Natural handmade soap is one of those delightful things I love to pick up and smell at local markets. Some of them smell good enough to eat and, quite frankly, bare an uncanny resemblance to a slab of fudge!
Soap-making is a very popular hobby these days. For starters, it’s wonderful to make your own soap using natural and organic ingredients. You know exactly what has gone into the soap and it isn’t a bunch of complicated chemicals and preservatives.
Natural handmade soap also makes wonderful gifts. You can make a batch, wrap them up nicely and have them handy in the event you need a little hostess gift or stocking stuffers.
Who knows, if you really enjoy it, you might even turn your handmade soap hobby into a small business and maybe I’ll be sniffing your soap at the local market!
There are many resources available for soap making and it’s a good idea to do some research before embarking on your new hobby, particularly if you’re using lye, which is a caustic material.
On the topic of lye (also known as caustic soda or NaOH), it should be known that all soap requires lye. The lye is used up through a chemical reaction that converts the lye and fats into soap. This process is known as saponification and it means that when you finish with your bar of soap there is no longer any lye present.
So, I thought I would provide the two most common basic recipes for making natural handmade soap. The first is known as a basic cold process and requires the use of lye. The second is called melt and pour soap and this basically means that you purchase a base where the saponification process has already occurred. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to work with lye but the disadvantage is that you have less control over what ingredients have gone into the base.
A basic recipe for cold process soap (source)
This recipe will make about 8 lbs of soap and is an olive oil/coconut oil base.
You will need:
- 24 oz. Olive oil
- 24 oz. Coconut oil
- 38 oz. Vegetable shortening
- 12 oz. Lye
- 32 oz. Distilled water
- 3-4 oz. Essential oil or fragrance oil of your choice
- A scale (that measures in ounces)
- A large stainless steel or enamel pot (about 1-gallon) that you don’t mind donating to soap making only
- Two 2-3 quart plastic pitchers
- A hand stick blender if you don’t want to be whisking with a fork or whisk for hours
- A plastic measuring cup with a 2-3 cup capacity
- Two wooden or plastic spoons that again will be converted to soap making only purposes
- Two kitchen thermometers that read over 100oF
- Rubber gloves
- Safety glasses
- A clear plastic container with a snap on lid measuring 8”x11”x3”
- An old blanket
- Freezer paper or plastic garbage bags
- Put on your gloves and safety glasses and weigh out the lye into one of the plastic pitchers. Measure out the distilled water into the other plastic pitcher. In a well ventilated area, carefully pour the lye slowly in a steady stream into the distilled water, stirring as you pour. The mixture will heat up, but then let it sit until the temperature reaches between 100-125 degrees. This could take several hours depending on the temperature of your workspace, but you can always place the pitcher in a cool water bath to help the process along.
- Weigh out your coconut oil and vegetable shortening into the large pot and heat them until they are just melting. Remove from the heat and stir in your olive oil. Use the second thermometer to track the temperature of this mixture. The lye/water mixture and your oils mixture need to be the same temperature before mixing them together. You want them to both be between 100-125oF and within a degree or two of each other.
- While you’re waiting for the two mixtures to obtain the right temperature, prepare your additives. This could be the essential oil(s) that you’re adding as well as any dried flowers or herbs. You can also get your mold ready by lining it with freezer paper.
- Once your mixtures have reached the desired temperature, you can get started on making the soap. Slowly pour the lye/water mixture into the oils, stirring continuously. Once you’ve finished pouring, you might want to switch to the hand stick blender to speed things along. Blend the mixture and you will see it start to thicken.
- When you reach the point where your blender leaves tracks (trace) as it moves around, then it’s time to throw in your additives such as the essential oils.
- Continue to blend until patterns become apparent at the top of the mixture (close to the consistency of instant powdered mashed potatoes). This is called tracing and it could take anywhere between 10-20 minutes of mixing to get there.
- Once the soap has reached this consistency it’s time to pour it into your mold. You can give it a couple of hard taps on the counter to get any air pockets out. If you’re using a plastic container with a lid then put the lid on. If you’re using some other type of mold, for example wooden soap mold or recycled containers, then place some freezer paper on top of the soap and then cover with a piece of cardboard for a lid.
- Wrap the soap mold up in the old blanket and place it somewhere it won’t be disturbed for about 18 hours. Then remove the blankets and lids and let the soap cure for another few hours.
- Remove the soap from the mold and let it sit for a day. Cut it up into bars and then let the bars cure for about 2 weeks longer. The bars should be exposed to the air and not touching one another. Stacked with spaces in between in a shoe box works for example. Then, you just have to use it or wrap it up nicely for gifts!
A basic recipe for melt and pour soap (source)
You will need:
- Melt & pour soap base
- Glass measuring cup or bowl
- Soap mold/s – you can use commercial molds or you can fashion your own using recycled plastic trays and boxes
- Essential oils
- Craft sticks for stirring
- Spray bottle of alcohol
- Cut up as much soap base as you plan on using into 1” chunks (1lb of soap base will make 1lb of soap). Place the chunks into the glass bowl or measuring cup.
- Microwave the bowl in 20-30 second intervals until the soap base has melted but hasn’t boiled.
- If you wish to add a colorant now is the time to do so. You could add natural things such as beetroot powder or turmeric to colour the soap – add a little at a time until you get the desired color and stir slowly to avoid making bubbles.
- Set the mixture aside while you prepare your molds and any additives you are going to put in such as essential oils and dried flowers/herbs. If you are using recycled containers for your molds, make sure that they are clean and dry.
- Add your essential oils and other additives to the mixture. You will need about 1 oz. of oil for every pound of melted soap. Mix well.
- Pour the soap into the mold. Spritz the surface of the mold with the spray bottle of alcohol to burst any bubbles forming at the surface.
- Let the soap cool for 30 minutes or until firm and then remove from the mold.
- Air dry the soap on a rack or wax paper overnight before wrapping.
The melt and pour method is nice to use when children are helping as you don’t have to worry about lye.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can get creative with your soap making and experiment with different oils and additives, goats milk or shea butter…there’s lots of wonderful natural ingredients to work with.
To end with, here’s a video showing how to make natural handmade soap using an olive oil base and a slight variation in that they bake the soap once it has started tracing.