You`ve decided to take the plunge. You want to make your own soap, something else to add to your list of skills. So you`ve studied and read, watched all the videos you can stand, even bought a couple of books. Now what?
Well you`ve got to get some supplies together, there’s lots of stuff they say you have to have to make soap, and to a certain extent they`re probably right. Every book you`ve read, every video you`ve watched, they all seem to have been doing this for a long time, so they should know what they`re doing, right? It`s a pretty good chance that most of what you see and read will be biased towards that particular soap makers methods, but if you look past the hype, you`ll see that the basic methods are relatively similar. You`ll need to get your ingredients together, based on what type of soap you want to make. You`ll also need to start looking for a soap pot and all the other miscellaneous items that you`ll need along the way. Since you`re just starting out, visit your local Goodwill or thrift shop, this is a good place to find a lot of the basic tools you`ll need. Look for measuring cups, spatulas, large spoons (wooden ones are my favorite!), glass or stainless steel bowls, and anything else you might think you`ll need (a thermometer is real handy, I`ll explain why in a minute…).
Next you need a pot. #1 rule, avoid aluminum. Making soap involves using lye (sodium hydroxide), which is a very volatile caustic. When lye comes in contact with aluminum, it makes hydrogen gas, not a good thing to have in your house as it`s extremely flammable! Use either stainless steel or a granite ware (enamel) pot. My recommendation is to go with the enamel, the extra mass in the pot helps to hold in heat, you`ll see why in a bit….
Now you need a scale, something to weigh your ingredients. Why a scale you ask? Why can`t I just use a measuring cup and be done with it? Well, most recipes that you`ll find are based on weight, not measure, and you`ll get a more exact quantity by using weight. And if you`re making a small batch, being off an ounce can mean the difference between soap and grease….(yuk!). Buy a good digital scale, avoid the spring loaded variety, they`re just not as reliable. The small postal scales work great, and most have a tare function (very important…), you`ll use this a lot once you start to experiment with different recipes.
Mixing. Yep, you need something to mix with, unless you really want to go old school and stir, stir, stir, and stir some more with just a spoon. Avoid the normal mixer, instead go for a stick blender. There are several reasons for this, #1 it`s easier to control with one hand, #2 it avoids getting a lot of air in your soap, and #3 it doesn`t splatter things all over (a good safety point when working with lye).
Lye is a caustic, very volatile and hygroscopic, meaning it readily takes to water. It`s so sensitive it will pull moisture right out of the air, just set a few granules of lye out and watch, you`ll be amazed at how fast it will change from a solid little chunk into a small pool of liquid. So when you’re making your lye measures, pour only what you plan to use immediately and keep the rest in a tightly closed container.
When shopping for lye, avoid the drain cleaner type, unless the ingredients list only sodium hydroxide. Drano and other types of drain cleaners have some lye in them, but they also have other chemicals that you really don`t want in your soap. Companies that supply the bio-diesel industry will be good sources of lye, and you`ll get a very reliable product from them.
Now a bit about safety. Always wear gloves. And safety glasses. Once the lye mixes with the water it will reach 250 degrees in about 3 seconds. You don`t want to get a caustic burn, that`s no fun. But…if you do get some on your skin, rinse it under cold water for at least 15 minutes, then air dry. This will neutralize most of the burning, but if it doesn`t stop, get to a hospital, they know how to handle these things. Don`t wait, don`t be the tough guy because caustic burns are the gift that keeps on giving. Until it`s fully neutralized, a caustic will continue to do what it does until it or you are gone.
Ok, so you`ve got your pot, now what to put in it? Here`s where the fun starts, you can mix and combine lots of different oils, botanicals, fragrances, and colorants to make many different types of soap. Everything from basic lard/lye soap just like granny used to make all the way up to French milled will be possible once you figure out the basics!
So let`s get started. We`ll go with a basic lard/lye mix that will make a very simple, long-lasting soap, and is fairly foolproof.
To start off, get all your tools ready, and make sure everything is organized and neat so you can see everything at a glance. Let`s start out by getting your lye ready. We`re looking for 6 oz of lye crystals, so here`s where the tare function of your scale comes into play. Using a small cup or bowl, place it on your scale and note the weight. Now, hit the tare button. Your weight will go to zero, this is how the tare works. Pour the lye crystals slowly into the container until you hit your weight. Depending on how fast your scale reacts, you might want to stop a bit short of the total , then add the remainder, this is easier than trying to repour some back. Get another container, this is going to hold the complete lye/water mix, so size it appropriately. Tare the container, then add 16 oz of water. Take these two ingredients to a well ventilated place (outside is best) and combine by pouring the lye slowly into the water. Never mix the water into the lye, this could cause the lye to react too fast, and possibly explode! Make you don`t lean over the container while mixing, the fumes that the mix gives off are very caustic, and will take your breath away. So avoid the coughing fit, mix outside and stay as clear of the mix as possible. Let this stand, the fumes will die down fairly quickly, but the heat will still be there, you`ll need that.
Next, we`ll measure out the lard. Using the same tare process as above, set your scale up and weigh out 3 lbs of lard. A quick word about lard, it should smell clean. If it doesn`t, then your soap won`t either. If you can`t find lard, or prefer not to use it, shortening can be used in its place (animal or vegetable, your choice). Move this to your soap pot and place it on low heat, just enough to get it melted.
Now retrieve the lye/water mix, being careful not to spill any of it. Place this in the sink and fill the sink up with cold water, enough to match the level of the liquid in your lye container, this will help cool the lye a bit faster. Now get your thermometer (told you I`d get to it) and check the temp of the lye. Swirl the mix about to blend the cold outer parts with the heat on the inside to balance everything. Dip the thermometer in and see what it reads, you`re looking for around 110 degrees. If it`s too hot, let it stand a bit longer, if it`s a bit cold, set it on the countertop, it`ll heat up a bit once out of the cold.
Rinse off the thermometer and check your lard. You want it to be around 100 degrees, but it`s probably a lot hotter than that by now. Here`s where that sink full of cold water comes in handy (you did leave the water in the sink didn`t you?). Set your pot in the cold water and swish it around a bit, pulling it out to check the temp of your lard every few minutes. This process will allow you to bring both ingredients to the temperature range you want very reliably.
So now we mix. Slowly pour the lye into the lard. Keeping the mixer on the bottom of the pot, start blending in short bursts, giving yourself a chance to get the feel of the mixer. Once the mix starts to come together, blend continuously, making sure to work around the edges, keeping the mixer submerged the whole time. If you want to add fragrance, now is the time to do it. 2-3 oz of fragrance oil, or a bit less if using essential oils will be just about right for a batch this size. This is also a good time to add extras. Finely ground oatmeal makes for a good exfoliant, and helps heal itchy skin, lavender buds add aroma therapy and color to the mix, the choice is yours. Oh, and there`s color too. Ground mica makes a good colorant, some vegetable pigments will work as well, or you could even try food coloring or even crayons! This is where the fun comes into soaping, trying different scents, experimenting with colorants, adding botanicals, it`s totally up to you as to how your soap turns out.
Ok, so you`ve got this mixture, and it`s starting to get a bit thick, thicker than when you started out. This is what is called trace. If you can make a line in the soap and it stays, then your right where you want to be. The soap will act just like pudding at this stage, so be prepared to pour it into your molds.
“Wait, you didn`t say anything about molds yet!!!!” Your right, I didn`t. This is another one of the parts of soaping that`s up to the individual soaper. Some people like to keep it simple and make their own molds, some prefer to buy them. For this type of soap, your best bet is to go with a silicone mold, the type they use for baking works best. This recipe will make a very hard bar, so plan on using a mold that will be in a shape you like. I`ve seen pumpkins, leaves, footballs, and many other shapes available, shop around a bit and see what you can come up with!
Pour the soap into the molds, filling them to the top. Placing the molds on trays so you can move them is always a good idea, the soap will still be soft for a day or so. Set the molds someplace out of the way and forget about them for a day or two, this will give the mix time to saponify. Saponification is the chemical process that takes place when you mix the lard with the lye, it creates a reaction that converts the mix into soap. This creates heat, so if your soap feels hot to the touch at this stage that`s okay.
Once the soap cools and had had a day or so to saponify, you can turn it out of the molds. The bars will be a bit soft still, so handle them carefully. Place them on a tray or shelf to cure, they will need about a month to fully cure out. After that, you can wrap the bars in whatever you choose, and store them in a cool dry place, or give some out as gifts. Once you`ve gifted someone with your homemade soap, they`ll be back for more!
So have fun, be safe, and make some soap! Be bold, experiment, see what you can come up with!
Lard/Shortening -3 lbs.
Water – 16 oz
Lye -6 oz
Interesting fact – lye soap helps cure poison ivy, and also helps to remove cuss words from the mouths of children!