Back in September, I did just that!
After a hands on lesson from my friend Amanda, lots of reading and research (I even joined a FB group for soap makers and asked lots and lots of questions and took notes!), and purchasing my soap making equipment and ingredients, I finally felt ready to dive in with both feet.
Now, I am by no means a pro at soap making. I do not know everything there is to know. I am most definitely a novice, learning as I go along by way of research and trial and error. My soaps might not be the best smelling, prettiest, or fanciest. But at the end of the day I can say that I made soap that is free of fake ingredients, scents, and colors. That's all that matters to me!
I've dabbled with different kid safe essential oils (pine, spearmint, and grapefruit, oh my!) and natural colorants (moroccan red clay, spirulina powder, activated charcoal, etc.), but my favorite soap so far has just been a plain, unscented, and uncolored soap. I've dubbed it "The Plain Jane!"
I am totally enjoying this soap making adventure and have currently made about 12 batches now!
There are two basic methods of soap making (I am not including melt and pour) - hot process and cold process. I've done both, and enjoy both methods. The difference between these two methods include external heat, the time it takes to sopanify, curing time, and the finish of the soap.
With hot process soap, an external heat source is used to accelerate saponification. This can be a crock pot, double boiler, or the oven. I use a small crop pot (this crock is only used for soap making now!) as that's the method I learned and feel comfortable with. Saponification will be complete in approximately 2 hours. With cold process soap, you initially melt your solid oils down to a liquid form so that you can mix your lye solution (which holds some of it's own heat within it) into those melted oils, but no additional heat is used to actually help along with the saponification process. Saponification takes about 18-24 hours to complete.
Cure wise, 1-2 weeks of cure time is sufficient for hot process soap, while 6-8 weeks is a normal curing period for cold process soap. If you're impatient, hot process is the way to go, haha! In general, the longer the cure time, the "harder" the soap....this means the longer it will last in the shower if the soap is stored the correct way (able to drain and dry out between uses).
Look wise, hot process soaps have a more rough and rustic look to them, while cold process soaps have a smoother finish. The difference comes from when the additives are added in, as well as each method producing a different consistency of soap when it is molded. In hot process soaps, the additives are added at the end of the "cook" time when the soap is a Vaseline like consistency, making it a wee bit harder to mix things in while expecting it to look smooth and uniform. Also because of this Vaseline like consistency, it is harder to make it look smooth and "pretty" when molding. It goes in pretty gloppy. With cold process
soaps, the additives are added while the soap is still fluid, giving the finished soap a smoother, uniform finish in color. The soap is still pretty fluid when going into the mold as well, obviously making molding a breeze.
Phew! Still with me?
Here's the hot process method!
1) Create your soap recipe. This takes a bit of work and research. I decided on what ingredients I wanted and how much of each ingredient I wanted, then plugged them into Soap Calc. Soap Calc does all the math and recipe calculating for you, which is awesome, but it can be a bit confusing. I spent a few days watching soap calc tutorials on youtube. Once I got the hang of it and knew what to do and how to input, it became easy.
The Plain Jane
2) Gather your tools. All of my soap making tools I use strictly for soap making now.
tall container for mixing lye solution (I use large glass jar)
safety gear: rubber gloves, safety glasses, face mask
3) Gather your ingredients. These are the oils/fats I chose.
beef tallow - we rendered our own from beef fat we got from a friend - FUN!
lye (must be 100% - you can find this in any hardware store, usually in the drain cleaner section)
distilled water (must be distilled - not tap)
essential oils (if using) - check out this site for EO usage rates: EO usage rates
add ins, like clay or powders for colorants (if using) - basic rule of thumb is 1-2 tsp per pound of oils
4) Plug in your crock pot, set it on low. Measure out all your oils in different bowls. I found it made the process easier when I had everything all measured out and ready to go! Remember to place your bowl on the scale and hit the tare button (to zero the scale back out) before measuring your oils into the bowl so you get the weight of just the oils - not the oils with the bowl. Measuring in ounces is best. Grams allows you to be even more accurate, but I use ounces.
5) Mix lye solution: put on your safety gear and head outside for this one. Better to be safe than sorry. Lye gives off caustic fumes, and it burns when you get it on your skin. Please don't do this inside....especially with children and animals around. Always be sure to add THE LYE TO THE WATER, and not the other way around. Stir well until dissolved. Set aside.
6) Heat your hard oils (in my case this was the coconut oil and tallow) on the stove just to melting, then add to crock pot.
7) Add liquid oils (in my case this was the pomace oil and castor oil) to crock pot.
8) Add lye mixture to crock pot. With your immersion blender, stir to a light trace. This is where if you run a spoon or your blender through the mixture, you will see "tracks" that remain for a few seconds before disappearing.
trace - mixture begins to thicken and will support a dollop of soap if dripped off of the spoon.
custard pudding - extremely thick, top of soap will have a nice, smooth texture to it.
separation - pudding looking soap starts to break up and the oils float to the top.
champagne bubbles - gentle boil that looks like small champagne bubbles. Sometimes you wont notice this stage, and rather it will go straight to applesauce.
applesauce - mixture well heated, when stirred it takes on a grainy look and then turns into fine applesauce looking mixture.
mashed potato - mixture is almost all soap, but still quite fluid. Take lid off and stir frequently.
dry mashed potato - excess water has boiled off and soap is ready, looks like Vaseline.
Once you get to dry mashed potato, you can add in your essential oils and other add ins. This stage is hard to miss, so don't worry. Even if you feel as if you missed seeing one or more of the other stages.....when you stir your soap and it looks like Vaseline, you know you're done cooking and ready to go!
10) Turn off crock, remove center, and get your soap into your molds! Quickly! For hot process, this will not be a pour, it is more of a spoon and glop! Spoon your soap into your mold, then pound on table to help settle. You can also use some type of lid, or even back of a spoon, to press on the soap in the mold to help squeeze out excess air pockets and smooth the top out. Work quickly, or the soap will set up in the mold before you get it all in there. Don't worry if it's not "pretty." That adds to the rustic look of it. I've had soap I've been able to smooth out quite nicely, and soap that looks super lumpy. I love both.....who cares!? It's all fun!
11) Allow your soap to harden. Set the molds someplace they wont be disturbed while the soap is cooling. For hot process, I usually allow the soap to sit for 24 hours before unmolding.
12) Unmold and cut/trim your soap. For some molds, like the individual ones, the soap will just pop out. For others, like the longer loaf type ones, you might have to turn the mold upside down and kind of peel the sides down to help free the soap. If you used a loaf mold, cut soap into desired bars. I have a straight cutter and a crinkle cutter. The crinkle cutter is my favorite! You can cut and trim off any lumpy-bumpy imperfections in the soap if you desire.
While I love the hot process method, my favorite is the cold process method. I'll save that for a different post though. Also saved for another post - rendering the beef tallow!