Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Soap Making at Home

Soap making is one of those ancient traditions that used to be a chore for the women folk and now we call a hobby.  It is something that can be done just once or twice a year to produce enough soap for a family to use but because it is quite addictive you will want to make more and luckily it makes a wonderful gift.

I have been using this tried and true recipe for many years now and I don't think I have used store bought soap since about 2001, however I am dangerously close at the moment as I am on my second last cake of handmade soap and really needed to make some more as it takes a couple of weeks of curing before it is ready to use and that is what has bought on this flurry of soap making activity.
Homemade Lavender Soap Bars
I find my skin doesn't dry out in Winter or after flying as much using homemade soap as it is a true soap and not a detergent like many of the store bought ones.  You also know just what is in it and what you are putting on your skin.  Remember skin is our largest body organ and it likes to be fed.  It absorbs a percentage of whatever is applied to it.  Now I know the jury is still out on just how much and what sort of things are absorbed into the bloodstream but I would rather know what is in my soap regardless. I mean, medical patches are made specifically because they are absorbed through the skin, and if you rub the soles of your feet with raw garlic at night (good for colds), you will have garlic breath in the morning.  That for me is evidence enough that I need to be careful about what goes on my skin.

Soap making uses a dangerous chemical called Sodium Hydroxide (aka Caustic Soda, Lye) and you can read more about it here, but during soap making the process of adding the oil to the sodium Hydroxide causes a reaction called saponification which neutralizes the dangerous effects.

This soap recipe is one from a craft magazine and I can't even tell you which one as I only have the pages and not the whole magazine and there is nothing on the bottom of those pages.  It is a natural, 'vegetable oil only' soap so suitable if you are vegan also, and all ingredients can be bought from your local supermarket.

It is essential to have everything ready before you begin and please read right through to the end of the recipe including notes so you are aware of how the process will take place.
Some ideas for moulds, empty cardboard milk cartons, old margarine containers, latex cake moulds
Natural Vegetable Oil Soap

300ml Palm oil (Frymaster in the supermarket refrigerator section)
120ml Coconut Oil (Copha)
60ml Olive Oil
60gm Caustic Soda (Lye)
150ml Water
2 - 4 tsp Essential oils (optional) (see note below)
2 tsp coloured clay (optional)
All the oils for this recipe can be found in most supermarkets
Tools Needed
Measuring jug or container
Heat proof container to hold upto 6 cups of liquid (not aluminium)
Whisk or Electric stick blender
Empty jar
Wooden or plastic spoons or chopsticks
Cooking or candy thermometer (I use my vaccola one)
Moulds (see photo for useful items
Rubber gloves (Caustic soda is dangerous and will burn if spilt on skin)
Safety goggles
Sprinkled with dried thyme and purple basil for decoration on top of the soap
Spray your moulds with cooking spray or brush with a small amount of olive oil to help with the unmoulding process.
The caustic soda (lye) will heat the more it is stirred so go carefully
Measure water into the empty jar and then carefully add the caustic soda (Lye).  Stir until caustic soda has dissolved being careful not to breathe in the vapours. Place your thermometer into the mix and then set aside to cool to 42 -43C (110F).
Copha not quite melted with other oils.  Stir to combine without further heating
Carefully weigh all the oils into your heat proof container and microwave for a few minutes until they are all melted but not boiling.  Oil takes a long time to cool down and you don't want the Lye mixture getting cold while you are trying to get the oil temperature down.  You need both mixtures to be at 42 -43C (110F) before combining them.  The Copha takes the longest to melt but if the others are melted you can remove the container from the microwave and just stir until the copha has finished melting.

The soap mixture at 'trace'
Once both mixes have reached the same temperature (give or take a few degrees) you can pour the caustic soda mix into the oil and stir to combine.  Using an electric stick blender will make this process go quite quickly and I find that I only need to mix for about 2 to 3 minutes.  I add the colourant about halfway though this process and the essential oil right at the end.  If you put the essential oils in sooner the fragrance will be burnt off and your soap won't have the lovely smells you were looking for.

Once poured into the mould gently tap the mould on the bench a couple of times to remove air bubbles
You are looking for 'trace' which is identified by lifting the mixer or whisk and dragging it across the top of the soap mix (a pourable custard type mix is what it should look like), if you can see the line it is at 'trace' (see photo).  If you over mix it will go beyond pouring and will be difficult to get into the moulds. Pour soap into the moulds and then gently tap the moulds onto the benchtop to dissipate any bubbles.
Covered with greaseproof paper held with elastic band to keep soap from sticking to towels
Wrap your soap in some towels or blankets and 'put it to bed' for 24 hours to allow it to go through the saponification process.  (No peeking!) The next day turn your beautiful soap out onto a cutting surface and using a sharp knife carefully cut into bars.  Leave your soap somewhere to dry for 2 to 3 weeks before using as during this time it is hardening and also continues neutralizing to a harmless level.
Insulated with towels and a blanket ready to be 'put to bed' for 24 hours
You can make a flea wash soap for the dog by adding some tea tree or neem oil as your essential oils.  Add ground pumice stone or beach sand for a gardeners soap.
Eucalyptus oil is good at getting grease off hands and clothes for mechanics and handymen.

Note: To decorate the top of my soap I prepared the moulds first by sprinkling some dried thyme and opal basil (purple) into the bottom (top when turned out).

Some essential oils react differently and will cause the mixture to come to 'trace' immediately.  Two that I have found are rose oil an Mango fragranced oil.  You will need to add the oil right at the end and be ready to tip into moulds immediately.

There is some argument to be said for using Palm oil due to the environmental concerns and this can be replaced by animal fats or other oils.  Any oil can be used in soap making but different oils give different properties to the soap.  There is a lye calculator here that is a handy reference if you are going to be mixing different oils. I would suggest getting familiar with this recipe first before trying your hand at other oils.

Have fun and enjoy your soap making.  It's not as hard as it sounds.



  1. Good morning - great post! It just makes me all the more ready to get started. Just curious. Where do you get your lye?

    I hope you have a wonderful day,


    1. Hi Kathy, I get the Lye (named Caustic Soda here) in the supermarket in the cleaning isle. You might also pick it up from a hardware store.

  2. Hmmmm... You have reminded me that I too need to make some more soap. I have never thoought to lib=ne the molds with leaves/flowers before. What a great idea! - Kara

    1. As you can see though, you need to pour the soap in a littler more gently than I did as I disturbed the herbs a bit too much.

  3. An excellent gift I received this Christmas was a wide assortment of skin care products from Bath and Bodyworks. As I've gotten older, I guess my skin just isn't as good at taking care of itself anymore.


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