Thursday, January 8, 2009

How to Make Hot-Process Soap

Finally! The long awaited hot-process soap tutorial! For those of you kept waiting, my apologies. Enjoy, but please forgive the amateur photos, my camera stinks.

• Crock-pot or double boiler
• Emerson (stick) blender
• Scale
• Various measuring cups
• Glass container
• Wooden spoon or spatula
• A mold to put the soap in. You can use anything that you would use for baking really (if its non-stick you can oil it up real good and the soap should come out. Otherwise use parchment paper, I didn't with this batch and paid the price.) I like wooden soap molds the best myself.
• Some sort of protective clothing like and old shirt with sleeves or rubber gloves. And have some vinegar on hand if you get any of the lye solution on you. Some tutorials imply that making soap is a lot like handling radioactive materials. Its not. No hazmat suits necessary. Just caution and common sense.

Basic Ingredients for Basic Soap:
• Sodium Hydroxide (aka lye)
• Water
• Coconut Oil (or other hard oil as called for in the recipe)
• Palm Oil (or other hard oil as called for in the recipe)
• Olive Oil (or other soft oil as called for in the recipe)
• An Exfoliant such as wheat berries or oats (if desired)
• Favorite Essential Oils (if desired)
• Vitamin E or Grapefruit Extract (as a preservative, if desired)

Step One: Weigh out and measure all of your ingredients.
This step is probably the most important part of soapmaking. If you do not get the exact amount required in the recipe your soap could flop…literally. I do not have any recipes that I have written that I am confident enough to publish. However they are easy enough to find. The Soapmaker’s Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch is my favorite soap book. But there are many.

Step Two: Melt the oils.
Throw all of your fats into the crock-pot or double boiler and wait for everything to melt. While you wait move on to step three.

Step Three: Make the lye solution.
Make sure that you measure exactly what the recipe calls for. Using a glass container for the lye solution add the sodium hydroxide to the water and not the other way around. If you add water to lye it is harder for it to dissolve. Some people say it explodes, but that’s crap because I’ve done it a couple times on accident and it does no such thing, but the other way is still better.
Anyway, once you add the lye, stir with the wooden spoon constantly until the mixture is clear and the hydroxide dissolved. Be aware, the chemical mixture will get really hot really fast, so treat it as you would boiling water. And try not to stand right over the opening of the container as the fumes from this process are not the most pleasant.

Side note: I have gotten lye flakes on my skin before and trust me, it is not a Fight Club type of situation, all it does is it dries out your skin a lot. Lye is highly alkaline you need something acidic to balance it. If you happen to get lye on you (pre or post mixed) pour vinegar or lemon juice over the exposed area. This relieves it immediately. If you notice a super itchy spot on your hand you probably got some lye on it. However, once the water touches the sodium hydroxide its temperature can instantly reach about 200 degrees. Caution and common sense are important here. Also, you should know that lye and aluminum are not friends. Do not use any aluminum while soapmaking…ever.

Step 4: Begin Saponification
“Saponification” is the term used to describe the chemical reaction of introduction of the alkaline lye solution to fats. Blending them together and cooking them at the same time, rips the molecules apart and as they cook they join together in the form that we know to be soap.

As soon as the lye solution is clear and the fats are liquid add the solution to the crock pot or double boiler. And blend with the emulsion blender for several minutes until you get what is called a “trace.” You know you have a trace when you have about a cake batter consistency. When you take out the blender it will look something like this:

Step 5: Complete Saponification
Once you have reached a good, thick trace, set aside the blender and cover the mixture for a couple of minutes. Let the heat finish the saponification process for you, but keep a close eye on it. It might puff up and look sort of foamy at first, then it will start to cook around the edges. Every couple of minutes stir the mixture with the wooden spoon or spatula to make sure the molecules are bonding correctly. It will progress from cake batter, to runny applesauce (at this stage turn off the heat), to thick mashed potatoes. When you reach the potato stage the mixture will start to look somewhat shiny and opaque. At this point add the optional scent, natural preservative, and exfoliants, if using. Then take out the mixture and pour into your prepared mold.

Step 6: Almost done
Smooth out the soap in the mold. And let cool. After a couple of hours you should be able to take it out and cut it up. I’d advise to wait at least a week before actually using the soap to wash with.

I added wheat berries to this batch for my exfoliant.


• If you find little specks of white crystals in your soap, that’s probably lye. This could happen if the lye wasn’t completely dissolved when added to the fats. The soap is bad and cannot be saved, do not use.
• If the soap is still soft after a couple hours, it wasn’t cooked enough, throw it in the oven at 200 degrees for awhile and it will harden up. Another reason could be that you didn’t measure the ingredients properly. If that’s the case, you’re out of luck.
• You cannot get the soap out of the mold. Hopefully you used parchment paper. Other wise you will have to dig it out , and hopefully you can salvage most of it. I have done this. It sucks.

Well, I hope you have found this tutorial helpful and useful. Stay tuned for a tutorial on cold-process soap.


Su said...

I've always wanted to try making soap, and you've made it less scary. I think I'll check out some books from our library soon.

Mom said...

I've made soap with her before, and you're right! She makes it much less scary! It was fun to do and not very difficult. The satisfaction you get from the final product is worth pushing through the uncertainty. Go for it!!