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How to Make Natural Soap

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Making soap can be a creative and rewarding hobby, and isn't nearly as difficult as you might think. Soaps are simply a combination of oils, liquid and lye. There are two important considerations, though, that will make your natural soap making experience that much more enjoyable.

Safety First!

The first and most important consideration, is safety. Lye is a caustic base and can cause serious burns. While a tiny fleck of beaded lye may only make your skin itch, a larger splash can cause severe burns and blindness. Wear gloves, goggles and long sleeves anytime you are working with lye to avoid all skin contact.

Accuracy is the second most important consideration in making soap. If you want your hand made natural soap to turn out right, you'll need to take extra care measuring your soap making ingredients. This is pretty easy with a good scale that measures to the 1/8th of an ounce. Accuracy in monitoring temperature can be important when making soap, too. Arm yourself with a good digital thermometer, and you'll be sure to have this taken care of.

Soap Making Ingredients

Most of the soap making ingredients you'll need to make natural soaps can be bought inexpensively at your local grocery store. Olive oil, castor oil (from the pharmacy), coconut oil (most health food stores carry this), and new Crisco (made with fully hydrogenated palm oil) will make nice vegetable based natural soaps. Lye, in the form of sodium hydroxide, is the trickiest soap making ingredient to find locally. You may have heard of others who use drain cleaner, because many brands contain sodium hydroxide. However, few if any contain pure sodium hydroxide, and many contain other harmful materials. Read the labels. Use only pure sodium hydroxide. It is easily ordered on line from sources such as The Lye Depot, AAA Chemical, or a host of other distributors. Stick with "Food Grade" lye to be certain there are no impurities that could cause your experiment to fail or produce less than desireable results.

Soap Making Supplies and Equipment

To make a batch of soap, you will need to assemble a few pieces of equipment. Once they have been used for soap making, they should only be used for soap making. You'll need:

- latex gloves and chemical goggles (the sort that wrap around and give full protection to the fronts/sides/tops/bottoms of the eyes).
- Rubbermaid-type pitcher, 2 qt. capacity
- glass microwaveable bowl, that can hold approx. 4 cups of oil.
- rubber spatula
- long handled stainless steel (or melamine) spoon
- stick blender
- A soap mold (either silicone molds such as cupcake molds, or soap molds, or a  box lined with freezer paper, that measures approximately  5 x 4 inches. A baby-shoe box is perfect).
- disposable 8 oz. cup  (I like plastic SOLO cups), or other measuring cup/container to measure out the lye
- Freezer paper
- digital thermometer
- digital scale, accurate to the 1/8th of an ounce

If you'll be using a box as your mold, you'll need to line it with freezer paper. Cut your paper to measure approx. 12" x 13" for a 4" x 5" box. Let the excess paper hang over the edges of the box. These pieces will serve as handles when you remove your finished soap from the mold. Trace the box on the center of the paper, fold along the lines. Tuck in the corners, and fit inside the box. Silicone molds need no preparation, other than washing and drying.

Natural Soap Recipe Using (mostly!) Grocery Store Ingredients

Here is a great first time recipe for hand made natural soap. The addition of castor oil to the formula boosts the soap's conditioning power and adds to the rich, bubbly lather in the finished bar soaps. The percentages shown, indicate the percent of each particular oil to the total oil weight. For a one pound batch of natural soap, use the weights (oz.) given. This recipe has been run through a lye calculator, but it's always a good habit to check it yourself as well.

Coconut Oil:                                   25%      4.0 oz.
Crisco (formulated with palm):  30%      4.8 oz.
Olive Oil:                                         40%      6.4 oz.
Castor Oil:                                        5%      0.8 oz.

Total:                                              100%    16 oz. / 1 lb.

Essential Oil: approximately 1 tablespoon (suggestions: lavender, patchouli, lemongrass, sweet orange, clary sage). Google to find more information on essential oil use rates. 

Distilled Water:   6.1 oz
Lye (pelleted, beads): 2.25 oz.

Hand Made Natural Soap Instructions

Cover your work surface with a plastic tablecloth or newspaper.

Warn children and others that you will be making soap, and tell them not to touch, mess with, or otherwise be near your lye solution. Keep lye and lye solutions away from children and pets.

1. Put on your gloves and goggles.

2. Place the pitcher in the bottom of your kitchen sink as an extra precaution. Measure the water using your digital scale, and pour it into the pitcher.

3. Measure the lye into a disposable cup. Be sure to pour carefully, and MEASURE ACCURATELY. Be aware that lye can build up a static charge and "bounce" around a bit.

4. Pour the lye into the water in the pitcher. Stir slowly with the spoon until the lye has dissolved. Do not breathe the vapors- use a towel over your mouth/nose, open a window and/or turn on an exhaust fan if possible.

5. Measure your oils into the glass bowl. Measure accurately. Microwave the oil at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until the oils are melted, and clear. There should be no graininess.

6. Measure the temperature of your oils, and the temperature of your lye solution. Allow both to cool until they are between 100-107 degrees fahrenheit.

7. When the solutions have reached the 100-107 degree range, slowly pour the oils into the lye pitcher, using a rubber spatula to scrape every last bit of oil out. It's important to get it all, because your recipe depends on correct proportions of lye to oil.

8. Stir slowly with your spoon, or with your turned-off stick blender for about 10 seconds.

9. Turn the stick blender on, and work it around the pitcher for about 10 seconds. Turn it off, and swirl it around for about 10 seconds. Occasionally, scrape down the sides of the pitcher with your rubber spatula. Turn the blender on, swirl for 10 seconds. Turn it off, and swirl for a 10 seconds. Continue in this manner until the mixture resembles thin pancake batter. This is the beginning of what soap makers call "trace." Work slowly.

10. At this point, if you would like to add some scent, measure out, and pour in your essential oil.

11. Continue pulsing your stick blender until the mixture thickens a bit more. You're looking for "trace." Trace is the point when, if you raise your blender, and allow the soap batter to drip back into the pitcher, it will leave a "ribbon" or outline of itself on the surface of the soap. 

12. Pour the batter into your prepared box, or your silicone mold. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Place a few towels or blankets over the mold. This will allow the heat of the soap making reaction, "saponification," to build and linger, and encourage all the oils to magically transform into natural soap. Let the mold sit under wraps, undisturbed, for at least 24 hours.

13. After 24 hours, uncover your mold. Remove the plastic wrap. If there are pockets of liquid, or crusty, white, crumbly patches, something did not go right. Your soap will not be useable, and should be disposed of (some people save this sort of batch or try to re-do it. I'm not an expert in this area. You can google for ways to save a failed batch).  If your soap is smooth and dry, you most likely just made your first batch of wonderful natural soap! Sometimes, a thin, white layer will form on the top of a new loaf of soap. This is most likely soap ash. It is not harmful and can be rubbed off with a damp paper towel if you'd like. You can also spray the top with rubbing alcohol. Amazing- it makes it disappear! Invert the mold to get the soap out. If you made your soap in a box, you will need to cut it now into bars. Cut carefully with a chef's knife or a carving knife. Or, use a guitar wire to slice through your hand made natural soap block as you would with a cheese slicer.

14. Allow the bars to cure for 4-6 weeks on a rack, or on a surface covered with kraft paper. Water will continue to evaporate out of the bars and they will harden. After four weeks, your natural soaps should be ready to use!

15. A  zap test is an easy way to test natural soaps for readiness- touching the soap to the tip of your tongue should do nothing (except taste like soap!!) if the soap is not lye heavy. However, if it contains unreacted lye, or is particularly harsh, it will produce a sensation similar to a "zap!" If you've ever licked a battery, the sensation is supposedly similar. If your soap is lye heavy, it can posssibly be used for other things. Search Google for ways to save a failed batch. If your soap didn't turn out well, try again! Be sure to measure accurately next time. Remember that accurate measurements of temperature and ingredient amounts are extremely important. Your next batch of natural hand made soap should be better!

 Let the Addiction Begin!

The recipe and tutorial contained herein may not be reproduced in any way without the express written consent of The Natural Bar Soap Company.