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The Basics of DIY Soap

May 15, 2020

Have You Ever Wondered How To Make Your Own Soap?

You know the soap I’m talking about…you pick it up at a Whole Foods, or a craft show, or a farmers market and think about how cool it is, and you think “Can I do that?”  Let’s run through some of the basics for DIY soap making.  

Making soap is no joke…it’s complicated, it involves a toxic ingredient, and you don’t get the immediate satisfaction that you can get with other crafts.  

But man, I’m tellin’ you, when you pull that loaf of soap out of your mold, it is Satisfying (capital S for emphasis). 🙂 BUT, it is totally doable with some DIY soap basics, and we’re going to review safety, process, supplies, the works.

Here is the soap that I made for this tutorial.  It’s not fancy, but it’s not not-fancy either.   The moment when you take your soap out of the mold is kind of “the reveal”.  Either your heart sings, or sinks.

But let’s talk about how we get here.

Soap coming out of the soap mold

First Things First. And Safety is First.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that learning how to make soap is something that you can casually try with little equipment.  You CAN get away with items from around the house to use for molds, but there is no getting around safety gear.  BASIC.

That being said, let me address the gloves in the photo above.  Normally, you would want some proper nitrile gloves, but I don’t have any more at the moment and we’re in the middle of a pandemic and gloves are hard to come by.  Even if I found some, I’m not sure I’d feel great about buying them knowing we have as shortage of PPE at the moment, but let’s not get too far off-topic, Amanda.  So…I got some new dish gloves instead.  I’m not nimble, but I’m protected!

You will need some goggles, no question about it.  

No, it is not okay to just wear your glasses.  

BASICS OF DIY SOAP TIP: You must also get rid of any amount of vanity that you may have had before you started your soaping adventure.  

You will look like a crazy person. 

And because I no longer have any vanity, I get to show you these pictures. 🙂

Soap making safety gear on!
Purposely making crazy person eyes while holding lye container

See?

Now, I’m purposefully giving you crazy-eyes for this picture of me cradling my bottle of lye, but I do feel like once you get your goggles on, it’s easy to take on an alter ego…and I guess mine is just  a little bit nuts. 

Bottom line here is put your gloves on, wear your safety goggles, cover any exposed skin, wear closed-toed shoes, and keep the floor clear of any slipping or tripping hazards. 

Let's Talk About Lye

You NEED lye to make real soap.  And frankly, lye is the reason I didn’t try making soap earlier. 

I was afraid. 

Lye is the thing that we are working so hard to protect ourselves from.  Lye is sodium hydroxide and it’s very very toxic.  It will burn you. Even in the video attached I’m too busy talking and took a breath that was a little too deep and felt the hairs inside of my nose start to burn off.  The biggest  most basic DIY soap tip is to be careful with your lye.

I mean, BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR LYE.  If you have any Mr. Yuck stickers hanging around from the 80’s, put them all over your lye container.

If you’re like me, your only previous knowledge of lye is that it’s what people use to dissolve dead bodies in the movies.  Incidentally, when I ordered my lye, I accidentally ordered WAY too much…so I’m pretty sure I’m on some Government watch list (for people who might be dissolving bodies?  Is that a thing?)

Lye is essential.  Soap is, at it’s core, the product of oils/fats and lye.  Anything else we do to it (fragrance, skin-loving butters, colorant, flecks of ground up coffee beans…whatever) is the artistry.  

Making soap is often described as both an art and a science.  Once you get the science part down, that’s when you get to be artistic.  You do NOT get to be artistic with your safety equipment or your handling of lye. 

You should also make sure all of the bowls and spoons and equipment used for soaping is not shared with any kitchen processes.  You need dedicated soaping dishes, and you must never ever use any aluminum spoons or bowls when mixing your soap.  The reaction with lye, I’m told, is quite dangerous.  I’ve never tried it and I’m certainly not going to for the purpose of this blog post, BUT it’s a good DIY soap basic tip!

Get A Good Soap Recipe

It will come as no surprise to you that there are a number of excellent resources for soap recipes online and in print.  My favorite go-to for soap instruction, ingredients, tools, best practices, troubleshooting, and inspiration is Anne-Marie Faiola of Brambleberry.com.  Her website is a wealth of information on the basics of DIY soap.

This is going to sound like some kind of sponsored post, but it’s not.  She just knows everything and sells everything and has been soaping for 20 years (even though she looks about 30 years old…).  I also have her book, Pure Soapmaking, which I find very inspirational. The link to the book IS an affiliate link because I am an Amazon affiliate…so if you buy it, thanks!

Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola
Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola

It’s fabulous and has more than a dozen solid soap recipes, along with a lot of explanations of what kind of oil and fat combinations work well together and combine well with things like goats milk or coconut milk, or whatever artistic thing you want to do once you’ve mastered the science bits.

Another favorite soaper is Katie Carson of Royalty Soaps.  She shares her base soap recipe, but she also does a lot of elaborate soap “frosting”, and I’ve recently joined her soap frosting club, so I’m excited to try my hand at piping soap!

Both of those are my best two pieces of advice for where I go for recipe info that is reliable and informative.

Making Soap: The Process

I have, of course, included a tutorial video for you on how I made this batch of soap, but I will also include some photos below of the highlights of the process.  I am still making small batches, but I’d like to graduate to more meaningful batch sizes some day.  For now, I’m working on science and artistry, but not volume…

Mix Lye and Water Per the Amounts in Your Recipe

Measure out lye into glass container
On a kitchen scale, weigh out the lye into a glass bowl. DO NOT EVER USE ALUMINUM when using lye. The two will interact negatively with one another...
Mix lye into water
Slowly and gently mix the lye into the appropriate amount of water until it is dissolved. I like to do this in small amounts so I can check to make sure it's dissolved little by little.
Lye water solution gets hot!
Lye water solution gets HOT. The water was room temperature and got up to about 200 degrees. Once it's fully mixed together, it needs to cool.

Mix Oils and Fats Per the Amounts in Your Recipe

Brambleberry quick mix lather
Your recipe will come with ratios for all of your oils, but I chose to buy the lots of lather quick mix from Bramblerry. DO NOT be fooled by the word "mix". It's not a mix of anything crazy, it's just the oils for this recipe all measured out into the correct percentages!
Brambleberry oils melted
The Brambleberry bag of oils can just be popped into the microwave to be heated. Super simple and great for beginners. I personally love it because it allows me to focus on lye safety, not measuring and storing gallons of oils.
Oils go into a bowl
Measure out the correct weight of oils on your kitchen scale into another bowl. The oils will also need to cool as the lye water solution is cooling.

Incorporate the Lye Water Into the Oils

It is said that every soaper has their own opinion about the correct temperature to cool your lye and oils to.  Some soapers prefer to do it hot, at about 130 degrees, others prefer to do it cool, about about 85 degrees.  I tend to hover around the middle and I cooled my lye water and oils to about 115 degrees.  Whatever your preferred soaping temperature, your lye and oils should be within 10 degrees of one another.

Pour lye water down shaft of stick blender
You still have on all of your safety gear, right? Using a stick blender (aka immersion blender) pour the lye water gently down the shaft of the blender. This helps keep it from splashing as it hits the surface of the oils.
Pulse oils and lye until emulsion
Once the lye water is in, you need to combine them. Be careful not to splash up oil and lye with your stick blender. A gentle pulse for 10 second bursts is a good start. You want to combine to just past emulsion. The more you blend, the thicker your soap will get and the harder it will be to work with...so don't overdo it with the stick blending!
Here's where terminology gets really soapy! What you are looking for is something called TRACE. You can see here (and more in the video) where the dribbles from the stick blender are leaving behind a line in the soap batter? That's trace. This is thin trace, but the more the soap sets up, you will move into medium trace and thick trace.

Add Fragrance and Colorants

Prepare colorant
Your recipe will tell you whether you need to disperse your colorant (meaning you take a powder and mix it with water or oils to make it a paste or liquid before adding it to your soap batter).
Add fragrance oils
This is typically a good time to add fragrance oils or essential oils. You will have an amount specified in your recipe. Also, some fragrances and colorant can accelerate trace, so be prepared to work quickly for these last few steps! I stick blended a little far, so my trace was getting thick, so I chose to incorporate my fragrance by hand to keep it from speeding up further.
Color sparingly, you can't go back
Add your colorant sparingly. You can always add more (well, quickly) but you can't take it away. I am also stirring in my color by hand to avoid accelerating trace further.

Pour Into Your Molds and Embellish if Desired!

Pour soap into mold
Gently pour your soap batter into your molds. Use a spatula or other implement to push the batter into the corners that may have been missed by the pour.
Texture between pour layers if desired
For this recipe, I did three layers of green. In between each layer, I ran my spatula through the batter as it was firming up. I wanted to give it some ridges for the next layer to sink into.
Embellish the top of the mold
Finally, you can add texture to the top, or a swirl pattern with a skewer or whatever your heart desires. I went with some dried chrysanthemum flowers from Brambleberry. They have a lot of different dried flower varieties!

Spray With Rubbing Alcohol, WAIT, Unmold, and Cut!

Spray with 99% rubbing alcohol
Put your mold somewhere with some ventilation, but where it won't get jostled. Spray the top with 99% rubbing alcohol to help break any air bubbles and help prevent ash from forming on the surface.
Unmold
After it has rested for about 2 days, you can unmold it. Make sure to leave your gloves on. Even though the oils and lye have gone through a chemical process, your soap won't be safe to use for 4-6 weeks.
Slice soap into bars and cure
Cut your loaf of soap into bars and cure them somewhere with good ventilation for 4-6 weeks.

Some Final Thoughts On The Remainder of the Process

Once the oils and lye have sat for 1-2 days, they go through a chemical process known as saponification.  As the soap is still curing, it’s best to wear your gloves (and if you’re going to be giving it away or selling it, it’s sanitary that way too!), to avoid any irritation to your skin.

I find waiting to unmold the soap to be incredibly hard.  I guess I’m used to more instant gratification from my craft projects, but I did feel an enormous sense of accomplishment when I unmolded the loaf and it looked lovely with it’s bumpy layers from the texture we provided with our spatula during the layering of the soap.

So, the process is time consuming, you need a lot of supplies, and you need even more patience.  But the idea what you have made your own soap, full of good skin-loving oils and your own design, is very empowering and addictive.  

Once you watch a few Brambleberry and Royalty Soaps videos you’ll be hooked, just like me!

I will paste the links to the items used here below.  Again, the only affiliate link is the link to the book via Amazon.

Finally, the Link to the Video Tutorial!

Materials used for this project are listed below.  Some links are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  If you do, thank you in advance for your support of this blog.


 

Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola

Happy soaping!

Love, Amanda

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I'm Amanda, and I put the AMANDA in A MANDAtory Activity (and I like a good bad pun). This blog is a focused on baking and crafting for gatherings and gifts! I LOVE making things a little extra special and I love sharing those ideas with you. Have a look around, or read more here.

Amanda

Affiliate Link Disclosure

Some links on my site are affiliate links.  If you make purchases through affiliate links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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