Are you curious about how natural soap is made, or maybe even want to try your hand at the ancient craft of soap making? Five years ago, I was thinking the same thoughts. When I learned that you can actually make your own soap relatively easily, I was stunned. You mean to tell me that I can make soap in my own kitchen with only a few ingredients, contrary to the ingredient lists of mass-produced soaps that have 20+ ingredients, almost all of which have extremely obscure names? Yes, that is exactly what I mean.
Soap making follows a simple equation.
Oils + Sodium Hydroxide → Soap
You might be asking yourself, what does the sodium hydroxide do? Well, it is referred to as a saponification agent. What this means is that it has the ability to transform oils into soap. In a finished bar of soap, there is NO sodium hydroxide remaining, as it has all been chemically transformed by combining with oil, into soap, a totally new substance. There will be some oils left in the soap, however, because we always add more oil to a recipe than what is required. If you were to use only the exact amounts of sodium hydroxide and oil needed to transform each other into soap, you would end up with a drying and possible caustic bar of soap. By including extra oil, you entirely avoid that possibility and are rewarded with a wonderfully moisturizing, soothing soap.
All of our soaps are designed handmade by me (Soro) in small batches. I developed a base recipe that I use standard for almost all of our soaps. In saying that, each soap batch is unique and has modifications to this recipe. Our soaps are all vegan, palm oil free, and use only organic ingredients other than the sodium hydroxide (which isn't grown, so it can't be organic). Some of my favorite ingredients are Fair trade organic coconut oil, Fair trade organic shea butter, Fair trade organic cocoa butter, organic olive oil, organic castor oil, and organic avocado oil.
There are different methods for homemade soap making, and different people have different preferences. It is best to take notes from different sources to find what method works best for you. I will take you through the process that I use for our soaps here at Creaturely Soaps.
Note: This article does not review necessary safety measures that must be adhered to when soap making. Sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns and respiratory irritation if it is not respected and you don't follow appropriate safety guidelines. Please adequately research soap making safety before embarking on soap making. This includes personal protective equipment and appropriate tools. Soap making can be absolutely safe so long as your are educated on best practices!
This video shows the complete process of our Coconut Geranium bars being made.
The first step I take is to measure out the hard oils/butters that you will be using, such as shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil. Basically anything that is solid at room temperature.
Then, I will make the "lye water" (sodium hydroxide + water) and add this to the hard oils. The chemical reaction that takes place when sodium hydroxide meets water results in a lot of heat being created. Freshly made lye water can easily top temperature of 200 degrees F (this is the main reason that appropriate tools are used. Don't make the mistake that I did in the beginning of my soap making journey of using a non-heat resistant container to mix my lye water. BAD idea.) Mixing the hot lye water with the solid oils will melt the hard oils, bringing them to the liquid form that we need.
Next, I will measure out my liquid oils (ingredients such as olive oil, avocado oil, etc) and heat them to around 100 degrees F.
Once both mixtures (melted hard oils and liquid oils) are within 5 degrees of 100 degrees F, I will combine them together and mix them well with an immersion blender.
After about half a minute of mixing, the batter will already begin to thicken slightly. At this point, it is time to add my essential oils and natural colorants and blend a bit more. Finally, the soap is ready to pour into a mold!
The soap batter will sit in its mold, transforming from a liquid solution to a hard block, for about 48 hours. Once that time has passed, it is unmolded and cut into individual bars using a wire cutter.
Each soap bar needs to wait at least 4-6 weeks before it can be used. This time mainly allows them to "dry out" and thus, last longer once in use.
That's it! While soap making is certainly a skill that needs to be practiced, the process is actually much more simple than I expected it to be when I was first leaning soap making half a decade ago. I encourage people to give soap making a try as I think it is a wonderful (and productive) way to connect with our history and heritage as human beings.