Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Make Soap

  There are a couple of things I would like to recommend to you before you make your first soap.  No matter what you decide to make, the quality of your first soaps will be a bit wanting when compared to soaps you make in a month or more.  Test batches are GREAT!  All my batches are about 1# of oils.  That makes enough bars to test & a couple to give away or save to see how they develop.  No need to make big 5 or 10# batches.  You won't have enough space to make more! :D  The more you practice, the better you get.  You can resize ANY recipe you find using soapcalc.  If you enter any recipe it will give you the % of each ingredient.  Write them down & put the % back into soapcalc with the weight of the batch size that you want in box 2?.  I think that's the right box.

  You don't need a collection of expensive, exotic oils to make soap.  100% coconut oil makes great laundry soap & a lot of people like it for body soap when superfatted correctly.  Lard, Olive oil, Shortening, Canola, Corn, Soy, Palm are other oils easy to get at your local grocery or Walmart.

  You need lye.  Lye & drain cleaner are not necessarily the same.  It needs to be ALL Sodium Hydroxide or NaOH (same thing).  It is available in different areas at different places.  Hardware stores are a good place to buy your first lye.  I can buy 1# of lye at Ace Hardware for $3.99.  Rooto Crystals 100% lye.  It's good stuff & since I make those small batches, it lasts me a while, too.

  The BEST thing to mix your lye & water in is stainless steel.  Some people use plastic & some use glass.  The heat generated & corrosive nature of the lye shortens the life of both of these materials.  As a result, they may crack at an inconvenient time.  My first batch of soap, I used a tall plastic pitcher that had a crack in the bottom of it.  I didn't know it had a crack.  I was kinda scared of what the lye was going to do so I had the pitcher inside a plastic bucket.  Some people mix their lye in the sink, just in case.  I like to mix it on my porch or outside.  There are fumes, but not like a big chlorine gas cloud.  Try not to breathe the fumes (that's why I like to mix mine, outside).  The fumes dissipate quickly.  ALWAYS add your lye to the liquid not the other way around.  Stir until dissolved.  If you have crystals in the bottom the lye has not dissolved.  If you have scum on top of the liquid, that can be contamination in your pitcher (I used to get it from washing my pitcher with soap), or contaminants in your lye.  Just run it through a strainer if it bugs you.  A little dust or scum isn't gonna hurt my soap, so I usually just dump it in the oils.

Make sure you wear your safety equipment!  Eye protection or face shield, chemical resistant gloves, apron, clean work space, no dogs or kids underfoot.

Making soap is not rocket science.  Ok, maybe making the BEST soap is, but don't worry about that, yet.  You don't need a fancy education or pricey soap making course to make soap.  The more you educate yourself the better your soap will be, however.  You find that there is a lot to learn about such a simple endeavor, but you can still make a good soap on your first try.

Keep it simple!  I have been on Facebook boards long enough to see all the new soapmakers that want to start off with milk & beer for their lye liquid, add their favorite medications, in other words, add all kinds of things that will mask the basic experience of making soap.  You really will benefit by making a plain soap as your first batch to see how the soap acts.  If you are making HP (Hot Process) you want to know about how long it takes to cook & what stages it is going through.  I recommend this, as a lot of times a fluid different than distilled water for lye, or an additive as simple as milk will make the whole batch temperamental.  You need to know what "normal" is before you deal with problems like seizing, separating, not tracing, so you are better able to recognize that you have a problem & how to deal with it.

Do not use aluminum when making soap!  You can mold in almost anything.  Plastic butter, yogurt, cottage cheese cups, cardboard boxes, wooden boxes, PVC tubes, silicon baking molds.  Remember you have to get your soap OUT of the mold, too.  Lining the mold (see video link below) will make that real easy.  Plastic is flexible & that usually helps, too.  One of my favorite molds is the end cut off of a medium priority mail box.  Of course, you can purchase professional molds made for baking or soap, too.

If I think of anything else (or you have any suggestions)  I will add it.

Getting Started

Soap Making Equipment, what you need to get started

How to Crock Pot Hot Process Soap

Modern Procedures & Tips for Cold Process

Comparison of pH test strips used for testing soap

Primitive Soap Making

"The soap making booklet was originally prepared for Christians in Burma living in mountainous regions who for one reason or another were cut off from being able to use industrial chemicals, and needed to make soap to help stop the spread of certain common and tropical diseases."  By Paul Norman
You can download this 24 page booklet or read it in PDF on the web
Traditional Soap Making based on old Pioneer Recipes

Making Soap from Wood Ash Lye

Soap Mold Info

Perfected Method for Lining a Soap Mold with freezer paper

How to Make a Soap Mold out of Coroplast

Soap Calculators

Soap Calculator Directions
If these pages don't help you understand Soapcalc, there are LOTS of tutorials on youtube.  One of them is bound to help you figure it out.  It is very important that you learn how to use this tool (or at least SOME calculator).  It helps you check recipes you find to make sure they will work.  It will help you resize a recipe, allows you to design your own recipe & gives you all the information you need to analyze the qualities your recipe will bring to a bar, things like hardness, cleansing, conditioning, bubbly, etc.

Kim McNutt's video describing how to use Soapcalc


  1. Very good information! I wished I had read it before starting my first soap making adventures and possibly I could have not had so many failures OR so much soap! LOL! I love my little 1 lb soap batches and since making soap and learning through experience is as much fun as using it, I enjoy being able to experiment on a whelm.

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  4. Hi,
    I would like to have the possibility to introduce a SOAP CALCULATOR that I developed in the last years…
    I always found a lot of Soap Calculators on the web, but I never found one able to calculate the % of Glycerin inside the final soap, because mixing oils and caustic soda, the reaction produce not olny soap, but also glycerin. So some times ago I developed a special soap calculator.
    I would like to invite all the users to try it and let me know your comments.
    The Soap calculator is here:
    Bye !

  5. Darn a couple of the links go to "Error 404" pages