My name is Judy. I live in NW Wisconsin and blog as Cranberry Morning. What I do between gardening and letting the dogs in and out of the house is...make luxury, handcrafted soaps. I love it. I started a couple years ago and have expanded to several different types of soap and an online shop, SoapnSuch.com.
If you've never made homemade soap, I thought you might like to see a sequence of photos that would help you understand what is involved in getting a bar of soap out of some oils, lye, and distilled water.
A couple years ago, a friend offered to hold a little class for a handful of us who were interested in making soap. The first thing she told us was that no one under 16 was allowed to be in the class or wandering within our work area. I've kept that as a rule.
Another couple rules that I never break are: Be mindful of what you're doing! Lye is dangerous. It can cause severe burns and blindness if not handled carefully and mindfully! This is one time you definitely cannot afford distractions. Never mix the lye and water in the same area where my dogs or cats (or kids, of course) are. I always mix my lye and water in the basement and wait until the fumes have completely dissipated before I bring it upstairs to use in the kitchen. It is also a good idea to keep your pets gated out of the area in which you are going to work, just in case there's a spill.
Never walk away from oils that are melting in a pan on the stove. No one needs a house fire. Some of the equipment you see in the photo above are among the essentials:
- Good rubber gloves
- Safety Glasses. Spills and splashes have been known to occur.
- A Wire Whisk
- A good rubber scraper
- A stick blender
- Stainless Steel Pots (needed for melting oils, for holding lye water, for cooking the soap, etc.)
- Measuring spoons
- A good digital scale
Measuring the lye. ALWAYS wear rubber gloves and safety glasses when handling the lye bottle, the bowl of lye, and the lye water while and after mixing. Also, always pour the lye into the distilled water, rather than the other way around.
Melting the solids. Above you see the solid oils melting over a low burner. As soon as almost all of the oil has been melted, I remove the pan from the burner and let the heat of the oils melt the remaining solid.
After all the oils have been measured out and the solid oils are melting, then is the time that I pulverize any botanicals I'll be using in my recipe.
I also get the natural colorant and the essential oils and/or fragrance oils measured and ready to go.
Some colorants need to be infused. Some can be added at trace. In the photo above, (a different recipe), olive oil had been infused with the colorant in a small crockpot for a couple hours. Then I let it sit overnight before putting it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer, trying to keep as much particulate out as possible.
Back to our recipe. In this photo, the oils have all been combined and the lye water has been added and I'm beginning to blend them with the stick blender. It's a handy little tool. I hear that in days past Great Great Grandma used to simply stand all day and stir. YIKES. Not for me. The colorant and the botanical are close at hand so I can add them at trace. Trace is what it's called when the soap has thickened to the point of a thinnish pudding.
The soap has been brought 'to trace' and I'm whisking in the natural colorant. Some colorants are added at trace, some are added to the oils at the beginning. It all depends upon the recipe and the colorant used. In this case, I am using a fragrance oil to scent this soap. This fragrance oil has a high enough flash point (the point at which the scent will burn off) that I don't need to worry about losing it during the cooking process.
* *There are different methods of soapmaking, among them, these three:
Cold Process: The soap has been brought to trace, all the colorant and scenting oils have been mixed in, and the soap has been poured into the mold. The soap stays in the mold for 26 hours before it's cut into bars. Cold Process takes the longest to cure, for it's curing (going through the saponification process) at room temperature. Any of my cold process soaps are cured for 4-6 weeks minimum.
Saponification: Think of the oils and the lye water as enemies equally matched (that's where exact measurement of oils and lye and distilled water comes in!). During saponification, all the lye soldiers fight with all the oil soldiers and they completely cancel each other out. By the time saponification is complete, there are no lye soldiers and there are no oil soldiers. There is only soap. (Yes, I homeschooled for many years and I can hear myself saying stuff like this to my kids.) It's like hydrogen, oxygen, and water. oh nevermind. (Thank you, Bethany, water was a good example, but I'm stuck on those lye and oil soldiers.)
Hot Process: After bringing to trace, the soap is cooked in the oven where it goes through the saponification process BEFORE it is put into the mold. In hot process, fragrance oils and essential oils are sometimes added after the cook.
Cold Process Oven Process: This is when after the soap is brought to trace, all botanicals, colorants, and essential oils have been stirred in, and the soap is poured into the mold - just like in Cold Process, BUT, now it goes into the oven for a specified temp and time and then the oven is turned off and the soap finishes curing in the oven as the oven cools down.
I've got my mold lined and ready. My dear hubby made me three soap molds to my specifications. Two of them have removable partitions so that I can make smaller batches of soap - as needed. Also the ends are removable. That really helps in getting the soap out of the mold! I line the wood molds with freezer paper, shiny side up. Works beautifully!
This is the [hot process] soap after it has cooked. I test it to make sure the pH isn't too high. Some people use pH-testing drops, but I do the tongue test. So far, it's been just right and I've not zapped my tongue - ever. But I have noticed that I have no sense of taste anymore. (JUST KIDDING.) The soap at this stage is like semi-melted ice cream in consistency. I stir it, then scoop it into the wood mold. It' s good idea to smack the mold against the counter a few times as you're adding the soap, so that all the corners of the mold get filled. At this point, the soap is starting to set up, so it's important to work FAST.
The soap after having been scooped into the mold. It will remain there overnight, and in the morning I will cut it into bars and set them on the drying/curing racks. There they will be turned 90 degrees every day for a few weeks.
Last is the labeling and shipping. So there you have it! Why handcrafted soaps? Because they don't have all the nasty chemicals that many soaps have, they lather nicely without drying your skin, and only natural ingredients are used. Each of my soaps comes with a label that lists the ingredients. I never ever use animal products or artificial colorants. All my oils are top quality and my soaps are scented with essential oils and/or a good quality fragrance oil. They also last a looooong time! Setting your bar of soap on a slotted soap dish, keeping it out of the water and letting it dry between uses will extend the soap life. I hope this little tutorial has answered some of your questions about homemade soap.
Thank you, Judy! Judy is too modest and sweet to say this herself, so I will. I can personally tell you that her soaps are awesome!! The only problem I have with them is deciding what "flavor" to get when I order from her!