If you are new to soap making, I hope these hints and resources will help you as you learn about this great (and very useful!) skill. Please note that all these tips are geared to those who are very new to soap making.
First of all, if you have not checked out my soap making photo tutorial on the Keeper of the Home blog, please do that! I think you'll find it helpful to see each of the steps in soap making so you will know what I am referring to when I give my tips.
Okay, let's start with some tips! :) Make sure you read all the way to the bottom to get to the surprise! :)
Types of Soap Making
First of all, let me just start by saying that since soap making is an ancient life skill, many methods of making soap having been developed over the years. For instance, the two main lye soap methods you will see are Cold Process (CP) and Hot Process (HP). Cold process soaps are made at a lower temperature, and therefore all of the lye doesn't "cook out." It takes a long time of curing before the soap is not caustic, but some people prefer this method because it makes a more refined bar of soap. I used to make this kind, but I found it to be impractical to leave caustic soap sitting out to cure for weeks at a time with so many young, grabby, children in my home.
Hot process soaps are soaps that have been "cooked" until the lye has fully reacted, and therefore the bars of soap, while still a bit harsh, are fully usable once they have cooled. Generally, you still want the bars to sit and cure for a while to harden, but they typically are still safe to use immediately. This is the type I make now, and this is the type of soap that is in my tutorial. You will generally see it referred to as CPHP (Crock Pot Hot Process) soap. The drawback to this type of soap is that it typically has a more rustic appearance and it doesn't do so well in molds. Thankfully, "rustic" soaps are all the rage right now, and my kids don't really care what kind of soap they use, so I keep on making it!
A Word on Soap Making Supplies
Many of your soap making supplies are readily available. For instance, you'll want to get a good food scale (digital is best) that can zero out so you can accurately weigh everything. These are available everywhere for every type of budget. I got mine at Target. One thing you may have difficulty acquiring, however, is the lye itself. It depends on which country you live in, and maybe even the region. But where I live, bottles of Red Devil Lye are no longer available in stores. Some of you may be able to go to your hardware store and buy a bottle of lye in the drain cleaning section. But because lye is used in methamphetamine production, it has been pulled off the shelves around here. So, I was not able to buy just one bottle at the store. I had to buy in bulk from an online source. The lye itself is pretty cheap, but if you buy online and have it shipped, just know that the shipping is going to cost as much if not more than the lye because it is a hazardous material. That's why it is best to buy in bulk. I will have a link to my lye supplier in my resources section.
What if I spill the lye?!
Lye is quite caustic, so you want to take all the proper safety precautions when using lye. You may feel a bit silly working in your kitchen with goggles on, but it is worth it! (Note: If your husband is home, you may want to tell him what you are doing first. My husband walked in and saw me stirring a crockpot with gloves and goggles, and was really scared about what I was making for dinner!) If you do spill on yourself or the counter, you'll want to clean it up quickly with vinegar. Keep a bottle of vinegar near you while you are using lye that way you can pour it on you if you spill.
There are a bazillion soap recipes out there, and they all call for oil (that's what it saponified to make soap.) The saponification process changes the oil, so don't feel like you have to buy the most expensive oils to get the best soap results. Actually, when it comes to olive oil, for example, you often will have a great result with the cheapest oil out there--you don't need extra virgin or anything like that.
When starting out, don't be tempted to substitute oils or add this or that, or your recipe will likely be a flop. The lye and oil have to be in proper ratio in order for the reaction to work properly. So I encourage you to follow a recipe exactly, and don't experiment until you've done a little research.
One substitution that will work well for you is subbing coconut oil for palm oil or vice versa. Or if the recipe calls for coconut oil you could even do half and half. This works because the oils are very similar. Coconut oil will create a soap that lathers very well but tends to be a bit soft. Palm oil creates a very smooth, and very hard and durable bar of soap. In my tutorial, I used coconut oil, so my soap lathers well but is a bit soft (I don't mean squishy...just not super hard.)
How will I know my soap is done cooking?
This question plagued me at first. But then I heard about a "zap" test. When your soap appears to be all gelled and fully cooked, get a small piece of the soap and rub it around until it has cooled into a little piece of soap. Then touch it to your tongue. If it feels like you've licked a spark plug, then you know it needs to be cooked some more. :) If not, you're golden!
Now, for some resources...
Teach Soap (teachsoap.com) .... This has a lot of recipes as well as tips. It is mainly geared for cold process, but there are some hot process recipes there, too.
Miller Soaps (millersoap.com/) This is the best resource for recipes and tips that I have found yet. They have a lot of vegetable based soap recipes, as well as recipes using lard or tallow, if you render your own at home. I really enjoy using their "cocanolive" recipe.
Essential Depot (essentialdepot.com) This is where I purchased my lye. There are many suppliers, but I recommend this one because the prices were reasonable, and the shipping was very fast and professional. I periodically get emails from them asking if I need help with anything.
E-how videos on making cold process soap are available. There are quite a few videos that I found greatly helpful when I was first starting to make soap. They are for cold process soap, but it can still be quite helpful for the HP soap maker.
And of course, your local library is a great place to find books about soap making!
If you have any questions that weren't covered here, please leave a comment and I'll try to respond quickly.
Now for the Giveaway!
One lucky winner will receive 4 bars of soap (1 pound of soap) from the batch I made in the tutorial! This will give you a way to experience the homemade soaps before you actually start making your own. I love the mild, pleasant smell of fresh lye soap, and I hope you do, too!
- To enter the giveaway, please go to the giveaway page to leave a comment!