Thursday, February 11, 2010

Making Soap 101

My daughter and I bought a "soap making kit" 10 years ago and had a lot of fun grating, melting, scenting, coloring, molding and using our soap. The local Michaels store and our other craft store had many kits for making soap at a reasonable price.
But....I was interested in learning how to make the soap making kit. A work buddy's wife is the Director of the Douglas County Library system so I paid her a visit and we combed the shelves for books on natural soap making from scratch books. I came home with 5 books and read them cover to cover. A couple were melt and pour books and a couple were the "cold process" method.

I was intrigued by the cold process method of soap making where you mixed your sodium hydroxide (lye) with distilled water and set it off to cool to 100 degrees and then melt your solid oils, add your liquid oils and let cool to 100 degrees. The chemical process is called Saponification and I fell in love with the word as much as I fell in love with making soap.

Off to the health food store for a couple of oils, butters and essential oils and then to the grocery for the rest. I started with cocoa butter, lard, coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil as my ingredients along with distilled water and sodium hydroxide from the Red Devil line. They no longer sell Red Devil Lye at our store, too many drug makers using it. Now I buy 50 lbs. at a time from a chemical supply house in Sparks. They require paperwork and I think that is a great idea! I wore long pants, long sleeves, tied up my hair, put on goggles and gloves, had my recipe from the book and dove right in. I already had a scale so I used a heavy duty plastic container with a handle and weighed my distilled water. Then I slowly poured the lye into the water and stirred until clear. I was very surprised at how HOT the water became, I took the temperature and it was over 200 degrees in a matter of seconds. I put the lye water aside and weighed my oils and put them on the stove to melt. I added in my liquid oils and put them aside to cool to 100 degrees. Waiting was almost impossible and in the future I would cool the oils in a sink of cold water to hurry the process. I added in a little lime essential oil.

Essential Oils are steam or cold pressed plant oils and can be very expensive. I just got an email from an Essential Oil supplier saying they are selling a Rose Oil and the cost is $1129.00 for 16 oz. of Rose Essential Oil. Now when you take into consideration that it takes a LOT of rose petals to make an ounce of oil the price is not unrealistic but I make 10 lb. batches of soap and use 8 oz. of scenting oils so even selling a 4 oz. bar of soap of Rose Soap for $30.00 would not work for me. I don't know any one in the Carson Valley that would pay over $30.00 for a bar of soap, no matter what it smelled like.

My first mold was a plastic drawer that I lined with parchment paper and the soap turned out fantastic. It was creamy and looked just like a thick pudding. I covered it with wax paper, wrapped it in a wool blanket and let it sit for 2 days. OK, I did peek a couple of times. The soap continued to heat up and the drawer was warm to the touch. The color darkened, I later learned this is called "gelling" and all my soaps do this. I let it sit another day and then took it out of the mold and cut it into bars. I let it cure for 8 weeks and then used it for a month. I took it to work with a questionnaire and handed it out to fellow employees and asked them to use the soap and fill out the paper, did you like it, the scent, how did it make your skin feel, did it lather, how long did it last, would you use it again, and so on. I worked at a casino so it was a smart ass group of people so I also told the guys if it hurt their privates don't come to me for help, it was use at your own risk.

I was sooooo happy when later in the month one of the guys came up to me and asked if he could have another bar of "that soap". I was "doing the happy dance" until he told me that he had put the bars in his shoes in his locker and they worked great as a deodorizer. Well, they were good for something.

I spent the next year reading online and as many books as I could find about soap. One site, Kathy Miller's Handmade Soap was a wonderful place to spend hours reading about the different methods of soap making, looking at other people's soap, questions and answers about problems you run into, and most important, online suppliers. Many of the suppliers have yahoo groups and the soap making community on the whole is a warm, generous group of people. They are willing to share information, answer questions, give opinions, and help out anyone who is willing to take the time to learn the art. I continued to make soap over that year trying many different formulas and ingredients until I found a formula that was so mild I didn't even have to use a lotion to moisturize my skin, had so much lather I never wanted to quit washing and smelled so good it turned every shower into a mini spa experience. I was making so much soap there was no one left to give it to and we were running out of room. The next step was to find a place to sell it.
That is a story for another day.


  1. wow. I had no idea the process was so complex. Makes every bar more appreciated!

  2. WOW has it really been 10 years already. It just seems like yesterday that you started making soap. Dad is at dialysis and I am playing on the computer. We have sunshine not even need a jacket. Love it!!!!!"143"

  3. I am so glad to find the link to your soap making blog! I will be happy to follow along with your adventures.

    (We left Yuma yesterday to visit my sister in San Diego--I really should update my own blog once in awhile).

    Good luck with the blog and the soap!

  4. It's been 10 years?? Where did the time go???

    Love the story of how you started, Michelle!

  5. what a lovely story...and you tell it so well....

    well actually's a great blog and it's fun to follow your process...


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