DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

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2 August 2011

How to make cold processed soap - V 2

I have tried to make this process and the explanation of it as simple as I can, but you must be aware that soap making is not cooking, it is chemistry. Rules apply and when they're not followed, that is when you have failures. I have never had a failed batch of soap and I'm sure that's because I researched, read AND UNDERSTOOD what I read and what I had to do. If you are going to make soap, research and read and make sure you understand what you're doing. Hopefully this post will help with that understanding.

There are two things I want to highlight:
  1. No matter what you read or what people tell you, there is no way to make soap without caustic soda/lye.
  2. You HAVE to weigh your oils - you will notice that the oil measurements are in grams and the water is in millilitres. This is because water has a specific gravity of 1 and therefore a weighed litre/quart of water will be the same as a measured litre/quart of water. Oil is not the same. Oil is lighter and therefore a measured litre/quart of oil is different to a weighed litre/quart of oil. If you don't understand that, maybe soap making is not for you.
WHY YOU HAVE TO WEIGH YOUR OILS
Water and oil do not weight the same - oil is lighter, which is why oil floats on water. If you pour one litre of water into a jug and one litre of oil into a similar jug, the oil would weigh less than the water. Therefore if you pour one litre of oil into a one litre jug and think it's the same as 1000 grams, it's not. You must weigh your oil to get exactly the 1000 grams needed in this recipe.

MOULDS
I use silicon moulds that were probably made for small cakes. I can't tell you what moulds to use because I have only used these and you probably wouldn't be able to buy them where you are. Suffice to say you'll need either a large mould - and cut the soap when it's set, or you can use smaller shapes similar to mine. The pink ones I use are from Kmart but I don't think they stock them anymore.

GREASING MOULDS
I have found that the silicon moulds don't need greasing. If you do need to grease your moulds, use a cooking oil spray.

COCONUT OIL
Coconut oil is getting to be quite expensive and sometimes it's hard to find. If that is the case and you're in Australia, you can use copha, which is available at the supermarket in the butter section. Enough copha to make this soap recipe will currently cost you around $2.66. Coconut oil solidifies when the temperature is 24c/76F. It's fine to use it either way; if it has solidified, just melt it with the other oil.

SOAP MAKING OILS
Each oil used is soap is used for a certain quality it has. For instance, coconut oil help soap lather well; olive oil is a good oil to base the soap on as it will nourish the skin and make a beautiful mild soap.  Low grade olive oil is the best olive oil to use, not extra virgin. Take the time to learn a bit about the different qualities of soap oils here. Once you know what you want and the oils that will give it to you, find out what's available in your neighbourhood and go from there. When you decide on the oils you would like to use, and know they're available to you, go to this soap calculator, put in your oils and the calculator will tell you how much water and caustic soda/lye to use.

ESSENTIAL OILS AND COLOURS
I never use these so I can't advise you about their use.

RECIPES FOR SOAP
The recipe may change every time you make soap but the method of making it remains the same.

EQUIPMENT
You can use your kitchen equipment for soap making. Make sure you clean it thoroughly when you finished.
  • Stainless steel saucepan
  • Spatula
  • Scales - oils and caustic soda/lye are measured by weight, not volume
  • Jug - for holding oils
  • Measuring jug - for measuring water. It's ok to measure the water by volume
  • Thermometer - you can use either a milk or candy thermometer
  • Stick blender, optional but it's the easiest way to stir
  • Newspaper to cover your work area
  • Moulds
DON'T use aluminium pots, bowls or spoons. 

SOAP RECIPE
My new recipe for a good cold pressed soap is:
  1. 450 mls * rain water, spring water or distilled water
  2. 172 grams caustic soda/lye 
  3. 1000 grams olive oil 
  4. 250 grams copha or coconut oil 
* If you don't have rain, spring or distilled water, collect enough tap water the day before you make the soap and leave it on the bench to sit. That will allow the chlorine in the water to evaporate off.

If you don't operate in mls and grams, there is an online conversion calculator for liquid here and for weight here.

WARNING
If you are new to soap making, be warned, it should never be attempted when children or animals are around. The lye (caustic soda) you will use, burns, and if you spill it on skin you need to wash it off immediately under running water or vinegar. If you drop it on the floor or bench top, wipe it up straight away as it will burn a hole. When you mix the lye with water, even though it's not on the stove, it will heat up considerably and burn if you drop any on yourself or splash it in your eyes. There are also fumes. When you mix the lye with the water, fumes will come off it. Make sure you mix your lye in a well ventilated room. If you're asthmatic, be very careful.

Many soap makers wear latex gloves, goggles and a mask. Please use these safeguards while you're learning to make soap. When you're experienced, you might be able to dispense with them.

Are you still with me after that warning? Soap making is a simple process that is made difficult by using lye (caustic soda). There is absolutely NO WAY to make soap from scratch without using caustic soda/ lye. If you make sure you're alone when making soap, if you have all your ingredients measured out and have a clean and clear work area, you shouldn't have any problems. The entire process should take about 30 minutes. BTW, the process of soapmaking - saponification - neutralises the lye and by the time the soap is cured, no lye remains in the soap.

IN A NUTSHELL
Basically when you make soap, you mix the water and caustic soda/lye together and they will heat up without you doing anything to them. That is the first chemical reaction.  Then you combine the oils and heat them on the stove. Now you wait till the lye and water solution cools to around 50c and the oils heat up to 50c. You need them to both be at the same temperature and when they are you mix them together and start stirring. When you reach "trace" and that is explained below, you pour the soap into moulds and wait for it to set.

HERE'S HOW TO DO IT IN DETAIL:

METHOD
  • Lay out the newspaper over your work area.
  • Grease your moulds.
  • Put on your safety gear.
  • Open the windows for good ventilation.
  • Measure out the water into your measuring jug.
  • Measure out the caustic soda/lye into a small bowl.
  • Carefully pour the caustic soda/lye into the measured water.
  • Stir the water with a spoon until the caustic soda/lye is completely dissolved - about one minute.
Caustic soda/lye and water - mixed together.
  • Weigh your oils and place them in a saucepan.
  • Clip the thermometer onto the side of the saucepan and place on low heat on the stove. Slowly heat the oils to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F).
Copha and oils heating up.
  • Wait until you have the oil heated to 50C and the caustic soda/lye cooled down to 50C (122F). When they're the same temperature, carefully pour the lye water into the oils and avoid splashing it.
  • Start mixing. You can either use a spoon and stir for about 20 minutes or use a stick blender and mix for about 5 minutes, making sure your blender doesn't overheat. Don't use a hand beater and it splashes too much and the soap is still caustic at this stage.
TRACE
Trace is the sign you look for that the soap has become stable and is ready to be poured into a mould. Before you reach trace, the surface of the mixture will be smooth, like pouring cream. When you reach trace, slight ripples will form on the surface and remain there, like thick custard. The mix should be thick, but pourable.

This is what the mix looks like when you've reached trace. Notice how there are ripple staying on the surface.
  • Once the soap is in the moulds, lay a sheet of parchment or grease-proof paper over the top and cover with a two towels so it cools down slowly.
  • The next morning, or about 15 hours later, release the soap from the mould. If it's a large mould, cut it into whatever shape you desire.
  • Place the cakes of soap on a drying rack in an area they can stay in for a couple of weeks. Turn the soap over every day to allow it to dry out evenly. I cure my soaps for about six weeks before using them. The drier they are when you use them, the longer they last. You could use your soap after a week or so, but when it gets wet it will go soft and won't last long. It's better to cure them for a few weeks. This batch made 12 hefty blocks of soap.
TROUBLE POINTS
You will have trouble with your soap: 
  • if you don't weigh your oils
  • if you don't measure your water
  • if you don't weigh your caustic soda/lye
  • if you don't have both mixtures at the same temperature
  • if you don't stir long enough
Remember, soap isn't just a solid bar. It must lather well, clean and nourish your skin. 

Phew! That is the last post about soap I'll do for a while. I do want you to make your own soap but if you're not prepared to read, understand and follow the process to the exactly, then maybe this simple living task is not for you. If you get past the first soap making session and it results in good soap, I'm sure you'll go on to make it many more times. This is good soap, it's worth a bit of time, planning and effort.  Good luck!


54 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful tutorial. I love how you are always direct and to the point. At the same time you make sure you cover all the bases. I haven't made soap in quite some time, but now you have inspired me. I think I'll work it into my schedule next week.

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    Replies
    1. This is an awesome recipe and i was just wondering if you could add other scented oils and turn it into different looking bars of soap using the column swirl method

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  2. Thanks Rhonda! I made your soap recipe yesterday and it is looking very nice. If it helps anyone in gaging what size mold they need, I had a wooden box I used (11 1/2" x 5" x 3"), the box holds nearly 8 cups of water and was the width and height that I wanted my bars to be. The recipe filled the box to the very top. Once I unmolded the soap and cut it into bars I had 12 large bars that are each about the size of a Fels Naptha bar. I may end up cutting each one in half as they are rather large:)

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  3. By the way, it really was very easy!

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  4. Awesome! thanks for sharing.

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  5. I know these are very basic questions, but I'm an absolute beginner and want to get it right: What kind of thermometer do you use to measure the temperature of the water/caustic soda when you're waiting for it to cool to 50? Can you use the same one you use for the oil mixture? And can it be a glass candy thermometer or would the lye cause the glass to explode?
    Thank you so much Rhonda for the detailed explanation in your post.

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  6. I sometimes use a clean two litre milk container with top cut off as a mould. When the soap is ready it is easily cut into blocks. It makes a large block of soap. A one litre milk carton makes a smaller size block of soap. Not as pretty as your lovely moulds but they work well and they are free.

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  7. Thanks Rhonda muchly,
    This is everything I need to launch me into soap making. What a lot of effort you've gone to explaining for us and it's all easy to understand. I'm looking forward to my little 'adventure' and especially giving it out on Christmas and birthdays.
    Vickixx

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  8. Thanks for taking the time to post all that Rhonda. I'll refer back to this when I do have a go one day. I'm waiting until Violet is a bit older.

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  9. Thought it might be worth mentioning that if you are in Australia and want to sell soap you have made via cold or hot press methods (or cosmetics or other items) you are supposed to be registered with NICNAS

    http://www.nicnas.gov.au/Industry/Registration/Fact_Sheets/Soap_Makers_Fact_Sheet_PDF.pdf

    and it's not cheap either, as there is no special rate for hobbyists, which is crazy.....

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  10. This is a very clear & detailed tutorial Rhonda....
    I use a similar recipe but render my own beef fat.
    To help decide on the size of the mould; I usually add up all the ingredients into mls...and work out a mould that way.
    Very Informative Rhonda, now have a rest from your soap making..I do hope you left some aside for yourself as well, I'm sure you won't be wanting to make more any time soon.
    I think a lot of people will appreciate the effort you have gone to with such detail.
    Well done!

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  11. I found it interesting what Margo shared about the need to register. I have friends who make and sell soap on a small scale so I'm going to ask them about this and give them a little shock perhaps! Yes, I read the fact sheet and if you make soap using the method that Rhonda outlines you are considered to be manufacturing chemicals! I wonder how many people selling their soap at markets have actually registered? There are some great products out there but also some very poor ones, I've bought home made soaps that just melted away to a gluggy mess on the basin so it really does pay to master the process before you start to sell it.

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  12. Hi Rhonda. i had a look around the soap oils link you placed, and I have a question. Both you and the soap oils site mention to avoid extra virgin olive oil... besides the expense, what other reasons are there for this? Does it just not work properly? Is it something to do with the fat content? i made my first batch of soap last week and while I haven't tested it yet as its still curing, I made it with extra virgin olive oil - mostly because that what we had - and so far no problems - came up to trace just fine.

    Also what is the reasoning behind having the oils at the same temperature? The web site I used to develop my recipe said clearly that the temperature of the oils was not important - heres the link: http://www.snowdriftfarm.com/soapsafely.html

    Thanks in advance,
    Bec.

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  13. That's an amazingly clear tutorial Rhonda, thank you. I'm ready to do my second batch so this will be invaluable. I appreciate the time and effort that you have put into this.

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  14. Phew! That was a mammoth task. Well done Rhonda, it was thorough and crystal clear. I myself have seven kilos of mutton fat coming today...waste not want not!

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  15. As a soap maker, I concur with your advice that it isn't easy or quick. I make french milled, which is even one more step, to use goat milk. That being said, I love the olive oil mixture and use that for a base solution.

    As a sidebar... I put my finished soap (in their molds) in the freezer for an hour. This makes them pop right out and I can have several batches made at one time.

    For molds, I use anything from candy molds to soap molds to jello molds and even yogurt cups. Anything that will hold the soap will work and can lead to some very interesting shapes! LOL

    I use only essential oils, as you, in my soaps. Organic is best, if you can find it. I also use powder lavendar from the garden along with calendula (I use my blender to pulverize it).

    One last bit personal note is that the longer you let soap dry, the better. I let my olive oil soap dry for four weeks and then grind it to mix with my goat milk. I let THAT sodry another four weeks. It makes for a very hard bar that doesn't shrink.

    So glad you have inspired future soap makers! It is such a neat process and so very interesting! Happy bubbles!

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  16. Thank you for posting this, I am very interested to try making my own soap in the future, it sounds like a very precise but simple process which would be worth the short time :)

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  17. Rhonda I wanted to let you know and show you that we recieved our book from you today,thanks again xxx http://mrsmacgregorsgarden.blogspot.com/

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  18. Rhonda, you have been so patient and are a wonderful teacher! As a science teacher, chemistry included, I can appreciate the aspect of measuring you've talked about that aren't the way we usually work in a home.

    I think, if you used the same oils each and every time, you could weigh them once, put them in a measuring container or such, and mark/note the volume. then, thereafter, you can measure by volume.

    I know in baking, esp, measuring by weight (or mass) makes for more reliable baked goods. If only our kitchens were more easily set up to do so!

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  19. Hi Rhonda.
    I have always had such wonderful luck with your original soap recipe, but I tried your first one ..and failed..completely MY fault!!! Realising the error of my ways I tried again VERY CAREFULLY but this time it really didnt go to a good trace. I gave it a while then poured it. I have every hope that it will eventually thicken up to cutting consistency but Im going to make the origianl once more. Everyone who has tried that recipe has raved about it. It really is si special. Hair, skin children it really is gorgfeous for all. Love your site as always. You are the calm in hte storm of this world.
    thanks
    Cherry

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  20. I am SO excited! I am going to make my first batch tonight! Hubby is up the street buying the copha and oil now. I bought my thermometer and caustic soda today - yay! Thanks Rhonda for such a great informative and thorough post.
    Lusi x

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  21. Can I add that for your UK readers who are thinking of selling soap that the recipe has to be approved by a chemist and you must be registered with Trading Standards who will normally want to see a full H&S risk assessment, COSSH sheets, etc. Yahoo has a very good soap makers forum especially aimed at UK soap makers both hobby makers and small scale producers

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  22. You have really inspired me to have a go at making my own soap. I have the same questions as Helen. Can I use the same thermometer? Also, what is low grade olive oil? Just cheap brand? Quite excited about the whole thing! Thanks so much for your clear instructions. I shall report back.

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  23. I have three basic questions Rhonda . I hope you do not mind. Do you need two thermometers? One for the lye/water mix and another for use with the oil mix? Also what size saucepan do you use for this recipe of soap? I am not sure as it needs to be big enough for all the recipe and yet enough for a little movement when mixing. If you use a wooden box as a mold would you have to line it with something? Sarah

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  24. You can use the same thermometer - I use a candy thermometer. All the utensils and pots you use for soap, after a thorough cleaning, can be used for your food again.
    Buy the cheapest olive oil you can find. This is not for eating, where you would use an extra virgin oil. We buy the 4 litre tin of spanish oil or the three litre tin of Australian oil, which ever is cheapest.
    I meant to add that people who intend selling soap, must abide by their local regulations. Here is is registration and a fee.

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  25. susan from michiganAugust 02, 2011 10:09 pm

    I have been thinking about making my own soap at home,but wes scared to try it. I guess using lye had me a little freeked out!
    Your tutorial is so straight forward,and easy to understand that I am going out today to buy the lye and oil. I'll let you know how it goes. Thank you for your wonderful blogsite I have learned so much from you about how to live a more simple life.

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  26. Thank you for sharing. I know it may not be simple but I'd like to make it periodically for the joy and the self-sufficiency.

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  27. Rhonda, I have made soap before and yours are the clearest, simplest instructions I've ever read.

    I over-complicated everything when I did it. Back then, molds were not easy to find and I had to make and store all these oddly shaped homemade boxes. And I made things even more complicated by rendering my own animal fat. That's a very smelly thing to do, especially in a small apartment.

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  28. Thank you for your wonderful instructions. I just tried making soap last week, according to your original recipe that included rice bran oil. The bars are curing now, and I'm eager to see how they turn out in six weeks! It really wasn't that complicated, but it was very different from any task I've tried before. Your detailed, common-sense instructions gave me the confidence to try it out, and I'm so glad I did! Thank you for the time you invested in writing it up (several times now!).
    Luci

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  29. If I use one of my good pans for this soap can I ever use it again for food?

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  30. Thanks Rhonda, your post persuaded me to try my hand at making soap about a year ago and I haven't bought any since! The first lot wasn't brilliant but it was usable, but hey it was a learner. I use it up the allotment (great for cleaning slug slime off muddy hands & green slime off the greenhouse; for cleaning the bathroom with (my sister swears by it) and for using in the shower and hand basin. I've also grated it up to make your liquid laundry soap recipe and am testing the first batch out on my towels in the washing machine as I type. It's a bit of basic household chemistry and we should all be able to have a grasp of it - it ain't rocket science. So thanks again Rhonda for fun and adventures over the kitchen sink. :-)

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  31. thanks so much for the tip on olive oil, made heaps on the w/end using what I had - which turns out to be EVOO, but never mind, will get the cheaper stuff this week - thanks Rhonda

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  32. thelittleblackcowblogAugust 03, 2011 12:01 pm

    Another good soap making post , Rhonda. I struggled with the price of coconut oil from the health food shop, but have since discovered a really good online shop on ebay , they are actually the same brand I was buying, but direct from the wholesaler. So far have been sent things promptly and at a good price, you have to buy in bulk though.
    kim

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  33. Rhonda thank you so much for this post I have been wanting to try this and reading about soap making for awhile, but really there is no time with little ones not underfoot right now, but I am still waiting and gathering supplies and ingrediants just in case one day they decided to take a nap:). But I do have a question, We have chloramine in our water system, it is a new water supply that the water co is usuing. I have been researching and found that all our normal filters will not get rid of it and evaporation will not get rid of the chlorine because it is bonded with the amonia, can I use distilled water for the soap? or filtered as soon as a better filter comes in?
    I would use rain water but it has not rained here in over 9 months and my barrells dried up a long time ago.

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  34. thank you for all the informatio, Rhonda. I've been meaning to make soap for a long time now - olive oil soap, a soap that doesn't just clean but also nourishes - but I can't get coconut oil at all here. I never heard of "copha", but something tells me that I won't be able to find that here either - though we do have plenty of olive oil of all grades and quality :)

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  35. Thanks so much Rhonda for the extremely clear and easy to follow instructions. I made my first ever batch of soap yesterday and feel very proud of the array of soap blocks drying happily on my bench, alongside my busily bubbling sourdough staarter. I'm feeling more and more self-sufficient, largely thanks to you.
    Nonna J

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  36. Hi Rhonda
    I´m itching to give soap making a try after your great tutorial, would be such a lovely Christmas gift. Your comment the other day about a dollar saved versus dollar earned made me think seriously plus that I´ve been cleaning out the garage and giving heaps and heaps of stuff away and throwing away. I´ve been thinking a lot of thoughts about values and quality of life. All that stuff...I felt it was just weighing me down...It´s a pity to have so much and not have time to enjoy it... I have also been thinking a lot about love and kindness, understanding and tolerance and acceptance of each other and how fragile the state of peace can be. These thoughts have come from the terrible things that happened in Oslo and had us all deeply shaken!
    Love Kristin
    Iceland
    (Next to Norway)

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  37. hi Rhonda I made soap using your recipe not my first time making soap but first time using your recipe not sure where i went wrong but it didnt harden.. any advice

    cheers Carly

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  38. I have just cut up my 4th batch of your soap . Each batch seems to last us about 6 months. This is the best batch I have made and the reason is that I REALLY followed all your instructions.
    The first time I remember reading and doing and the process all being new and me being nervous - and as I remember it grandchildren turning up for a suprised visit- well it was a miracle it turned out at all. Bit by bit I am improved and this batch is just right.
    Ps All the soaps have been beautiful to use - just one was a bit dry one a bit oily but now this is perfect.

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  39. Hi Rhonda,

    Yesterday I had my first attempt at making your soap and it turned out beautifully. Thank you for your very clear tutorial. I have written about it on my blog here: http://ourredhouse.blogspot.com/2011/11/home-made-olive-and-coconut-oil-soap.html

    Kate

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  40. thank you for sharing this. for many years I made and sold soap for fun (my knight told me to sell some or else it might just overtake us...lol)
    but then God called me to adding more children to our family... when I went from a mother of 3 to a mother of 6 in a blink of an eye, soap making took a back seat. Just when I thought soap might happen out in my barn once again, God sent us to Ethiopia to bring home a baby. when we settled at home He dropped the hint that there was one more back in Ethiopia that we needed to bring into our hearts...she was 14 and that was 18 months ago or so.

    dreaming of soapmaking. tomorrow is my birthday and I would love for my knight to fire up the stove in the barn and let me have a go once again at the soap making world. oh how i miss it. it was such a creative outlet, so fun to create new soaps. thank you for the inspiration...perhaps tomorrow my dreaming might come to an end and i can have a batch under blankets awaiting its unleashing into the world once again.

    thanks ...really!

    Kimmie
    mama to 8
    one homemade and 7 adopted

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  41. Rhonda,

    I'm just wondering if a meat thermometer is OK to use for measuring the temperatures?

    Thanks.

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  42. Michelle, any thermometer that handles high heat will be fine.

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  43. The link to your soap calculator comes up with "Account Suspended", so I'm assuming that they haven't kept their page updated.

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  44. Hi Rhonda
    Just a quick word of thanks, I have just finished making the soap by your recipe in the down to earth book I received last week. Fun to make, quick and not as scary as I thought it would be lol. Longest part was waiting for the caustic to cool. It reminded me of making huge vats of custard for patients when I worked in aged care.
    Many thanks :)
    For anyoneelse I used a meat thermometer quite safely and the recipe filled 2x1 litre milk cartons.

    LizS

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  45. Hi Rhonda and all,
    I made a batch of cold processed soap following this Version 2 recipe and it seems to have turned out quite well. Though it's my first time so I have nothing to compare it to. But anyway, it set in the moulds (two 1 litre milk cartons) enough to successfully remove it and slice it into bars. I was a bit surprised at the colour though. It’s a sort of well, pale olive green actually. I was wondering it will stay that colour or will it fade a bit over the curing time?
    Sue.

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  46. Hi Sue, I'm pleased the soap worked out for you. The colour of the soap results from the kind of oil you used. Did it have a green tinge? It will lighten up a little as it dries out

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  47. Thanks Rhonda. Yes, the oil definitely had a green tinge. I used Coles brand Extra Virgin as I already had some 3 litre cans in the store cupboard - bought when they were on special of course. :-)
    So I guess if I want a creamier/whiter colour soap next time I should use a pale yellowy olive oil. Thanks for your help Rhonda, I love your blog.
    Sue.

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  48. Sue, that's right and you don't need extra virgin. The cheaper oils - plain yellowish olive oil, makes the best soap.

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  49. I've made soap quite a few times using your tutorial and I've had such fun and great success. My family and friends love the soap! I've enjoyed trying different combinations of various oils and found the soap calculator invaluable for this. Last week I wanted to try another batch but the 'soap calculator' website will not load. I've tried the site many times using different search engines but have had no luck. Do you know what the problem is and whether there is another site you can recommend?
    Brenda, from South Africa

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  50. Hi Rhonda,
    Just had my first attempt with yr tutorial & in cooling added some poppy seeds for exfoliation & used pure grapefruit oil & the other half I added lavender buds & pure lavender oil & took them out of silicone loaf mold 24 hrs later & they are perfect. Can't wait to use them. Yay :)

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  51. Hi Rhonda,

    Thank you for your soap receipe. I gave it a go tonight and my mixture looks beautiful but it was so thick I had to put it in the molds with a spoon. I reached trace very quickly in only a few minutes with a hand blender. Wondering did I go past trace or perhaps I had it a little too hot.. both lye and oils were 50 degrees.

    Julie, South Australia

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes the weather can effect the result but it sounds like your soap will harden and be fine to use.

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  52. Good breakdown on soapmaking. I make cold-processed goat milk soaps but I am going to venture into some plant-based soaps too. Excited to check out more of your posts! I have followed you on pinterest for a while but didn't realize you had a website too!

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