I’m not one to reinvent the wheel. There are dozens of great soap tutorials on the internet, there are tons of books written about how to properly make soap, and there are even You Tube videos dedicated to teaching you how to make soap, walking you through each step of the process.
With all that wealth of information already available, what could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said, or suggest that hasn’t been suggested? Probably not a gosh darn thing. As a result, this post is mostly going to give you links to some of those great resources and not talk so much about the specifics of making soap. After all; if I know where you can find a video explaining how to use a lye calculator…I really don’t need to make my own, right? I didn’t think so. But you appreciate it if I share that.
You see, soap is made when you take fats and oils and mix them with a strong alkali (aka, caustic soda or lye), typically sodium hydroxide (although other strong alkali salts can and are used for different soaps, it’s just that we think of sodium hydroxide as “lye”). So, no lye…no soap. However, as I’ve mentioned before, because the fats, water, and lye undergo a chemical reaction, in the end there is no lye left in your soap. In addition, using a lye calculator, you work with an excess of water and a an excess of usually 5% fat (think of it as the moisturizing oil in a bar of commercial soap), so at the end you DO have extra water and fat in your bar, but the chemical reaction has used up all the lye. Then you let your soap cure out in drying racks for about a month, and that takes care of pretty much all the extra water, leaving you with a great bar of soap.
Clear? Like mud? Try reading a few tutorials. My favorite two are from Candle and Soap and of course, Humblebee and Me. In both of them, you will find other links to pages you should take the time to read and research. I highly recommend learning about soaping at room temperature from Humblebee, as it’s a great way to reduce stress with soaping. Now shoo. Go read them You can come back here later.
Ok, so you’re back!
If you’ve ever looked at soap recipes online, you’ll have noticed they give percentages of oils-but not amounts-and no amount of water or lye. That’s because you need to know how to use a lye calculator. If you don’t know, and would like to learn, go watch this video.
Now, you’ve read the tutorials. You’ve watched the video. You’re working on a pretty basic understanding of how this soap thing happens.
I made very basic cleaning soap today. Very basic. The recipe is:
(2 lb batch oils)
55% Coconut oil
.7 oz lemongrass oil
.3 oz eucalyptus oil
If you ever make this, be aware that you want to work at room temperature and that even at room temperature, it traces very quickly, so be sure to have your mold ready and not be thinking you can prep your mold while your soap sits to reach trace. Not happening. It was there in less than five minutes, total. I also decided to use my new mold that my husband made me from some PVC pipe, and after a few hours had to put it in the fridge because there was a crack in the soap from it overheating. Probably should have done this one in the log mold where more heat could escape but it’s too late now.
In addition, because of the high coconut percentage in this recipe, it didn’t require the full 24 hours to harden. I kind of forgot about that and after ten hours happily unmolded this snowy white log only to find it almost too hard to cut. So. Refrigerate your mold, unmold after six hours or so, cut into bars immediately. Next time I will probably use silicone individual molds and make it easy on myself with this recipe: they are unlikely to overheat and easy to pop out of the mold.
And now you know how we learn from our mistakes. I could have made cleaning soap from 100% Lard or Tallow but I wanted the lather and extra cleansing ability that comes from coconut oil combined with the properties of an animal fat. The soap is white, hard, smells fantastic, and a small fragment of it produced a wonderful creamy lather. While it’s not cut as evenly as I would like, and I need to plane the edges because they are rough, it’s still a very pretty bar of soap!
Next on my to do list is making a series of wood soap molds and also a wood cutting box for cutting soap. I’m tired of trying to cut even, one inch bars with no guide. A wood guide box with a simple slicer (which I have) costs between $30-45. For that much in lumber, I can make the cutting box and two soap molds at least. I also recently purchased some shallow paper trays to make soap in so I could focus on making designs on the top and then cutting the soap into quarters, so the majority surface of the bar is decorative and pretty. I’m looking forward to that. Many soap makers own a bar mold for such work, and I’ll get there, but I wanted to practice with something more economical and less of an investment first.
I can’t make a bar mold and they are expensive, although I have seen creative solutions like a silverware drawer insert-the kind without dividers, just a plastic rectangle-being used as a bar mold. If I ever see one in a size I like, I’m sure I’ll buy one! However, the best molds of any kind-log mold, bar mold, interchangeable log to bar mold-these all come from Soap Hutch. Google them and spend some time drooling. You have to request price quotes. That alone has me convinced to just build my own stuff. My grandma always said “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it”. In this case, with this level of quality, I’m guessing she is right. Besides, I’m curious to see if I can DIY a soap mold. That will probably be my next blog post!