I love the entire soap making process… it always fascinates me that you can take such unappealing ingredients as oils and lye and transform them into a completely different product… soap!
Soap, like anything else, is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. All oils are not created equal when it comes to soap making… the oils you choose will determine how well the soap hardens, how well it lathers, and if it dries or moisturizes your skin. After years of experimentation, I settled on a combination of (environmentally sustainable) palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and jojoba. Palm oil gives hardness to the soap, coconut oil makes the soap lather well, and olive oil contributes mildness. Jojoba contains natural antioxidants and also adds moisture to the soap.
Soap making isn’t something you can guess at or be careless about… it is a chemical process and accuracy is extremely important. Ingredients must be weighed, not measured, temperatures must be monitored closely, and the soap mixture must be stirred until it reaches a true trace. Soap making isn’t a difficult process, but not all soap recipes or oils make the same quality soap, and how and how long the ingredients are mixed greatly influences the resulting soap.
I usually make two or three batches of soap the same day, but only one batch at a time. Each batch makes six pounds of soap and approximately twenty-two bars. I pour the soap mixture into wooden molds, where it stays for approximately twenty-four hours. By this time the soap is firm and unmolds into a lovely long block of soap that I cut into bars using a wire cheese cutter. I put the bars on shelves to cure by standing each bar on its side, leaving some space between each bar so the air can circulate around it. I turn each bar to a different side every day so the soap will cure evenly. After a couple of weeks, I wrap blocks of a dozen bars in waxed paper and store the soap in cardboard boxes. Both the waxed paper and the cardboard boxes allow the soap to breathe as it finishes curing.
A good soap made with a balanced proportion of lye and fat is gentle to the skin after a few days and will lather well right away, but I like to cure soap for a minimum of several months before using it because it gets even better with time. Cured soap is also harder and denser and will last much longer than freshly-made soap.
I’ve always wanted to try this! We’ve made melt & pour soap a ton of times, but I’ve always wanted to do it from scratch. I could just never figure out where to get the lye from. I’ve got the palm oil and everything!
I think homemade soap just looks delicious. I’ve got all sorts of books in my shelves on how to make soap, and I like just looking through them. Even the pictures make me feel all nice and lathery!
Anyway, I’ll have to try this sometime soon, too. Just as soon as I find some lye.
Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)
Most Lowe’s have small cans of lye. Look for 100% sodium hydroxide and shake any can before you buy it. If it doesn’t shake and sound “loose” inside, it means that moisture has caused the lye to cake together. Some hardware stores will have lye too… look under drain cleaners, but the lye MUST be 100% sodium hydroxide with no other ingredients.
It’s fun to work with, but I’m not a great fan of melt and pour soap because of all the chemicals it contains. Most sellers don’t give a complete ingredient list, and the ingredients can range from propylene glycol to sodium laureth sulfate.
Recently jumped into soap making, but I’m still at the melt and pour phase. I really want to eventually make my own soap, but I have mixed feelings about working with and using lye. What are your thoughts on it? Have you ever tried making soap without it?
Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)
Andrea, I have never been nervous about working with lye. I am always careful with it, and I certainly would keep it away from children and pets, but it is very safe to use if it is handled properly. By the way, any properly-made soap will no longer contain actual lye. Combining the oils and lye in the correct amounts at the correct temperature causes a chemical reaction called saponification that actually changes the oils and lye into another product… soap.
I am much more concerned about melt and pour soap because of all the chemicals that are in it. Melt and pour starts life as ordinary soap (made with lye like any other soap). Then a variety of chemicals are added to this soap to make it melt easily, be pourable, etc., resulting in a far-from-natural product. The law does not require soap ingredients to be listed, and many melt and pour soap bases do not list the chemicals they contain. Some manufacturers claim that their bases contain only vegetable oils and glycerin, with no mention of other ingredients like the chemicals Sodium Laurate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and Propylene Glycol (the same chemical that is in antifreeze).
Those are some *nice* looking soaps, Shirley. There’s nothing like handmade soap for your skin. I’ve been making ours for a few months now and my skin has never been happier. My husband was sceptical at first when I told him the glycerin in my soap would be beneficial, but admitted the other day that the only two times he’s had to use lotion on his hands this winter was after washing the sugaring equipment and using dishwashing detergent. By this time every winter my knuckles are cracked, split, and bleeding–but not this year.
And it’s so much fun to do! There’s something almost magical about seeing the mixture trace and then taking real soap out of the mold a day or so later.
I have just finished making my first couple batches of soap, and it was a lot of fun! I can’t wait for the finished, cured product.
I’ve been making our soap for a few years now and I love to experiment, This last batch i put poppy seeds in but the best I’ve ever made I put a bunch of oatmeal in and we loved it.
I just stumbled upon your blog while searching for natural ingredients
and so forth. I just can not wait to start making Soap, to add to my collection of natural-homemade Body and hair products.