Recipes > Tips & Hints > A review of how soap is made

Tips & Hints
A review of how soap is made


    Date : 1998-03-19

    I am often asked how easy/hard it is to make soap. My reply is EASY! With a few precautions soap is a fun activity for just about any one.

    There are some basic "tools of the trade" so to speak. Here is a list of very basics which will help every new soapmaker.

    1. Get out your old clothes. Soapmaking is not the cleanest hobby in the world and definitely is not the place for your lovely evening gown.

    2. Get a scale. Preferably one with readability of 1/10th ounce. Almost all items in soapmaking are weighed. Exceptions are fragrance and water, although these can also be weighed for greater accuracy.

    3. You will need a mold. This can be something as simple as a cardboard box lined with plastic or the tray from cookies you purchased from the store. Helpful hint: Oreos do *not* have a plastic tray.

    4. You need a spoon, pot and thermometer. A pot can be plastic but needs to be heavy duty to withstand the heat. Your spoon should not be wood. Your thermometer should be stainless steel. No numbers printed on the outside of the thermometer please! Never use an aluminum pot.

    5. For safety you need a pair of goggles and gloves. ALWAYS wear them. Always!

    6. The last required item is time. Make soap when you have 3 hours of uninterupted time. The few distractions the better. Once you understand the process of soapmaking this time can be cut down into as little as 30 minutes.

    An overview of the soapmaking process:

    The recipe is first decided upon and the ingredients are collected. All the fats are weighed. If you find a recipe that is measured by volume discard it! Once the fats are weighed they need to be melted. This can be done in the microwave if the pot is plastic.

    The lye and water need to be mixed. Measure the water and leave it in your lye mixing container. Add the weighed lye to the water. Some books and instructions recommend adding water to the lye but this is not safe. Please follow recommendations by the lye manufacturer and ALWAYS add the lye to the water. Lye and water will heat up so cool water is prefered.

    While the lye solution and the fats are cooling make sure your mold is ready. When the temperatures of the fats and lye are moderate (roughly 120 F to 130 F) combine the two mixtures. Start stirring. You need to stir until trace. Tracing is often the most misunderstood part of soap. It isn't like a thick milkshake. It isn't like instant pudding. Trace is when the mixture no longer separates into water on the bottom and oil on the top. There is a slight thickening, slight color change and the mix appears to be smooth in consistency. This may take from 5 minutes to 1 hour or more. An immersion blender will help accelerate tracing.

    An immersion blender is often refered to as a stick blender or milkshake blender. It can mix in a glass to make mayonnaise. Do not confuse an immersion blender with a regular container blender or a hand mixer. Container blenders can't handle the heat buildup around the blades and the bottom can blow off. Hand mixers have beaters. Beaters will mix in too much air for soap to feel nice.

    Once tracing occurs pour the soap into the molds. IF the room is particularly cool or the soap mixture has cooled to under 100 F cover the molds. Insulate around the molds and let the soap rest over night. Remove the insulation and cover. If the soap is firm enough to remove from the mold then do so. When I pour my soap it is often warmer than 100 F and I leave it uncovered. If you leave your soap uncovered you may see it melt or go through a gel stage. This is normal and awesome to watch. It is important to not let the temperature drop too much as heat is needed to complete the chemical reaction.

    Once the soap is removed from the molds and can be cut allow the soap to cure. This may take a while. Sometimes as long as 6 weeks. During cure time the soap is getting rid of excess water. This helps so your soap doesn't seem to disappear right before your eyes.

    As this is not a complete set of instructions please do more research before making soap. It is easy to do! I hope this overview has been helpful so you can understand some of the steps which are taken to complete a batch of soap.

    Happy soaping!
    Tina