You can now find me at
EDITED: I'm a dolt....I've had several emails asking about my soap. YES I do sell it. I shoulda put that in there. Why else would I need 96 bars of soap? Here's the website:
I know this is a decorating-ish blog mostly, but let's count this as a craft, shall we? I've taken pics through-out the process, and will try to explain each step for anyone interested in trying to make their own soapy soap. It's not hard....in fact, it's a lot like cooking in that you must measure ingredients, combine certain ingredients with others in a certain order, and be aware of the finicky-ness of natural ingredients.
Disclaimer: Making soap is basically just mixing a lye solution into melted fats, pouring into a mold and letting it harden and cure. There are about a hundred ways to make soap (just like there's a hundred ways to make, say, macaroni and cheese). This is just the way I do it. The method I'm illustrating below is for Cold Process, Oven Gelled. I actually prefer non-gelled soaps, but those take 6 weeks to cure, and I need them before that. I will provide links to other soap making sites at the end of this post. Aren't I nice?
GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES
Clean the kitchen first! You want an empty sink to catch used bowls and such, and as much uncluttered counterspace as you can get. I fill half my sink with cool soapy water so I can immediately dunk used lye containers and raw soap lined pans. (Raw soap is still caustic).
You need a good couple hours of your time uninterrupted.
I make soap in my secret lab, otherwise known as my kitchen. I also use highly specialized equipment....otherwise known as my pyrex measuring cups, pots, whisks, spoons etc.
Here's what you need (descriptions below images):
- A container (heavy glass such as pyrex, canning jars, or stainless pitcher....no aluminum)
- Something to stir the solution (I use ice tea spoons cause they have a long handle.)
- Thermometer (not completely necessary)
- Scale (even a cheap digital scale from the cooking section at Walmart will do...a 'tare' option is helpful)
- Goggles (old clothes and/or an apron are helpful)
- Large whisk, spatula/large spoon, stickblender (optional, but makes things move along much faster...get one for $10 at the typical big box store, nothing fancy)
- Paper plates
You'll also need something to use as a mold. For beginners, just about any rectangular-shaped box will work. Try a small shoe box lined with freezer paper or a plastic box for cold food storage, which won't need a liner. The size will depend on the size of the batch. I use the wooden IKEA organizer above, and each drawer holds a 2# batch.
Don't forget your recipe and instructions, info/ingredients for the specific batch(es) you plan to make, something to write with and scratch paper (helpful for me to note how a particular batch responds to the essential oils, temperatures, etc. for my future reference.)
I'll get to the other stuff in the pictures later. Some of it is unnecessary unless you plan to make lots of soap on a continuing basis.
GATHER YOUR INGREDIENTS
- Glass of soda pop, bag of chips or cookies for the soapmaker (optional)
- Oils and butters
- Essential Oils or Fragrance Oils (optional)
- Optional additives (citric acid, silk fibers, clay, herbs, seeds, etc.)
Grab your goggles! Let's get making soap!
BTW, Lye is getting harder to find locally due to the fact that it is also a major ingredient in Meth production. :( I can still find it at small hardware stores, but usually order it from a soap supplier online. (Again, I will provide links at the end.)
Lye is also extremely caustic...meaning it will burn if even a small bead/crystal gets on your skin. Some soapmakers wear gloves, but I don't. If I feel the tell-tale itchy tingle, I just run my hands under very cold water. I also keep a wet cloth nearby to wipe up any stray lye beads/crystals on the counter. Wipe and rinse cloth out in cold water immediately. No need to freak out, just respect this powerful chemical and don't use it when kids or pets are around. Always put the lid back on as soon as you pour some out to weigh.
Also worth mentioning is that there is no free lye in a finished bar of soap if you've measured correctly....it's like baking a cake: though you mix raw eggs, flour and so-forth to make the batter, when you take a bite of the finished yummy-ness you don't bite into an egg. The chemical reaction between the ingredients and heat produce a new compound of moist cake. It's the same with soap.....lye and fat mix to become soap (which is technically two compounds: glycerine and salt. And you cannot make soap from scratch without lye. Period.
See? It looks like course salt. It's full of static too, especially in cold months, so keep that wet rag handy. Oh, and I put my scale inside a big ziplock to protect it from all the inevitable spills.)
Getting ready to add the measured lye into my cold water with my optional additives added (citric acid, clay, silk fibers), which is why it's not completely clear:
Goggles on! Begin gently pouring the lye into the water...I have my exhaust fan on, standing back as far as I can while still being able to pour and stir. The fumes are VERY strong and toxic.
Stir, stir, stir....til the water becomes clear again (mine doesn't because it has the additives).
See that? This is why I use a long handled ice tea spoon....the temperature reaches almost 200 degrees within 30 seconds of adding the lye to the water. Lots of wicked hot steam which you do not want to touch or breathe. Stir gently!
Once clear, I set my lye solution aside to cool. Last night, I actually set it out on the back porch so it would cool faster. Took maybe half an hour I think.
In the meantime, I prepare my oils and butters.
One of the oils I use is HARD and impossible to get out of the jug, so I set it on a trivet in boiling water to liquify it.
I sometimes use Shea Butter as a luxury ingredient, and it also needs melted, though I just measure out the little bit I need and put it directly in a small pan on low heat.
These are the essential oil blends I'm using for these batches. The small jars are 2 oz ea and fragrance a 2# batch rather nicely. Some only use 1.5 oz for a 2# batch....just depends on how strongly you want them to smell.
These are BY FAR the pricey-est part of soap-making. Fragrance oils are a bit cheaper (at least where I order), depending on the quality, but I prefer all natural....so I invest in the essential oils.
If you use botanicals, it helps to soak them in the fragrance/essential oil for a bit...helps the soap retain it's scent longer.
This is fresh dill soaking in the eucalyptus spearmint essential oil blend.
Weighing out the liquid and melted oils.
I use a glass bowl to weigh the individual oils, then dump them into a pot, along with the fragrance oil.
One last thing to do while lye is cooling and oils are melting....prepare the molds. In my case, that means lining them with freezer paper, shiny side up.
There's no right way to do this, but I'll post a link to a step by step tutorial in the links section below.
At this point, check the temperature of the lye and oils. Traditionally each should be around 120 degrees, but thru the years, I've gotten to the point where I like them both room temp (so long as the hard oils will stay liquified.) Because my lye was outside, it was COLD, and my oils were just warm...as in I could put my hand on the side of the pan and feel warmth similar to a mug of just right cocoa for a little person.
Next, since I'm using the oven to jump-start the gelling process, I set the temp to 170 degrees.
Now we're ready to roll. Make sure everything you need is within reach because once the lye hits the oils, the chemical party begins!
I set my whisk, stickblender and spatula on a paper plate to the left of my pot of oils. The mold sits to the right. Here goes...
Pour the lye in a slow steady stream into the pot of oils, gently stirring with the spatula.
Switch to your whisk and begin doing the pancake batter whip, being careful not to splash.....you're basically trying to get the ingredients to mingling nicely so as to begin the chemical reaction.
It will still be thin at this point, and shiny on top.
Trace can be tricky and can take a long time, and generally I switch to a stickblender...which is like whisking on steroids. If you start with higher temps, and you're using a mint or floral essential/fragrance oil, don't be surprised to see soap on a stick(blender). That's called a seize. It solidifies before your very eyes, and you have to beat it into submission or even throw the whole batch out.....this is why I like to use cooler temps, and only use the stickblender for short bursts of like 10-15 seconds at a time until I can see how fast the soap is thickening. If the raw soap starts tracing too quickly, switch back to the whisk to 'stir it down'. The goal is having a pourable batter to flow into the mold. I tried to take some pictures of this process....
Switching to the stickblender....very thin consistency.
Stick blender submersed, and blending on low speed.
It's turning more opaque, but still thin. There's no longer a shiny surface. I call this 'emulsified', but not traced.
Can you see the drip? I check for trace by evaluating the 'drip'. If it slips back into the batter, keep blending. When it drips onto the surface of the batter and stays in a little mound for a couple seconds (literally, like, 2 seconds) before disappearing....that's early trace. Some folks will wait to add the fragrance/essential oils and superfat (don't ask) at this point, and it's also when people who use colorants separate out some batter and make pretty designs. That would not be me.
So I continue to blend in short bursts or use the whisk till it actually leaves a definable 'tracing' on the surface. Then pour into your mold.
See how the batter drips off the whisk and leaves mounds? This is perfectly traced soap.
I let it sit for a couple minutes to let it thicken a bit more so I can put a design on top like this:
Back and forth, back and forth down the length of the log surface.
Notice the tracing is heavy and the pattern doesn't sink in anymore. If you wait until the raw soap is this consistency in the pot/bowl, it will be harder to pour into the mold.
I pop them into the oven, and check them after about 20 minutes or so.
You're looking for signs of gelling, can you see it below?
It's getting darker around the edges and at the top of the designs:
That's caused by the heat being generated by the chemical reaction between lye molecules and oil molecules.
This log is gelling along one side. At this point, I watch the soap carefully, checking every 5 minutes or so until the whole surface is gelled.
Unfortunately, I went to check the blogs and the soap almost overheated...
It literally started crawling out of the mold. The surface got bubbly too. Nothing wrong with the soap, just not cosmetically perfect....But it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, eh Nester?
This is why I don't like gelling soap...you have to babysit it. Even if you don't use the oven to jump-start the gel and instead cover and insulate with towels, it needs to be checked and it's hard for me to get consistent results. Some soapers swear by the method. To each his own. It's nice to be familiar with all the methods, though. When I don't gel, it's as simple as pouring room temp batter into molds and walking away for 3 days. Unmold, slice and let cure 6 weeks.
Anyway, once the entire surface is gelled, take it out and let it cool on the counter till cool (generally 8-12 hours).
Then you can take it out of the mold and freezer paper. You can see the chinese takeout fold on the end:
Tada! Block o' soap.
This particular batch was a lavender vanilla blend....any soap made with vanilla will eventually turn very dark brown as it is exposed to the air. You can see it happening on top already. Eventually the log will be completely deep chocolate brown. Which is weird, since ya'd think vanilla would be white. Just the quirks of using natural ingredients. The middle is rosemary peppermint and stays snowy white. The eucalyptus spearmint with dill wasn't behaving, so it went back into the oven during this shot.
I let the logs sit out on a rack for a week or so, then slice them up into bars to finish drying out and curing. Because these are gelled, they are ready to use in 2 weeks time....though the longer they sit, the harder they become and longer they will last. I try to let them air out and cure for a total of 4 weeks when possible.
Non-gelled soaps need at least 6 weeks to harden and cure.
Here are useful links if you'd like to undertake soapmaking at home. I'm also available to coach you thru via email, or even to clarify this post....which was way too long and rambly. :)
- Indiana Candle Supply (fragrance oils only, but very reasonable prices and quick shipping)
- The Soap Dish: Soaping Supplies (she's near me in NE Indiana, so I get orders quickly)
- Columbus Foods (soapmaking oils in bulk)
- Wholesale Supplies Plus: Fragrance and Flavors (also carries soaping supplies, but I get my essential oils here)
- Miller's Handmade Soap (where most wanna-be soapers start their education)
- Muller Lane Farm Soap Making Tutorial (my favorite, no-nonsense how-to)
- Waters Gulch Soap Tutorial (my second favorite tutorial)
- The Soap Dish Forum
- Lining a mold chinese take-out style
- Soap Calc: Where you can play with recipes and calculate your lye amounts
- Making Hot Process soap in a crock pot (my second favorite method)
So there ya have it. Even with the bubbly textured tops, they are beautiful in their simplicity, no?
Twice Remembered: Make Your Monday
Today's Creative Blog: Get Your Craft On
A Soft Place to Land: DIY Day
Twice Remembered: Make Your Monday
Today's Creative Blog: Get Your Craft On
A Soft Place to Land: DIY Day