Ever wondered about how to make your own all-natural soap. Personally, I did for years, until I finally taught myself how to make it. Now it is all my family uses. Today, we have fellow Mum and Apothecary, Sarah from Sage Flower Hill guest posting with an overview of how it is done. Sarah is an expert, who makes the most beautiful products in the Napa Valley area of California. Enjoy!
Most store-bought soap, isn’t actually “soap”. Many mass-produced soaps are actually bars of detergent! True soap is the byproduct of fats reacting with an alkali (a substance that has a pH greater than 7… a base). The alkali that modern soap makers use depends on the type of soap that they want to make. Solid bars of soap are made using the alkali sodium hydroxide. Natural liquid soaps, however, are the byproduct of potassium hydroxide with oils or fats. This reaction between oils and alkali is called saponification. The byproduct of this chemical reaction is soap.
Soap making, like many things in life, is 90% preparation. Before I get anything started, I do a bit of research. I pull out my soap making books and research my oils. Just about any oil can be used in soap, but all impart different qualities in the final soap. Some oils can be used up to 100% in the recipe while others can only be used successfully up to 5%. Some oils are super skin conditioning but don’t lather well, while others lather well but cause the soap to be soft when used in high percentages. Not all oils are created equal. Books and web sites are great sources of formulation inspiration.
Once I have the oils figured out, I go online to calculate the exact quantities of oils, water and lye for my batch of soap. There are several great soap maker’s calculators online but my favorite is the Brambleberry one. After I enter all of my oil percentages, the online calculator determines the exact amount of lye and water that should be used in the recipe. Using the quantities of ingredients that the calculator gives me, I can now begin the actual soap making process.
Soap making can be a dangerous activity so it is necessary to take safety precautions. When making soap, I ALWAYS wear thick rubber gloves, a long sleeve shirt, long pants and safety goggles. If lye splashes on my skin, it will burn. Short of wearing a hockey mask, I cover the majority of my skin while making soap. When I make large batches of soap, I use a respirator when I mix the lye with the water. Other precautions that I take are using utensils and implements dedicated to soap making. I never, ever, ever use implements that would be used in cooking or for lotions/non-lye based products. These safety precautions are not just important but required to keep myself and my other products lye free!
Let’s Make Soap
The first thing I prepare is the lye water. I carefully measure the water in a stainless steel container. Next I measure the lye in a separate stainless steel container. Before I mix, I always say this little saying to myself about lye and water: “The snow falls on the water.” If the water is poured on the lye (the water falls on the snow), a lye volcano will erupt on the counter. Once the lye (snow) is added to the water, the mixture must be stirred thoroughly. The mixture of lye and water heats up very quickly and will need to be put aside in a safe place to cool down.
Now, the oils need to be measured and mixed. Some of my favorite oils, such as coconut oil and shea butter, are solid at room temperature. I measure these oils first and then melt them over a double boiler. Liquid oils such as olive oil and rice bran oil go in a separate stainless steel soap making pot. Once all the oils are melted, I mix them in the soap making pot.
When the temperatures of both the oils and the lye water are below 120 degrees F, it is time to mix them together. I place my mixer in the oil then pour the lye water down the side of the mixer to decrease air bubbles in the mixture. Now, the oil and lye needs to be mixed in short bursts until it reaches the consistency of thin pudding. This is called trace. I then measure the temperature to make sure it is below 80 degrees so that I can add my essential oils. I prefer to stir my essential oils with a spatula so that the soap doesn’t get too thick
Since I don’t usually add colorants to my soap (sometimes I add clay at this phase of the soap making process), it is time to pour the soap into the mold. Once poured, I like to take a dowel and run it through the soap to create a pretty little swirl.
The Waiting Game
The most difficult of soap making has to be the waiting. Wet soap needs to sit in its mold for a day or two before it can be cut. I cover it with a towel and wait for it to cool. Once a day or two has passed, I remove the soap from its mold and cut it into bars.
This is where patience comes in. The soap needs to sit in a well ventilated area and be turned every few days. The soap will sit this way for up to 6 weeks while the oil saponifies the last of the lye. And then, and only then can this fabulous soap be used in the shower or bath!
I highly recommend making your own soap. It is so much fun but be warned, this hobby could take over your life!
Thanks for stopping by Willy B Mum!