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Making soap at home is a satisfying, inexpensive way to provide for your family’s needs or create wonderful gifts for your friends. You can make soap using a kit, but making it from scratch enables you to choose your own ingredients and customize the soap to fit your needs. This article provides information on making soap from scratch using the cold process method.
24 ounces of coconut/olive oil
38 ounces of vegetable shortening
12 ounces sodium hydroxide, or lye. (also called caustic soda)
32 ounces spring or distilled water
4 ounces of your favorite essential oil, such as peppermint, lemon, rose or lavender
Preparing to Make Cold Process Soap
Cold process soap is made from oils, lye, and water. When these ingredients are combined at the right temperature, they harden into soap in a process called saponification. Go to your local craft store and grocery store to purchase the ingredients listed.
It’s easiest to clear a space in the kitchen since you’ll need to heat the ingredients over the stove. You’ll be working with lye, a dangerous chemical, so make sure children and pets are not underfoot while you work.
Spread newspaper over a table and assemble the following equipment, which can be sourced online or from your local craft store:
- Safety goggles and rubber gloves, to protect you from the lye.
- A scale to weigh the ingredients.
- A large stainless steel or enamel kettle. Do not use aluminum, and do not use a pot lined with a non-stick surface.
- A glass or plastic wide-mouth pitcher, to hold the water and lye.
- A two-cup plastic or glass measuring cup.
- Plastic or wooden spoons.
- A stick blender, also called an immersion blender. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it reduces stirring time by about an hour.
- Two glass thermometers that register between 80-100 degrees F. Candy thermometers work well for this purpose.
- Plastic molds that are suitable for cold process soapmaking, or shoebox, or a wooden mold. If you use a shoebox or wooden mold, line it with parchment paper.
- Multiple towels for cleanup.
Before you start the soap-making process, read the safety warnings that came on your box of lye. Keep the following in mind as you handle lye or raw soap before it has been cured:
- Lye should never touch your skin, as it will burn you.
- Wear safety goggles and glove at all times while handling lye and raw soap.
- Work with lye outside or in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in fumes.
Mixing the Ingredients
Measure 12 ounces of lye.
Make sure that all of your ingredients are exactly the measurement that it is supposed to be, especially on smaller batches. Use the scale to make sure the measurement is exact, and pour the lye into the two-cup measuring cup.
Measure 32 ounces of cold water. Use the scale to make sure the measurement is exact, and pour the water into a large, non-aluminum container, such as a stainless steel pot or glass bowl.
Place the container of water under your stove’s running exhaust fan, or make sure the windows are open and the room is well-ventilated. Add the lye to the water slowly, stirring gently with a spoon until the lye is completely dissolved.
- It is very important to add the lye to the water and not the other way around; if you add the water to the lye, the reaction between the two substances is too quick, and may be dangerous.
- As you add the lye to the water, it will heat the water and release fumes. Keep your face turned away to avoid inhaling the fumes.
- Set the mixture aside. Allow it to cool and let the fumes dissipate.
Measure the oils. Use the scale to weigh out 24 ounces of coconut oil, 38 ounces of vegetable shortening, and 24 ounces of olive oil.
Combine the oils. Set a large stainless steel pot on the stove on low-medium heat. Add the coconut oil and vegetable shortening and stir frequently until melted. Add the olive oil and stir until all are completely melted and combined, then remove the pot from heat.
Measure the temperature of the lye and oils. Use different thermometers for the lye and oils, and continue to monitor their temperatures until the lye reaches 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit (35-36 degrees Celsius) and the oils are at the same or lower temperature.
When the two substances have reached the proper temperatures, add the lye in a slow, steady stream to the oils.
- Stir with a wooden or heat-resistant spoon; do not use metal.
- You may instead use a stick blender to stir the lye and oils.
- Continue to mix for about 10-15 minutes until “tracing” occurs; you’ll see your spoon leave a visible trace behind it, like one you’d see when making pudding. If you’re using a stick blender, this should occur within about 5 minutes.
- If you don’t see tracing within 15 minutes, let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes before continuing to mix again.
Add 4 ounces of essential oil once tracing occurs. Some fragrances and essential oils (cinnamon, for example), will cause soap to set quickly, so be ready to pour the soap into molds as soon as you stir in the essential oil.
Pouring the Soap
If you are using a shoebox or wooden mold, make sure it is lined with parchment paper.
Use an old plastic spatula to scrape out the last bits of soap from the pot to the mold.
- Be sure you are still wearing gloves and safety goggles during this step since raw soap is caustic and can burn skin.
- Carefully hold the mold an inch or two above the table and drop it. Do this a few times to work out any air bubbles inside the raw soap.
If you’re using a shoebox as a mold, put the lid on it and cover with several towels. If you’re using a soap mold, tape a piece of cardboard over the top before adding towels.
- The towels help insulate the soap to allow saponification to occur.
- Leave the soap covered, undisturbed, and out of air drafts (including the air-conditioner) for 24 hours.
The soap will go through a gel stage and a heat process during the 24 hours. Uncover the soap and let it sit for another 12 hours, then see what the results are.
- If you measured accurately and followed the directions, the soap may have a light layer of a white ash-like substance on the top. This is basically harmless and can be scraped away with the edge of an old ruler or metal spatula.
- If the soap has a deep oily film on top, it cannot be used, because it has separated. This will occur if your measurements were not accurate, you did not stir long enough, or if there is a drastic difference in the temperatures of the lye and oils when they are mixed.
- If the soap did not set at all, or has white or clear pockets in it, this means it is caustic and cannot be used. This is caused by under-stirring during the soap-making process.
Curing the Soap
Turn the box or mold over and allow the soap to fall on a towel or clean surface.
You need to use tension to cut soap of this type. You can use a sharp knife, a length of wire with two handles, or heavy nylon string or fishing line.
Allow the soap to cure. Set the soap on top of parchment paper on a flat surface or a drying rack for two weeks to allow the saponification process to complete and the soap to fully dry. Turn the soap over after two weeks to let it dry on the other side.
Let the soap sit, exposed to air for at least one month. When the soap has fully cured, use in your home, as you would any store-bought soap, or wrap as a present for your friends. It will keep indefinitely.
Do you know of a more simplified and less expensive soap making process that I could try?
You could try using Melt-and-Pour soap. It is generally less expensive, and all you have to do is melt the material and pour it into your own mold. There should be more instructions on the actual container.
What is saponification?
This is the reaction where a triglyceride undergoes a nucleophilic substitution reaction with a hydroxide to create three soap molecules and a glycerol.
I’m concerned about the advice regarding a batch of soap that cannot be used. Is there a way to neutralize the batch before sending it down the drain so that it’s not someone else’s problem?
White vinegar can be used to neutralize the lye in the soap, and soap makers usually keep a large bottle of it at hand while making the soap to neutralize any lye spills too.
How many months or years will the soap be good for?
A well-made soap – that is a soap that is made with fresh, long-lasting oils of good quality, and most importantly, a low “superFat” percentage, can last many, many months or even years in storage. In contrast, a soap made with old, expired or poor quality oils, and/or a high “superfat” percentage, may turn rancid/”go off” after a few months, to even a few weeks after it is made.
If I use shoe boxes for molds, approximately how many will I need?
It depends how much soap you want to make. Compare the volume of the shoe box by the soap mix volume.
I normally use 100% coconut oil for my soap. How long does it take to cure?
Generally, all soaps take a minimum 4 weeks for a “basic cure”. Some soapmakers prefer to let their soaps cure for several months, even up to a year for soap such as Castile soap bars (100% Olive Oil soap with just lye and water). It is up to you, really.
How much money do I have spend for this?
Coconut oil runs between $10 to $20, lye costs between $8 and $28, olive oil is anywhere between $3 and $15, shortening is from 97 cents to $5, and essential oils varies depending on the scent and quantity.
Can I make the soap without lye?
No, you need it because it is the main ingredient. It is one of the most important things in making your own soap, because you need it to produce the soap reaction.
I have a bunch of different oils. How do I know what percentage I should use of each oil? Also, I want to use fruit puree in my recipe. How do I account for that?
You might want to reconsider using more than a couple of oils in a batch, because the scents will mix and result in a rather overwhelming and vague fragrance. You also may not want to use fruit puree, as the curation time is already about a month in a warm, moist covered box, which allows for faster and easier spoilage. If you do intend to use fruit puree, you will need to use preservative or fruit concentration.
Can I make it in 5 days?
Yes and no. The majority of the reaction will complete by the time the soap hardens. However, due to the kinetics of the reaction, it takes the full month for all the oils and lye to react. If you use it within five days, just beware that you may get some caustic burns due to the strength of the remaining lye.
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- Temperature is crucial when mixing the oils with the lye. If they are too hot, they will separate; if they are too cool, they won’t turn into soap.
- Lye can be found in the plumbing section of most hardware store or purchased online. Make sure the package says it is 100% sodium hydroxide.
- Don’t this without permission from a parent or guardian! If not, you could get in trouble.
- You may also be interested in making a specific type of soap, like Castile soap.
- Don’t use perfume as a fragrance, especially if it contains alcohol. It will alter the chemical reaction that’s taking place between the lye and the fats and will cause your soap to fail. You can use natural essential oils or fragrances that are specifically manufactured for use in soaps. A little bit of essential oil or fragrance goes a long way. You may only need a teaspoon or so.
- Tools that are used for soap-making must only be used for soap-making. Do not re-use them in the kitchen or around food. Be cautious when using wooden implements since they are porous and can suffer splintering when used repeatedly for soap-making. Do not use whisks since they have many places caustic substance can get stuck and linger.
- When mixing chemicals like lye with water, always add the chemical to the water, and not the water to the chemical in order to reduce the risk of the chemical splashing up and out.
- Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) is a harsh base and can be extremely dangerous. Avoid skin and eye contact. If you get skin contact, flush with water (after flushing with water you can add vinegar to help neutralize the burn) and seek medical attention. If you get eye contact, flush with cool water for 15-20 minutes and seek medical attention. Use an eye wash center or eye flush bottles if available. If swallowed, contact a poison control center.
- Wear rubber gloves and safety goggles when working with lye. Do not leave lye in reach of children and animals.
- After the soap has set in a mold, if there are small white lumps in the soap, the soap is caustic and must be disposed of safely. The white lumps are lye. To dispose of this contaminated batch, neutralize the lye with vinegar. Submerse the soap bar in water and break up the soap either with gloved hands or something you can use to tear apart the soap to smaller pieces. The soap-vinegar mixture can be disposed of down the drain.
Things You’ll Need
- 24 ounces olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 24 ounces coconut oil
- 38 ounces vegetable shortening
- 12 ounces lye
- 32 ounces spring or distilled water
Fragrance or essential oil
- 4 ounces of your favorite fragrance
- Safety goggles
- Rubber gloves
- Scale to weigh the ingredients
- Large stainless steel or enamel kettle; not aluminum, and not lined with a non-stick surface
- Glass or plastic wide-mouth pitcher to hold water and lye
- Two-cup plastic or glass measuring cup
- Plastic or wooden spoons
- Stick blender (optional)
- Two glass thermometers that registers between 80-100 degrees F
- Plastic molds that are marked suitable for cold process soapmaking, or a plastic shoebox, or a wooden mold.
- Parchment paper
- Multiple towels
A source of running water and vinegar, in case of contact with lye.
To make your own soap, put on protective gloves and eyewear, then carefully stir lye into a pot of cold water, making sure not to inhale the fumes. Allow the mixture to cool, then heat coconut oil and vegetable shortening in a pot on low-medium heat until they are melted. Add olive oil and stir until everything is combined, then pour it into the lye, stirring with a wooden spoon or a stick blender for about 10-15 minutes. Add your essential oils, then pour the soap into molds. For tips on pouring the soap, keep reading!
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This article was co-authored by our trained team of editors and researchers who validated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Together, they cited information from 11 references. wikiHow’s Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article meets our high standards.
Categories: Soap Making
In other languages:
Español: hacer jabón, Italiano: Fare il Sapone in Casa, Português: Fazer Sabão Caseiro, Deutsch: Seife selbst herstellen, Nederlands: Zeep maken, Français: fabriquer son propre savon, Русский: сделать свое собственное мыло, 中文: 自制肥皂, Čeština: Jak si vyrobit mýdlo, Bahasa Indonesia: Membuat Sabun Sendiri, 日本語: オリジナルな石鹸を作る, العربية: صنع الصابون بنفسك, हिन्दी: साबुन (Soap) बनायें, Tiếng Việt: Tự làm xà phòng, ไทย: ทำสบู่ของคุณเอง
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