When I first became interested in cold process soap I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to begin.
First, what is cold process soap? Cold process soap is hard soap made by the cold process method. This method uses no heat, except what is used to melt the butters and oils. CP soap requires the use of sodium hydroxide (lye), water, and oils. A water and lye solution is made and then added to melted oils. Then they are blended, poured into a mold, and allowed to cure. This is the short and sweet description of the process but there is much more!
Below are some general tips that can help you get started on the road to sweet soaping success!
Education is Key
A basic understanding of cold process soap is important, and books can aid in building a good foundation. There are many soap making terms you’ll need to familiarize yourself with before you can dive in. The first book I read was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making Natural Soap. It is straightforward and covers basic soap making. It’s a starting point but it’s just one of many good books. Books cover soap making more thoroughly than most websites or video tutorials. Check used book stores or online vendors like Amazon.com for great deals and selections.
In addition to books, forums like Teach Soap are wonderful resources when you’ve got a question. I have found that soapers are a wonderful group of people and very kind in dealing with newbies. They are not rude and will answer your questions!
YouTube is another fantastic learning resource. Soapers from all over, with varied degrees of experience, post tutorials on just about any soap topic. It’s a great way to learn what to do and what not to do!
Nothing beats hands-on experience, but soap making classes can be hard to find. Check with your local craft store or recreational center for any workshops or classes. If you can attend one – go for it!
Many soap supply companies like Nature’s Garden offer soap classes for free. It’s a great way to learn the craft and stock up on everything you need to get started. Another option, if you don’t mind spending $84, is a 12 week online class from Soap Making School. Students get access to over 70 step-by-step videos, recipes, and other helpful soapmaking information.
The science of soap making goes hand in hand with educating yourself on the basics. A general understanding of saponification is very helpful. Saponification is the process that produces soap. It involves the chemical reaction between lye and fats and oils to produce soap. Fats and oils all have their own saponification number (SAP). The SAP number indicates how much lye is needed to react with the oil.
During saponification the soap heats up. This is known as the “gel phase”. It takes 24 – 48 hours for cold process soap to saponify and become neutral. Then it requires 4 – 6 weeks to cure. During this time the water evaporates and the soap hardens.
Once you understand how soap is made and muster up a little courage to work with lye, it’s time to buy some supplies!
You don’t need to spend a lot to make good soap. In fact most of the ingredients are already in your kitchen. So, what exactly do you need to make soap?
Sodium hydroxide (lye). This can be found at most home improvement stores. This is NOT drain cleaner. The ingredients must state it’s pure sodium hydroxide.
Oils. Most people have olive oil and this is an excellent choice. Coconut oil is one of three cleansing oils. Though all soap cleans, coconut oil has higher cleansing properties. Butters like Shea and cocoa can be found at most stores but are costly; however, they are a great addition to soap!
Water. Distilled is the purest but filtered water is a good choice to avoid getting impurities in your soap. Depending on where you live, tap water is fine. I have made soap with both and never had any problems or noticed a difference.
Keep your soap equipment separate from what you use to eat with. Most of these items can be purchased at the dollar store. This is just a general equipment list -you may find that you don’t use or need all of these.
Stainless steel pot. You’ll melt the oils and blend everything in this pot. Some people use plastic but I think stainless steel holds up much better over time.
Handheld immersion blender. This blends everything and brings your soap to trace. Stirring by hand takes a long time.
Stainless steel spoon with long handle. This is used to mix the lye and water.
Non-stick spatula. This helps get all the soap out of the pot and into the mold.
Plastic mixing bowls. This is great to measure your ingredients.
Plastic pitcher or bowl with lid. This is used to mix lye and water. The lid helps contain the fumes.
Plastic measuring spoons. For measuring additives and colorants.
Electronic scale. Everything has to be weighed. Most kitchen scales will do the job. The scale should have a platform and be able to weigh ounces and grams with accuracy to 1/10 an ounce.
Safety glasses. Protect those eyes!
Gloves. Latex or nitrile works best. Thick kitchen gloves are good but sometimes they can be bulky.
Mold. Look around your house and you’ll probably find something that would make a great soap mold like cardboard boxes or plastic containers. Silicone bakeware is a good option if you don’t mind spending money.
Freezer paper. This is used to line the mold (shiny side up) to keep the soap from sticking. Silicone molds do not need to be lined.
Stainless steel thermometer. This helps measure the temperature of the oils and water. If these are too hot the soap will set up fast!
Plastic cups and spoons (optional). These work great when you need to reserve soap for coloring or weighing small amounts of fragrance. And since you can just throw them away when you’re done, they cut down on mess.
Dryer sheets (optional). I found this tip by visiting a forum. If there is static electricity in the container to measure lye, you’ll notice it sticks or even migrates. To prevent this, wipe down the cup inside and the lye will stay at the bottom!
Mask (optional). This is a good option if you don’t have good ventilation where you’ll be making soap.
It doesn’t take too much to get started with cold process soap. Once you understand the process, you can begin formulating your own recipes and make soap.