoon honey for every pound of oils. Honey, together with castor oil, will give this handmade soap maximum lather!
Now, it’s time for molding! Pour the soap mixture into the mold of your choice and for those hexagons at the top, take a sheet of bubble wrap (unpopped and fully intact) and imprint it on top of the mold.
Unmold after 24 hours, cut, and let it cure for 4-6 weeks.
Pro tip: the longer it cures, the more bubbles it produces!
Creamy Blanket of Comfort Soap
Did you know that you can color your soap naturally with purees? You can puree flowers like goldenrod or you can use carrots, spinach… even cranberries! In this recipe, we are going to use tomato puree that will give the soap a deliciously bright and earthy orange.
164 grams Lye
261 grams of lard
1 cup tomato puree
261 grams of coconut oil
65 grams of jojoba oil
261 grams of unrefined shea butter
195 grams of olive oil
65 grams of deodorized cocoa butter
1 ½ teaspoon paprika powder
1 teaspoon mica powder in Purity
65 grams of grapeseed oil
2 pinches of dried parsley
Tomato puree is our natural colorant in this soap recipe. To keep the color, the first step is to pour the tomato puree into an ice cube mold and let it freeze overnight.
This step will prevent the tomatoes to turn brown when it’s exposed to too much heat from the lye and oils.
You now have enough time to prepare your mica oil. Take your purity mica and mix it with 2 teaspoons of olive oil (pomace).
Then, put lye to the frozen tomato cubes and mix as usual. While the lye is cooling down, heat the butter first, then add the remaining oils.
Next, pour the lye mix into the oils and wangle-jangle them up until evenly incorporated. Keep mixing until it has a light to medium trace.
You can now whisk the paprika in the mix for an even more intense tomato color. Then, add the basil essential oil. Mix well with the stick blender.
Finally, pour the soap batter into your mold of choice. Now using a plastic pipette, drizzle the mica oil, making it look like cream on tomato soup.
Sprinkle dried parsley on top. Dry and let it cure
Berrry Rozes Soap
Fun fact: Did you know that strawberry and roses are cousins? Yes, they are both members of the Rosaceae family which also includes apples, pears, and almonds. So, to celebrate their family tree, I made this recipe with a touch of French rose clay and rose petals.
87 grams of lye
32 grams of Canola Oil
177 ml of distilled water
97 grams of Apricot Kernel Oil
32 grams of Cocoa Butter
293 grams of Coconut Oil
97 grams of Olive Oil
2 teaspoons French rose clay
2 ½ tablespoons Sweet Strawberry Fragrance oil
A handful of dried rose petals
Just follow the standard procedure for mixing lye and water. Then heat your oils and combine promptly with the lye water.
Now, you can color the soap mixture in 2 ways. After achieving a light trace, you can add the french rose clay directly and mix the soap batter with a whisk
Or, you can set aside some melted oils and mix it with the clay and then add it on the batter. This will give you the best chance of having a uniformly-colored batch of soap.
After pouring it on a mold, sprinkle your desired amount of rose petals on top! Dry and cure before use.
Want more rose petal action? Click here!
Look on the bright side!
Well, I’ve shared everything I know to help make your soap reach rockstar status. If you know better that you want to share to the world, bring it on!
If you are venturing into the soapmaking business, you can easily turn up the volume and produce soap-making kits now. Isn’t it exciting?
So, what are you waiting for? Run to your nearest soap making supplies store now and start perfecting your craft!