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.