Soap Making Basics and Safety

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It’s like time travel! Pioneers and homesteaders used to make soap from scratch all the time. I think it’s so much fun to revive these lost arts, and make some of the things we use from scratch! Plus, if you make soap yourself, you can use exactly the ingredients you want. Are you ready? Let’s go over some soap making basics. 

Soap making basics

Soap making is one of those things that seems intimidating at first. I know I was a little nervous to try it! Once you get the hang of soap making basics, though, it really is very doable. And it’s so much fun!

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Soap making basics

All soap making takes, really, is just mixing everything together in the right order, pouring the soap into molds, and letting it cure. You can make melt and pour, cold process, or hot process soap. 

I use the cold process when I make soap. That way, the beneficial properties of all the ingredients stay intact. 

When you make soap, all of the ingredients are measured by weight. You’ll need a scale that can read ounces to two decimal places, like this one that I have. If any of your fats or oils are solid at room temperature, you’ll have to melt them.

Then, the oil mixture needs to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit before you mix the lye water in. I like to use a crockpot to melt and warm the oils, and for mixing. 

It’s important to be precise when you measure soap making ingredients. Otherwise, your soap might not turn out well. Or, it could even have too much lye left in it, which will burn or irritate skin.

Next, you make the lye water (that’s where the safety tips come in, and I’ll go over that in a second). You carefully pour the lye water into the warm oils, and start to mix. I use an immersion blender.

The goal here is to blend until the mixture comes to trace. That means the mixture gets thick, like a light pudding consistency. I’ll show you exactly what trace looks like in the video, which is below. 

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Good things come to those who wait

After bringing the soap mixture to trace, you can add essential oils, if you want to use them. Once the essential oils are mixed in, you pour the mixture into molds, and let it sit for 24 hours. After 24 hours, unfold the bars and slice them (if you used loaf shaped molds).

Next is curing time. Put the soap bars somewhere where they’ll stay dry and won’t be disturbed, like a cardboard box on a high shelf. They need to cure for 4-6 weeks, and then they’re ready to use! 

Safety first

There are a few things to know before getting started with soap making. During the soap making process, you have to handle lye. Lye is very alkaline, and can burn skin if you get some on you.

If you handle it carefully and wear gloves and eye protections, you’ll be just fine. Wearing something with long sleeves is a good idea, too.

I recommend keeping a container of white vinegar nearby. That way, you can quickly neutralize any of the uncured soap or lye water that happens to splash on your skin. Don’t let that scare you, though! I’ve made many batches of soap, and as long as you’re careful, it shouldn’t get on your skin at all. 

Be sure to mix the lye water outdoors, where you have plenty of ventilation. Keep kids and pets away. 

When you make the lye water, order is very important. You should always pour the lye into the water, never the other way around. You can remember the order by remembering “the snow falls onto the lake.”

Soap making terms

In soap making recipes, there are some terms that come up. Here are what they mean:

  • Trace – The point when the oils and lye water become emulsified. At trace, the soap batter is the consistency of a light pudding. 
  • Gel phase – While in the mold, the soap becomes hot and enters what is called gel phase. This makes the finished bars look shiny. It doesn’t affect how the soap works, and is just for appearance. Some people encourage gel phase, while others prevent it. I like to let it happen while the soap is in the mold. 
  • Curing – This is the time where cold process soap bars sit after being sliced. Most of the chemical reaction where lye converts the oils to soap happens in the first few days, but it’s best to let cold process soap cure for 4-6 weeks. Water evaporates during this time, which makes the finished soap harder and longer lasting. 

Soap making basics and safety

Get creative

When you make your own soap, you’re free to use exactly the ingredients you want to use. I love this! Some of my favorite soap making ingredients are coconut oil, olive oil, and especially grass fed tallow. I also like using castor oil in my tallow shampoo bar recipe. 

I use a soap calculator, which you can find here, to create my recipes. The soap calculator includes the different properties of soaps made with certain amounts of various ingredients. It is really fun to play around with it a design a recipe!  

Oils for soap making and what they do

There are an endless array of different oils you can use in soap making. Here are some of the properties of my favorite oils and fats, to get you started. You can use the soap recipe calculator I linked above to read about the properties of more oils and fats!

  • Coconut oil – Makes a very cleansing bar with lots of lather. Can be a little drying to skin if you use only coconut oil to make soap
  • Olive oil – Makes a rich, moisturizing bar with some lather. Makes a bar that is soft at first, but gets harder the longer it cures. 
  • Tallow – My favorite! It makes a rich, creamy lather that is gently cleansing, and very soothing and moisturizing for skin. Tallow also helps to make bars nice and hard, so that they last a long time and don’t melt away. Sometimes people use lard, but I like tallow the best, because of all the nutrients it contains. For more info on all the reasons why I love to add tallow to my soap recipes, check out this post on why add tallow to soap here
  • Castor oil – Castor oil has great benefits for hair. I don’t usually use it in soap bars, but it is very beneficial in shampoo bars.

Supplies for making soap

It’s best to use dedicated equipment for soap making and don’t mix it with containers and tools that you also use to make food. You wouldn’t want leftover lye or essential oils getting into food. 

Here are the things you’ll need to make your own soap:

  • Scale – You’ll need one that measures to two decimal places. I have this one
  • Crockpot – This is my favorite way to gently melt the oils, and I like to mix the lye water into the oils right in the crockpot.
  • Immersion blender – You can mix by hand, but soap will come to trace so much faster with an immersion blender. 
  • Silicone spatula – These are great for stirring in essential oils and anything else you want to add to soap, as well as scraping all of the soap batter out of the container and into the molds. 
  • Soap molds – There are many options to choose from! I like these silicone loaf molds that fit into wooden boxes. I slice the loaves into bars with a slicer that leaves ridges

Soap making recipes 

I have several recipes that I’ve designed, and I really like them. Feel free to use any of them as you start your soap making adventures!

There is a pure tallow soap recipe, which you can find here. It is a very rich, creamy bar that is perfect for sensitive skin and various skin conditions. 

I also have a soap recipe that uses tallow in combination with some other ingredients. You can find that recipe here. I like this one for a good, all around body and hand bar. 

This shampoo bar recipe, which you can find here, is one of my favorites. It cleans hair gently and beautifully, while conditioning. It is the perfect solution to truly all natural hair care. 

Alright, are you ready to get started? We’ve gone over all of the soap making basics and safety… Let’s make some soap! 

Soap making basics directions

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Weigh all ingredients. 
  2. Melt oils, if needed.
  3. Bring oils to 100° F.
  4. Mix lye water by pouring lye into water, and stirring gently (do this outdoors and wear safety gear).
  5. Allow lye water to sit for 10 minutes.
  6. Carefully pour lye water into melted oils.
  7. Mix soap mixture with immersion blender until it becomes thick, like a light pudding consistency (reaches trace).
  8. Add essential oils, if using, and mix again. 
  9. Pour soap into molds and cover with wax paper.
  10. Wrap molds in a towel and allow them to sit for 24 hours. 
  11. After 24 hours, slice bars and put them in a safe place with adequate air flow around all the bars.
  12. Let bars cure for 4-6 weeks. 

Soap making basics how to make soap from scratch

Soap making recipes

Tallow soap recipe

Pure tallow soap recipe

Tallow shampoo bar recipe

Are you excited to try soap making?

What ingredients do you want to use? Let me know in the comments!

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Scale that goes to two decimal places

Immersion blender

Crockpot

Soap mold

Soap slicer

Lye

Grass fed tallow

Coconut oil

Olive oil

Castor oil

Essential oils

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