Friday, June 24, 2011

Soap Making 101

I promised I would blog about making soap.

First, let me say I am no expert...I have definite failures. Fortunately, they are always usable but very unattractive.

I was fortunate enough to belong to a private forum where one member was an expert and sold homemade soaps. She taught an online course for members who were interested so I rely on her expertise and refer back to it often.

I began making our soap about two years ago. Just for fun and to use up lots of oils and fats I have left from cooking. In other words, I try not to buy lots of expensive soap making products which would really enhance the soaps. I do splurge for lavender and rosemary essential oils.

I use these products:

canned lye (my local True Value carries it for me in the plumbing department)
coconut oil (found in the baking section at Wal Mart)
olive oil (the cheapest you can extra virgin)
solid fats (I have home rendered beef tallow and lard, but you can also buy lard or shortening and use)



These I always have on hand.

Equipment needed:

Rubber gloves
long sleeve shirt
I wear glasses so don't use goggles

All this is to keep lye or lye products off your burns!

Utensils must be glass, stainless steel or plastic

Thermometer (not critical)
Spatula, to get they very last drop of soap into the mold.
Oil melting pan (also used for blending the soap)..I use my largest stainless steel pan.
Container for lye and water. I use a glass pyrex bowl or a 4 cup measure, plastic.
Critical item: a digital scale with tare feature for measuring ingredients.

Stick blender (note: Mom just used a long wooden spoon and stirred......and stirred. This blender should be reserved for soap only.

Step 1:

I lay down newspapers or something to protect counter top before laying out all ingredients. (Note: I hadn't put it down yet in the picture).
Get all equipment out and ready. Plug in blender

Have your recipe at hand. There are lots of good websites with various recipes and there is one where you input your ingredients and it tells you how much water and lye to use. It also lists the qualities of the resulting soap. I think is is called Soap Calculator 9.

Have your mold ready. My first beginner recipe just filled a pyrex loaf dish that was lined with Saran Wrap. Have a small container lined in case there is overflow....and there was. I use a small plastic freezer container.

Here we go:

Set your water container (plastic or glass or ss) on the scale and use the tare function. Add water until scale reads the correct amount for your recipe. Tip a container with a pour spout is handy. You will be pouring the lye/water mixture into the fats later.

Place container down in sink. (be sure to move spout away from bowl so you don't accidentally hit the faucet and ruin your measure.

Set a small container on the scale for the lye. Hit the tare function. Add lye to the weight required.

Now very carefully pour the lye into the container of water in the sink. Never the reverse of water into lye. This will create fumes so have an open window or do not stand directly over the container. Stir with a ss spoon until all the lye has dissolved.

Note: I turn on the ceiling fan and open the window no matter the weather over the sink.

Our teacher recommends using the tare function for the oils....I don't. I just measure them carefully into a container using the tare function. Add the solid fats to the soap making pot and just barely melt them.
Add the rest of the oils to the pot. Note: I think using the tare with these would be a great idea and I am doing it next time.

You would just add the first fat and hit tare and add the next, and keep on until last you add the oils. The total should now read the total of the fats in your recipe.

Set the barely warm oils and fats into the sink next to the lye/water mixture.

When the lye has cooled to about the same temperature as the oils, add very slowly to the oils and fats with the stick blender going.

Tip. Here is where the thermometer is useful or touch the bottom of the lye container and it should just feel warm.

While the lye is cooling, measure out essential oils and other additives and place by sink. These can be measured using regular measures. These will be added at trace.

Trace is when the saponification process has reached the stage of looking like cake batter or leaves a slight trace when the blender is drawn across it.

Trace can be very fast or very slow. My soap took about 10 minutes. Usually it will thicken after adding the essential oils so Blend it quickly and pour into molds.

You can speed up curing by putting the mold of soap into a preheated oven set at 160 to 170 and leave it on for 2 to 3 hours and then turn off. Don't open the oven door! In 12 hours you can take the soap out and slice into bars.

It is too hot to do this and I hate to heat up that big oven so I just set the soap in a dark room and leave for 24 hours.....then proceed.

Soap should then be stored in a dark place while it a closet. Recommendation is 6 weeks.
If the soap tastes salty it is ready to use. If it burns or zaps your tongue, it is not!

Here was our first simple recipe with all supplies readily available.

I plan to make it next.

6 oz coconut oil
28 oz olive oil
6 oz lard
15.2 oz water
5.45 oz lye
40 oz. Total (fats only)

For practice go to soap calculator and plug in the ingredients (not the lye and water) and check the amounts of lye and water. It will also show you on the left hand side, the qualities of the soap.

and yes you can mix the oils to make it cheaper, but olive oil makes a beautiful soap.

The recipe I just did had beef tallow, lard, olive oil, coconut oil and canola oil in it.

I only use essential oils (as opposed to fragrance oils) lavender and rosemary at the rate of l oz per lb. Of fats. In this soap I also added honey and finely pulverized oatmeal. My daughter liked the scrubbing texture of the oatmeal.

Here is the soap at trace.

I quickly added the honey, fragrances and oatmeal, blended well and poured into my mold.

I like to use freezer paper for lining the mold, but was out.

And here is my end product.

I would suggest you try a very simple recipe first and get comfortable with the process. There are lots of ways to make soap, but this is the only one I have done.

You need to learn all about the fats and oils used in soap making and what qualities they add to the soap. There are limits for different fats and oils as to how much to use before it hurts the soap quality.

I love goat's or cow's milk soap but Willow is dry and I was out of canned goat's milk. The milk soaps are a little tricky but very doable.

Any questions?


  1. There is a local lady that I buy home made soap from. I love it. The last one I bought was spearmint. It is so refreshing!

  2. Oh, thank you so much!!! I'm going to try this winter when I'm not overwhelmed with gardening. I just knew you'd have a more down-to-earth approach that I'd understand better than all of the others. Thank you!