Many people are intimidated by soap-making, and though that is understandable, I assure you it is not difficult. My first experience surprised me; I didn’t realize that the process would be so quick and simple. I had read that you should allow at least three hours, so I was definitely nervous. Really, though, it took me thirty minutes from beginning to end, including the cleaning up. You must use great caution when handling lye, as it is very dangerous. But as long as you follow the directions, wear the right protective gear, and pay attention, you will be fine.
Some notes before we get started: Again, please take extreme care when working with lye. It is a caustic substance that is very dangerous when handled improperly. Make sure there are no pets or children around before you begin.
All the equipment needed for soap-making can be found in the average kitchen, except perhaps the goggles and gloves. If you do not have a silicone muffin pan for the soap mold, you can also use a half-gallon cardboard milk container. Just open the top all the way so that it is a rectangle.
When your soap is ready, simply cut the container away and slice the soap into your desired size. You can find all sorts of specialty soap molds online, as well as tutorials on how to make your own out of wood.
What You’ll Need:
- 9 oz coconut oil (Where to Buy)
- 21 oz olive oil
- 9 oz distilled water
- 1.2 oz essential oil
- 4.1 oz lye
Area and equipment:
In main work area:
- Kitchen scale
- Medium saucepan (to mix lye and water)
- Large pot (to combine all ingredients)
- Large microwave-safe container (to melt coconut oil)
- Medium bowl (for the lye)
- Small bowl (for essential oil)
- Digital food thermometer
- Immersion blender
- Long-handled slotted spoon (to stir lye and water)
- Spatula, rubber or plastic
- Soap mold (I use a 12-cup silicone muffin pan set on a large cookie sheet)
- Nitrile/neoprene/PVC gloves, or regular rubber dish gloves, though the latter are less lye-resistant
Near the stove:
- Roasting pan
- Container of cold water and ice
Making the process work:
Set out all of the equipment. You don’t want to be scrounging around for a spatula mid-recipe. The vinegar, roasting pan, and ice water will be used with the lye, which I recommend mixing on the stove with the fan set on high to help with the fumes. Honestly, I never smell anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. I wouldn’t open any windows unless it’s a still day- you don’t want a gust of wind blowing around the lye.
Weigh all the ingredients except the lye, making sure to utilize the tare function on the scale to ensure accurate readings:
Measure the olive oil in the large pot, then place it in the sink. You will be combining and mixing everything together in it later.
Measure the coconut oil in the large bowl, then microwave it for two minutes so that it is entirely melted (if you do not have a microwave, measure it out into a small saucepan instead of the large container and melt it on the stove.)
Measure the distilled water into the medium saucepan, then place in the roasting pan on the stove.
Measure the essential oil into the small bowl.
Put on your gloves and goggles.
Measure out the lye into the medium bowl. Bring it to the stove. Gently pour it into the distilled water, stirring constantly to prevent a crust forming on the bottom of the pan. (CAUTION: Never add water to lye, always lye to water.) The water will be cloudy at first, then become clear. Stir until all grains of lye have dissolved.
A chemical reaction occurs when lye is combined with water, so it is very hot right now. To help bring it down to the ideal range of 90-110°F, create an ice bath by adding the ice water to the roasting pan (not the saucepan), stirring constantly. Once at the desired temperature, bring the saucepan over to your main work area and add the lye to the large pot containing the olive oil.
Add the melted coconut oil to the large pot as well. Keep your gloves and goggles on until the end.
Gently stir this mixture with the spatula and check the temperature. It should be between 90-110°F, but it’s okay if it’s a little under.
Mix with the immersion blender. Be careful not to lift it out of the liquid, as it could splash and incorporate too much air. After a minute of blending, add in the essential oil(s).
Continue blending for a few more minutes, until the mixture is smooth, thick, creamy and opaque. A common term for this ‘point of no return’ is trace, which means the liquid will sit on the surface for a few moments when some is drizzled on top.
Think of pancake batter- when you spoon it into the pan, it will stay a big dollop for a moment before spreading out into a circle. Trace is not as important when mixing with the immersion blender, as the machine is able to mix very thoroughly in a short amount of time.
You can be certain you’ve reached this point by checking the temperature again- it should have risen a few degrees. It doesn’t hurt to mix a minute or two more if you aren’t sure, but be careful as the mixture will continue to thicken and could be difficult to pour into the mold(s).
Carefully pour the mixture into your mold.
Place all used equipment in the sink. You can either wash everything once and then place in the dishwasher, or wash it all twice. You want to be certain all traces of lye are gone. Once the dishes are done, wipe all the counters with vinegar. Now wash your hands with the gloves still on. Once every last thing is cleaned and/or in the dishwasher, you may remove the gloves and goggles. Congratulations! You just made soap.
Place the filled soap mold in a dark, cool spot away from pets and children. Let it sit for 24 hours, then remove the soap from the mold and place the bars on a cooling rack. (If desired, you can test the pH of the soap at this point. Put a few drops of distilled water on the surface and press in a pH strip. Between 7 and 10 is fine, 11 or 12 needs to sit a few more days. A pH over 12 is still caustic and should not be handled without gloves.) The soap will need to cure for 2-4 weeks. It will get harder as it dries, preventing it from melting quickly when wet.