Making your own soap is not only fun, it also gives you complete control over what goes on your body. Instead of using harsh detergent soaps, nurture your skin’s unique elements by carefully selecting and blending oils, herbs, and essential oils. I also take a little pleasure in knowing I am not supporting a multi-billion dollar industry that makes money by telling their customers they are not good looking enough and then selling them on their beauty products…but I digress.
When I first decided to make my own soap, I read every book about making soap I could find. There are several good books, but my all time favorite is Soap Maker’s Workshop: The Art and Craft of Natural Homemade Soap by Dr. Robert McDaniel and Katherine McDaniel. This book gives step-by-step instructions for no-lye soap making, cold process soap making, and hot process soap making. It also includes more advanced soap making techniques to assist someone who wants to start experimenting with personalizing the ingredients.
My favorite part of the book is that it actually explains how to make lye from scratch – something no other book I’ve found does. If I ever find myself in a situation where I cannot purchase lye, I now have all the information I need to make it.
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So enough chit chat, let’s get on with it!
Tools you need every time
- A pair of safety glasses
- A set of rubber gloves
- One plastic water jug that will now only ever be used for mixing lye
- One stainless steel pot (I have one for soap making only)
- Two wooden spoons that will now only ever be used for soap making
- Small kitchen scale
- A candy thermometer
- Soap molds (Silicone muffin pans work well)
- (OPTIONAL) An electric mixer that will now only ever be used for soap making
I highly recommend purchasing at least one good soap making book for details regarding safety and other soap making techniques. My personal recommendation is Soap Maker’s Workshop, mentioned above. The recipe below is from that book as well.
Basic Four-Oil Soap
Ingredients to make basic soap
- 725 grams (25.57 ounces) coconut oil
- 150 grams (5.29 ounces) olive oil
- 650 grams (22.93 ounces) canola oil
- 775 grams (27.33 ounces) palm oil
- 342 grams (12 ounces) lye dissolved in 700 grams (24.7 ounces) of distilled or deionized water
- (optional) Your choice of essential oils (I use lavender)
Step-by-Step Directions for Cold Process Soap Making
- Set your clean molds out so they are ready to use.
- Weigh all oils except optional essential oils, and pour in pot.
- Melt oils on medium heat.
- Use the candy thermometer and remove the pot from heat once the temperature reaches between 122 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (50 to 60 degrees Celsius).
- Put on your safety glasses and gloves.
- In a well ventilated area, outside is great, pour measured lye into measured water, stirring continuously. IMPORTANT: always pour the lye into the water. NEVER pour water into the lye!
- Once the lye dissolves completely and the solution is clear, pour it gently into the oil mixture.
- Stir mixture until it begins to thicken to a custard like consistency and form a trace. TRACE: the point in which a spoon full of soap, poured back into the pot, leaves a brief, faint imprint on the surface.
- (Optional) Add desired herbs and/or essential oils.
- Pour into molds.
- After 2-3 days, remove soap from molds and place on wax paper.
- Store for 4 weeks prior to using. The soap needs time to complete the saponification* reaction. This means time is required for the oils to fully consume the lye. There should be no lye left in the final product.
- Store extra soap in a plastic container.
Unless you are using an electric stick blender, mixing by hand can take some time. I make soap by hand only when there is a second person able to switch off stirring the batch with me.
For the most part, making soap doesn’t create too much mess.
- Measuring cups used to measure out oils and the silicone molds can be washed normally.
- The water jug should be cleaned thoroughly using soap and water and then labeled with permanent marker, ‘Do NOT Use to Drink From. For Lye Mixture Only‘.
- The pot and spoon used to mix up the batch of soap is best left out for a day or two until the solution is dry enough to scrape off using a hard nylon scraper. Scrape off as much of the soap residue as possible and empty into the garbage. Then wash with soap and water.
- If using an electric mixer, while wearing gloves, wipe off as much residue as possible and wash thoroughly with soap and water. This should be done before the residue hardens.
Once you master this basic recipe, the possibilities are endless. Find a good soap calculator on-line (HERE is a good one to get started with as it is free and come with basic instructions) and let your creative juices flow!
*saponify – verb (used without object), sa·pon·i·fied, sa·pon·i·fy·ing. To become converted into soap.