Getting Started With Handmade Soap – A Tutorial For Beginners
Are you ready for a time-tested craft that’s been practiced and perfected through the ages? Well welcome to the world of homemade soap! This is gonna be way better than just churning out white or brown boring rectangle slabs like what you may be used to on your bathroom sink.
This is going to be, well, a lot like art 🙂
Sometimes I would take a break form what I was doing and try out soap since I use to eyeball cute shape soaps everywhere I went and wish I had some just like it. (By now you know I have tried out everything out there)
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Learn How To Make Soap That’s Better than the Store Kind
Homemade soap can’t be beat in terms of quality, smell, appearance, and ingredients, and it’s the most fun natural beauty product you can make on your own. Glycerin is good for your skin, one reason homemade soap is so much better for you is the fact that commercial soaps you might see on the market have been stripped of glycerin.
Many people are afraid to take the first step into soap making due to the big cautionary notes about using lye. Which is understandable – as lye is a caustic chemical that can be hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Truth be told though, the use of lye is on a par with using some of that crystal drain cleaner on a clogged drain!
If you’ve ever done that, you took precautions, right? Well you will pretty much do the same thing here with making soap! If you’re still a bit nervous about taking that first step, that’s OK.😊
Can You Make Homemade Soap Without Lye?
I remember reading the famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” in school and a couple of characters were bathing with lye soap…to which I was like “What??” I always thought lye was caustic (it is) but realized how much I DIDN’T know about what goes into soap making then.
But to answer that question, surprise, surprise: No, you can’t make soap without lye because ALL soaps have lye in them. Lye is actually one of the chief ingredients, the others being water and oil.
Lye is the base, and the fatty acids that are included in the makeup, when combined, lead to the process called “saponification” in which they are converted to glycerin.
When lye reacts with the oils in the mixture ….no lye will remain in the finished product. Whew…So I’m glad I was finally demystified about lye in soap!
The Melt and Pour Method – Best for Beginners
Melt and pour…This involves a packaged base product that has already undergone saponification.. I think this process is the best one for beginners if you want to jettison the whole deal with active lye if the thought of having to use it makes you a tad anxious.
It’s also a great method to share with kids too! You can cut to the fun parts of dying and adding pretty colors or scents sooner rather than later, and once poured into molds the cure-up time is not too long.
The Cold Process
Mixing together lye,and water, allowing to cool, then afterward mixing your oils, this requires a much longer curing time.. It’s a little bit of a lengthy process….the stirring part can be made less laborious with the use of a stick or immersion blender. You can have more leeway to customize your mixture with scents, oils and other add-in’s.
The Hot Process
This one involves mixing together lye and oils over heat. You can use the stovetop or a slow cooker to do this. The mixture saporifies as it cooks, so the curing time is sped up. Generally soap bars made this way have a rougher texture, but the quality is bar none (no pun intended!)
Soap Making Supplies
What kinds of supplies you will need will pretty much hinge on which of the 3 types above you want to partake in. For the melt and pour, I used glycerin bricks….they are sold in pound sizes and I pretty much would take a sharp knife and cut off the amount needed so I would only melt what I needed for 1 or 2 bars.
You can add various color dyes to it and make that particular soap any color you want.For the cold and hot processes, you’re going to need some specific items: some lye (sodium hydroxide) distilled water, and some common oils.
Oils that work well include coconut, olive, almond..pretty much the same kind you may be familiar with in cooking.
You will also need access to some well known kitchen implements such as measuring cups, a kitchen scale, a stick blender to make stirring the mixture easier, and a cooking thermometer to check the temp while mixing the ingredients.
Lastly, you will also need a good mold for the soap to set up in. For molds, popular materials include plastic and silicone. Silicone may be the best choice because it handles heat well and it’s easier to extract the soap after curing.
Soap Making Instructions For Beginners – First the Lye!
First of all, to combine the lye and water, you need to do one other thing first….get one of those kitchen measuring scales and weigh your mixture. I suggest you get one of those two-liter sized pitchers with the top to prepare the lye and water. You may also want to consider labeling the pitcher with something like “Hazardous -contains lye” to deter the kiddos.
· Always wear rubber gloves – like the kind that reach your elbows
· Use protective eyewear such as goggles
· Avoid directly inhaling the fumes
· Mix lye/water in a plastic pitcher…metal/aluminum could cause a chemical reaction!
· Pitchers, spoons etc. should be used exclusively for soap making and never re-used for any other purpose because of possible contamination.
Start stirring that pot stat, because at this stage, it could cause an explosion-yikes(!) It will have fumes when you start the mixing process. If you can, take it outside, if not make sure your workspace is well ventilated.
Making Cold-Process Soap
After you have combined the lye and water together, melt your oils on the stovetop. Use a cooking thermometer to keep track of the temp – the ideal temp should be about 110 degrees F. Keep stirring until the solid oils are melted. Adding your room-temp liquid oils will cause the temp to go down naturally.
When the temp reaches about 100 degrees, add your lye and water mixture. Use your stick blender to mix ingredients together.
Test For “Trace”
Now you want to do the “trace test” ...What does this mean exactly?
After you have been stirring the mixture for some time, when you can take a spatula, dip it into the mixture, and dribble it a little back into the pot and it leaves a little trace behind – hence the name. This is a sign that your mixture has emulsified – meaning the water and oils have blended thoroughly.
In other words the oils and lye/water will not separate.
Making Hot Process Soap
The lye mixture will be at a temperature of about 100 degrees F on its own. A stovetop or slow cooker will be used here. You want to melt your oils of choice in the implement first, and then add the lye and water mixture. if using a slow cooker, keep it at a low setting and time it for about 15 minutes.
Stir with spatula…the substance will start to “gel” as it is heated. This video goes into more depth:
Melt and Pour Method
Tip: A 2 lb glycerin brick will make approximately 8 regular sized soap bars.
If you use the glycerin bricks I recommend here, this one has a cube/grid pattern making it a cinch to cut off the amount needed. You can melt it one of two ways.
Oh yes, guess what, the microwave is one of them! You have to watch it carefully, though (I had a near miss spillover one time – yikes ) and may prefer the use of a double boiler – a tool used for culinary purposes. This was it is slower, but you’ve got more control over the mixture.
Now pour the mixture into your chosen mold. If you want to spray the inside with cooking spray you can but it’s not necessary.
Letting Your Soap Set Up
The curing process differs for all three of the processes above, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of them all. Melt-and-pour soap is fairly expedient to cure; at most, it probably needs about 6 hours max to set up for good before you can unmold it.
Personally, I just leave it alone, but if you want to be expeditious, you can put the molds in the refrigerator. You will want to turn over the mold and gently push on it to release it when it is fully set.
Hot process soap has the second least lengthy cure time; usually about 24-48 hours is needed. Cold-process soap probably takes the longest time and you should be prepared to leave it be for a few weeks.
Voila, you’ve got soap! Presentation and storage is up to you; for awhile I.just put all my little bonbon sized soaps in a pretty clear jar because for awhile I just enjoyed them as a decoration and no need to use them.
Once you get the hang of these steps and how the process works, you’re certainly going to want to expand on your creativity no doubt.
One thing that was a lot of fun to do is to swirl the colors a little, I usually waited until I had some fragrance in and poured it in the mold, then I added a few drops of different colors and using a toothpick, gently let the colors swirl around. To get that effect you have to be very subtle or the colors will definitely bleed together.
Well that was a lot of ground to cover…..I don’t have anything to conclude other than making handmade soap is fun! So don’t hesitate, get started today! Make some soap and keep some for yourself but don’t forget that these will make great gifts too!
Creative Commons Attribution for third and fourth photos : Images by Debbie Chialtas
This post was updated on April 30, 2019