Since I don’t have enough hobbies as it is (ha ha), I decided to take up soap making for real this year. Last year I made a batch for the first time ever with my dad, who has been making occasional batches for years. I found the process fun, interesting, and actually pretty relaxing – we make it in the hot (warm? not sure on exact terminology) method which requires a couple of hours of frequent stirring of the soap mixture. It’s meditative.
So, lately I’ve ramped it up a bit and made a couple of batches on my own. Honestly, I was a little nervous the first time I did it completely on my own. What if I mess up and get lye everywhere?
Don’t worry, dear readers: I did not get lye everywhere, and in fact I very successfully made soap! There are lots of ways to do it, and so many combinationsof oils you can use, but here’s how I do it.
You Will Need:
- Pyrex bowls
- A sauce pan
- Bamboo skewer
- Oils of your choice – I use olive and coconut oils
- Food-grade lye
- A digital kitchen scale
- A wooden spoon (one that you don’t mind getting a little destroyed)
- Essential oils, colors, etc are optional additions when your soap is done!
1. Calculate your oil, lye, and water amounts.
I use the very handy website SoapCalc.net. It looks a little…eh…out of date, but seriously this site is amazing. It even shows you how different types of oils in different ratios will affect the quality of your soap. It can be more or less sudsy, hard, soft, oily, etc. I like to make vegan soaps, and I’ve found that a 7/10 olive oil and 3/10 coconut oil makes a really nice soap. It’s neither too hard nor too soft, and it has a nice sudsy quality but it doesn’t leave your skin feeling dry.
If you decide to make your own, your options for oils are pretty much endless! Every type of oil or animal fat will give you different soap qualities. Why not experiment?
Once you put in your oil amounts, the calculator will show you how much water and lye you need to use. The amounts given by default include 5% extra of your oil, meaning that once all the lye reacts with your oils to make soap, you will still be left with 5% unreacted oil. This makes the soap less harsh and more conditioning – I usually use their default numbers.
The water amount is not critical, and having a little too much oil is not a terrible thing either. The lye amount is the one thing you really don’t want to fudge on.
2. Measure out your ingredients.
Use your digital kitchen scale for this. I start by measuring out my oil amounts and putting them aside in the large pyrex bowl that I will use to actually make my soap.
Then, it’s time to measure out the lye and water. Before we begin, a little lye 101:
- lye is corrosive, meaning it eats away at things – do not put lye or a lye mixture into an aluminum sauce pan
- lye will burn you if you touch it
- if you do happen to get any lye or lye solution on your skin, flush it with water immediately
- lye heats up when mixed with water – so I always mix it with ice
- you can dump lye and lye solution down your kitchen drain, in fact it’s what most drain cleaners are partially made of
- for washing dishes you’ve used with lye, simply flush them thoroughly with water and then wash as normal
So, first I get a medium-sized bowl of ice ready, roughly the amount that SoapCalc told me to use. This amount does not have to be 100% precise.
Then, I measure out exactly (as exact as possible) the amount of lye that SoapCalc told me to use, by weight. In the case that there is a decimal in that amount, I round down just to be safe.
Next, I slowly add the lye to the ice and mix it. You’ll notice the ice melts pretty quickly. Then I continue mixing the solution until it becomes pretty clear. This means all the lye has now dissolved in the water.
If you’re following these steps, you’re now ready to start the reaction to create your soap!
3. Mix it up!
The setup that I usually use for making soap may not be 100% professional, but it is 100% safe and effective, so here’s what I do:
First, I put a few inches of water in my metal sauce pan and heat that up until it’s boiling. Then I put the large pyrex bowl on top of the sauce pan (with the bamboo skewer at the edge to make sure it doesn’t get suctioned onto the sauce pan) and allow that to heat up until the oil is warm.
Then, I slowly mix the lye and water mixture into the oil using your wooden spoon. Do not use a metal spoon to mix.
Now is a waiting game. The reaction will occur faster if you continue to mix the solution, but honestly, it gets pretty boring. You can also just leave it to simmer and it will react eventually if you stir it occasionally. Just continue to make sure there is water boiling in your sauce pan and you’re good.
The mixture will go from liquid, to cloudy liquid, to an applesauce consistency, and finally to an almost fluffy, white-ish substance: soap!
4. Fancy it up
Once my soap is done reacting, I usually leave it alone for a few days or even a couple weeks. You don’t have to though, this is just personal preference and laziness.
Once the reaction is finished and you have soap, either right after or a while after, you can add fun scents, colors, etc to your soaps! I like to stick with natural scents, so I use essential oils to scent my soaps. My tip here is: use a lot more than you think you need. The scent tends to dissipate after a while, so make it stronger than you think you want.
I also use dried flowers from my garden, especially lavender. You might consider adding colors to your soaps as well. Whatever you like! Some people use oats, spices, really the possibilities are endless.
If you, like I do, left your soap for a few days after mixing it up, you may have to reheat it a bit in the microwave to make sure it is soft enough to mix in scents and such.
Once you have your soap all fancied up the way you like, place it in a mold. When I first started, I just used regular loaf molds (the kind for baking). Now I have an actual soap mold because I’m fancy like that. My dad likes to use a muffin tin. You can use whatever you like!
I usually leave my soaps in the mold until they are somewhat dry (you’ll notice them pulling away from the sides of the molds as they dry) but not 100% hard. Then, I take them out and cut them to the sizes I want. Finally, I let them sit for another 3-4 weeks. You don’t have to wait this long, but I’ve found it makes the texture of the soap much better if you give it more time to rest.
Finally: enjoy your soaps! And give them away! I have given lots of mine to friends and family, and still have a whole pile of them, which spurred several of my friends recommending I start selling them. I am, but I still like to give most of them away. They make a great gift!