I’ve been making my own cruelty-free cold process soap for over a decade, I love it because I know exactly what’s in it and it’s super moisturizing to my skin. I also love giving out soap as neighbor Christmas Gifts each year, it’s an inexpensive gift that is full of homemade love.
Wanna join me?
The equipment you need:
An accurate kitchen scale, 2 glass or stainless bowls (not pictured above), a wooden spoon, a stick blender, Soap Mold (a rectangular glass container is used here), 3 or 4 tupperware containers of various sizes for measuring lye, oils and water into (not pictured above) Plastic Wrap, Candy making thermometer (not pictured above), Long Chemical Resistant Gloves, dishwashing variety gloves will do fine in a pinch, cuff them to catch any soap that could run down your arm) and Safety Goggles.
Get ready: Put on your gloves, safety goggles, tie your hair back if it is long. Wear a long sleeve shirt, pants and closed toe shoes.
The safety equipment and long clothing may seem silly, but lye (or caustic soda) is a chemical that WILL burn your skin (it’s the primary ingredient in drain cleaners), and can cause blindness, so PLEASE USE CAUTION.
Ready? Lets make soap!
Now for the ingredients. I’m giving you a super simple recipe that will make a mild and moisturizing soap with really good lather. PRETTY PLEASE use a kitchen scale, soap MUST be made by measuring by weight, not volume!
Somer’s Simple Soap
1 lb test batch, if you’ve never made soap, I suggest starting with this smaller batch.
makes four 4 ounce bars
- 6 oz coconut oil (170 grams)
- 10 oz olive oil (283 grams)
- 3 to 4 oz distilled water (85-110 grams)
- 2.23 oz. (or 62-63 grams) lye
- 2 t. organic or therapeutic grade essential oil (I use all kinds, but lavender and citrus oils are my faves)
Once you’ve made the test batch above successfully, go ahead and make a 5 lb. batch following the same method as below (but with new measurements and use bigger containers all around).
5 lb batch
makes twenty 4 ounce bars
- 30 ounces coconut oil (1.875 lbs or 850 grams)
- 50 ounces olive oil (3.125 lbs or 1,417 grams)
- 25 ounces distilled water (1.5 lbs or 709 grams)
- 11.5 ounces lye (326 grams)
- 1 ounce essential oil of your choice (or a blend)
I buy my lye at my local Ace Hardware Store, It is getting harder and harder to find, so if you have trouble, you can also source it here. Do not use Drano, Liquid Plumber or any other type of lye formulation that is not 100% pure lye.
Put a small round tupperware container on your kitchen scale, then turn it on, this will allow it to start at a zero weight without adding the weight of your container to the total weight. Pour distilled water slowly into the container until you have 3 or 4 ounces of water in your container.
Add distilled water to glass or stainless bowl. Turn off your scale and put a different small tupperware container on the scale (not the same one you used the water for, you don’t want any lye touching water at this point). Turn it on and CAREFULLY weigh the lye. I like to measure the weight of the lye in grams for the greatest accuracy.
Slowly Pour the lye into the water, this is (literally) best done outdoors with your free longsleeved arm covering your airways so you don’t inhale toxic fumes.
Stir quickly so the lye crystals don’t solidify at the bottom of the bowl
The temperature of the water at this point can be over 150 degrees (sometimes it even boils). So set the bowl cautiously aside with your gloved hands AND some pot holders.
Get your oils ready to measure
Using the same method as before, but with a clean container, Slowly add 6 ounces of the coconut oil to your tupperware (if it’s not all ready liquid, warm it up briefly for easier measuring).
DO NOT TURN OFF OR ZERO OUT THE SCALE THIS TIME, Immediately add the olive oil until it reaches a total weight of 16 ounces or 1 pound
Now heat the oil in the microwave in 15 second intervals until it reaches a temperature between 100-120 degrees farenheit. You can also heat the oils briefly on the stove-top (in a pot of course).
Next, check the temperature of the lye. If its anywhere between 100-120 degrees, you are good to go. If it’s still too hot, give it another minute or so to cool down. As long as the lye and oils are somewhere between 100-120 degrees they’re within an appropriate range for mixing and starting the trace process.
Put the oils into a glass or stainless bowl (I used my 4 C. glass measuring cup) and Carefully pour the lye into the oils.
Now stir briefly with your wooden spoon (or in my case, wooden spork thingy). Then use the stick blender to bring your soap to trace, trace is the state where the oil and lye water are thoroughly combined. It will thicken, not quite as thick as pudding, but like a stirred custard.
Soap is fully traced when it can support a drop (you will see the outline of the soap drop and it won’t disappear). This should take less than 5 minutes with your stick blender on high speed and this particular recipe.
At this point you can add your essential oils or leave the soap unscented. Just pour in a teaspoon or two of essential oil per pound of soap you are making and give it another whiz with the stick blender til fully incorporated.
I used a glass rectangular container, but even a shoe box or drawer organizer will work.
Soap can form a weird ash layer when curing sometimes so I make a little soap burrito and cover it all up with plastic wrap to prevent the ash layer from forming. It doesn’t make for the prettiest soap, but hey, I’m not selling it.
Put soap in oven or microwave (weird I know) and close the door. You want to protect it from drafts and give it a nice cozy place to incubate. It will get really warm and go through several phases, including a gel phase while incubating. This is NORMAL. Just leave it undisturbed for 24 hours.
Now your soap is ready to cut! Just pull the plastic wrap off it and go to it! The photos of cut soap are from a 5 pound batch.
I like using the cute crinkle cutter Erika gave me for my birthday.
Let soap cure for a week or two before using. Longer cure times will result in a firmer longer lasting bar, which is great, if you can stand to wait! Oh, and if I get my coconut oil on sale (like I always do) this soap costs less than a dollar per bar to make, which is a slam dunk compared to the fancy bars at Whole Foods.
If you’d like to formulate your own soap recipes, I suggest you visit The Sage Website for their lye calculator, and their Soap Blog for more detailed instructions and ideas. The Sage is also an excellent and affordable place to purchase soap-making supplies including soap molds, essential oils and fixed oils. You can go as extravagant as you like or you can keep it simple which is more my style.
A word about essential oils in soap-making: vanilla will turn the soap brown, peppermint will burn your naughty bits if you use too much (I suggest 1/2 t. or less for a batch this size) and cinnamon essential oils will not only burn your skin, but will also cause your soap to seize solid in the bowl. So stick to the basics ;) I only use essential oils as I find fragrance oils to be artificial and cloying (same goes for artificial coloring) I’ve tried natural colorants but in the end, I always go back to plain soaps, bonus that they are also the least irritating. (FYI, lavender buds and most other herbs turn brown and will look like dead flies in finished soap).