There are tons and tons of information online on how to make soap, but I still thought I would make a guide of my own, to add what I’ve learned from my years of soap making. The perspective I can add is how to make soap without using Olive Oil and Palm Oil – two of the most commonly used oils in soap making. In this post, I will go through the basics of making soap from scratch using the example of the last soap I made. In the end, I will add a discount code for 25% to shop the ingredients.
What is soap?
Soap consist of liquid, fats and sodium hydroxide (lye), mixed together causing a process called saponification. If done in the right measurements there is only soap left once completely saponified.
The Fats in soap can consist of vegetable or animal fats (including milk fats). Most soaps consist of at least three and often as many as 7 different fats, that add to different properties of the soap. These are properties such as cleansing, moisturizing, hardness and lather just to mention a few.
The liquid in soap is typically distilled water, but can also include juices from fruits and vegetables, spirits such as beer or wine, vinegar, milk – and the list goes on. Adding another liquid than water can serve to color the soap, or to add different properties. Beer, for example, adds lather and moisture, vinegar adds cleansing properties, and carrot juice both add an orange color and other skin loving properties.
Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, makes solid soap. It’s not to be mistaken for Potassium hydroxide that is used to make liquid soap.
These three in combination will make you a simple bar of soap, though the possibilities of added elements are (almost) only limited by your imagination. I also add Essential Oils for scent and different additives such as Clays, Gels and Herbs for coloring and added properties.
How To Make Soap
For the sake of keeping this simple, I won’t go into how to make a recipe, but simply give an example of one I used recently. If you want to learn how to formulate your own soap recipe, start by reading this post: How to Formulate Your Own Soap Recipe. I will be making this soap:
What you need to make this soap:
- Fats – I used Coconut Oil, Castor Oil, Sesame Oil, Sunflower Oil, Neem Oil and Kokum Butter
- Sodium Hydroxide
- Liquid – I used Water (note: I just use normal clean water, but some swear by distilled water)
- Scent additives– I used Pine Essential Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil
- Other additives – I used Multani Mitti Clay, Activated Charcoal, Aloe Vera Gel
- Rubber gloves (Thick)
- Safety glasses (covering your eyes completely)
- Stick blender
- Bowls (plastic or stainless steel)
- Pot (not aluminum)
- Hand whisk
- Electric scale
- Measuring spoons (best with milliliters)
- Soap mold of choice
Note: even though I have heard of soapers that use kitchen utensils for soap making, I prefer to keep them separate. You don’t know if lye is left when you’re cooking in them, so don’t take the chance.
Step 1: Calculate your recipe
When you calculate a Soap recipe, you start by calculating the Fats. I will give the percentage for the recipe since the final calculation basically depends on the size of the mold you want to use.
The percentages are as follows:
- Coconut – 25%
- Castor – 10%
- Sesame – 10%
- Neem – 10%
- Wheat gem 15%
- Sunflower 15%
- Kokum butter 15%
Now my mold fits 900 grams of oil so the oils would be as follows:
- Coconut Oil – 225 grams
- Castor Oil – 90 grams
- Sesame Oil – 90 grams
- Neem Oil- 90 grams
- Wheat Gem Oil – 135 grams
- Sunflower Oil – 135 grams
- Kokum Butter – 135 grams
This is the base of your recipe. Now you need to calculate your lye and water amount. Instead of getting into the technical stuff of how this is calculated, I’ll recommend you to use any of the many saponification calculators available. I use the mobile app called Saponify, which also saves your recipes with dates and notes, so you can keep track of your experiments.
Here is a snapshot of the app:
Picture 1: Name you recipe something that you remember. When you start making a lot of batches using the same recipe, I recommend you start a soap diary with the details of each batch, but we can get to that later.
- NAOH is Sodium hydroxide, so don’t change that unless you want to make liquid soap which is KOH (Potassium hydroxide).
- Liquid % of oils is 38, which is standard for beginners but can be modified when you’re more experienced. Soapers put more or less water to control how fast or slow the soap saponifies, giving more time or less time to finish it.
- Super Fat % of oils is how much of the oil is kept in the soap without being saponified. Usually, soapers don’t go beyond 7 %, unless you are making pure Coconut Soap where the soap can be superfatted as much as 30%. Read more here: Two Coconut Soaps – for Beauty and Cleaning.
Picture 2: The next picture is where you add the oils. Simply press the plus sign and choose the oils you want in your recipe. You will be putting the oils in grams, which we calculated above.
Picture 3: On the last picture the final recipe has been calculated. Water and NaOH have been calculated for you, and you are good to go.
Step 2: Prepare your work area
Making soap is a chemical process, and that needs to be respected. Cover your work area with newspaper, unless you have a stainless steel surface to work on. Note that lye can ruin soft surfaces, so make sure you got it well covered. If you have kids or pets, make sure that they don’t have access to your area. Sodium hydroxide is very dangerous if ingested or if it gets in contact with eyes etc. so I cannot emphasize this enough.
Step 3: Mix up your lye water
I like to start with mixing the Liquid and lye, since it takes some time to react, leaving me time to prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Now there are a few important things to keep in mind when you deal with lye:
- First of all, protect yourself! Lye can make you blind if you get it in the eyes, so wear your safety glasses and gloves.
- Second, never pour water on lye, pour lye on water. I once read that you should just remember ‘the snow falls on the lake, not the lake on the snow’, and it really helped me in the start to remember.
When you have measured out the lye and water, add a spoonful of Aloe Vera into the water, and then pour the lye and stir until its dissolved. Now set it aside.
Step 4: Mix your oils
I tend to mix the oils in the pot I’m going to blend them in, to save on the dishwashing. If using any Butters, or coconut oil that hardens in winters, you will need to heat these to make them fluid.
Simply measure all your oils on your scale (in grams), and gather them in your pot. Put your pot in a water bath to melt the butter, or melt it separately in a double boiler and add. When all oils are mixed and melted set it aside.
Note: if you are mixing several oils put them on one side on the scale, and move each to the other side once added to your pot. I have several times forgotten which I have already added, having to start over!
Step 5: Prepare the rest of your ingredients
Essential oils are the only thing I don’t measure in grams, but in milliliters instead. Now there are ‘fragrance calculators’ online, but I rely only on my personal experience. I have tried these calculators, but feel like they recommend very small amounts, ending up in a scentless soap.
My rule of Thumb for essential oils is 15 ml per 100 grams of oils for ‘weak’ essential oils, and 10 ml per 100 grams for ‘strong’ essential oils. How exactly to say if its weak or strong is a bit on the personal experience too, but basically if the smell is fleeting it’s weak and if it stays in the nose for a long time it’s strong.
Clays and other additives I very rarely measure out. I just prepare them so they are easily accessible for me to use until it has the color I want. Though it should be noted that some additives will ‘bleed’ color if added in access, and others can make the soap ‘scratchy’. Still, the color depends so much on which other oils are in the bar, so I prefer to have plenty and add as I feel. You can find lots of information online with recommended amounts if you want to be 100% sure.
Step 6: prepare to make your soap
Soap is all about timing, and once you start making your soap, everything should be ready so you can concentrate on it fully. Otherwise, you might risk the soap hardening in your bowl before you pour it in your mold.
I do the following:
- Put your mold ready on the side
- Essential oil measured out and put on the side
- Additives ready with a spoon to add
- Two bowls to divide the soap when adding Clay and Activated charcoal
- Blender plugged in and a clean surface to rest it on between blending
- A whisk ready to hand whisk if you need to slow down the process
- A spatula to get the last soap out of your bowls
- An extra mold – if the soap gets too hard to pour, I have an extra mold where I put the remaining, and then use these for hand wash at home. Could be little heart shapes for example. You can also intentionally make a little extra and use these to send out as samples if you want to make soap for business.
Step 7: Mix the lye water in your oils and mix
Now, this is what you came for. Disclaimer: many soapers say you should measure the temperature of the soap and lye water, and mix them when reaching a certain temperature. I have stopped doing that after reading a lot of soapers that didn’t. I simply wait until my lye water becomes clear (transparent). When it does – you’re ready to make your soap.
- Pour you lye water into your oils while slowly stirring. When all the lye water is poured, emerge your stick blender fully and start blending. Make sure not to let it surface since it will splatter if you do.
- Now you need to pay attention to the texture of the soap mass. The time to pour your soap into the mold is called Trace, which is when the soap mass has thickened enough for the stick blender to leave a little mark on the surface when you lift it.
- Since you will be adding additives, stop blending at a thin trace. This is when the stick blender leave a mark when lifted, but the mark immediately disappears. When you reach this stage, go to the next step.
Step 8: Add your essential oils and additives
At this stage, you add your essential oils and whisk with your hand whisk. After it’s completely mixed with the soap mass, you divide the soap into two bowls.
Now add your clay to one bowl and activated charcoal to the other. When they have the color you desire, you’re ready to pour your soap.
Step 9: The bowl swirl
Swirling is when you mix different colors of soap masses into a pattern. It’s a fun way to get creative and keep developing your skills. The bowl swirl is one of the easiest I have come across. You simply pour one color into the bowl on the other, and then pour it into your mold, making it swirl in different patterns.
Note: the two colors have to be contrasting. Otherwise, it won’t be very visible in the soap.
Step 10: Pour your soap
Pour your soap carefully into the mold. You can use the whisk to make little shapes on the top of the soap. Set it aside to harden.
Another thing I don’t do is to pack my soap in a towel to get it into gel phase. Gel phase is when the soap turns gel-like as a part of the process. This happens when heat is added, hence many packs it in old towels to make it warmer. Some soapers like it better after gel-phase because the color changes a bit, but it doesn’t matter for the soap itself. I often experience the soap goes through gel-phase here in India without doing anything, because the temperature is naturally hot.
Step 11: Wait, cut and cure!
Cold process soap needs to cure for a minimum of 4 weeks. Depending on the oils and mold, the soap will be hard in everything from 1 day to 3 weeks. When completely hardened, you can un-mold and cut your soap – but you will still need to set it aside. The longer a soap cures, the harder and gentler it gets. For shampoo bars min. 6 weeks is recommended, for face and body bars 4 weeks minimum.
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Now, you have made your first soap. Do let me know if you have any questions, tips or experiences!
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