I was actually surprised at how easy it is to make soap from scratch. Most of it is a natural chemical reaction once the right ingredients are combined. Lye (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) is a strong alkaline base that is combined with animal fat or vegetable oils to create soap. The chemical reaction between the two is called saponification and soap is the end result.
There are 3 main ingredients that go into any bar or bottle of soap: lye, a liquid to dissolve the lye, and fats/oils. You will need a reliable recipe, and the proper safety gear, equipment, utensils, and a mold for your soap mixture.
A reliable recipe is essential if you want to end up with soap that you can safely use. The right balance of lye and oils has to be maintained, and the ingredients have to be able to produce soap that is cleansing, gentle, and good to the skin.
Saftey gear like gloves and protective goggles are necessary any time you handle a strong chemical like lye. And you will need equipment like a digital scale, thermometers, a crock pot or stainless steel pots and a stove/stovetop range, a stick blender (a.k.a. immersion blender), and utensils like stainless steel spoons and a spatula. You will also need a mold. Soap molds come in trays/slabs, loafs or blocks, and single bars. You can also use everyday items like plastic storage containers or shoeboxes lined with waxed paper as a mold.
Any great batch of soap begins with a great recipe. After your workspace is set up with rags/towels laid out to protect the surfaces, good lighting, good ventilation, you can then carefully measure all your ingredients according to your recipe. Please visit the Soap Recipes page for more information on some great recipes.
First the lye is added to milk or water. Once they are combined, stir gently to dissolve the lye. The chemical reaction will begin and the mixture will heat up and get very hot and give off vapors for a minute or two. The vapors are dangerous and should not be inhaled. Handle with care, and place a thermometer in the solution. It will have to cool to about 100°F before it is combined with the oils. Temperature is one area of debate among soap makers, but this is about the average temperature for those who don’t wait until the solution is room temperature which is also an option.
Next you will heat the oils to about 100°F and you will add the lye solution to the oils. You will use the stick blender to blend the solution until it thickens. When the soap mixture starts to get thicker, it’s called “trace”, and the soap mixture can then be poured into the mold. Sometimes too much air in the mixture or certain additives can give the appearance of trace before it actually happens. Soap that has not reached trace can separate in the mold, so it’s good to make sure you don’t pour too soon. Recognizing true trace can be a bit tricky to get used to, but it gets easy with time.
After the soap mixture reaches trace and has been poured into a mold, it is left in the mold for about 24 hours before it can be removed and sliced into bars. At this point the soap will dry and harden for about 4 to 8 weeks depending on the type of oils in the recipe. As it dries and hardens it becomes more mild and gentle. This process is called “curing”. You will always want to test your soap with pH strips or a solution called phenolphthalein. During this curing time it will lose water through evaporation. Once the soap has cured it will be ready to use, enjoy, and share.
The most important things to keep in mind are that you should be working with a trusted recipe (always run it through an online lye or soap calculator to make sure the measurements are correct), you should be mixing thoroughly by using a handheld blender (give breaks so you don’t burn out the motor as fast), and you should be monitoring the temperatures throughout the process according to the method you use.
There’s a ton of other ingredients that can be added to the basic recipe for soap, and half the fun of making soap are the special extras like essential oils, scent, moisturizing goodies, and beautiful colors that can be added to enhance the soap. But watch out, the process can be addictive, so once you start making soap, you may never stop!
For exact step-by-step directions on how to make soap, sign up for the free guide today.