Friday, February 13, 2009

Soap Making

I started making soap for my family back in the early 1990s before hand-crafted soaps became as popular as they are today. We immediately discovered the benefits of using our own. Handmade soaps retain all the natural glycerin produced in the soap making process which is very soothing to the skin. Most mass manufactured soaps have the natural glycerin extracted so it can be sold for making lotions. They also use a lot of ingredients to make soap lather, because people like a lot of lather, even though it has nothing to do with getting you clean. Those are the same ingredients that tend to dry skin. If you use a shower puff with hand-crafted soaps, you will get just as much of that lovely lather without the drying effects.

Soap making is a process with many steps and involves using highly caustic lye so it needs to be done with care and away from young children.  Because of living overseas for a while, it's been some time since I've made soap, but I jumped back into it this week and it's been fun.

You need lots of high quality ingredients to make a good bar of hand-crafted soap. These ingredients are not cheap, so you can expect to spend upwards of $1 per ounce for good hand-made soap.  A good bar should be long lasting, smell great, be wonderful for you skin and nothing like grocery store bar soap so it's worth every penny. There are so many wonderful soap makers out there these days. Check the end of this post for some of my recommendations!

Pictured above:  pine box soap molds made by my father, food grade olive oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, coconut oil, lye, natural powdered clay, cocoa butter, oatmeal, honey, pure essential oils and vitamin E oil.

Above:  I line my soap molds with freezer paper. Then I very carefully mix a water and lye solution in the garage with good ventilation and protective gloves and safety glasses. Mixing the lye into the water causes a chemical reaction that heats the solution. I then let it cool overnight. The next day I carefully weigh out the oils that I have chosen to use for this batch of soap. This time I am making an oatmeal, wheat germ and honey soap with olive oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, cocoa butter and vitamin E. I heat the oils on the stove top just enough to melt the oils that are solid at room temperature such as coconut oil and cocoa butter. I also put the container of lye solution in a sink of hot water to bring it up to temperature. For optimum results all the ingredients should fall into the same warmed temperature range. 

I'm the only one I know who does this, but once you mix the lye solution with the oils, you have to stir like crazy for a long time. I discovered I could make a batch of soap that was just big enough to fit in my Kitchenaid mixer and not have to do the stirring by hand.  Most soap makers now use stick blenders. The mixture in the bowl will begin to turn lighter and more opaque. Stirring continues until the mixture comes to a "trace" or thickens slightly. At that point the fun begins: I add oatmeal that I've ground into powder, wheat germ and a little honey.

The whole mixture gets poured into the prepared mold and covered.  I usually have to wait a couple of days before the slab of soap is ready to unmold.  It will continue to turn lighter and more opaque as well as becoming harder as the saponification process progresses.

Two days later I grip the freezer paper and pull the slab free of the mold.  I double check that it is hard enough to cut into bars.

Using a long quilting ruler and a sharp knife, I slice the slab into bars. We like big, chunky bars that can last a couple of weeks in the shower with a couple of people using them. These bars weigh about 6 ounces. They will have to cure for at least a month before the saponification process is complete, the water is gone and they have mellowed enough to use. I usually cut one or two bars in half to use for hand soaps.  

You can extend the life of each bar of soap by making sure water has a chance to drain away from it after each use by using a appropriate style of soap dish or a soap "raft." You can also use every last sliver of soap by saving them up in a "soap saver" such as the beautifully crocheted ones made by Anastasia from Mattscraftywife on We have some of hers and they are wonderful! She also has sweet little crocheted cotton facial scrubbies.


Also on I have found some truly wonderful soapmakers that I highly recommend:

Wendy from BesemNaturalScents makes cold process soaps a little like I just showed you, but she does it much better. I have purchased from her and can assure you that her bars are very long lasting and have wonderful scents. She also makes extremely high quality candles in the same scents and has a very earth friendly shop.

Lucy from mummumscrafts makes cold process soaps as well as mineral makeup, lipbalms and other products. She is very in-tune to what those with sensitive skin issues need and keeps coming up with new items so check back often.  I am hearing rave reviews on her goats milk lotions.

Diane from LusciousLather makes the most beautiful soaps ever.  If you want something very special for gifts, guest baths or to treat yourself, you have to check out her shop. I also hear that her clear complexion bar works wonders. I'm planning on testing that out for myself soon.


  1. Your soap came out beautiful Sue!! I love those molds your dad made! Thank you for plugging my shop too! Great post about soap!


  2. This is a great tutorial on soaps, Sue! I think your soaps came out looking great -- I can almost smell them! I used my power drill with a blending tool on the end since I made 10 pounds of soap at a time, stick blenders would brun out. Your way is easier on the arms! Thank you so much for this awesome article and for mentioning my shop!

    Love, Diane

  3. 10 lbs of soap and a power drill. That is really serious!

  4. It is my dream to make soap for my family, someday. lol
    I just ordered the complexion bar from LL. I cannot wait to try it.

  5. Thanks for the interesting information about soap making. I can personally attest to the lusciousness of Luscious Lathers soap. I hope to try the others very soon!

  6. Thanks for mentioning my soap savers! What a great article on soaps :)

  7. Lovely! I have been wondering about how this would work and NOW I know. Thanks for the information.