Disclaimer right here: Soap making isn’t for everyone. And. We ain’t no experts.
There is something to the finished product. Something to the lather of a bar of soap we made ourselves, a bar that doesn’t decorate us in red bumps or stretch our skin tight, like a blown up balloon. A bar that smells like vanilla. Or citrus. Or nothing, if we want.
A bar that cleans. A bar that’s safe.
There’s also something to the fancy stuff. And the cheap stuff. The stuff in stores that smells like spring. Or cotton candy. Or pears. The stuff whose ingredients are listed in a paragraph of unpronouncables. Chemicals. Numbers. Colors. Stuff we’ve bought before, lured by the fragrance, shrugging the consequence.
But you know what? We’re tired of that stuff. You may be, too.
For us, it took our friend, Holly, showing us the “soap ropes” in her house and over her sink. It took us sniffing her fresh bars that smelled of oatmeal and lemon and licorice, bars we wanted to sample with our teeth, before we finally said, “I think we can do this.”
And we did do it.
You can too! Here’s how.
First. You need soap stuff. And you need to know that the stuff you use for soap making–pot, spatulas, candy thermometers, etc.–needs to be separate from the stuff you cook with. We keep ours in an orange bucket, so there’s no mixie-mixie.
I remember being overwhelmed when it came to the soap supplies. Because we had nothing.
It all seemed so simple, and yet, how do you begin when you don’t even have a pot you’re willing to part with to melt the coconut oil you don’t have yet?
Well .Here’s what we need. A pot; Coconut oil (And not food grade. Ours is in that white, five-gallon bucket); an accurate kitchen scale; TWO candy thermometers; a glass, quart-size jar; TWO-THREE spatulas; a Costco-sized plastic sour cream-like container that will hold the quart jar; distilled water; soap fragrances; lye; stick blender; rubber gloves/safety goggles; ice cubes; a soap mold; a cooler…and sometimes, other goodies like oatmeal, which are added to the soap to give it texture and color.
Here’s our food scale. And the bags beside it contain pigment we can add to the soap while we’re making it to change its color. Not necessary, though.
These are our soap fragrances. We found these online at a soap making supplier called Brambleberry
Here’s our soap pot.
And our coconut oil. Which we also found through Brambleberry.
The gist of soap making is that we’re going to mix oil and lye together.
Simple. Sort of.
The sciencey part is that we gotta do it a certain way. Exact measuring, heating…all that.
What we’re making here is a soap that uses coconut oil as its base. Our “recipe” calls for 24 ounces of coconut oil. Which is what we have showing on the scale (1 lb, 8 oz).
After we’ve got it measured, we dump the oil into our soap pot on the stove and turn the heat on low. It doesn’t take a ton of heat to melt coconut oil. And we don’t want it to melt so fast that it actually starts heating up.
What we want is to get our coconut oil between 100 and 105 degrees.
Now at the same time, we’ve got to fiddle with our lye. Which is where the goggles and the gloves come in. By itself, lye is a caustic chemical. And it’s the last thing we want on our skin. Or even up our nose. It’s a fine time to crack window, if you’ve got one.
So what lye does when it contacts liquid is heat up extremely hot, incredibly fast. Our job is to cool it down as quickly as we can…but not so quickly that we’re staring at a shattered glass jar in our sink.
So what’s pictured is 8 ounces of distilled water in our glass quart jar.
According to our recipe, for 24 ounces of coconut oil, we need 4 ounces of lye and 8 ounces of liquid. I say recipe, but really it’s a formula.
If you’d like, follow me here. This is Brambleberry’s lye calculator. What I’ve done is put in the number 24 for the ounces of coconut oil I have. When I push the “calculate” button at the bottom of that page, it takes me here. All the guesswork is done on how much liquid and lye I need. You can do the same for the type and amount of oil you’re using. Slick, eh?
In a separate, disposable container, we’ve got our 4 ounces of lye.
The key here with the lye is to not be in a hurry Yes, we want to cool it down, but not at the cost of a broken jar. What definitely helps is cooling the liquid (our distilled water) in an ice bath first.
Which is what we’re doing here. We’ve got the jar of distilled water sitting in a plastic container of ice.
Then SLOOOOWLY, we’re adding the lye to the liquid a little at a time, hanging our head out the window and stirring like crazy.
This stuff is hot…and we want to cool it to between 100 and 105 degrees. The same temperature we’re trying to simultaneously get the coconut oil.
So how do you tell the temps?
Here, we’ve got one hanging on the side of the oil pot. And the other, we’ve got dipping into and out of the lye.
When both thermometers read within five degrees of each other–ideally both 100-105 degrees, we’re ready to mix the two into the same pot.
Oh my. Let’s pretend we can read what these say. And that they’re both at 100 degrees.
Now. Because both the lye and coconut oil are at the same temperature, we’re going to pour the lye right into the soap pot.
Here we are pouring the 100 degree lye into the 100 degree coconut oil.
It doesn’t take long to mix the two. With a stick blender. About a minute or more.
However, if you’re minus a stick blender, you can stand there and stir the two together with a spatula for the next couple of hours and it’ll work. Meaning the two will saponify, turn to soap. But your arm might fall off.
If you can splurge, get yourself a stick blender.
Now what’s happening as we “blend” our lye and oil is that the two are becoming one. A whole new product. No longer lye and coconut oil. But soap. And when this happens, it’s called saponification.
Now at this point of the mixing–I’m a bout a minute and a half in–just as the soap reaches what’s called “trace” meaning the mixture will not separate back into the original oil and lye-water, we add our fragrance(s) and any other goodies we’d like for texture or color.
For this batch, we’re adding a teaspoon (plus a little extra) of our Energy fragrance. This one smells like a blend of oranges and lemons.
We’re also adding some very fine powdered Isagenix greens we’ve had in our cupboard for years.
It looks like we’ve got pea soup now.
The thing is, whatever you add, oatmeal, coffee, tea leaves, it needs to be in its finest form. Powder-like, if you can. Because what happens is a crumb of coffee, a speck of oatmeal becomes a like a piece of gravel. And suddenly your bar of soap isn’t so much fun.
Now after we’ve added our fragrance and whatever else, we want to blend our soap a tad more. Until it’s thickened. But not thick.
Then it’s ready to pour into our molds.
For us, we’ve found the silcone molds easy to use. They require no prepping. We just need to pour our soap into them and scrape the soap pot.
Our 24 ounce batch will yield three small loaves of soap.
Now for our soap mixture to harden and become usable as soap, it needs to be insulated and unbothered for 24 hours. At least. What it does in those hours alone when no one is looking is heat itself up and cool itself down. And if not insulated properly, the soap will crack.
We insulate ours with towels and cardboard boxes–usually. Here we’ve upgraded to our cooler and towels.
Just quickly now…here’s our second batch. This is the coconut oil melting.
And our second mold–a glass bread loaf pan, with a plastic grocery bag stretched over the inside.
No colors for this one. But we added a coconut fragrance.
Here it is in its mold.
And here they both are tucked into bed.
Waiting a day or two is the lousy part of the whole deal.
But pulling the finished bar our of the mold is the best. Kind of like knowing what you’re getting for Christmas, but stoked nonetheless.
Here is one of our Energy bars. And here is our crinkle cutter. Brambleberry sells these, too.
At this point, the soap is hard. But soft. Cutting it now is like slicing cold butter.
We can use it immediately. Or better…we can let it cure a few weeks. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes. And hardened soap lasts longer in the shower.
Here’s our coconut bar. So soft and so fragrant.
And here’s our big loaf now sliced into a bunch of bars.
The thing is…making your own soap is a choice. It’s an expense at first. And it takes time.
There is something about a homemade bar of soap. Something that words don’t really wrap around.
And it’s that “something” that makes all the difference.