If you are fairly new to soap making (welcome!) or want a few extra tips, read on. Although seemingly daunting to make at first, you will find your confidence growing after making your first batch. I’m fairly new to soap making but I’m itching to try out different natural fragrance and beneficial additive combinations after making a variety of shampoo bars and soaps. This blog is meant for the novice soaper and contains some handy tips that I have found work for me. Please have a look at the Soap Making 101 blog for a beginner’s guide and easy-to-follow recipes.
Soaps make lovely stocking fillers and gifts, and if you follow the hot process method of soap making, you’ve got just enough time to get a batch ready for Christmas!
I've made lots of mistakes during soap making, but turning our mistakes into successes is what makes life so rewarding, so here are a couple of things I’ve learnt along the way:
Keep your gloves on throughout and wear protective clothing! On my first ever batch of cold process soap I thought it would be fine to remove my gloves once the lye and oils had been blended and the soap was sitting comfortably in its molds. Due to my own ignorance I was very wrong and ended up with a couple of nasty burns and managed to pretty much dissolve my fingerprints. This may be handy if you’re, ahem, a criminal, but is rather annoying when your phone’s fingerprint reader doesn’t recognise your (lack of) prints when you try to unlock it! Yes, lye can be dangerous and give nasty burns, but only if you let it. Please, please protect yourself. Wear gloves even when unmolding your cold process soap after 24 hours, as the lye reaction is still ongoing. If you do get lye on your skin, have a bottle of vinegar handy and douse yourself as soon as possible. The acid and base reaction will sting a bit but the vinegar will neutralise the lye quickly.
Use a fragrance fixer such as clay or arrowroot powder so that the scents of your essential oils don’t fade in the oil-lye reaction (this reaction produces the soap). Mix your essential oils in ½ teaspoon of clay and add to the soap mixture at trace to anchor your fragrance. Clay and arrowroot powder also give your soap additional moisturising properties and arrowroot in particular gives an amazing velvety, glide-on feel to the skin. Even so, don’t expect your soap to have a super strong scent, unless you use a LOT of essential oils, which can be pricey. Most of the time the fragrance of the essential oils does fade with the curing process. It won’t disappear altogether, but it won’t be overly strong.
Be accurate with your lye measurements. You don’t want an excessively lye-ish soap because it may irritate the skin or cause dryness, not a good gift to give!
Always superfat your soap. Superfatting means adding a little extra oil at the end after the lye and oils have been mixed together. Apart from giving your soap some extra skin-nourishing properties from the oils, the additional oil allows any excess lye to have something to react with. There may not be any excess lye, but just in case there is, superfatting is good to do. Usually 5-10% superfat is sufficient, but you can go as high as 20%.
Cold process v hot process
Cold process soap making is easy, just blend your lye mixture into your melted oils mixture until trace, pour into molds and forget about your soap for 6 weeks while your bars cure. It is ideal for the first time soap maker. Just be careful to wear gloves as the lye is still active. Soap batter from the cold process method should be smooth and of a pudding-like consistency. It will harden into lovely, smooth bars.
During hot process, your soap requires much more cooking, stirring and monitoring and can get messy if you let the mixture volcano out the pot. But your bars will be ready almost straight away (although it is always recommended to allow soap to cure for a couple of weeks to improve hardness, longevity and to make sure no lye remains), which is a huge plus for me. The batter will be thicker and probably 'chunkier' like mashed potatoes which lends a more rustic feel to your final product. I also find the pot and utensils used basically clean themselves because of the soap already in them, which makes the clean up process painless.
Everyone will have their own preference, you find what is easiest for you.
Clays - add to the lye mixture or at trace, or even stir into the batter right at the end. Makes for a lovely creamy, good lathering bar. Depending on how much extra clay you add, you may need to adjust up your water slightly as clay is very absorbant and could lead to a water deficit.
Arrowroot powder - add to the melted oil mixture or at trace.
Milk powder - lactic acid is great for skin. Add to the warm, melted oils before blending with the lye.
Oat meal - a lovely exfoliant.
Honey - add to the warm, melted oils before blending with the lye
Cocoa powder - a natural colourant. Add to the warm, melted oils before blending with the lye
Sugar - add ½ tsp per 450 g oils to boost lather. Add to the lye solution.
Salt - add 1 tsp per 450 g oils to increase bar hardness. Add to the lye solution.
Aloe powder - add to the warm oils before blending with the lye.
Petals - try calendula petals which keep their colour beautifully, or rooibos tea leaves.
Exfoliants such as fine ground apricot kernels, poppy seeds, or used coffee grinds.
A loofah - yup, add in some loofah to get a good scrub!
Old soap bits - add in old bits of used soap to get some interesting textures and prevent waste.
I absolutely adore anything rose or rose geranium scented, and the additional clay in this soap adds a magnificent creaminess factor. Try this recipe for a stunning gift:
A handful of fresh or dried rose petals
320g water, boiled and cooled or distilled
420g olive oil infused with rose petals
225g coconut oil
80g shea butter
55g castor oil
2 tsp kaolin clay or pink clay for colour**
2 T water (you may need a little extra)
**You may use more clay if you wish, to make an ultra creamy bar. You can either blend it in the melted oils phase before adding the lye solution, add it teaspoon by teaspoon at trace or stir it in the batter once in the mold. Try 1-2 tablespoons to start. Your soap batter may be thicker than usual and adding clay will speed up trace.
Place the rose petals and the 320g of water in a pot and heat until a gentle simmer is achieved. Turn off the heat and let the petals steep until the water has cooled, to make an infusion. If water has evaporated, top it up to reach 320g again. Wearing safety gear, add the lye to the rose water and stir until combined. The colour of the water may turn a deeper hue but that is normal. Set the lye solution aside to cool down to between 38 and 43 degrees. Melt the coconut and shea butter, and add the other oils to the melted mixture. Allow to cool to between 32 and 38 degrees. You may now add in the additional clay, if using, otherwise add it in one teaspoon at a time at trace or stir in right at the end before molding. In a separate bowl, combine the essential oil, clay and 2 T of water. This will be added at trace or after cooking depending on whether the hot or cold process method is used.
Combine the lye solution and the oils. Blend with a stick/immersion blender for 30 seconds then hand mix to ensure everything is well mixed. Continue to alternate mixing by blender and by hand until trace is achieved.
For cold process: continue alternating immersion and hand blending until trace is reached, then add the clay mixture and mix gently but well until it is dispersed. Pour into molds and leave to set for a day or two, then unmold and cure for 4 to 6 weeks.
For hot process: pour the soap batter into a pot or slow cooker and cook on very low heat for about an hour (sometimes less), stirring every 15 minutes. Once cooked, stir in the clay mixture and pour into molds. Leave to set overnight then unmold. You can use the soap straight away, although leaving the bars to cure for a few weeks is always recommended.
You can embed some dried rose petals on the top of your soap while the batter is still soft in the mold. The petals will eventually fall out in the shower but it makes for a stunning effect.
After cold processing, if you have space, leave all your used soap making utensils alone for a few days (make sure to set them out of the way) and let the beads of oil and lye saponify. After a while all you will have left on your pots and utensils will be soap so you can just rinse it off in warm water, so easy! They will basically clean themselves.
If you need to clean up straight away like me, douse everything in vinegar following washing, just to make sure there's no more lye on anything. I also ended up throwing out the sponge I used to clean with, as I was worried there would be a lye residue.
Here is a link to a soap calculator, which you may find handy if you would like to substitute other oils or make up your own recipes: http://soapcalc.net/calc/soapcalcwp.asp Happy soaping!
Comments will be approved before showing up.