Sunday, 16 July 2017

Tutorial - Hand Made Soap

Ready to make your own hand made soap?  Here is a tutorial I put together.

WARNING: If this is your first cold process soap I recommend you watch the following videos by the Soap Queen:
1. Lye Safety & Ingredients
2. Basic Terms
It is important that safety procedures be strictly followed as sodium hydroxide, if not used correctly, can cause serious injury and death.

For this tutorial I used this recipe which produces a good, hard bar with a soft, luscious lather.

300g olive oil
300g coconut oil
300g sustainable palm oil
100g cocoa butter
330g de-mineralised water
142g sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda or lye)

First I suited up - this means wearing long sleeves, socks, apron and gloves so my skin is protected from the caustic soda.  I am also wearing goggles to protect my eyes while I'm handling the caustic soda in case it splashes.  I am close to a sink so I have quick access to cold running water in case of an accident.

I weighed the water in a small plastic jug using a digital scale.

I weighed the sodium hydroxide in a separate small plastic jug.

I turned the exhaust fan above the stove on high while underneath it I poured the sodium hydroxide carefully into the water, then stirred with a stainless-steel spoon until it was dissolved (keeping my face well back so as not to inhale the fumes.)  It heated up and I left it to cool down.  (Note: Leave it somewhere out of the reach of children, pets and/or anyone who might mistake it for something it's not!)

Meanwhile, I weighed the oils and cocoa butter and placed them into a stainless-steel saucepan.  I heated them on gentle heat until melted, then stirred them together and turned off the heat.  The oils were just under 60 degrees celcius and the lye mixture about 65 degrees celcius.  I left both mixtures to cool a bit more while I got everything else ready.

I set out my work space to include:
- a towel over the bench top to protect it
- silicone loaf mould (Can be purchased in the USA here)
- 2 litre Pyrex bowl with spout
- silicone spatula spoon
- small ceramic bowl for essential oil (optional)
- small spatula spoon to get every last drop of essential oil out of the bowl (optional)
- stick blender - plugged in and ready to go
- thermometer
- an extra soap mould in case I have extra batter
- colour and essential oil (optional)

I weighed 35 grams of Lavender 38/40 essential oil into a small ceramic bowl.  TIP: Use a skewer held over the spout of the bottle as your pour which prevents the oil dripping down the bottle.

After 20 minutes of the oils and lye cooling down I felt the side of the lye jug and tested the oil.  They felt like a bath kind of warmth.  I tested with a thermometer and they were both about 45 degrees celcius.  I decided to go ahead and mix them together.

I poured the oils into the Pyrex jug, scraping the pot with the spatula spoon to get every bit.  I inserted the stick blender into the jug and tapped it on the side of the jug a few times to disperse any air bubbles trapped under the blender head.  With my free hand I carefully poured the lye down the shaft of the blender (this prevents too many air bubbles forming in the oils.)

I alternately blended and stirred the batter with the blender until my mixture was fully emulsified.  Then I added some drops of purple liquid dispersion and continued to blend until the mix began to thicken and resembled the consistency of pouring custard.  (I poured a bit much in - I was aiming for a softer colour!)

Then I added my essential oil.  Because my batter was still reasonably thin I blended it in with the blender until the batter thickened up a bit (like a thicker pudding consistency).  If my batter was already thick I would have stirred the essential oil in with a spoon or a whisk to prevent it getting any thicker.

I poured the batter into the silicone mould until full.  I had some batter left over so I scraped this into my spare mould.   I tapped both moulds down a few more times on the bench to dispel any air bubbles caught in the batter.  I left the moulds on the kitchen bench to harden.  (This should take 24-48 hours.)

The darker purple in the middle of the soap is where it is going through the "gel phase" - the soap heats up and becomes soft and gelatinous.  After the saponification process (where the oils turn into soap) the gelled soap will be darker and kind of translucent in colour.  Sometimes the whole soap will go through gel, sometimes just a partial gel will occur.  Whether the soap goes through the gel phase or not is irrelevant - it will still turn into soap.

I un-moulded the two small soaps the following morning.  After 24 hours I un-moulded the large one, but I did pop it in the freezer first for about half an hour as it looked like the corners might stick in the mould.  (Cooling it down first can sometimes help with the un-moulding.)  It came out perfectly.

The dark circle in the middle of some of the soaps (in the photo) is where the centre of the loaf has gone through a hot gel phase.  It is completely normal for this to happen.  Some soapers don't like the look and prefer to soap using cool temperatures and put their soap in the fridge (even freezer) to harden which prevents the gel phase from happening.

And here they are with their sides shaved with a vegetable peeler (makes the first use in the shower a bit more pleasant!) and a soap stamp to set them off.  Aren't they pretty?

NOTES:  This is my general method.  Each soaper has his/her own method/s and these can vary considerably, but the overall process is the same.  Some use the stainless-steel saucepan used to warm the oils as their main bowl and pour the lye directly into this.  Some don't warm the oils, but pour the hot lye straight into the oils so the heat of the lye melts the oils.  Some put their soap in the fridge or freezer to harden, or alternatively keep it really warm under a box and a blanket so it goes through a hotter gel phase.  It's one of those crafts that has many facets to learn about which keeps it so very interesting.

Most importantly - have fun!


  1. I just hopped over from the forum and my oh my! You are either crazy or wow a super amazingly talented! Your soaps look fantastic! Do you sell them online? I didn't see a link to a shop so wondered. Have a great evening.

    1. Crazy for sure Lady Locust ;o)
      I was selling them online but at the moment I'm just enjoying soap making as a hobby without the pressure of deadlines and packaging etc etc. I plan to start selling again in another year or so. Glad you like my soap :D


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