I decided to learn soapmaking, or how to make my very own handmade, homemade soap at home.
Ever since I went on a no-poo craze, I’ve been discovering all the nefarious effects of using chemical filled detergents. Chem-filled detergents are everywhere: in your shower gel, your shampoos, your liquid soap and liquid hand soap, in your laundry detergent, your dishwashing liquid, everywhere!
And chemical laden detergents are harsh, drying and irritating. They are produced through an artificial, unnatural process that you can’t exactly imitate in your kitchen, using harsh ingredients you wouldn’t exactly wish to stock up on in your kitchen.
And if you go to the store or supermarket and buy a bar of soap, you’re not doing much better. Because these commercially-made, factory-made bars of soap also contain a lot of detergents and chemicals.
At any rate, if you should choose to buy a bar of soap, at the very least, do your research and check out the ingredients list.
Here in Spain, soaps are not required to list their ingredients. But if you’re lucky enough that your supermarket soap actually does have a list, pay attention to make sure it doesn’t contain any sulfates in it, such as sodium laureth sulphate or sodium lauryl sulphate.
These are the most common sulphates, but sulphur compounds come in many forms and guises. You might have also seen ammonium lauryl sulfate or disodium laureth sulfosuccinate listed on some bottles. These are also sulphates in disguise.
I won’t go into the details about why sulphate detergents are bad for you, as you can find more than enough information on the subject on the internet today. Mainly, what this post is about, is the healthy, natural, homemade alternative: soapmaking at home, that is, making your own soap!
Why Is Soapmaking Good For You?
Why is it so good to make your own soap?
Well, first of all, it’s fun!
Next, you can use your own handmade soap to replace all those expensive shower gels, shampoos, hand soaps, liquid soaps, dishwashing liquids and laundry detergents.
Finally, YOU are the one with FULL CONTROL over what substances you are spreading on your skin or hair. After all, skin breathes. What you slather onto your skin DOES make its way into your blood stream, at least to some extent (depending on the size of the molecules involved).
And, of course, as most people could probably attest to, what you use on your hair does affect what your hair looks like and how it acts. Right?
So wouldn’t it make sense to use only the highest quality, purest, most natural, best ingredients on your hair?
So following, I’m going to describe the series of steps that I use to make my own soap at home.
Scared of Lye?
A lot of people are scared off from soapmaking because they are afraid of lye. Well, here in Spain, lye has been used for a long time as a drain cleaner. In this case, hot water is actually added TO the lye, which produces an explosive reaction. Since we get used to this explosive reaction, no one is scared by it anymore.
But in order to make soap, all you need to do is to quietly dissolve lye crystals VERY SLOWLY in water. When done in this order, no explosive reaction occurs.
So without any further ado, these are the basic steps I use to create MY VERY OWN HOMEMADE SOAP, using the hot process method in a crock pot.
You don’t need to use a crock pot. Before I had a crock pot, I used to use a double boiler. But for me, a crock pot is THE WORKS haha! It makes your soapmaking life 1000% easier.
I’ve also cooked soap in the oven, however, since some oils are hard to saponify and need more heat and I have a crock pot with a low setting only. I only use it for soapmaking, and have never used this crock pot for anything else.
I personally like to use the hot process method, where you cook your soap using heat. The other method, called the cold process method, is faster and simpler, but I rarely ever use it, as I personally don’t like it.
Why I Prefer Hot Process Soapmaking
The reasons I prefer the hot process soap method are the following:
- shorter curing time, you can use a hot process soap immediately but I like to cure it for about 2 weeks. However, a cold process soap requires a minimum of 6 weeks’ curing time, and I’m just too impatient to wait that long haha!
- you have no difficulty with essential oils or colorants reacting during the saponification process with hot process, because you add these ingredients AFTER the soap is already cooked and saponified
- no alien brains hehe!
- no other weird reactions either
- you don’t have to worry about accidentally touching your raw soap and getting a soap or lye burn, because by the time the soap is cool enough to touch, all the lye has already reacted with the oils, and no lye remains to burn you
Some people prefer cold process soaps because they produce a smoother, more exquisite and refined looking cake, and it is a lot faster. But once again, like I said, you trade a faster soapmaking time for a longer curing time.
Steps for Making Soap
1.Measure out your oils.
You can choose from a huge variety of oils. Because exotic or harder-to-get oils can be expensive, and I live in Spain, I usually limit myself to the most basic oils: olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil.
I like to use olive oil pomace (in Spanish, aceite de oliva de orujo), because it’s both cheaper than the extra virgin variety, as well as having a higher percentage of unsaponifiables (molecules that don’t react with the lye and therefore remain as oils, which makes for a richer, creamier, more hydrating and moisturizing soap).
However, DO NOT EAT OLIVE POMACE OIL! It’s not meant for eating, and is produced using a chemical process that leaves behind some substances that not only taste bad, but might also be bad for your health if you eat them. (I’ve been trying to find out why you can’t eat them, but it’s okay to slather them on your skin, but I can’t seem to find any information related to that. I can only assume that your skin doesn’t absorb these unhealthy substances. Perhaps the molecules are too large.)
Some people do eat olive oil pomace, but nowadays it’s become very difficult to find it even here in Spain, because it’s been forbidden by the Spanish government for culinary use. You can still use it in soapmaking though.
Olive oil confers moisturization to your soap and makes for a very hydrating soap. It’s good for people with dry skin or dry hair.
Coconut oil is deeply cleansing, and produces absolutely THE RICHEST, CREAMIEST lather. It’s not particularly moisturizing, though. That’s why I like to combine olive oil and coconut oil in any soap that I make.
I like to add a few drops of castor oil as well. It makes for a soap that feels creamier and lathers up more easily. However, being slightly more expensive and harder to find, I don’t use it a lot.
So as I was saying, measure out your oils. You need to know how much oil you are using so you can calculate the amount of the remaining ingredients. I like to use this soapmaking lye calculator.
It might look quite complicated, but it’s actually quite easy to use. Simply follow the steps, which are outlined there.
The usual percentage of water in relation to oils is usually 38%. You might want to use a lower proportion of water if you want your soap to cure more quickly. Or a higher percentage if you are going to cook your soap (ie. use the hot process) and you plan on using high temperatures, which can make your water evaporate.
Most people superfat their soaps approximately 5-10%. If I make a pure coconut oil soap for skin or hair, I like to superfat it at 20%, however, because coconut oil is not particularly moisturizing, and this amount of superfat creates a more hydrating soap.
Superfatting is the amount of “extra” oil that you add to your recipe, which will not react with your lye and will therefore remain behind in your soap, in order to hydrate your skin.
If you wish to create a soap for cleaning your house or laundry, you want to leave the superfatting at 0%, because you don’t want to leave any oil behind on your bathroom sink or in your clean clothes.
2.Measure out your liquids.
Usually your liquid will be water. I like to use mineral water, although some people use distilled water and I imagine you could use tap water as well. But don’t take my word on it about the tap water, as I’ve never used it.
You can also use filtered water or boiled water, however. Once again, I have not tried this.
In fact, I very rarely use water at all. I LOVE LOVE LOVE goats milk soap, and I pretty much almost always use goats milk instead of water. I (and my friends also) find goats milk soap just SOOO much more moisturizing and soothing than water soap.
Goats milk soap is also great for a number of skin affectations, such as eczema.
3.Measure out your lye.
Use the amount proposed in the lye calculator I’ve linked to above.
I place my lye in a small porcelain bowl.
Here in Spain you can find lye at any supermarket or drugstore. However, I’ve read that it’s hard to get in the US. If you live in the US, I imagine you could try a hardware store (it’s sold as a drain unblocker), or simply order online.
4.Once all your ingredients are measured and set out in preparation, you can begin to actually create your soap.
I like to begin by pouring the oils in my crock pot and turning it on low. (If you prefer to make cold process soap, don’t turn on your crock pot.)
If I am using any solid oils, such as coconut oil in the winter or cocoa butter, they will melt in the crock pot.
5.I place the liquids (water and/or goats milk, or any other milk that you might prefer, such as coconut milk) in a stainless steel container. I thought I’d taken a photo of the container I use but apparently I hadn’t, since I can’t find any such photo. I just use a typical lidless stainless steel cup like the kind people use to pour hot milk into coffee, with a little spout.
I then place the stainless steel container in the sink, if possible inside a large pot of cold water. Make sure the cold water doesn’t get into the stainless steel cup, of course!
This is to keep the liquid as cold as possible while it is reacting with the lye. That’s not such a problem if you are using water. However, if you are using goats milk, goats milk cooks with the heat! And when it cooks, it turns brown. (I can’t remember why it does that, I think the sugars in it caramelize or something.)
So the cooler the goats milk remains, the less it browns.
6.I get all goggled up.
I am very careful and I’ve never ever ever had any accident using lye. Here’s hoping it stays this way haha.
However, I also live in a safe home without babies or toddlers or elderly folk with Alzheimers. My teenage sons know better than to get in the way when I’m soaping. If that is not your case, make sure all pets, babies, toddlers and violent angry persons are out of the way before you begin the next step.
Getting goggled up means I put on rubber gloves, long sleeves, closed toe shoes and goggles. I don’t use any special goggles, the ones I use are from the dollar store and are the kind kids use to swim in the swimming pool.
7.Add the lye crystals little by little to the water or goats milk using a plastic spoon.
The goats milk will turn yellow, then brown, so if you see this happening, it is normal. It will also smell like ammonia. Supposedly, the smell will go away once the soap is cooked. But I find occasionally a faint whiff still remains.
Stir GENTLY. This is to make sure all the lye dissolves.
And of course, don’t breathe in the fumes haha! Don’t worry, it smells so bad, you wouldn’t want to anyway.
Then wait until the cup is cold enough to handle before moving on to the next step.
8.Once the lye water/milk is cool enough to handle, I pour it GENTLY into the oil mixture. That is why it’s so useful to use a cup with a spout.
9.Using a metal whisk, I start to gently stir the mix together.
No egg beating now hehe. The lye is still raw in there, which means it can BURN you if you touch it or it splatters out.
After I’ve mixed for a bit, I start with the stick blender. Stick blend for a few minutes, then turn off the blender and just stir with it for a few minutes. Then turn it on again.
I stir/blend until reaching trace.
Depending on the oils used, this can take from about 15 minutes to over an hour. So if it’s not happening yet, don’t despair. It WILL happen. You just happened to pick some rather slow oils haha.
I can’t remember now, off the top of my head, which oils took longer to reach trace. But some do take longer than others, so if yours is taking a long time, not to worry.
Trace is when the mixture starts to stiffen up a bit, and to hold its shape when it drips off the blender.
You can reach light, medium or heavy trace. I like to reach medium trace, because it seems to take a little less time to cook after this.
If you were making cold process soap, at this point, you’d be finished. You would simply need to add any fragrances, essential oils, colorants or other additives and pour into moulds.
But since I’m making hot process soap, I would continue on to the next step.
10.At this point, having reached trace, I cover the crock pot and set it on low.
I’ve never had any problems with the soap cooking too hot and boiling over (what some people call a volcano). But I have a crock pot with a low setting. If your pot is hotter than mine, you might need to be on the lookout for volcanos.
A volcano is simply when soap boils over, explosively. You don’t want that to happen. You can prevent that by hovering near your crock pot and checking it frequently (every 5 minutes or so).
It usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour for my soap to cook. How long it takes would depend on how hot your pot is, I imagine, as well as the recipe you used.
If it looks as if the oils and water have separated in your soap at some point, actually, I’ve been told that clear liquid that separates out is actually natural glycerine (which is a natural by-product of soapmaking) and not water. Simply give it a good stir to mix it back in again.
11.Once the soap has gelled completely, it’s cooked.
Gelling is a process whereby the soap starts to look more transparent (as opposed to looking more opaque, before it’s gelled).
Some people try the tongue zap test to see if the soap has cooked. You probably don’t want to do that. Soap tastes foul at the best of times! You probably also don’t want an electric shock on your tongue.
I simply make sure the soap has gelled completely. Give it a good stir using your wooden or plastic spoon or spatula, to make sure it looks transparent throughout. (It won’t actually look clear, it will still be coloured. Simply, it will have a transparent effect, similar to glycerine soap.)
12.Once it has gelled completely, I take the porcelain pot out of the heating shell and set it on the counter to cool down.
Like any pot that you’ve been cooking (food) in, it’s hot! So be careful.
If you are using a double boiler instead, or the oven, simply take it away from the heat source and leave it to cool somewhere, about 10-15 minutes.
You don’t want to make it too cold, or it will become hard and difficult to handle.
Some people add a bit of yoghurt at this point, to make it softer and easier to pour. I never remember to buy yoghurt before making soap, so I’ve never tried this. However, sometimes I do add a few drops of goats milk, and it does soften the soap and make it a bit runnier.
13.Once it’s cool, I like to add essential oils.
Because it’s goats milk soap, it’s already naturally brown, tan or dark yellow in colour, so I don’t usually interfere with the colour. If you have made a water soap, however, you might like to add colorants at this point.
I usually always add rosemary essential oil, to prevent the oils from going rancid.
Then I also add some essential oils for fragrance. I LOVE mint!
Mix in the oils and/or colorants and stir.
14.Pour into moulds.
Bang the mould down on the tabletop a few times (not too vigorously!) to get out the air bubbles.
15.Set into a cool, dry place to cure.
You can usually use the soap immediately after soapmaking, once it’s completely cold. But you will get better results if you cure it for a minimum of 2 weeks.
In order to conserve your newly created handmade soap as long as possible, always store it in a cool dry place when you’re not using it. Don’t keep it in the shower.
In the next post, I’ll show you some pics of a few of the soaps that I’ve made recently.
And while we’re at it, not to sound like a sleazy saleslady but I’ve written a few thrillers so, if you’re into creepy, scary, suspenseful novels, I’d love it if you’d check them out here: Thrillers by Moi.
So, do you think you’ll try out this adventure and make a few soaps of your own? Feel free to tell me about YOUR soapmaking experiments. How did your soaps turn out? Do leave your comments below. I LURRRVEE to receive (positive, non-spammy) comments!
If you enjoyed this post (I really hope you do!), maybe you will also like: