Monday, March 10, 2014

Easy Beginner's Tutorial For Homemade Cold Process Soap

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, here is a tutorial for how to make a small batch of cold process soap in your home, using materials you either probably already have, or can get easily if you don't have them.

I decided to make this tutorial because most of the tutorials and soap recipes I've found online in the past were usually really big batches of soap (5 pounds or more) and using more complicated/harder to find tools than most beginners have (not everybody has the money or room to dish out on a huge, fancy wooden mold right off the bat). Making your own cold process soap can be very tricky at first, and most likely, over time, you will find ways of making it that better suit your needs, than what I or somebody else is going to tell you. Like for example: my first 3 batches of soap were made from a very lye-heavy recipe and using oils that I discovered over time do not make as good of a soap that I want to make. So eventually I came up with my own mixtures and methods to suit my needs, and finally get the soap I wanted. Also, since you're just beginning, you most likely are going to mess something up. That being said, you certainly do not want to be out a whole entire canister of lye and pounds and pounds of oils! So let's try to keep it simple, and start small and easy :)

Note: if you want to see the photos larger, just click them. Yes, I watermarked them with my name. It took me quite some time to juggle not just making the soap but also my camera, in order to make the tutorial for you. I'm not asking for anything in return for any of it, except to not steal my tutorial and photos as your own. If you want to re-post this tutorial somewhere, feel free to do so, but please provide the link back here to the original post. Thanks!

First things first, gather up all the materials you will need:

~The oils/butters: For this batch/recipe, you're going to need at least 24 ounces of olive oil, 4 ounces of coconut oil, and 4 ounces of shea butter.

~At least 5 ounces of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. Make sure you get pure sodium hydroxide/lye. Do NOT use a mixture! I buy mine at a local, independently owned hardware/farmer's supply shop in my town. You can also usually find it at Ace Hardware. I never see it anywhere in Lowe's or Home Depot though. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SOAP MADE WITHOUT SODIUM HYDROXIDE/LYE: even pre-made melt and pour bases were created with it. All soap goes through a process called 'Saponification', and after it 'Saponifies', there is no longer any lye within it because it has reacted with the oils which then creates glycerin. You are not going to be putting raw lye on your skin! So, don't worry.

~At least 8 ounces of chilled, purified drinking water.

~2 Pyrex (or other glass, cooking safe) measuring cups. 1 needs to be at least 1 cup, the other at least 2 cups measuring capacity.

~1 4.5"x8.5" (1.5 Qt.) Pyrex (or other glass, cooking safe) loaf mold.

~1 handheld (also referred to as 'stick') blender. I use one made by Big Boss, that I got from for around $20. You can also buy them at Target, Wal-Mart, places like that..if you don't feel like waiting for it to be shipped.

~A Crockpot of at least 3 quarts, with the removable, ceramic inside. Also with the low, high, and warm setting. I got mine on sale at Target for around $15.

~A sturdy, cooking safe plastic or wooden spoon with a long handle (never use anything metal while making soap!)

~Some wax paper to line the glass loaf mold with, and some tape to tape it down to the mold.

~A pair of gloves. Also either an allergy mask or bandanna to cover your face with when mixing the lye up.

~A digital postal or food scale that can measure accurately in ounces, also with a tare/zero-ing out function.

~Some apple cider vinegar, which is used to clean up things that had lye touching it, also use it on any place you may have accidentally spilled any lye. The vinegar makes the lye no longer active, so it isn't harmful and won't burn your skin if it touches it accidentally.

The following materials are NOT required, unless you want your soap to be lavender scented, with a colored swirl and lavender buds on top, like the soap in the photos here used for the tutorial.:

~1 ounce bottle of lavender essential oil.

~3 tablespoons dried and crushed lavender buds.

~1 heaping teaspoon of purple mica color powder (make sure to use FDA approved, cosmetic safe ONLY colorant powders when making soap).

Step 1:

Place your larger Pyrex cup on your scale, then zero it out so that the weight of the cup itself is not showing (make sure you have your scale set to ounces, too). Measure out 4 ounces of shea butter, then zero the scale out, and add 4 ounces of coconut oil. Put this into the Crockpot and set it to LOW. Now, return the cup to the scale, and pour in 24 ounces olive oil, then pour that into the Crockpot. Your oils total 32 ounces, which is going to give you a batch of soap close to 2 pounds.

Step 2:

Leave all the butters and oil to melt on the LOW setting. This is a great time to go wash out the cup real good (you will need it to make the water and lye mix), and also to start on the water and lye process. Everything will be melted in about 30-40 minutes.

Step 3:

Place your clean, large Pyrex measuring cup on the scale, remembering to zero out the weight of the cup. Pour in 8 ounces of the purified drinking water. Now set the cup aside. Put the smaller Pyrex cup on the scale and zero out the weight. Take your canister of lye (might want to shake it up a little in case there's any annoying clumps inside. Shake it with the lid on TIGHT and hold it AWAY from your face!). Cover your face now, and either open a window or turn on an exhaust fan. Do not do this process in an enclosed area with no air circulation. Open up the canister of lye (with your gloves on, of course), and SLOWLY pour in between 4.27 to 4.30 ounces of lye. It's usually hard to get exact measurements, but as long as you're in-between that 4.27-4.30 mark, you'll be good. Go ahead and put your mixing spoon into the large cup of water. Now, SLOWLY pour the lye into the larger measuring up of water, while stirring gently. Make sure to not do this backwards! You don't ever want to pour the water into the lye.. it will make a mess. Also, do this with your face as far back as you can get it, because you don't want to breathe the fumes that lye and water make when mixed together. This is why I say to use a spoon with a long handle ;)

You will notice that the water heats up a great bit and even may have some steam rolling off the top. If lye seems to be crusting up on the bottom, just keep stirring, it will dissolve. Stir until you no longer see any white residue floating around (usually takes about 5-7 minutes). Now is a good time to put this in a fridge to let it cool off, while you prepare your soap mold, and the butters and oils finish melting in the Crockpot. Also, go rinse your spoon off with vinegar, wash it, and put it to the side. You will need it at the final steps.

Step 4:

Line your glass loaf mold with wax paper. I do this by pulling out a sheet about a foot and a half long, start by taping it to the outside of one of the longer edges, then gently pushing the rest of the wax paper into the mold and all around the edges, continuing to tape up around the edges so the wax paper stays in place. Now put in a teaspoon of olive oil and rub it all over the inside of the mold, on the paper. Make sure you do this, or when it's time to get the soap out of the mold, you will probably end up really annoyed and pissed off.

Step 5:

By now, your butter and oils are probably all melted, or at least really close to being melted. Take your stick blender and blend on low, in 3-5 short bursts to mix up the oils (also helps get any last little chunks of that shea butter to melt). Now grab your water and lye mix out of the fridge, it's cooled off enough by now to be used. Slowly pour it in a little bit at a time, while using your stick blender in short bursts on low speed to mix it in with the oils. Now, go ahead and start using the high speed, and make the bursts a little longer, while moving the stick blender around in a circular motion. You will notice after about 5-7 minutes that the oils and butter that started out dark yellow are starting to look more pale yellow or even like milk, but the mix is still sort of watery. 

Step 6:

Continuing mixing, you will notice the mixture starting to get slightly thicker. This is because its getting a 'light trace'. 'Light trace' is when the soap mixture starts to look like watery pudding, and if you take out the stick blender, it leaves a little 'trace' where the mixture drips down, like in the picture below. If you are wanting to add the lavender essential oil, then set the Crockpot to WARM now, and pour the entire bottle of the lavender essential oil in. Continue mixing in short bursts on high speed for about 15-20 bursts. If you aren't using the lavender essential oil, then just keep mixing for the 15-20 bursts anyways, but without the lavender.

Step 7:

Remove the ceramic liner of the Crockpot and turn the Crockpot OFF. Pour 3/4's of your soap mixture into the soap mold if you want to make a color swirl. If you're skipping the color swirl, then pour all of it into the soap mold. Also, if you're not using the swirl or lavender buds, skip the rest of step 7, as well as step 8.

If you want the color swirl, then toss in your heaping teaspoon of colorant powder into the last 1/4 bit of mixture that was left in the Crockpot, and then blend it up with the stick blender on low speed.

Carefully pour this into the soap mold with the rest of your soap mixture thats already in there. Take your spoon and poke up and down with it, also stirring up from underneath a couple times, then going side-to-side with the spoon until you get a neat tie-dye effect like this (why my purple colorants always end up sort of blue in soap still evades me *lol*.. not sure if its the yellow-ish tint from the shea butter or reaction to the PH or what)

Step 8:

Now, if you want to, you can sprinkle across the dried, crushed lavender buds across the top. Gently blend them in, just a bit into the very top, that way they aren't just sitting there and fall off soon as the soap hardens.

After all of that is done, you can now sit your awesome new soap in the fridge to go through the gel process and harden up. The gel process is when the soap is turning into soap, it gets really hot inside, and if you pick up the mold and look underneath, you will notice it looks white around the edges but almost liquidy and clear on the inside. Don't worry, it's supposed to do that!

This gel and hardening process takes around 3 hours. You don't have to put it in the fridge, but I always do, to help prevent the soap from over-heating and turning inside out, puking itself up all over the place (that's never fun). Rather you decide to put it in the fridge or not, check on it every 5 minutes or so for the first 30 minutes to make sure it ISN'T doing the 'turning inside out' trick. If you notice it starting to do this, quickly take the spoon and gently push it back down until it stops. Nothing is wrong with your soap if it does this, it just got really hot during the gel process.

Now The Final Steps!:

After about 3-5 hours, you most likely can now get your new soap out of the mold. Do this gently and with patience, because it will not be entirely hardened by now. Slide your fingers up under the edges of the wax paper where you taped it, making sure to get all the tape off the side of the mold. Now, grab the wax paper by the sides, at the top edges, and carefully pull your soap up out of the mold. You can also usually get it out by just flipping the mold over top side down and letting the soap slide and fall out, but since I have lavender buds sitting all pretty on the top, I don't want to risk messing that up, so I'm pulling it up out of the mold.

You may notice it still being sticky/gooey around the edges. This is fine and normal. I always take mine out of the mold before its completely hardened because it slides out of the mold easier, and also since its now out of the mold, it can get more air around it and harden up the rest of the way quicker. Gently pull the wax paper down, off the sides of the soap. Now let the soap set out like this overnight, or at least 2-3 hours. The longer the better, because its a lot easier to cut and you don't get sticky soap mix all over your knife when you finally cut it into bars. I cut mine into one inch wide bars with a bread knife, on top of a piece of cardboard. It gives me between 6-7 bars that weigh between 3.5 to 4 ounces once cured. Your soap may look like this when first cut: lighter at the top and edges than in the middle. The color will even out over time as it cures.

Curing Your Soap:

Soap needs to 'cure' up some before you use it. This is to make sure it is PH balanced and to let the water evaporate out, so that the soap stays harder and lasts longer. This can take anywhere from a couple of days up to a few weeks. I don't use a lot of water in my soap mixtures, and I always make sure to use coconut oil and/or some kind of butter in it that also makes it harder. I cure my soap by placing each bar on a cooling rack in a ventilated room for a day or two, then store each bar in a brown paper bag. I've used it as soon as 5 days before with no bad results, but of course the longer you wait, the longer the bar of soap will last. 

After being cut and curing, your soap is ready to use :)
To make it last even longer, make sure you sit it upright, on a soap dish with no standing water in it, in between uses. That way it dries back out. If you leave it laying down in water, it ends up a pile of jelly goo..which, is still usable, but of course isn't as easy to use, and doesn't look as pretty!

For Future Use:

When you believe you have your soap making down, and would like to experiment with your own oil and butter mixtures, check out this link. This is the MMS Lye Calculator. It has never failed me once and is very handy for calculating the appropriate amount of lye and water to use for your choice of oils and butters. It can also give you some helpful instructions.


By following this tutorial, you are acknowledging that you have read and understood all of the safety precautions listed. Failure to do so may result in injury and/or a ruined batch of soap. I hold no liability to any injury or failed soap batches that may result from you using this tutorial. I also do not claim that this is 'the only way' to make soap -there are thousands of ways and they all tend to be different for nearly every soap maker, since results can vary due to ingredients and tools used, weather and altitude conditions, etc. Use this as a beginner guide, then work your way towards your own unique method that suits you best.

Thank you for checking out the tutorial. I hope it helps you out!


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