Friday, January 6, 2012

The soap making process

I've been asked a number of times lately what the soap making process is all about. How does one even make soap? What's involved? Is it hard to do, or expensive?

In an effort to try and demonstrate the process, I attempted to take some pictures while I made soap a few days ago. I apologize in advance for the blurry, out-of-focus pictures.  I am mostly home alone while I make the soap, so taking pictures while wearing googles and big gloves isn't that easy :)  In addition, once the lye solution comes in contact with the oils, there isn't much time, so unfortunately, I don't have pictures of that part of the process. I think next time I'll have the hubby take some pics!

The first thing I usually do is lug all my ingredients and equipment into the kitchen. Since I make a lot of soap, my soapmaking oils come in large, awkward containers. I buy coconut oil in 50 lb drums!

Next, I arrange all my equipment into different stations based on where I perform certain tasks.  My kitchen is small, so I do measuring and weighing in one area, etc.

What I do next depends on the temperature outside. Sometimes I measure out the lye and water and mix that first, while other times I start melting the hard oils first.  I ALWAYS mix the lye and water mixture outside of the house, in a sheltered area away from any people and animals. I add the lye to the water, mix it carefully with a wisk, and get out of the way once it starts to "steam." Those are fumes you do not want to breathe. Once the steam subsides, I crouch down and stir some more. Once the lye and water are introduced, the mixture gets incredibly hot in a short amount of time. I leave the mixture outside to cool down.

Back in the house, I carefully measure out the "hard fats." These are fats, such as cocoa butter, shea butter and coconut oil, that are solid at room temperature. The fats are measured by weight, not by volume. The hard fats are put on the stove top to melt down. While those are melting, I start measuring out the liquid fats - olive oil, castor oil, and the like. Once the hard fats have melted, I add the liquid fats, give it a stir and set it aside to cool down.  Now I start preparing any colors or fragrances I will be adding.
On left: patchouli essential oil. Right: Rhassoul clay mixture with a little olive oil.

Ingredients for the lavender-sage soap: french green clay mixed with olive oil, lavender and sage essential oils, lavender buds.

Getting everything ready to mix

At this point, I bring in the lye mixture from outside. Always wear eye protection, gloves, and long sleeves!! Now I take the temperature of the oil mixture and the lye mixture. I soap at about 100 degrees and like both the lye and oil to be at close to the same temperature.

picture of all of the melted oils
115 degrees - too hot!

110 degrees - still too hot.

getting there...

105 is better :)

I could have put the oil outside to cool off - it was only 25 degrees out!

I put the oils in a cool water bath to finish the cool down

Taking temperature of the lye solution. Note the gloves! Safety first :)

Lye solution is starting to decrease. I'm aiming for about 105.
 Once both the lye and oils are at about the same temperature, I add them together. You have to move fast now!

Adding lye water to oils.

Lye water has been added - now mix, mix, mix!
 At this point, I had to abandon the camera and get mixing.
Soap has been poured into the mold.

Putting the soap to bed. I put the whole soap mold, with cover, into a cooler to keep it warm.

After 24 hours, the soap can be removed from the mold and cut. The soap will cure for 3 weeks.


  1. WOW!!! That is really awesome! Thanks for the virtual field trip. It was very cool to learn how you make soap! Perhaps one day we both have off, I could come and help take pictures! :)

  2. that is very neat to see, it's such a mystery to me!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing :) Really would like to make some soap someday :)