I have included this basic soap making information page here on my website, to give you an overview of the soap making process. These are the basics. If you would like more information, please check out my how-to book on soap making, Creative Soap Making, which can be purchased on the products page. If you live in the greater Austin, Texas area and would like to attend a basic soap making class, please use the contact me page to inquire when the next class will be conducted. 

​CONCLUSION

OVERVIEW - COLD PROCESS SOAP MAKING

  1. Soap making is both simple and complicated to learn. The basics are pretty straight forward, yet there is a lot of chemistry behind soap making. There is A LOT to learn. DO NOT expect to learn it all at once. You don't have to. Simply take it one step at a time.
  2. There are four main soap making methods and variations within those methods. They are: cold process, hot process, rebatch and melt & pour. Cold process is a popular way to start your soap making journey, and this is the method that will be taught here. 
  3. Real soap is made with lye, and that my friends, is the way it is. Soap is a combination of a lye solution (lye mixed with water, milk or some other liquid) then mixed with fats and/or oils.
  4. ​Trace. When soap making instructions state that the soap is brought to trace, this simply means you continue to stir the soap (using a hand held blender, nicknamed, stick blender) until it starts to thicken up, similar to making gravy or cooking pudding. Trace is really an emulsion, the combination of ingredients to the point where they will no longer separate.
  5. The use of different oils lend different qualities to the soap. This is known as the properties of oils and it makes for a very interesting study! Some examples:  lard makes a hard bar of soap with a creamy lather, coconut adds great lathering and olive oil is conditioning.
  6. ​Sometimes things go wrong. It is more than possible for a person to learn the soap making craft and hardly ever have a failed batch, but sooner or later... you will. Years ago, an old soapmaker told me that sometimes a batch fails and you never do figure out why. After I heard that, I decided to never stress over it again. You shouldn't either. 
  7. ​Understand measurements and percentages in soap making.  A soap recipe expressed in percentages is like a summary of the recipe, a way in which to share the basics of the recipe so that you can make it using the size batch that you desire. When learning how to formulate your own soap recipes, you have to learn the percentages of each oil used before you can do the math to formulate your own. One of the beauties of this craft is that you don't have to always depend on someone else's recipe, you can learn to formulate your own. 
  8. Soapmakers teach soapmaking from their own perspective. They teach what works for them. Don't be surprised when you find what seems to be conflicting soapmaking information, whether it be in books or on the internet. The basics of soapmaking is pretty standard but there are variations and different folks have different ways of doing things.  

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER

So you are interested in learning how to make soap. Maybe you're not sure about all this. Perhaps you are still very much on the hunt, scouring the internet for soap making info. Well, that's exactly what I am going to give you here. Information on this creative craft, in the most concise way that I can. 


​How to Make Soap

Learn to make your own soap!

  

DISCLAIMER

The above information is written to provide basic information on the soap making craft. The author has made every effort possible to ensure the accuracy of the information and recipe contained herein. It is imperative that standard safety procedures are followed when making soap. The author shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person with respect to any loss or damage caused, or alleged to have been caused directly or indirectly, by this information. The author believes the soap making procedures outlined here are safe, when proper safety precautions are followed. All projects attempted are done so at the reader's sole risk and discretion.


Copyright  2015 by Elin Criswell  - All Rights Reserved.

  1. Preparation  -  Begin by protecting your work surfaces by covering with old newspaper. Gather all your equipment, supplies and soap molds. If using a wooden soap mold, line with freezer or wax paper.
  2. Prepare the lye solution  -  Put on your apron, safety glasses and gloves. Place the 4-cup measuring cup on the scale and press the tare button to zero out the weight. Then weigh out the needed amount of water. Next, place your empty container to hold the lye on the scale and press the tare button to zero out the weight. Measure out the needed amount of lye. Working in a well-ventilated area, carefully add the lye to the water, stirring with a heavy, plastic spoon. Be sure to stay clear of the fumes. After you have stirred the lye solution and it has become clear, place the lye solution container in a safe place and allow it to cool down to room temperature.  IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Always add the lye to the water, NEVER add the water to the lye!  Doing so could cause a dangerous affect and you could be injured!
  3. Prepare the Fats/Oils  -  Place the plastic bowl for measuring the fats and oils on the scale, press the tare button to zero out the weight. Weigh each fat or oil to be used, and then pour it into the soap pot. Solid fats and oils such as tallow, lard or coconut can be melted down in the microwave, or they can be melted down on a pot on the stove. Do not allow the fats or oils to get too hot. Heating just until melted is sufficient. After all the needed fats and oils have been added to the soap pot, monitor the temperature using the thermometer. When the temperature cools down to 100 degrees, you will be ready for the next step.
  4. Measure out your Essential or Fragrance Oils  -  Measure out the essential or fragrance oil into a small measuring cup (preferably glass). Having this premeasured will have it ready to go when you need it during the soap making process.    
  5. The Actual Soap Making  -  Begin by putting on your apron, safety glasses and gloves. Carefully take the lye solution and slowly pour into the soap pot containing your fats and/or oils. Gently stir the mixture using a heavy plastic or stainless steel spoon. Once you have started pouring the lye solution, do not stop. Continue to stir until all the lye solution is poured in. This is the point at which the chemical reaction known as saponification (which simply means to make soap) begins. Now take the stick blender, place it in the soap pot and turn it on low speed. As you carefully stir the mixture, be careful not to accidentally raise the stick blender above the soap mixture as you do not want to splash yourself with raw soap. Continue stirring until the soap mixture begins to thicken. The soap has finished processing when it reaches trace. To test for trace, take a heavy plastic spoon, gently stir the soap mixture, then bring the mixing spoon out of the mixture while making a circular motion, above the soap mixture. If you can see a trail or trace of soap mixture left on top, then the soap has come to trace. If not, continue mixing with the stick blender for a short time, then test again. Adding essential or fragrance oils  - When trace has been determined, then it is time to add your essential or fragrance oil.  Simply pour into the soap mixture then slick blend the mixture again long enough to incorporate.
  6. Pour the soap into the molds  -  Pour the soap mixture into the molds, using a rubber spatula to wipe all the soap into the molds. It's a good idea to cover your molds with plastic wrap. Then place your mold in an area where it will not be disturbed. 
  7. Clean Up  -  Clean up immediately after the job is done. Use paper towels or old wash cloths or rags, to wipe out the soap pot, and to wipe off the stick blender and any utensils of excess soap. During this process continue to wear your apron, safety glasses and gloves. Raw soap is caustic and can irritate and burn if it comes in contact with your skin. In hot, soapy water, wash all used utensils and soap pot, then let dry. Clean Up Tip for Stick Blender:  rinse the glass measuring cup that held the lye solution. Then, add in hot, soapy water. Immerse end of stick blender and turn on low speed for a few seconds to clean the blades. Then wash the outside of the stick blender and rinse under hot, running water. Be careful not to get any water in the stick blender motor. Wipe dry with paper towels.
  8. Unmolding the Soap  -  After approximately 24 hours, the soap can be unmolded. After unmolding the soap, it can be sliced or cut into bars. Place soap bars on a drying rack and allow to cure. Note that the different fats or oils used in a soap recipe will affect how long you need to wait before unmolding. Recipes with a high percentage of hard oils, such as tallow, lard, palm or coconut oil, may be able to be unmolded sooner than 24 hours.
  9. Cure Time  -  The soap should be allowed to cure for at least 3 weeks before using. During this time the water in the soap gradually evaporates, hardening the bar. The soap also becomes milder. Soap can be used before the curing time is up, but is not recommended. A hard, cured bar of soap will last longer. 

BASIC SOAP RECIPE 

  • Work at an undistracted time so you can fully concentrate on what you are doing.
  • Small children and any pets should be out of the room where you are working so they don't get underfoot.
  • Wear safety glasses, gloves and protective clothing.
  • When mixing the lye solution, work in a well-ventilated area, outside if possible.
  • Lye flakes are attracted to moisture. If any lye comes into contact with your skin you will notice a 'tingling' or slight burning sensation. Quickly washing the area under cold, running water should take care of the situation.

UNDERSTANDING LYE

When making soap using the cold process method, no heat is involved. You first prepare your lye solution, then your fats and/or oils. Then you combine your lye solution with your fats/oils using a stick blender. You continue to stir until the soap mixture reaches trace. Then you add any additives such as essential or fragrance oils to scent the soap, stirring to incorporate. The soap mixture is now ready to be poured into the molds. After approximately 24 hours the soap is unmolded, then allowed to cure for at least 3 weeks.

SOAPMAKING INSTRUCTIONS

10 oz.    distilled water

 4.5 oz.  lye


16 oz.    lard

 8 oz.    canola oil

 8 oz.    coconut oil


Optional

 1 TBSP. Essential or Fragrance Oil



Before making your first batch of soap, be sure to carefully study all instructions. Know what you are doing. It is good to also understand that the most time consuming part of soap making is the preparation beforehand and the clean up afterward. The actual soap making does not usually take long at all. But the whole process will run more smoothly when you have done all your preparations beforehand, then clean up immediately afterward. You'll be glad you did.

​SUMMARY

Before making your first batch of soap, you will need to gather the equipment and supplies that you will need.

LYE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

  • An accurate scale (with a tare function)
  • Hand held (stick) blender
  • Safety glasses or goggles
  • An apron (to protect clothing)
  • Rubber or latex gloves (thin ones allow for greater flexibility)
  • Container for measuring lye (the 2 cup measuring cup can be used or you can use a 24 oz. plastic cottage cheese container)
  • ​Thermometer (such as a meat thermometer)
  • Plastic bowl for measuring fats/oils
  • 4-cup Pyrex-type heavy glass measuring cup or heavy plastic container  (NOTE:  Do NOT use any type of regular glass container. Pyrex-type containers are made to withstand high temperatures).
  • 2-cup Pyrex-type heavy glass measuring cup
  • 3-quart stainless steel bowl ....or.... 8-cup Pyrex-type heavy glass measuring bowl to be used as the soap pot. This will be the container that you will make the soap in when combining the oils and the lye solution.
  • Heavy plastic spoon and spatula
  • Assorted tablespoons and measuring cups
  • Old newspapers (to protect workspace counter)
  • Paper towels or old dishcloths for clean up
  • All your recipe ingredients.  Distilled water, lye, lard, canola oil, coconut oil and optional essential or fragrance oils.  [NOTE: Lye can often be purchased from hardware stores and is often sold as drain cleaner. Be sure to only buy a product labeled 100% lye!]
  • Soap molds - enough for a 2 lb. batch of soap. A wooden log mold could be used or several cavity molds (that can be purchased at craft stores).
  • A place for the soap to cure (e.g. plastic-coated shelving or even old bread racks. It is best for it to be racks or shelves that will allow air to freely circulate around the soap).

NEEDED EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES

To make soap, you have to use lye. A lot of people seem to have a fear of lye and I think this is unnecessary. You must have a healthy respect for lye. It is caustic and it can hurt you. This is a fact. But I tell those who take basic soap classes from me that I believe it is much more dangerous when we get behind the wheel of our car. There are a lot more uncontrolled circumstances out there on the road then there is when we are making soap in our own kitchens! So learn the safety precautions and carefully follow them. When you do, you can successfully make soap just like the rest of us. 

Handcrafted Soaps & Sundries Since 2003