Soap Making Basics
I assume that, since you are reading this page, you already know why you should be making your own soap, as well as the benefits of homemade soap and are ready to start making your own.
For the seasoned soap-makers, all the lingo like CP, superfat and lye calculators make a lot of sense. But if you are just getting started, maybe you haven’t even gotten that far yet.
You just want to whip up a batch of soap that’s relatively easy for a person who hasn’t done it before. After all, everybody has to make that first batch sometime. There are several websites that give good soap-making information, but for newbies it often feels like they’re jumping the gun a bit.
If you’ve been having a little bit of trouble tracking down some straight-forward information for first-timers, let me just say something really important: working with lye can be very dangerous! You should read a lot and get yourself acquainted with all the steps before you attempt your first batch. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, it’s highly recommended that you read this list of safety tips before you begin.
- Always store lye in air-tight containers. Label the containers appropriately. A label with “DANGER! – Sodium Hydroxide” and a skull and crossbones or a big red X in a circle is not overkill
- Keep containers out fo reach of children and pets
- When working with lye, you’ll need to wear safety goggles, rubber gloves, a long sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and shoes
- It’s a good idea to wear a disposable face mask while working with lye
- When mixing your lye-water solution, remember to ALWAYS ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER, and not the other way around. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. If you add the water to the lye, the chemical reaction could cause some of the mixture to spill on you!
- Add the lye slowly while stirring the liquid gently. It will get quite hot, so be sure to always start out with cool water, never warm or hot water.
- Prepare the lye and water solution in a well ventilated area. If I use the kitchen sink, I make sure that the stove vent is on and that the window above the sink is open. I actually prefer to mix it outside if it isn’t windy and the air temps are comfortable. I have an outdoor sink near my potting table that works well for this.
- If you do get some of the lye solution on your skin, rinse well with lots of cool water, then spray some vinegar on your skin. I keep a spray bottle handy for just such emergencies
Soap Making Checklist
In an effort to assist beginner soap-makers with the basics, and as a reminder to the more experienced, here’s a list of soap-making basics:
- Wear protective gear & clothing – rubber gloves, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, & shoes
- Run every formula through a lye calculator before using it
- Pots: use stainless steel pots. Enamel is ok so long as there are NO chips. No glass – heat from lye/water solution can cause glass to shatter
- Utensils: use stainless steel. No wood utensils as lye causes wood to splinter over time. Use plastics with caution as some will melt
- Use a stainless steel immersion/stick blender to mix lye solution into oils
- Use a digital scale that measures at least to 10th’s of an ounce & one that measures ounces & grams
- Measure by weight, not volume
- Don’t substitute oils without using a lye calculator to re-calculate the lye amount
- Keep a journal or book of formulas, & take notes of every batch
- Once you use pots, pans or even the immersion blender for soap making, don’t use them for anything else (specially cooking!). Keep those items for soap making only
- Line and/or prepare your molds before you start. There’s nothing worse than have your soap reach trace only to realize your mold are not ready
Standard Soap Making Procedures
Now that you have read the safety guidelines and the checklist, let’s go over some basic, step-by-step instructions. Depending on the recipe you’re making, the steps might be a little different. But for simple recipes you can consider these as standard soap making procedures:
- Start by weighting all your ingredients. Don’t forget to allow for the weight of the containers by using the tare function on your digital scale;
- To prepare your lye solution, put the weighted water into a bowl or pot, preferably stainless steel. Then slowly and carefully add the lye, stirring constantly. A reaction will occur, heating up the water. Do not let the water boil and don’t breathe the fumes. Set aside to cool.
- While the lye solution cools down, add your weighted oils to a stainless steel pan. Heat gently until the oils are melted.
- Take the temperatures of your oils and the lye solution. When both are within 10 degrees of each other (ideally in the 100 to 125 F range), slowly add the lye solution to the oils.
- Mix gently at first, until the mixture takes a smooth texture and color. Then turn on your immersion blender and mix thoroughly, in short bursts of 20 seconds so as not to burn your blender.
- At some point, your mixture will reach trace. Trace is when the surface of the solution starts to show ripples from your mixing and the ripples tend to stay on the surface. It should look almost like very thick custard.
- If you’re adding essential oils, fragrances, colorants or other additives, this is usually the time to do it — unless noted otherwise.
- Pour this into the molds and place them in the setting area, thencover them with the blanket.
- Let the molds sit for about 24 hours, then remove the blankets and lid and let the soap air in the mold for another few hours.
- You should have a nice hard block of fresh soap, which you can now remove from the mold. If it’s still a bit soft, let the block of soap sit fora day to firm up before unmolding.When the soap is firm enough, unmold and cut it into small bars.
- Place the bars in an open box or drying rack for 4 to 6 weeks. Make sure the bars don’t touch one another, and remember to turn them everyonce in a while, so all sidescan dry equally.
- While you should be able to test the soap after 2 weeks, it could still bea bit harsh on your skin. So, resist the urge and wait a few more weeks.The longer the soap cures, the milder it will be.
Don’t know where to start? (Soapmaking for beginners)
If you’re new to soapmaking, I highly recommend “Natural Soapmaking” by Jan Berry. It’s perfect for beginners. I wish I’d read it before my first batch! She manages to be thorough and yet keep it simple and to the point.
These are some of the things you’ll learn:
- the basics of cold process soap making
- what terms like “gel phase” and “trace” really mean
- how to color soaps naturally with botanicals and clays
- all about adding beneficial herbs and flowers to your soaps
- how to use a lye calculator (it’s not as hard as it seems, promise!)
And for those who feel they need some extra hand-holding, her complete package also includes access to a Private Facebook Group!
Interested? Click here to learn more.
Let’s Make Soap!
A basic soap recipe for beginners should contain no fragrance, essential oils, color or additives. For your first batch, stick with one that has no more than 3 or 4 oils, lye and water.
The recipes on this page are great for first timers. Once you have made a few batches and are confident to try more advanced recipes, head over to my recipe index page and happy soaping!