Want to make soap? Here is a simple recipe to get you started.

Are you a potential homesteader or just fed up with using those shop bought bars and shower gel that are full of chemicals. Did you know that most commercial soap has the glycerine removed (to sell separately) then it’s benefits replaced with chemicals? These chemicals (detergents (sodium cocoyl isethionate), hardeners and synthetic lathering agents (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate)) are the reasons why I got into making soap.

 

If you would like to have a try , the read on……

Equipment and Ingredients

Also see the source list at the end for website resources.

This list seems long, but you’ll be surprised how much you may already have in the kitchen. There are some that will state not to use this equipment for anything else after you use it for soap, I prefer a more pragmatic approach and you can use your own initiative ( you are making soap after all!). You will need

  • Access to a Lye calculator – I use Soap Calc. It has everything you need for cold process soap.
  • Assorted spoons and spatula – Plastic spoons only, no wood. Avoid spatulas that have removable heads as the solutions can get stuck in the gaps.
  • Distilled Water – Only use distilled water. Tap water or even filtered water contains contaminants which may affect the way the soap reacts.
  • Freezer paper – If you use wooden molds, they will need to be lined. This is an origami skill learnt only through practice and many attempts.
  • Gloves – Please wear gloves, nitrile gloves are best and latex free. Thick rubber gloves are fine as long as they fit with no loss of dexterity. Find nitrile gloves at a restaurant store.
  • Goggles or safety glasses – If you have them, wear them. I actually think some goggles make things worse for vision, but if you have a pair of safety glasses then they usually work very well. You want to prevent splashes in the first place, that’s your best bet.
  • Hand blender (Stick blender) – Absolute must. Sure you can make soap with a whisk or spoon but you’ll be there hours.
  • Large glass jug – To mix up the Sodium Hydroxide and water. Glass is needed as the temperature will get hot.
  • Large stainless steel pot – Has to be large enough to fit all the oils and water. Used to melt the oils and mix the soap. Many sites say not to use aluminum, however my pot is aluminum and its fine as I don’t let the soap sit long.
  • Long sleeves – Remember in school where you took an old shirt for painting, yep you need to have one too now. Sodium Hydroxide is caustic; you don’t want to be doing this in nice clothes. If you spill any, you will end up with holes. Also keep your arms covered, any splashes or little pellets that spill will get on our skin and the moisture content in your skin is enough to start them burning.
  • Molds – From an empty milk carton, yogurt pot to bought molds – really anything will do, but think ahead to how big the soap will be, will it need to be cut?
  • Wooden soap molds need to be lined with freezer paper.
  • Plastic molds may need a release agent (don’t use oil spray or WD40, silicone is needed).
  • For the practice first batches, go get a couple of free prepaid small postage boxes, tape them up so they are rigid, and line with freezer paper.
  • Silicone molds are the best all round. They are available in many shapes and release without any additions.
  • Oils – Any mixture of oils will work; the oils give the soap its characteristics. This is where you get to play around later.
  • Old Towels – You need to keep the soap mold warm after pouring; old towels are a great way of doing this, if you have a heat mat or a warm spot, then that can also work.
  • Parchment paper – Not wax paper, you’ll cover the mold and this prevents the towels from sticking
  • Scale – Capable of measuring grams (g). Many scales only measure in ounces (oz). But with 1oz. being ~28g, you need the precision when making small batches. Also need to consider the overall weight of your pot and any oils you’ll measure into it, go for at least 10 pound (lb) capability.
  • Small glass jug – To measure the Sodium Hydroxide pellets.
  • Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) – Please don’t buy toilet cleaner, it’s just not “pure” enough for the precision chemistry you need for soap making. You need at least technical grade, however the Sodium Hydroxide sold on the source list is food grade.
  • Thermometer – I would recommend buying a cheap infrared thermometer, however, as long as you can measure the temperature in ranges from 80 – 1700F any thermometer would do (if you have 2 the better, as you don’t want to keep rinsing from the oils to the lye solution, and an infrared one means you don’t have to keep touching the lye solution).
  • White vinegar – If you can make up a weak solution (1 cup to 2-3 cups of tap water) and keep it handy, then that’s great. If you do spill the Sodium Hydroxide either on your skin or surfaces, apply this vinegar solution to neutralize more effectively than water alone, then rinse, rinse, and rinse again… did I mention to rinse?

Recipe

There are so many recipes available to try and everyone has their favorites. To start with you could use a single oil recipe (Olive oil) or start with a combination one. I like to use this as a base:

  • 30% Olive Oil
  • 30% Coconut Oil
  • 30% Tallow or Lard or vegetable shortening ( palm or cottonseed – but check its only 1 oil)
  • 5% Butter
  • 5% Castor Oil

Why isn’t sodium Hydroxide and the water listed?… Simple,  because I don’t know the size of the batch you are making. Check out this blog here to work that out. Stay small the first time. Log on to a lye calculator to work out the proportions. Please don’t skip this step and “guess” or worse still, use a recipe from the interweb without checking the calculation. I use Soap Calc.

Clear a large space to work in; you’ll need to keep all animals and children away from where you are working. If you have a laundry room big enough, then the sink comes in handy to put everything in as you use it for easy clean up.

Bring all your equipment and ingredients together in one place. You don’t want to be fussing about trying to find something in the middle of soap making.

Prepare your molds. If you have a silicone one – lay it on a cookie sheet for stability.

Chill your distilled water in the fridge for a few hours, but don’t freeze ( you can make ice cubes too, but use distilled water, don’t buy commercial ice).

Weigh your oils into the pot. Liquid oils and butters need to warm and those solid at room temperature need to melt.

Allow the oils to warm very gently over direct heat, stirring as required. Do not leave alone, especially when you have animals or pets.

Once the last tiny bit of solid oil or butter has gone and you have a translucent solution remove from heat.

Measure the temperature of the oil. Mine is usually around 1350F. Leave to cool.

Sodium Hydroxide Solution

Warning!!

  • Sodium Hydroxide is caustic and will burn.
  • The Sodium Hydroxide solution will get hot.
  • The Sodium Hydroxide solution will fume. These fumes are caustic!  Do not breathe them in.
  • Always add the Sodium Hydroxide to the water; never add water to the Sodium Hydroxide.
  • Do not weigh the Sodium Hydroxide until ready to use.
  • Keep away from pets and children (and other adults if needs be) post a sign near where you are working to alert others that you are working with a caustic substance.

Weigh the chilled distilled water into a Pyrex glass jug, put aside.

Weigh the Sodium Hydroxide into a glass jug. If the pellets are affected by static, try weighing near a running water source, I have no idea why this helps, but have found that the static is reduced.

If you are concerned about the solution getting too hot – create a cold bath by adding ice cubes into a sink or bowl of water.

Slowly, and I mean slowly, add a small portion of the Sodium Hydroxide to the water. Mix well. At first you may not hear, smell or feel anything. Do not allow this to convince you not to continue adding the Sodium Hydroxide in small amounts.

Keep adding the Sodium Hydroxide to the water in small increments allowing to dissolve after each addition.

Slowly you will feel the solution getting warmer, you may hear “popping” – that the water molecules boiling in small areas as the Sodium Hydroxide dissolves. You may see steam and smell fumes. Do not breathe them in. Stop adding Sodium Hydroxide if the fumes are overpowering.

When all the Sodium Hydroxide has been added, mix thoroughly and ensure no crystals are at the bottom.

Measure the temperature of the Sodium Hydroxide solution. It can get over 1500f.

Let’s make soap

Measure the temperature of both the oils and Sodium Hydroxide solution again. You can start making soap when they are within 10 degrees of each other and its best to soap between 1100F and 1200F.

If the oils have cooled down too much, warm gently. Never warm the Sodium Hydroxide solution, no not in the microwave, never. Getting the temperature right is an experience thing. That’s why we did the oils first.

Pour the Sodium Hydroxide solution into the oils and mix straight away with a spoon until just incorporated.

Place the empty Sodium Hydroxide solution container in a place where it won’t be touched until cleaned. If I’ve not used my sink as a cold bath I have it already filled with dish-washing liquid and hot water. I try to place everything as I use it straight into the water.

Using the hand blender mix the soap pulsing the blender in short increments.

The soap is in trace when it looks like thin pudding. You should notice a change in the consistence from a thin liquid to a thicker one. Lift the blender out of the soap and allow dripping whilst gently wiggling across the surface. If there is no sign of the mixture on the top, it hasn’t finished yet.

The speed that trace happens differs with a lot of variables; temperature, the oil, choice of fragrance. The purpose of getting to “trace” is too ensure that the mixture is mixed enough. If you pour too early you can still make soap, if you pour too late you’ll be glopping it into your mold, but it will still be soap.

Most fragrances are added at thin trace, how much you use is dependent on the fragrance and supplier recommendations. Note that most fragrances and essential oils will smell differently when you add them as they will mix with the smell of the soap, don’t be alarmed.

Keep mixing until you reach a “thick” trace, when it looks like a “pudding or angel delight” consistency. A good way to check is when you lift the blender out this time and wiggle the dripping will leave a mark across the surface. Another way to tell is when the blender is moved through the mixture – there is a wave behind the arm of the blender.

Pour this mixture into your mold.

The mold needs to be covered to keep warm. This allows saponification to occur and is called “gelling”. Many people don’t gel and place the mold in a fridge or freezer. For your first couple of times, allow the soap to gel. Partial gel doesn’t affect the soap but it’s an appearance thing you will notice once the soap is cut.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over any open areas of the mold and then wrap the soap mold in the old towel.

Keep an eye on the soap and avoid moving. The soap will go through the gel phase and it’ll look darker, opaque and may even look like it’s a thin watery liquid. As soon as you see the entire mold look like this, remove the towels and leave alone… for 48 hours. Yes,  leave it alone don’t play around with it.

After 48 hours, you can remove it from the mold. If you need to cut down to size then do so now, a kitchen knife and cutting block is sufficient. The soap will still be soft, but firm enough to hold its own. If you used individual pots then just remove.

Allow the soap to cure for at least 4 weeks. During this time, excess water will come out of it, so store in a cool, dry place where little hands won’t get to it. The longer it is stored the drier soap gets and will actually last longer in use. When used, keep dry away from pools of water to enjoy the long lasting rewards of your labor.

Cleaning Up

Wash everything you’ve just used in hot soapy water. There are those that advocate leaving the soap to cure inside the pot, but I prefer to clean everything up, just make sure you take precautions as any soap at this stage will still be caustic and you don’t want that on your skin. Allow to dry, put away till next time you make soap.

Sources List ( Aka where to find stuff on the interweb and locally)

Amazon – scale, some raw materials – not my first choice

Bed bath beyond – scale use your 20% coupon for even more money off.

Harbor freight – Infrared thermometer like this one.

Soap Calc – Lye calculator.

Brambleberry – Raw ingredients, containers molds and all things soap. They also have a video blog called the “Soap Queen” with tips, tutorials and recipes.

Bulk Apothecary – Sodium Hydroxide.

Essential depot – Oils source and small quantity of Sodium Hydroxide.

Wholesale supplies plus – great all round supplier of most everything you need, free shipping at $40, but does charge a $5 handling fee. They sell Sodium Hydroxide in smaller quantities than bulk apothecary.

Restaurant store – for olive, coconut oil and nitrile gloves and there is one in Lancaster that’s great to walk around for all kind of fun things.

Goodwill – Spoons, glass Pyrex jugs, stock pots.

Dollar store – Spoons, glass Pyrex jugs, stock pots, spatulas.

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