Easy, Hand-made Soap
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Summary: Aside from the added safety precautions necessary for working with lye, making soap is really not that different from making cake.
 
 

If you’ve ever made soap from scratch, you’ll understand the allure of the mysterious transformation that happens when oil and water are mixed with lye. It’s somehow very satisfying to take your first bar of soap to the faucet and lather it up into a mound of frothy white foam in your palms. The fact that you’ve made the soap from quality ingredients you chose yourself, with nothing unwanted added, only enhances the experience.

And soap making is easy. You only need a few basic ingredients and simple tools to make a beautiful bar of pure, health-giving soap. You can likely find most of what you need in your kitchen or at your local grocery or hardware store. Aside from the added safety precautions necessary for working with lye, making soap is really not that different from making cake. Both activities require some pouring, some mixing and some waiting. And just like making a beautiful cake, you’ll want to enjoy some of your soap yourself and share some with someone special. Making soap is simple and rewarding.

Once you’ve tried a first basic batch, you’ll want to be more creative. You can add natural scents, colourants, healing botanicals and texturizing elements. With simple techniques, you can add swirl patterns or whipped toppings. Or craft a batch with a specific purpose – to treat eczema or acne, for shampooing, shaving or for exfoliating. There’s no end to the creative possibilities.

History

It’s hard to imagine life before soap. These days hand soap, in one form or another, is in every home and public washroom facility. But it wasn’t always like that.

Soap making likely began more than 2000 years before Christ, but those early soap-like products made from ashes and animal fat were used for cleaning fabric, not for personal hygiene. Among the earliest recorded sources addressing personal hygiene are the writings of Moses. Around 1450 BC, he wrote laws about personal and camp cleanliness for the Israelites encamped in the wilderness enroute to the Promised Land. While soap is not mentioned by Moses, the health laws given in the Book of Leviticus demonstrate a concern for cleanliness, both spiritual and physical, that is repeated throughout the Bible. But it wasn’t until many years later that soap for personal washing came into common usage. By the time the prophets Jeremiah and Malachi came on the scene, those they ministered to were so familiar with the idea of using soap for personal cleansing that these prophets could use the term “soap,” or something like it, to represent spiritual cleansing.

The prophet Jeremiah, who ministered between 627 – 586 BC, wrote:

For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God. Jeremiah 2:22

And Malachi, around 430 BC, wrote:

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap. Malachi 3:2

It’s clear from these references, that people in Bible times were familiar with the idea of using soap for personal cleansing. But the use of soap for personal hygiene was not widespread until much more recent times when people began to understand the importance of personal cleanliness to prevent the spread of disease. A better understanding of the chemistry involved in making soap and commercial lye production took the guesswork out of soap making, resulting in milder soaps for personal use. It also paved the way for commercial production which began in the late 19th century.

How Soap Works

From the very beginning of soap’s history until now, the chemistry involved has remained the same. Soap is made from combining water, oil and a strong alkali. Water and oil don’t normally mix but when a strong alkali, like lye, is added it reacts with the oil and the molecules recombine to form soap. This process is called saponification and when soap is made properly, the lye is neutralized by the oil, making a safe and gentle soap.

Hand washing with water alone can remove many germs, but soap increases the effectiveness of water because of its molecular structure. The molecules of soap attract both oil and water. Soap works because when we lather our hands with it, the soap pulls oil-trapped germs from our skin, which can then be rinsed down the drain with water.

Modern Soap Making

I remember a hard bar of soap that my grandma always had for scrubbing stains before putting her laundry into the wash tub. When you used it, it left your skin feeling stripped and dry. But Grandma never used a recipe and was never quite sure how much lye or fat to use. The soap was good for getting stains out of linens but it was harsh. Today’s hand made soaps have little resemblance to Grandma’s old-fashioned laundry bar.

Superfatting

Making soap in small batches has become an art in recent times. Recipes have been perfected for making gentle soaps that are not only great at cleansing the skin but also have emollient properties that help restore your skin’s moisture. Recipes for producing the gentlest soaps rely on high quality fats and a technique called superfatting. Superfatting is adding more fat than is necessary to combine with the lye, leaving extra fat in the bar for moisturizing. And superfatting points to an important advantage of making your own soap - choosing what to include and what to leave out of your soap.

One of the benefits of making your own soap is that you control what goes into it. Because skin is porous, it absorbs what is put onto it, to varying degrees. This is why it makes sense to be thoughtful about what we put onto our skin. When you make your own soap, use the best quality ingredients that you can easily get and afford. For example, you can choose pure essential oils over chemical fragrances, and natural colourants like clays and plant powders over dyes.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are made from plants, often using a water-based steam distillation process. Fragrances, on the other hand, are synthetically produced and are more often associated with seizing, the unwanted, too-rapid hardening of the soap. So, although there may be many more scents to choose from in synthetic fragrances than in essential oils, avoiding harmful chemicals and bad batches of soap are good reasons to choose essential oils over fragrance oils.

Natural colourants

Adding colour to your hand made soap is exciting and will make it even more appealing. Many foods can be used as natural colourants to produce solid colours or interesting patterns. You’ll need to do some research and experimentation to find the colour you’re looking for, though, since plant-sourced colourants often change colour when exposed to lye. Here are some examples of natural colourants and the colours you can expect.

Shades of Green

Alfalfa
chlorophyl
henna
kelp sage
spearmint
spinach
spirulina
wheat grass juice

Shades of Yellow or Orange

Annatto
beet root powder
Calendula
Carrots
chamomile
Paprika
safflower petals
Saffron
turmeric

Shades of Yellow or Brown

carob or cocoa powder
cinnamon
ground rose hips

Shades of Yellow or Purple

madder root
Moroccan red clay
red sandalwood

Shades of Yellow or Blue

indigo powder (stains easily) woad powder (can stain)

Get Started

Use the list below to ensure that you have what you need before you start. You probably already have most of these items in your kitchen. Otherwise, you can buy them inexpensively wherever you shop for kitchen supplies.

Easy-to-use silicon soap molds can be purchased from soap making supply companies, but you can also find good substitutes at home. Milk cartons, shoe or cereal boxes lined with parchment paper all make acceptable soap molds with no extra cost. Do not use containers made from reactive metals like aluminum or tin since dangerous gas can be produced when you pour in the fresh soap.

Collect the items in the list and store them apart from regular kitchen items that you use for food preparation to avoid contaminating your food.

Equipment needed

• Heat-safe container for mixing the lye

• More containers for weighing ingredients

• Pot

• Stick blender

• Digital kitchen scale

• Soap molds

• Measuring spoons

• Mixing spoons

• 2 cooking thermometers

Ingredients and where to buy them

Purchase basic oils like olive and coconut oil at the supermarket. Specialty and essential oils can be ordered online from soap making supply companies or local craft or health food stores. Oil prices vary greatly depending upon the supplier and the quality of the product, so shop around and remember to take shipping costs into consideration if you’re ordering online. You may be able to buy lye at your local hardware store but check the label to be sure that it’s 100% lye.

Safety measures

In addition to the basic soap-making equipment and ingredients needed, you will also need some basic safety equipment. Because lye is caustic and can burn skin and clothing, take proper precautions.

Clothing

• Goggles

• Gloves

• Long sleeved shirt

• Long pants

• Apron

Other safety considerations

Work in a well-ventilated room with windows open or a fan going, or mix the lye and water outside. Breathing the fumes can harm your lungs. Keep vinegar in a spray bottle close at hand. Vinegar will neutralize any spilled lye.

Minimize distractions

• Switch off your cell phone

• Keep children out of the room

• Keep pets out of the room

Moisturizing Ivory Soap

ingredients

2 oz castor oil
14 oz coconut oil
14 oz olive oil
14 oz palm oil
6.2 oz lye
14.6 oz distilled water
1 t carob powder
1 t spirulina
1 t turmeric
Essential oils:
1 t bay
¼ t lemongrass
1 t rosemary
1 t tea tree

INSTRUCTIONS

• Weigh oils into a pot and heat on low to melt the hard fats.

• Measure the essential oils into a separate container and set aside.

• Weigh the water into a heat-safe container. Set aside.

• Put gloves and goggles on. In a separate container, weigh the lye.

• Mix the lye into the water.

CAUTION: Always add the lye to water. Never pour water into lye as it could explode.

Stir a few times. As the lye reacts with the water, the mixture will heat and produce fumes. Step away from the lye mixture to avoid breathing the fumes. Stir again until all the lye is dissolved. Leave the mixture for a few minutes until it is no longer producing fumes. When the mixture looks clear, set it aside to cool and place a thermometer into it.

Check the melted oils with a thermometer. When the oil mixture and lye solution are the same temperature, they’re ready to mix together.

Slowly pour the lye into the oil and, with the stick blender in the “off” position, gently stir the two mixtures together. Once the two mixtures are incorporated, use the stick blender to pulse by varying between “off” and “on” settings until the mixture has a creamy look and texture.

With the stick blender in the “off” setting, lift it from time to time and observe how the drops fall upon the surface of the mixture. When the soap thickens to the point that it lies on the surface momentarily but then quickly sinks back into the mixture, it is at the “light trace” stage. Add the essential oils and, with the stick blender in the “off” position, stir them in. Turn the stick blender on and mix the soap until it has the consistency of thick pudding. Pour the soap into the molds.

Optional: Leave the soap to firm up a bit (about five minutes). Use a spatula to shape the top or sprinkle it with decorative elements like dried flowers.

Let the soap cure until it is hard to the touch (about 24-48 hours). Once hard, remove the soap and cut it into bars or slices using a knife or soap cutter. Space the bars out on parchment paper for good air circulation and place on a shelf where they can cure undisturbed for 6 to 8 weeks. The longer the soap cures, the harder and milder it will become.

Don’t be afraid to try a bar of soap after about four weeks. It will be softer than soap cured over a longer period but it will not be caustic. Soft soap will not last as long as harder soap because it washes away more quickly, so if you can be patient, the results are worth the wait.

Happy soap making!

Follow instructions for making Ivory Soap until oils and lye are combined.

At light trace:

Pour about 1/3 of the mixture into a bowl and set aside.

Stir the charcoal/olive oil mixture into the remaining 2/3 soap mixture. Using stick blender, mix the charcoal into the soap mixture until light trace stage.

Stir in lavender oil. Use stick blender until trace stage.

Pour about half the charcoal soap mixture into a soap mold. Pouring over the back of a spoon to prevent mixing, layer the reserved uncoloured mixture on top of the charcoal mixture.

Slowly pour the remaining charcoal soap mixture on top and smooth with a spatula.

For flame pattern: Use a bent wire pushed through a drinking straw to plunge and pull up into the soap. For swirl pattern: Use a butter knife to draw s-shaped lines through the soap. Smooth the top or pattern with a spatula or spoon.

Place the soap mold into a cooler bag and wrap with a blanket to cure for 24 hours or until it is hard to touch. Once hard, remove soap from the mold and cut it. Space the bars out on parchment paper for good air circulation and place on a shelf where they can cure undisturbed for 6 to 8 weeks.

Charcoal Facial Soap

Ingredients

4 oz avocado oil
2 oz castor oil
8 oz coconut oil
13 oz olive oil
3.5 oz shea butter
4.2 oz lye
10.07 oz distilled water
2 t charcoal, mixed with a small amount of the olive oil
2 T lavender essential oil

Carob and Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

4 oz avocado oil
2 oz castor oil
14 oz coconut oi
8 oz olive oil
10 oz palm oil
2 oz almond oil
5.75 oz lye
13.2 oz distilled water
1-2 t carob powder
½ titanium dioxide
2 T bentonite clay
2 T Himalayan salt
3 T vanilla essential oil

Turmeric and Oatmeal Facial Soap

Ingredients

1.6 oz castor oil
8 oz coconut oil
12.8 oz olive oil
1.6 oz palm oil
4.8 oz shea butter
3.2 oz almond oil
4.4 oz lye
5.25 oz distilled water
2 t turmeric
2 oz oatmeal
2 t grapefruit essential oil
½ t tea tree essential oil

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