A lot of people tend to think that learning How to Make Homemade Soap from Scratch is a daunting, complicated task, but I like to tell my readers – if you can bake a cake, you can make soap!
What is Soap?
First off, What is soap? “Soap”, technically, isn’t something you just mix and pour to cleanse your body. REAL soap (for us soap snobs) only occurs when the saponification process takes place. To put it simply, oil molecules get busted open by lye molecules. These molecules then bond in a particular way that literally creates soap molecules. Formulas area created so that no lye is left (the chemical reaction makes sure all lye molecules have been used up), and only a small amount of oil remains. This is called superfatting and makes sure you have a nice moisturizing bar (usually done at a 5% rate).
Too much info all at once? Let’s Break it down.
Fats are usually divided up into two categories:
- hard fats – like lard, tallow, palm oil, and coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter)
- soft fats – like various oils that stay liquid at most room temperatures: olive oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil
All of the fats bring something different to the soap. Hard fats are necessary in order to give you a nice hard lasting bar. Even a Castille Soap (olive oil bar) usually has a small amount of tallow or coconut oil to make it a harder bar.
Because each fat brings a different quality to your soap, you cannot simply swap out one fat for another without some experience. Hey, sometimes it will work, but other times it can not turn out right. So if you are just beginning you’ll want to follow a recipe.
The Lye Water
The second set of ingredients are the lye and the water. There are two types of lye: potassium hydroxide (KOH) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Potassium hydroxide is used for softer soaps (traditionally made from soaking ashes – My grandmother told me how she did this as a small girl). Sodium Hydroxide is what is most commonly used in soap recipes (here on referred to as just lye).
Where to get Lye
You can get lye crystals at your local hardware store in the plumbing section or online.
A lot of people tell me that they would make soap, but they are scared of the lye. Treated properly, it’s not anything to worry about.
When lye is combined with water there is a chemical reaction. The water will shoot up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit AND release poisonous fumes. Because of this, it is necessary to”
- Always add lye to water, never water to lye. To help me remember this, I always measure my lye into a small zip close bag. If you add water to lye, the small amount of water that touches the lye at a time gets heated up too quickly and dangerous steam can be produced.
- Always combine water and lye outside. I don’t care if it’s below zero outside. Take your water bowl and bag of lye outside before combining.
- Use a face mask or hold your breath while you pour the lye in the water so that you don’t breathe in the fumes.
Now, this sounds like a big deal, but honestly I will just measure my lye, measure my water, take it onto my back porch, take a deep breath, pour in my lye and stir. I can see that it is dissolved within a few seconds, so I then take a few steps away to breathe. That’s it. After 1-2 minutes there is not more chemical reaction, thus no more fumes.
Obviously, if you have pets or small children, make sure they aren’t around to touch it. If you get any on your skin you may not feel it at first, but then you will feel an itchy burning. Just go wash it off immediately! I wear gloves when I make soap to prevent skin damage.
“Extras” include adding color to soap (natural of course), essential oils to soap, milk, honey, or even herbs. These are not necessary for soap making, but they are what make soap making so much fun! I love creating combinations of scents and natural colors!
I never add fragrance oils or fake colorings (like melted crayons or dyes). These additives are toxic. Many studies have shown how they are cancerous. Despite this, you will see suggestions to use fragrance oils and colorings on most soap making websites. Yet, why would you bother when there are all kinds of fabulous colors in nature! Plus, essential oils don’t just give you scent. They provide medicinal and therapeutic properties as well.
Tools You’ll Need
There are a few tools that will make your soap making experience a lot easier.
- Large Stainless Steel Pot (lye reacts to aluminum).
- Large Stainless Steel Spoon
- Hand Mixer or Stick blender (a whisk will do, but it will make the process a LOT longer).
- Measuring bowls – I use my glass bowls for my fats and essential oils. I use a plastic container dedicated to my lye water to measure the water, and a zip close bag to measure the lye.
- Digital Scale – you MUST have a digital scale that measures to the tenth of an ounce. Measurements are taken in fluid ounces, not solid. Most scales will let you switch to fl.oz no problem.
- Soap Mold – you need something to pour your soap into when it’s ready. You can check out my You Tube Video for ideas. I do not like glass. I don’t care what people say about putting it in the freezer or the oven, etc. to loosen the soap. It’s darn right impossible to easily get soap out of a glass container. When I first started i used a plastic container (hard to get one that’s square) or a lined cardboard box. There are great soap molds out there as well if you’re ready to take the plunge.
- Wax Paper – Plastic wrap leaves all kinds of wrinkles in your soap. Wax paper lays flat and lets you release your soap from your container very easily.
- Gloves – You’ll need gloves to protect your hands from lye. Not only the lye water, but also the soap once you’ve mixed the lye into it.
- Thermometer – This can be a cheap candy thermometer or a digital one. Either one will work fine.
- Rubber Spatulas – Great for scraping the soap out of the pot. After all, you don’t want to waste any.
How to Make Soap from Scratch
So, here you go! Steps to making Homemade soap from Scratch.
1) Find a recipe. I have a lot of them on my website, Simple Life Mom. You can make body bars, shampoo bars, mosquito repelling bars, etc.
2) Gather your ingredients and tools. Once you know you have your recipe and everything else, you’re ready to make soap!
3) Weigh your ingredients. Be precise and you’ll have less of a chance for something going wrong.
4) Place all of your Fats in the large stainless steel pot. Do not add any natural coloring or essential oils yet. Heat these fats until they are all melted. Watch and stir. You don’t want to make heat them much beyond melting point. You’ll just have longer to wait for them to cool down. You want your fats to cool down to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
5) Combine your lye and water. Go OUTSIDE, and pour your lye into your water (not water into lye) and stir until dissolved. Make sure you are wearing gloves and a face mask or hold your breath the entire time you’re pouring and stirring!! Make sure it is in a safe place (away form kids or pets) and let this begin to cool down to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
6) Once your fats AND lye water is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, carefully pour your lye water into your pot of melted fats. This can sometimes be tricky. If you’ve overheated your oils and they are still super hot, but your lye water is near 100 degrees, then place your pot in a cold water bath in the sink. You can do the same for the lye water container. If one gets to optimal temperature before the other, then cover it to reduce more heat from being lost. Some people are more specific with temperatures. They’ll want their lye water slightly less than the fats and even vary what temperatures they desire for each recipe. I stick to the 100 degree rule it never fails for me. If they are slightly less (95 degrees), that’s ok, but you don’t want them to be too cool or you will have a false trace (see below).
7) Stir, blend, rest, repeat! You’ll want to help along the saponification process and make sure your oils do not just sit on top. You a hand mixer or stick blender for five minutes. Let your mixture sit for a few minutes if you like, but don’t leave! Stir, repeat. You’re wanting it to thicken into a pudding like texture. I’ve had batches not thicken well, but when I drizzled a spoon full of the mixture over the surface I could see a trail. This is called trace. I had light trace there and went ahead and added my essential oils and poured. It turned out fine. Other times it will rapidly thicken to a pudding like consistency so I had to hurry. You do NOT want your soap to harden in your pot! So watch it!
8) Add extras at trace. Here is where you add your essential oils and natural colors. Blend them in with the hand mixer. Remember, trace is when you can see a trail when you drizzle the mixture over itself.
9) Pour Your Soap. Pour into a lined soap mold. If applicable (some soap molds won’t let you) place a piece of wax paper gently on top of the soap. This seals it from the air and keeps “ash” ( a while film) from covering the surface.
10) Incubate for 24 hours. Cover your soap mold in towels and let sit flat for 24 hours. After this time check and see if it has set up nicely.
11) Cure. Carefully remove your soap from its mold. Cut, if it is not already cut. It will be soft, so be careful. Let sit in an open, dry place for 4-6 weeks. This will allow it to harden into a nice, long lasting soap.
Remember, you can always fix soap! If it is lye heavy and crumbles like chalk, or has pockets of lye or oil, or never sets up…..don’t worry. You can fix it!! I have a Hot Processed Soap tutorial video that gives a great example of a lye heavy soap that is fixed.