Friday, May 22, 2009

Basic Soap Making - A Short Tutorial

I promised to teach you how to make a basic bar of cold process soap so here it is.

First of all, you need to know that soap making is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. It isn't difficult; it's just something that takes a little bit of planned time and careful attention to details. You'll also want to have the right equipment and ingredients before you get started. Here's a list:

1. A stainless steel or metal stock pot, NOT aluminum. You can't place lye in aluminum because it will literally eat a hole in the pan.

2. Plastic or nylon long handled spoon

3. Food grade thermometer (like a candy thermometer)

4. Large glass bowl

5. Accurate scale - this is a must for weighing your ingredients. Everything must be weighed with the exception of water.

6. A hand blender is very helpful as it will rapidly speed up the process. In a pinch you can use a hand mixer.

7. A lightweight plastic container in which to weigh lye and fats

8. A mold or two, wooden is best but you can use plastic too. Go here for directions to make your own wooden mold. You want one that's somewhere around 15" x 3 1/2" and 4 inches deep.

9. A roll of freezer paper

10. Plastic wrap

11. Rubber gloves

Using my favorite vegan recipe:

48 ounces Crisco (3 lb can) - Make sure you get all-vegetable. It never pays to buy the absolute cheapest you can find. I did that once and made a grave error.

21 ounces soybean, canola, olive, or a blend of any or all of them

18 ounces coconut oil

28 ounces of cold water - this is the only ingredient you can measure with a measuring cup rather than go by weight. Use distilled water because tap water can contain stuff you don't want in your soap.

12 ounces lye crystals (sodium hydroxide) - make sure you get 100% lye. Read the label. Drano and some other brands include aluminum and metal shavings to prevent meth makers from using it for illegal drugs.

2 or 3 ounces of fragrance oil or essential oil of your choice - fragrance oil is less expensive than essential oil.

Prepare the mold by lining it with freezer paper. Tape the sides over the outside edges with masking tape to hold in place.(See pictures below)

Put on your rubber (or plastic) gloves. Lye burns can be nasty. Measure water and weigh out lye. In a good size glass bowl, pour in water and then pour in lye. Keep your face away from the bowl as you do this and stir. The water will heat up VERY quickly and get very hot. Do not breathe fumes and keep it away from children and animals. Place the bowl where it will not be upset and let it cool to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weigh the oils and put in stock pot. Coconut oil is a solid when cool. You still have to weigh it. Scoop out the Crisco and put in the stock pot too. Melt the fats and then let cool to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Both the fats and the lye water should be as close to 100 degrees as you can get them before proceeding. It's a real balancing act. Sometimes you will want to place the lye water bowl in cold water or place the stock pot in a cool garage or something to get them about right. Whatever you do, remember to keep away from animals or children.

When the fats and the lye water are ready, place the stock pot of oils in the sink. This will help contain spatters and spills. Make sure you have your gloves on and pour the lye water all at once into the pan. Using your hand blender, begin whipping the fats and lye, as in the picture below.

Blend for a couple of minutes, until the mixture comes to a "trace." You'll know it's at this point if you turn off the blender and dribble some of the soap across the top, causing it to leave a trail of sorts. Also, it will resemble a thin pudding. At this point, add the fragrance oil and blend some more, until the mixture is at a thicker trace and resembles thick pudding.

Pour into the prepared mold:

Cover the top of the soap as quickly as you can with plastic wrap to prevent a white "ash" from forming. The ash is harmless but makes the soap look weird. Your goal is to keep air from reaching the cooling soap.

Wrap the entire mold in a large towel and place it where it won't be bothered, preferably where it isn't too cold or too hot. Leave it sit, untouched, for 24-48 hours. When it is ready to cut, it will be like a firm cheese.

When the soap is ready to cut (after 24-48 hours), take the block of soap out of the mold and measure bars about 1 inch thick with a wooden or plastic ruler. Are you wearing the gloves? You should be because the soap is still caustic for a few days. Cut the soap bars with a large, thin knife as evenly as you can. Cut each of these bars in half:

Stand the bars up on end in a cardboard box or tray; do NOT use cookie sheets. Remember, the bars still have a little bit of lye in them for a few days. Place the trays of soap away from children and animals and allow them to "cure" for 4 weeks. This is mostly to allow the water in the soap to evaporate out and make the bars hard.
Do not wrap your soap in plastic. Most people put them in cardboard, wrap them in paper (like tissue paper or otherwise), or just plain leave them on shelves as is.

Enjoy your homemade soap.

A word about coloring: You can color your soap by throwing a couple of unwrapped crayons in the hot fats before mixing with the lye water. You can also add crushed herbs at this time. The soap recipe above makes a white soap.


hip chick said...

I may try this at some point when I'm feeling very adventurous. I'm going put a link to this post on my blog so that I can find it later. I hope you don't mind. I've always wanted to try making soap.

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! The things we do for our children. :) I've always wondered how it worked, but I don't think I have the time, energy, or attention span for this right now. I'll put it on the list of "maybe when the kids are older." Thank you for posting this!