Back sometime around 1999, I started playing around with making scented wax jar candles. (you can read more about that on my “About Me” page)
At the same time, I also learned how to make hand made natural soaps (self taught with the help of the internet, of course!).
Cold process –>the old fashioned way.
It was a lot of fun and I just loved using and learning about all of the wonderful essential oils available to us.
I don’t make candles anymore but I do still make soap. And love it.
I thought it’d be fun to share with you all the steps of making “cold process” soap in pictures for you here.
I’m going to run through the main points but I’m not going to give you a full blown tutorial because there are a million and one of those on the web.
And this super fabulous lye calculator that I always use to get correct amounts when creating a new recipe.
*Now…what I will say, is that making soap (cold process) is super fun BUT it is serious business.
If you do decide to make some, please, PLEASE read and follow the instructions to.. the.. letter.
Gloves & Goggles
Measuring Cups & Spoons
Plastic or glass bowl for Lye mixture (no metal)
Pots & pans (to melt oils)
A digital scale (a good one, it is necessary for correct measurements)
“Fats” (Oils & Butters)
Lye (Sodium Hydroxide)
And other additions such as lavender buds, oatmeal, orange zest, vanilla bean or any other additive you’d like in your soap.
Here’s just a tiny bit of my ‘stash’. I have just about every essential oil you can imagine (and I’m always sampling more as you can see below).
I play around with making complex home made perfumes too (with 20 or more essential oils each) when I have the time.
Which is not often.
I wish you all had “smell-a-vision”…. these things laying here smell heavenly.
Especially those Tahitian & Madagascar Vanilla Beans.
——->Ok…back to soap making …
First, put on all your protective gear. Not a step to be missed. Even after all these years of making soap I still “suit up”.
I place my bowl on the scales and measure my water and lye, separately.
Then I take these 2 containers outside to slowly stir in the lye. You can do this inside but this mixture does give off noxious fumes at first so I choose not to. (I have)
It’s best to wear a mask or turn your head as you do this. I hold my breath. Really, I do. I know that just sounds crazy but safety first!–>and I’m super cautious.
I know you are thinking, what the?….but don’t let this scare you off. Yes, you do need to be respectful of this process and the caustic nature of lye.
(you don’t want it on your skin or in your eyes…nor do you want to breathe those fumes. They don’t last long, only as you are first mixing them together.)
But once you mix this water/lye combo with the oils/butters a chemical process begins to occur and the lye is changed….and you have ‘soap’.
No lye is present in the final product because this process has changed it into something else entirely…soap.
A process called saponification. All soap is made this way.
Even the “melt and pour” version.
In that, it’s just already been done for you and the chemical process has already taken place.
Less scary, but not nearly as fun to make!
The lye/water mixture….looks harmless…it’s not. Respect it.
- Melting “fats”- After weighing the oils/butters I slowly heat the butter portion only (and just to be clear, by butter, I mean “cocoa”, “shea”, “avocado”, etc, not literally butter). Then I add the liquid oils away from the heat. (it’s usually hot enough this way without getting all of this mixture overheated and having to wait for it to cool down to mix with the lye/water)
- Adding lye/water mix to “fats”-Once both mixtures are the proper temperature (you can read full directions at the links above) I slowly pour the lye/water mixture into the oils. You’ll see it changes the color a bit immediately.
- Stick blend to emulisify the two – Next, I use my stick blender (again, all items for soapmaking purposes only) to emulsify the mixture. You’ll see it changing as in the above picture.
- Adding additives – After it gets to a very light “trace” (a spoonful drizzled over top will leave a thin line across the top of the mixture that does not sink directly back in) I will add my other ingredients such as additives, essential oils, etc.
Then continue blending until you reach full “trace”–> which is when the mixture becomes thicker and turns into more of a pudding texture.
The thicker mix along with the spoonful of soap drizzled over the top that does not immediately sink back in is ‘trace’.
You can see this in the photo below……
The soap is ready to be poured into the molds.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is colorants. I use all natural ones or none. There are many. Alkanet root, Turmeric Powder, Beet Powder, Clays, etc.
And occasionally oxides and minerals.
Ok and molds…haven’t mentioned that either. That is a topic enough for an entire post!
Ask me how I know.
I’ve used tubes, cardboard boxes & flat wood trays lined with wax paper (lining each and every time, PAIN, too type A to deal with that), silicone box trays, plexiglass tubes, plastic down spouts (yep, like on your house), and these silicone ones you see in this post.
These are great little silicone molds. You can find them here.
The perfect size for the small batches I like to do now (for my own and my family’s use)
Easy in and easy out. Perfect!
You can see how “pudding-like” the soap is in the above photo. It will get increasingly so after reaching trace so it’s important to get it into the mold quickly.
I like to swirl up the tops.
There are several ways to do this and different designs. I just use a plastic knife and swirl it like cake batter. Then I usually put stuff on the top.
This is the fun part.
Lavender buds, lemon peel, cinnamon, oats, SPARKLES. Yep, mica powder. So pretty.
Terrible photo but this is the same batch as above with mica and fresh ginger added to the top. (this one is Grapefruit & Ginger)
Lavender, Jasmine & Almond Milk
Buttermilk & Oats
Lavender Oats (with ground oatmeal inside)
Once poured into the molds I use thin pieces of wood (actually covers from some old wood soap molds I had) to place on top of these molds. Then I wrap them in blankets.
The soap will get very warm (and you want it to) during this first curing phase.
It will “gel” and then start to harden. You don’t have to do this but I think you get a different texture in the soap if you don’t. Plus it will take a much longer time for the soap to fully cure if you don’t as well.
After the initial 24-48 hours of “cure” time with the insulation, remove the blankets, etc and take the soap out of the molds. I usually let them sit like that for another day or two to harden a bit more before cutting into bars.
You can see here how the soap looks different now that it has cured for 24 hours…this is the “Grapefruit & Ginger” shown above.
I measure the length of the mold I use and divide it evenly. Then I use a tape measure to get evenly sized pieces, marking and then cutting. ( I have a log mold soap cutter but you can use a regular large knife instead)
and a few of my other soaps still in the molds….
Peppermint Swirl, Patchouli Rose, Milk & Honey
Lavender, Jasmine & Almond Milk, Lime & Coriander, Buttermilk & Oats
And some cut bars curing….(they will need to “cure” for approx another 4 weeks depending on your soap recipe)
Vanilla Cream & Chai Tea, Vanilla Bean & Vetiver, Rose Geranium & Lemon
Making soap is great fun. I love doing it.
I love to bake and have for years….and making soap reminds me of “baking” a bit.
Except for the protective gear, of course.
I hope you enjoyed my little diversion from paint, thrifting & decor today.
(I know this is a long post, thank you for hanging in if you are still reading. Can you just imagine how long it would’ve been had I given detailed instructions too?)
If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them in the comments section or through my email/contact form.
Happy Soap Making!