Natural Soap Making (Cold Process) ~ a Tutorial, in Photos

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There’s nothing quite like home made, natural based products like soap. It’s a luxurious thing really. Want to learn more about soap making? Follow along…

Natural Soap Making - Healthy, all natural! artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

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.
Real soap. ;)

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.
Unfortunately I am super busy these days so don’t get to as often as I’d like.

But I wanted to share with you all the steps of making “cold process” soap in pictures.
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.

Like here, for example –>How to Make Soap From Scratch, or here—> Cold Process Soap Making Tutorial

And this super fabulous lye calculator that I always use to get correct amounts when creating a new recipe.

Natural Soap Making - Healthy, all natural! artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

*Now…what I will say, is that making soap (the “cold process” way) 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.

The supplies you’ll need…… (all dedicated for the use of soap making only) 
Natural Soap Making - Healthy, all natural! artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

Some awesome books for soap making:

This is a great book (I own it) for soap making beginners — *The Soapmaker’s Companion: A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes, Techniques & Know-How (Natural Body Series – The Natural Way to Enhance Your Life)

And this is another great book to learn about essential oils (I also own this one) — *The Aromatherapy Companion: Medicinal Uses/Ayurvedic Healing/Body-Care Blends/Perfumes & Scents/Emotional Health & Well-Being (Herbal Body)

MATERIALS LIST

 

And other additions such as French Lavender Dried Lavender Buds, oatmeal, orange zest, Bourbon Vanilla Beans or any other additive you’d like in your soap.

Natural Soap Making - Oatmeal and Lavender artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

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).

It’s addicting.
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.

Supplies for Natural Products and Soap Making artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

But let me tell you, that is a work of art. I have great respect for natural perfumers.

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 that everyone loves to play around with.

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. Be sure to respect it.
And as such, follow any and/or all of these directions at your own risk.

Natural Soap Making - Lye Water artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

Want to see some of these projects in “live” time? Hop on over and follow along with me on INSTAGRAM. I’m always sharing in my stories as I’m doing projects, finding new furniture, fun finds….just all the day to day behind the scenes.

Soap Making Heating Oil-Adding Lye Mixture-Adding Additives and Essential Oils artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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……

Natural Soap Making - Achieving Trace artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

The soap is ready to be poured into the molds.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is colorants. I use natural ones and there are many.
Alkanet root, Turmeric Powder, Beet Powder, Clays, etc.
And occasionally oxides, micas 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.
Not kidding, every single one of them.

These are great little silicone molds. (I’ve linked the ones I use above under “supplies”)

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!

Natural Soap Making - Grapefruit and Ginger Top Swirled artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

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)

Natural Soap Making-artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

Lavender, Jasmine & Almond Milk

Lavender Milk and Almond soap making in the mold artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

Buttermilk & Oats

Buttermilk Oat soap making in mold artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

Lavender Oats (with ground oatmeal inside)

Natural Soap Making - Lavender Oats artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

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.

Natural Soap Making - Grapefruit Ginger artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap

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)

Grapefruit Ginger Soap Cutting Equally artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap
And a few of my other soaps still in the molds….
Peppermint Swirl, Patchouli Rose, Milk & Honey

Peppermint Swirl, Patchouli Rose and Buttermilk Oats Soap making - artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

Lavender, Jasmine & Almond Milk,  Lime & Coriander, Buttermilk & Oats

Natural Soap Making - Lavender Milk & Almond, Vetiver & Lime, Buttermilk & Oats artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

Soap Making artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

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

Cut Bars of Natural Soap Curing - Soap Making - artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

Soap Making artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

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.

Love it? PIN it to save it!

Learn How To Make Handmade Natural Soap... From Scratch!!! Natural Soap Making artsychicksrule.com #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #naturalsoap #handmadesoap #homemadesoap #soaptutorial #diysoap

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?

Stay tuned because I am planning to make more soap and create a video of the process.
Sign up here so you won’t miss it! :)

If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them in the comments section or through my email/contact form.

Edited to include a newer post I’ve written on all things essential oils.
How to scent your home naturally, recipes I love and more!
See the post here >>> “Healthy Ways to Scent Your Home Naturally

Happy Soap Making!

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Note: I am not a health professional or medical doctor. The information and directions given on this site are of my own opinions and my own experiences with such and not meant to take the place of medical or professional advice. You may choose to try any or all recipes, etc,  I post at your own discretion and risk.

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45 Comments

  1. Oh my gosh, I was just reading about soap-making this morning and now just saw your post on G+! When I’m on vacation, I love going into all the little shops that have so many different kinds of natural soaps – it smells so good! I swear, I spend so much time in the store smelling each one and then I can’t decide which one I like the most and then I leave empty-handed because I want them all! I’m sure the shop owners love that ; )
    Anyway, I was thinking this would be something to try this winter- in my “spare” time ; ) They would make great gifts and yours look lovely (and I bet they all smell great, too!

    1. Hi Jeanie,
      Oh so funny! Good timing then! ;) I can relate to wanting it all. I should’ve probably posted a picture of my cabinet that holds the big bottles of all the different (delicious smelling!) essential oils I have. It’s crazy…but addicting, what can I say?! I just took a small sampling downstairs for the picture. ;) Anyway, soap making is such fun…you will be hooked! Nancy

  2. Okay, I want to be you when I grown up. That looks like so much fun, but so much work!! Well, I guess I now have one more thing to add to my list of “I must learn how to turn this project into a personal disaster.” I’d want mine to be all pretty and lovely like yours, but I’m afraid mine would look like that rubber poo you can buy at the joke shop.

    Oh heck. I’m gonna try it anyway!!! :)

    -andi

    1. Aw thanks! It is a little bit involved but really a lot of fun. You should try it….definitely! It make take a couple of batches to get a good feel for it but I am confident that yours would turn out very lovely! :)
      Nancy

      1. Hi Becka, it really depends on the essential oil as some are stronger (and can be more irritating) than others. For example, cinnamon compared to lavender. So that is a hard question to answer BUT typically I add around .8 to 1 oz of essential oils per pound of oils used in the soap recipe. I plan to create a video this year (hopefully this winter) of my entire soap making process. Be sure to subscribe if you don’t want to miss that. Soap making is one of my very favorite things to do and sadly I don’t have as much time to do it these days but hope to add more to the blog about it. :)

  3. Just getting a chance to get caught up and saw your post about making soap. Wow, Nancy, yours looks gorgeous! You make the whole process appear so simple, but it seems it’s pretty complicated and complex…. at least for me! And mine would NEVER look as pretty as yours! :) I’m with the commenter who said she wants to be you when she grows up! Me too!!! You have so much talent!

    I love essential oils, too! Been using them more and more for a variety of things, but still have so much to learn about them.

    1. Hi Karen!
      I have been doing it for about 14 years or so, so it comes second hand to me now. I was a bit intimidated when I made my first few batches all those years ago however! ;) Glad I didn’t let that stop me.
      I LOVE working with and using essential oils. I use the plug in warmers occasionally but with my own oils. I also make all natural, lovely smelling sprays to refresh potpourri, around the home, etc. There are just so many amazing natural scents. :) It’s such fun to play around with them all.

      Nancy

  4. Amazing Nancy! Something I’ve always wanted to try doing as well! My mom has made soap as well but I would love to try making my own combinations with favorite scents. Do you have a favorite brand for essential oils?
    Have a great week ;)
    xo

  5. This is so great! I made soap this same way years ago, and people thought I was nuts. Except for my artistic friends — they thought plain lye soap was the best way to clean their natural-bristle paintbrushes, and they would always beg me for a few bars whenever I made it. I am so glad to see your appreciation of this old art!

    1. Oh yes, I know exactly what you mean! When I try to describe (I don’t often) how I make soap I think people think I’m crazy. (lye and all that) Surely soap is not still made with lye! ;) Anyway, yes, so nice to meet another “soaper”.

      Nancy

  6. Hi Nancy,
    I just came across you post for soap making. I have started making natural sugar scrubs, using essential oils, etc., and was thinking about trying my hand at making soaps. Your soaps are gorgeous works of art!! question though, I noticed in some pictures, some of your soaps look layered, are they actually layered? or does this layering process happen as it”cures”?

    1. Hi Kate,
      You will love it! I love making other things but soap making is my favorite.
      For those soaps pictured, yes, they are layered. I actually take a bit out of the batch to layer on top.
      Then I sprinkle additives on top of that. There are times I’ll take a bit of the batch out, color it, and swirl it back in. That’s a nice look too. Just play around (and read around the web). You’ll find all kinds of fun things to do. I do plan on including more things like this on the blog this year. (and starting a new separate food blog too!)
      Have a great day!
      Nancy

  7. Hi! I am new to soap making and have made organic soap. Is your soap organic and if it is how do you get away from the greenish yellow tint that organic olive oil gives it? I wanted to have a whiter bar with swirls but it all looks grungy. Thanks so much. Jani

    1. Hi Janalee,
      Yep, my soaps are never “white”. You can add titanium dioxide and that should make them whiter. I like to keep them completely natural so don’t add it. You could change your ratios (less olive oil, for example, more of the other “whiter” oils and butters) You risk having a harsher bar, however.
      I love olive oil as my main base oil and don’t mind the off white, yellowish color. Some essential oils will give the soap a bit of color too depending on which you use.
      Hope that helps! :)
      Nancy

    1. Hello!

      It really depends on the other ingredients (I don’t use butter, however). You have to use precise amounts of everything in order for the lye (sodium hydroxide) to transform. (you don’t want extra lye unprocessed floating around in the soap! ;) )
      I linked to a calculator in the post. You can come up with a recipe there with correct amounts of everything. I would suggest reading up on the soapmaking process (I believe I also linked some good books too) first though. The “whys” and “how to’s”, etc.
      Good luck!!
      Nancy

  8. Great Tutorial, new to soap making and was very intimidated by the lye process..Thank you so much, looking forward to making my first batch

  9. Just saw your tutorial for the first time and so enjoyed. I have been making soap, the cold process, since only October 2016. I am trying to do all my the natural way, but did start out with the melt and pour first. I do like how the cold process turns out better and also you put whatever you want together. Thanks for giving me more ideas and especially about the vanilla bean. How did you use the vanilla bean in the soap? Thanks again for your very informational site.

    1. Hi Gayle! :)
      Isn’t it so much fun?? I just LOVE making soap. The vanilla beans are heavenly and can be used in so many things. I just slice open the pod and scrape the seeds out. Put the seeds into the soap once it has reached a light “trace”. :)
      Nancy

  10. Hi I loved reading this article and love the looks of the soap. Are the same recipes you used in the pictures Provided in the book you said you have or are they different recipes? I am trying to see what book I need.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jessica,
      There are different recipes in the book. Any of them will be fine to use. I think the book is good for other things than just recipes. Sort of getting you the basics of it all. It’s a good reference. The website I linked is wonderful for creating your own recipes. Hope that helps! :)

  11. Hi Nancy, I finally got around to reading this post :)
    I didn’t realize there was so much involved in making soap! I now have a new appreciation for those home based artisan small business that make soap. I don’t think this is something I’m going to try any time soon but it is really interesting to see how it’s made. Thanks for the insight :)

    1. Hey Annie! Oh yes, it is quite involved but so addicting. I sure wish I had more time to do it these days but I don’t, sadly. Keep it in mind, it might be your next most favorite thing to do too! ;) xo

  12. I’m saving this post to pore over the details later (when I have more time…?)
    I was a candle maker for years and soap making still calls to me.
    So glad you laid it all out in detail. They look scrumptious!

  13. Hi! I love your blog. I’ve been making soap for a couple of months and would love to try your vanilla cream and chai tea bars. Do you have a recipe for it? Tia

    1. Hi Sasha! Thanks so much! I don’t, I’m sorry. I made those a few years ago. I am LONG overdue to make several more batches and plan to do some videos to go along with them. I will create the recipes and post them for you when I do! xo

  14. Where do u get your fragrance oils? They r so expensive to add to the soap. From what I have read u should use 1 to 1&1/2 oz per pound of soap.

    1. Hi Jane, I use only natural scents-essential oils in my soaps, nothing artificial (fragrances and such). They can be expensive too, however. Even more so depending on what you are using. I like Camden Grey (probably your best choice for price…been using them for over 15 years), Wholesale Supplies Plus and also Liberty Natural then following close behind but a little more pricey, Ananda & Eden Botanicals. Hope that helps!! it’s fun trying all the different oils. I have SO many samples from over the years and it is amazing all the wonderful scents that come from nature. :) Have fun!

  15. Love your page❤️❤️❤️! Do you ever make soap with goat milk? If it’s what is your recipe?

    1. Aw, thanks so much, Amanda! Yes, I have many times. It can be tough though as you really have to have your temps down, etc. I began using powdered goat’s milk because it was a bit easier to work with. (still had to be careful) It’s been more than a few years (probably 10!) since I’ve used any goat’s milk at all though so no, I don’t have a recipe handy. I could look through my papers and see if I can find an old one. If I do, I’ll post it here. I do plan to make some soap (and hopefully a video to go along with it) soon though! :) xo

  16. You truly do rule, because I love this post. Been wanting to learn how to make soap, and you just pushed me into getting started. My mom use to make lye soap when I was a young girl. I wish I had talked to her as a teen, before her death, to find out what she did, or at least write her recipe down for my sisters and I. We misses that old girl like crazy.
    Happy 2021. Stay safe

    1. Aw, thank you, Ivory! And I love this so much!! Have fun with it! Yes, I have those same thoughts about my mom who has passed as well. I totally understand my sweet friend. Hugs to you. xoxo

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