How to Make Natural Soap: No More Nasty Chemicals!
We use soap to clean our skin from pollutants and dirt that build up throughout the day in order to maintain optimal skin health and beauty. But how safe are the soaps we use every day? We should understand that most commercial soaps, including the leading brands, have ingredients and chemicals that are absorbed by our skin and could be harmful.
Commercial soaps include a variety of ingredients: parabens, phthalates, artificial colorings, and synthetic perfume that can irritate and even negatively impact skin health. So, if we want healthy and beautiful skin, it goes without saying that using these chemically-ridden soaps may be counter-productive.
Fortunately, the process of making natural and homemade soaps is becoming more popular. Due to increased popularity, people are getting more creative, and more varying recipes are being formulated all the time. Natural soaps contain any number of carrier oils, essential oils, honey, oatmeal, aloe, and other organic ingredients.
But why buy pre-made soaps when you can enjoy the experience and excitement of using your own creativity to formulate your next favorite scented concoction? Whether you desire certain unique scents, textures, colors, sizes, or shapes, it’s all completely dependent upon your own ideas and tastes.
Whether you desire certain unique scents, textures, colors, sizes, or shapes, it’s all completely dependent upon your own ideas and tastes. Who knows, you might become the next small-town soap artisan!
Safety First: Working With Lye
When it comes to soap-making, there are basically two different methods that can be used. Both methods utilize chemical reactions from lye and both must be used with caution.
Gloves and safety glasses/goggles are often recommended when working with lye. When the necessary precautions are taken, working with lye is very safe.
Also, all Lye will be expended once the chemical reaction necessary to make your soap is complete.
A Brief Note on Lye (Sodium Hydroxide):
Before we get into the details of making soap, a few things need to be addressed first. Do you remember those days in chemistry class where your teacher would introduce a new chemical to be used before performing an experiment? Remember the warnings about the volatility of that chemical? Well, lye is one ingredient that is both volatile and dangerous if not handled properly. You don’t need to be a trained chemist to have fun making your own soap, but you do need a blend of common-sense and caution.
In the same way that it’s enjoyable to do experiments in chemistry class, there is fun to be had when making soap at home. But, caution is always advised whenever working with harsh or volatile ingredients like Lye.
Lye, also known as Sodium Hydroxide (or caustic soda), is safe when handled properly. Potassium hydroxide (aka caustic potash) is used for soft and liquid soaps and won’t be used in the recipe dealt with today. For all hard soap recipe’s, be sure to purchase 100% sodium hydroxide. Do not use liquid Lye.
Driving a car can be done safely when caution is used and the same is true when working with Sodium Hydroxide. Many people are afraid to use lye, but that’s due to cases of improper use and misinformation. Also, once the chemical reaction in your soap mixture is finished, no Lye will remain.
Also, be sure to never use aluminum materials when working with lye since it’s a reactant.
Lye Safety Precautions:
- Use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) like gloves, safety goggles/glasses, long sleeves, or a lab coat (if you want to have the mad-scientist look)
- Keep a container of vinegar near your workspace since it will neutralize the Lye
- Use heat-proof containers that will not crack or melt
- Never lean over your mixture while working
- Work near a water source so you can flush any part of your body that may come into contact with lye
- Cover your work area with newspaper to prevent unwanted spillage from coming into contact with your floor or counter
- Wash hands and arms thoroughly when you’re finished making your soap (a single grain of lye can cause irritation)
- Whenever working with any potent ingredients, never leave the area unattended
- Keep children and pets out of your work area
- Always store potent ingredients properly in an area where pets and children cannot access them
- Never use aluminum when working with lye.
- Always add lye gradually to water
- As a mixing rule, never add water to lye, always add lye to water
- Never allow lye to settle in your container while mixing it into water
Making your own natural soap is enticingly simple. Just follow the simple steps on this page and you’ll have a blueprint to use for experimenting with whatever your hearts desire when it comes to creating breathtakingly fragrant and attractive soaps.
Oh, by the way, don’t be nervous if this is your first time making soap. You might mess up, you may not get the consistency you want, you may include too much or too little fragrance, and so on. Whatever the case, it’s the experimentation that’s the fun part!
But before we begin, you’ll need to assemble all the necessary equipment.
Equipment You Need:
- Digital Kitchen Scale
- 2 Commercial-Grade Heat Resistant Pitchers (Stainless Steel or Enamel, NOT Aluminum!)
- Digital Food Thermometer
- 2 Stainless Steel Long-Handled Serving Spoons
- Electric Hand Mixer or Immersion Blender
- 8oz Disposable Plastic Cup
- Soap Molds
- Measuring Spoons
- Rubber Spatula
- Safety Items and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
Next, let’s take a look at some of the core ingredients. Different recipes will use varying ingredients. So, it’s never a bad idea to see which kind of base formula suits your preference after a few successful attempts at soap-making.
- 4 Ounces of Olive Oil
- 8 Ounces of Olive Oil (Pomace, Not Virgin)
- 8 Ounces of Palm Oil
- 8 Ounces of Coconut Oil Melted in 76 Degrees
- 10 Ounces of Distilled Water
- 3 Ounces of Lye or Sodium Hydroxide
The Process: Liquid + Fat + Lye = Soap!
Cold Process Soap:
This process utilizes oils like olive oil. The oil is placed into an enamel or stainless steel container, then a mixture of lye and water is added to the oil and stirred until slightly thickened. Once thickened, the mixture is then poured into a soap mold and left to harden. Usually, after a few weeks, the soap is ready to use.
Hot Process Soap:
This process is very similar to the cold-process but causes the soap to be ready to be used in just a matter of days instead of weeks. With the hot process, the steps are pretty much the same as the cold process up to the point of pouring the mixture into the soap mold. Instead of pouring the mixture into a mold at this point, the mixture is cooked for a specified amount of time to drastically decrease the curing time of the soap.
Soap-Making Instructions: Follow These Steps Carefully
- Mix the lye and water.
Put the disposable cup on top of the scale. Put in the exact amount of lye (3 oz) in the cup and set it aside. Next, place a pitcher on the scale to pour the water into. Measure 10 oz of distilled or purified water and remove from the scale. Then, gradually add the lye into the water and slowly mix them using the long-handled serving spoon until the lye is dissolved. Remove the pitcher from the scale.
- Mix the oils.
Next, place the other empty pitcher on the scale. Accurately measure 8 oz of coconut oil and reset the scale to zero. Add 8 oz of palm oil and again reset the scale to zero. Next, add 4 oz of regular olive oil (reset scale to 0). Any finally, add the other 8 oz of pomace olive oil. Now that all the oils are measured and combined, heat the oils in a double boiler on medium or in the microwave. Stir well to mix them. Heat them until they reach a temperature of about 120°. Be sure to check the temperature regularly with your digital thermometer.
- Add the water/lye mixture to the oils.
This step is probably the most difficult and definitely the most critical. Your digital thermometer is your friend! You can perform this step by periodically checking the temperature of the water/lye mixture and oil mixture using the digital food thermometer. Once each of them has cooled to a temperature between 95° and 105°, they can be mixed. Slowly pour the water/lye mixture into the oils.
Note: If you combine both mixtures when they’re too cool, they’ll come together too quickly and be crumbly and coarse in consistency.
- Mix the oil and lye mixture together
Submerge the stick blender into the oil/lye mixture and pulse for few seconds. Stir the mixture and pulse again. Alternately stir and pulse the mixture until it becomes as thick as pancake batter. This procedure will take about 3-5 minutes. As an alternative, you can mix them with a handheld whisk, but it will take you longer to reach that pancake batter consistency.
- Mix until it reaches the “trace”.
Keep on pulsing and stirring the oil and lye mixture until both of them emulsify. To test if they have reached the “trace”, dip a rubber spatula and hold it above the pitcher. Let the soap mixture dribble back in. If the soap mix sits on top of the mixture for few seconds, it means the soap mixture has reached the trace.
Quickly add the essential oils and colors before the mixture becomes too thick. Then you can pour the soap mixture into your desired molds. For a cheap soap mold, pour the mixture into an empty Pringles can for cutting into bars later.
To see what tracing looks like in action, check out the video below.Note: Popular essential oils added to natural soap are chamomile, lavender, cinnamon,and vanilla oil. You may also add few drops of natural food coloring for vibrant or subtle colors.
Grains like oatmeal and wheat germ add texture to the soap. Be adventurous and mix different combinations to make your own unique natural soap!
Curing Your Soap
Now, the most difficult part of the soap-making process is over, Congratulations! Since your soap mixture is now poured into your mold, all you have to do is cover whatever molds you use with parchment paper or plastic wrap and store in a cool dry location. Allow the soap to cure for at least 24 hours to 1 week.
The soap can be used immediately since the hot process was used, but if the soap is allowed to cure for a bit longer, you will only notice more favorable results. Just go ahead and cut your soap into your desired bar size once it’s finished curing and it will be ready to use. Your soap should be cool and hard when the curing process is over. If you used individual molds, no cutting necessary!
When you store your ready-to-use soap, it’s best to store it in a paper towel or some other paper-like material so that it doesn’t absorb dust or dirt, but still has air exposure. Since hand-made soap creates its own glycerin, that means it will pull in moisture from the air. Just be sure to keep it wrapped or in an airtight container.
Your homemade natural soap is worth all the effort and time. Each and every bar will be the result of your expertise, creativity, and enjoyment. Stop using those commercial soaps and make your own natural soaps instead. There’s simply no reason to use commercial soaps that leave your skill unhealthy from all the un-natural ingredients and chemicals. With home-made soaps, the chemical reaction from the Lye results in no remaining harmful chemicals.
As you learn more about the art of making soap, you can even gift them to your family and friends or sell them locally. With natural soaps, there are no more nasty chemicals; just all-natural ingredients that are safe and healthy!
Once your soap is sealed in your molds, immediately begin cleaning up your work area since you were working with lye. Be sure to clean any equipment that was exposed to lye with vinegar, then wash it normally. I’d also recommend not using your soapmaking equipment for anything else besides making soap.
If you spilled any Lye, just remember that you can use vinegar to neutralize it safely. For any residual lye/oil mix, just leave it sit for a few days because it will become soap eventually and will then be able to be safely cleaned.
Once clean-up is complete, you’re all finished. Now, you can go teach your friends and family members how to make exquisite soaps too!