One of my driving forces is self sufficiency. Knowing that you’re capable of fulfilling some of your own basic needs without having to depend upon another human being is very satisfying. The characteristic of independence is developed early in children. We could never stretch to reach the heights or feel the satisfaction of great accomplishment without this innate desire.
I’m also a cautious person. I’m not a risk taker if I can help it. I take my time studying things out before trying something new. I researched for over a year before I dared plunge into soap making. I’ve been at it now since 2009.
Of course, now I’m hooked! I LOVE my soap! Not only because I developed my own recipes and know exactly what’s in it, but because having dry, itchy skin is history and I don’t have to buy complexion products for myself or my teenagers. (Complexion soap recipe to come later.) It has been a very satisfying venture. In the beginning I felt like I had to guard my recipes and didn’t want to share, but I’ve had a change of heart. Soap making is a skill that’s out there for anyone to figure out, but I hope the practical applications of my research will make it easier for someone else to take the plunge.
Part of what I learned was a little difficult to find in free online sources. For instance, figuring the batch size/mold volume ratios. Rather than buy expensive molds and use only recipes that were recommended by them, I learned how to figure my own recipe volumes and make molds that would accommodate them.
I saved myself some money by using inexpensive materials I had readily available to make my molds. Being more seamstress than carpenter, I designed this one using a pine board, a staple gun, vinyl fabric, and velcro closures. The velcro holds it all together when it needs to be together. The vinyl makes a very useful “hinge” so the mold will fold away from the loaf when it’s time to unmold. The inside measurements are 3.5 in. by 21 in. by 2.5 inches.
I also created a cutting guide with pine boards of the same size. I secured it with screws, using vinyl fabric as spacers so the loaf would slide in more easily, the base extends 1 inch past the sides and has a stopper. I used a miter saw to cut guides 1 inch apart.
While formulating my recipes, I found tons of information about the properties of the oils used in soap making and the qualities they provide to the soap. There are also tables showing each oil’s saponification value (how much lye is required to turn it into soap) so you can figure it out on your own, but it can be tedious and requires very accurate math. Once I decided on which oils and how much of each to use, this Lye Calculator did the rest of the work for me to determine lye amounts. It’s an amazing tool I refer to all the time!
Sunflower Market (or Sprouts Health Food store)–Pomace Olive Oil (for soap you DON’T need to use the extra expensive extra virgin olive oil, trust me!) , Palm Oil (shortening), Goat Milk Powder.
Walmart: Almond Oil and Coconut Oil (top shelf in the baking aisle) Castor Oil (in the pharmacy) and almonds also in grocery.
The best deals I’ve found on lye (sodium hydroxide) are online. Depending on how much you want to buy, and whether you have a local distributor, you’ll have to do your own comparison shopping. For me, these two resources have been excellent: The Lye Guy and Essential Depot.
While I’m not an expert on soap making in general, I do feel confident about safe practices with the basics. There is so much more to science than what I know! For instance, I have no experience adding scents or colors since my soap is ALL NATURAL. So, if you want to do your own homework I’m including a link to some of my favorite experts HERE. But, if you’re interested in knowing the bottom line, without the entire Soap 101 Course with all the science, I’m just going to give you what you really need to know to jump in.
All of my supplies, except the goggles and gloves, were bought at a second hand store or “retired” from my own kitchen. Remember they don’t need to be new or fancy, but you do need to keep these items FOR SOAP MAKING ONLY. Here’s what you’ll need: A Large (Plastic) Bowl for oils, Pitcher for mixing lye, long handled plastic or wooden spoon, rubber spatula or scraper, stick blender, meat thermometer (a candy thermometer would also work) digital scale that measures in ounces (ideally over 33 ounces, but if not, you can measure in two parts like I do:)
Just a few tips before you begin:
- Prepare your mold first. In my case, that means to line it with plastic coated freezer paper, securing the corners and around the edges with tape.)
- Keep CHILDREN and PETS AWAY while you work!
- Wear PROTECTIVE GOGGLES and RUBBER GLOVES while handling lye. Some recommend long sleeves, as well.
- Keep a spray bottle of VINEGAR handy to neutralize any spills or accidental contact with skin.
- Opening a window is a good idea. Even the fumes can burn your nose. Some experts recommend working in the outdoors.
- Use a reliable THERMOMETER, and an accurate DIGITAL SCALE (mine measures in ounces and grams. All of my recipes are in ounces.) It is imperative that you MEASURE PRECISELY! *REMEMBER to RESET the SCALE with each measurement to SUBTRACT the WEIGHT of the CONTAINER!
- NEVER use your containers or utensils for other things, particularly food items.
- ALWAYS measure, mix, and melt oils together FIRST. This is the most time-consuming part of the process. When the oils are together in a liquid state in the bowl and you have set it aside to cool you are ready to prepare your lye mixture.
- ALWAYS add your lye to the water, NEVER add water to lye!!!!
- For clean-up: Using rubber gloves, spray all your utensils with vinegar, rinse, then wash with dish soap and dry.
So. . . Here’s the Recipe!
Bon’s Amazing, Exfoliating, Moisturizing Granola Soap
- 3 oz Castor oil
- 20 oz Coconut oil
- 33 oz Olive oil
- 20 oz Palm oil
- 20-25 oz COLD water (distilled is best)
- 10.85 oz lye (sodium hydroxide)
Measure castor oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and palm oil (shortening) into a large plastic mixing bowl or bucket. I use the microwave to heat the oil mixture. Don’t overdo it. It’s quicker to heat it a little more than to wait for it to cool down. Pre-measure all ingredients to be added at trace and set them and the oils aside while you prepare the lye.
Prepare for the lye by putting a couple of inches of water in an old ice cream bucket in the sink. Measure the cold water in your pitcher and set it down inside the bucket, then add ice to the bucket of water. Make sure the pitcher is solid–you don’t want it floating or unstable. PUT YOUR GOGGLES AND GLOVES ON NOW.
Carefully measure the lye into a DRY container and add it to the water pitcher, stirring gently. You will notice that it heats up very quickly. Stir and check the temperature occasionally as it cools.
Keep checking until your oils and lye mixture both reach the same temperature of approximately *100°F. Pour the LYE MIXTURE INTO THE OIL, stir gently, then mix with your stick blender in short bursts until trace. You’ll know it’s trace when it looks like a soft pudding. (Drops don’t disappear, but can be seen on the surface.) In my experience, this can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 25 or 30, depending on temperature, types of oil, and who-knows-what other factors.
*Just a note about temperature: I have always followed the recommendation to combine them at 100° F, but I’ve also seen recommendations that include a range of 100° to 125°. I mixed them warmer, this time, simply because they both reached 120° at the same time. (The oil cools at a different rate because it’s not on ice.) The hotter temperature, I noticed, dramatically decreased the amount of time required to reach trace, but also effected the color. The sugars in the goats milk and honey react with the heat to make it a darker color. That in no way effects the quality of the soap, it’s just a curiosity to note.
- 2 oz (sweet) almond oil
- 1.5 oz honey
- 1 cup (more or less) finely ground oatmeal and almonds (I start with about 1/4 cup slivered almonds and a generous cup of rolled oats, then blend them up together until they’re a fine flour.)
- optional 2 oz. goat milk powder
Mix them in well, then you’re ready to pour your soap into molds. This recipe fits into three regular sized Pringles cans or one wooden loaf mold measuring 21 in. X 3.5 in. X 2.5 in.
Soap heats up as a part of the chemical process, but it also needs to maintain even heat, and cool down slowly to come out right. If you use the wooden mold, cover with a strip of freezer paper and another layer of wood insulation (notice I use my cutting guide for this.) If you use Pringles cans, keep them together as much as possible, and wrap them with a kitchen towel or two to insulate for about 24 hours.
Next day: Use rubber gloves to remove your new soap loaf from the mold. It will be about the consistency of a block of cheddar cheese, and can be cut into bars. Place the bars on a rack or tray in an out-of-the-way place where they can get good air circulation. (While it doesn’t taste like cheddar cheese, it does contain honey, and will attract mice if they can access it.)
Try to be patient! I know, you can hardly wait to try it! Your new soap will have finished curing and be safe for your skin in two to three weeks.
Happy Soap Making!