Soap making at home can be both a satisfying and inexpensive way to provide the needs of your family and to create wonderful gifts for gift giving occasions for family and friends. You could use a soap making kit, but when you make your soaps from scratch, you get to choose from the best ingredients and customize the soap to fit your desires.
The Soap Making Process
This page offers the information on making soap from scratch using the cold process method. We do not offer the hot process method.
Tips and Warnings
We have added the tips and warnings at the beginning of this page due to the potential danger of working with lye.
Purchasing and handling lye: Lye can be found in the plumbing section of most hardware stores or purchased online. It is important to assure that the package says “100% sodium hydroxide”
READ THE PACKAGE: Before you begin your journey into the soap-making process, make sure that you read the safety warnings on the box of lye.
- Lye should never touch your skin, it WILL burn you.
- Wear safety goggles and gloves at all times while handling lye and raw soaps
- Work with lye in a well ventilated area or outside to avoid breathing fumes.
Temperature is critical during the process of mixing the oils with the lye. If they are too hot, it will cause separation, if they are too cool, the process will be unsuccessful for making soap.
Never use perfume as a fragrance. Most perfumes, including those made from the Ancient Pathway Perfume pages contain alcohol. This will alter the chemical reaction that is taking place between the lye and the fats, causing the soap to fail. Always use essential oils. A little goes a long way.
Your workspace and equipment
Unless you have an area other than the kitchen set up with an
independent heat source, the kitchen will be your best area for soap
processing. You will need to heat the ingredients over the stove.
Alternately, I have found that an outdoor work area and grill with a
side burner can work quite well. The disadvantage of this method is
potential debris blowing into your soap.
Since you will be working with lye, a dangerous chemical, make sure that no children or pets are underfoot. Spread newspaper or a work cloth over your working area and assemble your equipment.
Cold process soap is made from oils, lye and water. When these ingredients are combined at the right temperature, they harden into soap in a process called saponification.
- Safety goggles and rubber gloves, used whenever you are handling lye.
- A digital scale which can be purchased online or at retailers such as Wal-Mart
- A large stainless steel or enamel kettle. Do not use aluminum or non-stick pots.
- A glass wide-mouth pitcher to hold the water and lye. You can use plastic, but it is not recommended
- A two-cup glass measuring cup
- Wooden spoons
- An immersion blender. This is not absolutely necessary, but will save about an hour of stirring time. Immersion blenders are available at large hardware stores and department stores. I get mine for soap making at flea markets and yard sales for a few dollars.
- Two candy thermometers or other thermometers that can register between 80-100F
- Plastic molds suitable for the cold process, a shoebox or wooden molds to mold your finished soap. If using a shoebox or wooden molds, line them with parchment paper. Plastic molds can be purchased at your local hobby shops. Wooden molds can be made by hand.
- Cloth or paper towels for cleanup.
Optional: a clay wire cutting tool (two wooden handles with a wire between them) for cutting the finished product.
- 24 ounces of coconut oil
- 38 ounces of vegetable shortening
- 24 ounces of olive oil
- 12 ounces sodium hydroxide, or lye. (sometimes called caustic soda)
- 32 ounces spring or distilled water
- 4 ounces of your favorite essential oil, such as peppermint, lemon, rose or lavender
Set up your work area and gather your ingredients and then you are ready to make soap.
Mixing your ingredients
Measure 12 ounces of lye, using the digital scale to make sure the measurement is exact. Pour the lye into the two-cup measuring cup.
Measure 32 ounces of cold water. Again, use the digital scale to make sure the measurement is exact. Pour the water into the large stainless steel pot.
Add the lye to the water. If you are working indoors, open the windows and place the water under the stove’s running exhaust fan. Add the lye slowly to the water, stirring gently with a wooden spoon until the lye is completely dissolved. Set the mixture aside and allow it to cool until the fumes dissipate.
Warning 1: Add the lye to the water and not
the other way around. If you add water to the lye, the reaction
between the substances may be too quick and dangerous.
Warning 2: As you add the lye to the water, heat will be generated and fumes will be released. Keep your face turned away and avoid inhaling the fumes.
Measure the Oils
Using the scale, weigh out the coconut oil, vegetable shortening and olive oil.
Combine the Oils
Set a large stainless steel pot on the stove on low-medium heat. Add the coconut oil and vegetable shortening and stir frequently until melted. Add the olive oil and stir until all are completely melted and combined, then remove the pot from heat.
Measure the temperatures
Use different thermometers for the lye and oils, and continue to monitor their temperatures until the lye reaches 95-98F (35-36C) and the oils are at the same or lower temperature. DO NOT use the same thermometer for both measurements.
Add the lye to the oils
When the two mixtures have reached the proper temperatures, add the lye in a very slow and steady stream to the oils using the following procedure:
- Stir with a wooden or heat-resistant spoon; Never use metal as it is reactive.
- You may instead use an immersion blender to stir the lye and oils to save time.
- Continue to mix for about 10-15 minutes until "tracing" occurs; you'll see your spoon leave a visible trace behind it, like one you'd see when making pudding. If you're using a stick blender, this should occur within about 5 minutes.
- If you don't seen tracing within 15 minutes, let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes before continuing to mix again.
Adding essential Oils
Once tracing occurs, add 4 ounces of essential oil. At this point, you have to pay attention, some fragrances and essential oils such as cinnamon, will cause the soap to set quickly. You must be ready to pour the soup into the molds as soon as you stir in the essential oils. This can take a bit of practice, but moving quickly is advisable.
Pouring the Soap
Continue to wear your safety equipment during this process. The soap is still raw at this point and is caustic and can still burn the skin.
If using anything other than standard molds, make sure that your molds are lined with parchment paper. You can use an old spatula to scrap out the last bits of raw soap from the pot and into the mold.
Cover the mold
Place a piece of cardboard on top of the shoebox or mold and then cover it with several towels. The purpose of the towels is to insulate the soap and allow saponification to occur. Leave the soap covered and undisturbed out of drafts (including heating or air conditioning) for 24 hours.
Check the soap – trouble shooting.
During the 24 hour period, the soap will go through a gel stage and head process. After 24 hours uncover the soap and let it sit uncovered for another 12 hours and then you can check your results.
- If your measurements were accurate and full directions followed, the soap may have a layer of white, ash-like substance on top. This is harmless and can be removed with an old ruler or other straight-edge.
- If the soap has a deep oily film on top, it cannot be used, because it has separated. This will occur if your measurements were not accurate, you did not stir long enough, or if there is a drastic difference in the temperatures of the lye and oils when they are mixed.
- If the soap did not set at all, or has white or clear pockets in it, this means it is caustic and cannot be used. This is caused by under-stirring during the soap-making process.
Curing the Soap
Unmold the soap by turning over your boxes or molds and letting the soap fall onto a towel on a clean surface.
Cut the soap into bars
You need to use tension to cut soap of this type. You can use a sharp knife, a length of wire with two handles, or heavy nylon string or fishing line. If working with string or fishing line, wrap the ends around a sturdy object such as chopsticks or a butter knife. Failure to do so can result in injury to the hands.
Allow the soap to cure
Set the soap on top of parchment paper on a flat surface or a drying rack for two weeks to allow the saponification process to complete and the soap to fully dry. Turn the soap over after two weeks to let it dry on the other side.
Cure the soap for one month
Let the soap sit, exposed to air for at least one month. When the
soap has fully cured, use in your home, as you would any
store-bought soap, or wrap as a present for your friends. Soap made
in this fashion has an undefined shelf life, but I have had some
bars for over 10 years that have never gone bad.