Soap Making 101

I have been making soap for my family for years! They love my soap.

I also sell my soap online (but mostly to friends and family! haha!) I first started selling my soap as a fundraiser for my daughter’s trip to Europe with People to People. Several people purchased soap and some still buy from me.

First, What is soap?

When triglycerides are reacted with sodium hydroxide, the bond between the oxygen atom of the carboxylic acid group and the carbon atom of the glycerol is broken. This process is called saponification. The oxygen atom picks up the sodium atom from the sodium hydroxide and thus makes this end of the fatty acid chain soluble in water. This sodium salt of a fatty acid is called soap.

Why does soap work?

The unique properties of soap lie in the fact that one end of the chain is water soluble (hydrophilic) and the other end is not (hydrophobic). In the process of washing with soap, a particle of grease is surrounded by soap molecules. The hydrophobic ends attach to the grease particle, thus leaving the hydrophilic end exposed to the water. This allows the grease particle to freely move around in the water and, therefore, be washed away.

Basically, the soap molecules form a pocket, called a micell, around the dirt molecules allowing them to be washed away.

There are several methods of soap making, and I will go through each one in this series. But here is a quick overview.

Cold Process

I use this process most often. This type of soap making, while called “cold” process does involve some cooking. You heat the oils to melt them and when they reach a certain temperature, you mix with the lye and other ingredients to make your soap. The “cold” part comes from letting your soap cure without applying heat.

This process takes at least 4 weeks to completely cure your soap, but can take more.

Room Temp Process

With this process you use the hot lye mixture to melt the hard oils, then mix in the liquid oils and bring to trace. This process, like the cold process mentioned above, requires at least 4 weeks to cure your soap before it can be used. It has the advantage of not needing any cooking sources to preheat your oils. This is great for those of us looking into homesteading and may want to conserve cooking fuels or not heat up your kitchens (no air conditioning).

Both the cold process and room temp process can have their curing time sped up by placing in the oven at 150 till they reach the gel stage.

Hot Process

Hot process soap making involves “cooking” the oils and the lye together to haisten the curing process. Soaps made using this process are a bit more difficult to mold, fancy molds will not work with this method. They have a much shorter curing time, about 24 hours, that makes up for this. There are many cute ways to mold this type of soap to offset the lack of “fancy” molds. I find that my essential oils evaporate too quickly using this method.

This process can be done on the stove, with a crockpot, or in the oven.

There are other methods you can use, but I will be posting tutorials on these methods.

Tools and Equipment Needed for Soap Making

  1. A stainless steel pot large enough to hold just about double the volume of your recipe. (I found this out the hard way when I tried using my crock pot for my usual soap making recipe and everything tried to bubble over! haha!)
    1. Do NOT use aluminum (link opens video on youtube).
    2. This is good for all 3 methods.
    3. For hot process you can also use a crock pot, again keeping in mind the volume of the ingredients of your recipe.
  2. kitchen scale that is accurate to the nearest gram or 0.1 ounces.
    1. Be sure to get one that can weigh several pounds. My recipe works up to about 9 pounds all together. A scale that can measure higher than that should have a better chance for accuracy.
  3. Bowls for weighing ingredients on the scale.
  4. A 2 quart/litre plastic pitcher for mixing the lye and water into.
  5. Glass, plastic or stainless steel ingredient prep bowls to help pre-measure and mix ingredients into your soaps.
  6. Mixing tools
    1. hand blender
    2. silicon or rubber spatulas
    3. plastic spoons and measuring spoons.
    4. Do not use wooden spoons, the wood soaks up the lye.
  7. Soap molds
    1. You can use purchased molds, but you can also use items from around your house – empty milk cartons, yogurt containers, etc.
    2. I use PVC pipe with end plugs.
  8. Candy thermometer.
  9. Safety equipment – rubber gloves, apron or old clothes and safety goggles.
  10. Soap Cutter
  11. Something similar to protect your work surface
    1. Plastic table cloth
    2. cardboard
    3. newspapers
    4. I work over my tile counter tops, so I don’t worry too much about this.

It is recommended that your tools be dedicated for soap making only.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions for tools, or processes, please leave a comment below! 🙂


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