DIY: Soap Making

I have a very serious case of multipotentialitism. Believe it or not that’s actually almost a real word. A multipotentialite is “an educational and psychological term referring to the ability and preference of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields.” But the problem is I don’t really EXCEL in any of them. I SURE LIKE ATTEMPTING THEM THOUGH.

Speaking of attempting things, this blog post will be about my SOAP MAKING ATTEMPTS. Why soap? I went to an intro class on “urban homesteading” and the teacher said that making your own soap is the most cost effective of all the things he did classes on, and honestly that’s all the encouragement it takes for me to try weird things sometimes.

Granted, previously I have never EVER had a desire to make soap from scratch. I make our laundry soap, but that’s hardly from scratch (as I use Fels Naptha as an ingredient), but a few library books, blog posts, St. Vinny’s pans, and Amazon orders later I was ready for my first soap making attempt.

Attempt #1

I went into this VERY excited, feeling like I was back in chemistry class. I mean, I guess I sort-of was. What I didn’t realize was that soap making takes way more patience and preciseness than I bargained for. Unfortunately I’m generally fresh out of both 99% of the time.

There are a few Important Things about making soap:

You have to use stainless steel pans. Using aluminum gets you more of a chemistry experiment than you probably bargained for:

Per the usual chemistry rule, you want to add your acids/bases INTO the water, NOT the other way around. This is because water combo’d with strong acids or bases (lye, used in soap making, is a base) causes a strong exothermic reaction (read: HOT) and can potentially cause the water to boil. Putting the primary reactive component into the water means you can do it slowly, and there will be less of it in the water should it boil up onto you.

THAT BEING SAID, you should use proper safety equipment.

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I took safety VERY seriously the first time. Devin was quite concerned when he came home to find me looking like this.

So, you know how I said it was very exact and tedious. YES.

The recipe I did for my first batch is as follows:

  • 18.5 oz Canola oil
  • 12 oz Coconut oil
  • 9 oz Palm oil
  • 1 oz Shea butter
  • 10-15 oz water
  • 5.71 oz Lye

As you can see, those are weights, and they’re PRETTY DANG EXACT. The exactness is pretty important because in order for soap to become, well, soap, it has to go through a chemical process called saponification which is (this is the very short version, click here for longer) where the lye and fats in the oil react to form what we know as soap. A nice, lovely, pretty pH neutral cleansing agent to adorn your bathroom counters.

ANYWAY, if you have the wrong proportions of ingredients, you’ll be left with too much lye, a REAL strong base. It’s about a 13.5 on the pH scale and if it’s been a while since you chemistried, the scale goes from 0-14 with 7 being neutral.

Too long, didn’t read: DON’T HAVE LYE LEFTOVER AFTER YOUR CHEMICAL REACTION

How does one accomplish this? First, make sure you run your recipe through a lye calculator such as this one. Secondly, BE PRECISE. As you can see below, I sprung for a digital scale for this project. (Secretly I’ve been wanting one my entire life for weighing animals but that’s neither here nor there.)

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MESSY TABLE

I’m not going to go into all the details because others have done it better (I personally used Small Notebook’s blog post, but after getting my water/lye mixture going in the sink I started measuring and melting down my oils. The biggest problem I found was that I was using a lot of hard oils, which I had been refrigerating, and it was ANNNNNNOYING to scrape out enough that I needed. Also I was originally going to use olive oil but OOPS I was out. Canola oil it was!

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Melty melty little oilies! Also I added mint leaves because I have problems.

After everything was cooled down to a reasonable temperature (they say 100 F to 125 F), I combo’d them up and used my garage sale immersion blender. I’m not 100% sure that it’s made from stainless steel but nothing terrible happened so I think it’s safe?

At this point I definitely stopped taking pictures and let the stress consume me. Basically you want to mix to the point where it “traces” which is essentially the consistency of “slightly thickened custard.” So…good luck with that scientific description, especially if you’ve never made custard. After I got to…that point (look up pictures, seriously, that’s the only way), I dumped it into a stainless steel pan I had bought, which I lined with wax paper because A Book said to line the mold with that. I think that was for wooden molds. Anyway, in hindsight I WOULD NOT have lined the pan with wax paper it was a wreck. I feel like I took pictures of this but I don’t have them anymore so who knows.

After THAT I put a box over it, wrapped it in a towel, and let it do its thing for 24 hrs at which time I popped it out, crudely chopped it up with a wire I had, and let it rest. Essentially while the bulk of the chemical process has happened it will continue for about a monthish, so you let it “rest” for that period with lots of air flow.

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My very resty soap. That looks like a caveman chopped it up.

A month later, and I’m using it! It’s really lathery? I LIKE IT? I used it to shave my legs and it was like, GREAT? It lengthened my shower times because it makes me feel so luxurious? I have PROBLEMS???

Attempt #2

Shortly after Attempt #1 of soapmaking I was reminded that a mom of a friend of ours is like The Soapmaking Queen. She used to make it and lotions to sell at local wineries. So OBVIOUSLY, the next thing I did was call her to set up a soap making date!

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When I saw the quantities we were dealing with, I knew we were in the house of an EXPERT.

The process and recipe were pretty similar, though we went sans protective equipment (don’t tell!). I think next time I do it myself I’ll probably go somewhere halfsies, wearing safety glasses because I value my eyes and don’t want splashies. Also maybe light gloves. IDK.

Our recipe was as follows:

  • 40 oz Canola Oil
  • 10 oz Cocoa Butter
  • 25 oz Coconut Oil
  • 25 oz Palm oil
  • 32 oz Water
  • 14.1 oz Lye
  • 1 oz Lemongrass Essential Oil (for scent)
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Confession: I LOOOOOOOVE LEMONGRASS OIL

Her stash of scents for soap was MIND BLOWING, I resisted taking a picture because I thought it’d be weird but there were DRAWERS. #GOALS?

The other things of note were her soap cutter (handmade!) and the molds she uses for her soap. She prefers circular soap, and pours her post-trace mixture into the following:

Essentially a 3 inch (I think??) PVC pipe with a cap on it. Then, after it has set, she uses this soap cutter:

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She very kindly gave me a PVC pipe tube to take home, and after a couple days of sitting and some time in the freezer, my husband held the tube while I Falcon Punched the soap out. It was both harder than expected and yet still easier than Attempt #1’s soap mold removal.

After a few more days resting (it was still pretty soft) I made a rather MEH soap cutter to test it out:

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It turns out I can be precise until the point where I cut the soap and then I’m just like EH WHATEVER, SOAP!

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So now it will rest for a month, and then WE GET TO USE IT. I’m so excited, the lemongrass scent is just DELISH.

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I don’t know where I was going with this blog post but YEAH. SOAP. PICTURES. CHEMISTRY. IT’S OVERWHELMINGLY GREAT.

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4 thoughts on “DIY: Soap Making

    • You are welcome to take home one of the round ones to try once they’re cured and see how you like it! I would give you one from my batch but they’re VERY ugly shapes. XD

      Like

      • I really liked those irregular shapes. It felt more personal and homemade. Like bringing back some magic that has mostly disappeared from the world.

        Liked by 1 person

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