See Part One for more tips and reasons for soapmaking.
* Shameless plug: for a donation of any size to The Nourish Collective I will send you a PDF of our Soapmaking Manual. (It’s pretty basic, but does include some more info on fats, oils, etc.)
1. Find a recipe online or visit Majestic Mountain Sage’s Lye Calculator to formulate a recipe.
You can find a recipe online from soapmaking pros like Cole Brothers or Soap Queen. Or if you are feeling gutsy, go to the MMC Lye Calculator and come up with your own recipe. (That’s what we did because we wanted to use tallow.) Here’s a PDF of our recipe.
There are a TON of oils you can use to make soap and you don’t have to use tallow. Oils like palm, olive, coconut, sunflower, and soy are very common soapmaking oils. You can buy these oils at the grocery store or can order them online from Amazon or a distributor like Columbus Foods.
The crucial thing that a Lye Calculator will tell you, though, is how much liquid (we use water) and lye to use. We went with the 6% excess fat range and used 27.43 oz of lye in 64 oz of water. I think I would recommend plugging any recipe you get online into a lye calculator to make sure it is safe.
2. Prepare the molds.
We used wooden molds lined with inside out Walmart bags, but molds can be anything from a greased cake pan to boxes lined with plastic and lots of things in between. Make sure you have enough molds ready to accommodate all of your soap mix.
3. Prepare the lye solution.
Once you’ve figured out how much water and lye you need, measure the correct amount of cold water and put it into a large container. Then measure the appropriate amount of lye and put it into a medium container.
Do not use aluminum containers. (Yes, it matters. It will cause a chemical reaction and ruin your container and your soap.) You can use stainless steel, enamel coated steel, or heat resistant glass containers. (I usually use a Pyrex glass measuring cup and a large glass mixing bowl.)
Don appropriate attire: gloves, long sleeves, goggles or glasses. Then go outside or to a very well ventilated area.
Pour the lye into the cold water slowly. Stir until the lye is dissolved.
It is critical that you pour the lye into the water, not the water into the lye. I read somewhere to think of snow falling into a lake – good metaphor.
The water will turn super hot in a matter of seconds. It will smoke like mad and stink to high heaven. The solution will also turn milky.
Leave it alone until you can be around it without thinking you might die from the fumes. Then, check the temperature and stir it carefully with a non-aluminum spoon.
When the lye solution gets to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, it will turn clear (look like water again) and will be ready to mix with the oil.
4. Prepare the oils.
As you’re waiting on the lye solution to cool, you should measure the right amount of oils for your soap into a pot that’s large enough to hold the oils AND the lye solution (once it’s ready) and stir it up without splashing all over yourself.
Mix the oils together.
If your oils are in liquid form, simply heat them up to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. If your oils are solid (like coconut oil), melt the oils until they are all liquid and clear. Then let the oils cool to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Combine the oils and the lye solution.
When the lye solution and the oils are at about 110 degrees, pour the lye solution into the oils in a thin, steady stream with slow, even stirring. Do not splash the solution on yourself or others or it will burn the crap out of you and turn your flesh into soap. (You saw Fight Club, right?)
Stir briskly and evenly for at least 15 minutes. Depending on the type of oil you used, the oils and lye solution will begin to thicken up or “trace” between 15 minutes and several hours (!). Cross your fingers, don’t use olive oil, and mix with a handheld “stick” blender if you are in a hurry. (Make sure the blender or it’s blades aren’t aluminum.)
If it takes more than 15 minutes to get to trace, stir for 15 minutes, then take a 15 minute break, then stir for another five minutes, repeating until you get to trace.
You know you are “at trace” when you can take a spoonful of the mix and drizzle it over the top of the rest of the mix and have your spoonful leave a visible “trace” on top – it will look like a line of thicker liquid on top of the rest. Yes, this is hard to describe. Look here, here, and here for some more examples of soap at trace.
6. Add additives like fragrance and colors.
How much fragrance you will use will depend on how strong you want the scent, how much soap you are making, and what essential oil you are using. You can go to the free fragrance calculator at Majestic Mountain Sage for advice.
Most fragrances and colors are added at trace. Stir the fragrance or other additives into the soap thoroughly.
7. Pour your soap into molds and insulate.
Pour your soap into the prepared molds. Put the molds in a safe location, and then put the soap to bed. Literally – you want to cover the soap up with plastic and then wrap it up with towels or blankets to keep it warm (it shouldn’t cool too quickly). Keep it warm for two to three days, when you will check to see if the mold is hard enough to cut (but not too hard!).
8. Cut your soap.
After two or three days, remove the soap from the mold. The soft will still be a bit soft, but not runny or oozy. It should be soft like solid deodorant or a candle that is cooling after burning for a while – malleable, but it retains its shape on its own.
Once the soap is cut, put it on a piece of wood or in a box and let the soap cure (harden) for about three to four weeks before using it or selling it. You need to cure the soap so all of the lye is aged out. Your soap is ready if you touch it to your tongue and there is no “zing.” If the soap is still alkaline from the lye you will feel a slight tingle.
9. Bathe. 🙂
Disclaimer: Angela Adams is a total amateur soapmaker. If you follow these instructions, Angela is in no way responsible for the outcome of your soap or any injuries that may arise.
Angela is partner to Matt, foster mom to O and J, Truth-chaser, and education addict. She loves to play with words, workflow rules, herbs, and dirt. Angela lives in rural Illinois, where her family is part of an intentional Christian community. When she gets up the gumption, Angela blogs over at Leaping Greenly and hatch*.