Well this should be fun! I took some pictures of me making some dragonfruit soap this weekend, so its time to find out how to make soap for all of you that are curious! Just as a side note, this is all for information only, and I am not responsible for anything that goes wrong if you attempt to make cold process soap yourself. Oookay now that that’s out of the way…
Step 1: Have a clean workspace! I can’t stress how important this is, especially if you make soap in the same area that you cook! Any sort of uncleanliness can and will find its way into your soap eventually, so make sure to thoroughly clean all areas you will be working in. Below you can see my stick blender (absolutely a MUST for soapmaking!), large pyrex for mixing, and my soaping scale which weighs up to 17 lbs. If you buy a scale to make soap, make SURE that it can weigh more than 10 lbs and that it weighs in decimals and not fractions!
Step 2: Prepare everything ahead of time! You want to make sure you have your recipe printed, all your ingredients on hand and available, all the equipment you’ll need, and a lined soap mold! BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: Have proper safety equipment. Soap making can be dangerous due to the sodium hydroxide used to make it. Sodium hydroxide, or lye, is an extremely basic compound that reacts violently with water. So ALWAYS make sure you have: gloves, eye protection, a ventilated room, clothes that cover your arms, chest and legs. Make sure to wear shoes and tie your hair back if its long. If you do spill anything on yourself, rinse well with cold water immediately and seek medical attention if required.
I find it best to line a soap mold with freezer paper. You can get these at some grocery stores (though I’ve found that Copps in Madison does NOT have it, you have to go to Woodman’s). To line your mold simply tear off a sheet big enough to fully go down into the mold then carefully cut it to size. Repeat for two smaller pieces of paper. A GREAT resource for this is from the Soap Queen! Wax paper and parchment paper are terrible for this, as they react strangely to the high basic nature of the soap. You’ll end up peeling chunks of paper off your soap once you pop it out of the mold (Note: Not pleasant!)
Step 3: Measure out your oils first. I find that it often takes the oils a lot longer to fully dissolve and then cool down again to a good temperature. Reserve 2-4% of your total LIQUID oil (i.e. olive oil, grapeseed oil, sweet almond, etc) weight for mixing your fragrance oil into. You want the oil you reserve for your fragrance to be room temperature, otherwise you might cause your soap mixture to seize (harden suddenly) or your fragrance to evaporate off out of your oils!
Step 4: Measure out your sodium hydroxide and your water SEPARATELY! The mixing of water and lye causes a strong exothermic (heat generating) reaction to take place. Make sure you’re measuring your water into a sufficiently large container that it glass or stainless steel, as you will be adding your lye to the water. Prepare a cold water bath for your water container. You’re going to need to cool of your water solution as you add lye to it. With all the heat generated you could make it boil which can lead to bad things! Once you have your lye and your water measured and your water container in the prepared ice bath, slowly, slowly, slowly add the lye to the water, making sure to continuously stir. NEVER add water to lye. Ever. If you do this you will create a very volatile and extremely concentrated lye solution that can cause serious health risks. Always add your lye to the water—go from least concentrated to more. If you take anything away from this, always add your lye to the water! Anyway, you’re going to want to occasionally check the temperature of your solution to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. Usually if I find my solution getting above 150 F I’ll back off and let it cool down.
At this step you want to be careful because the lye solution will release acrid fumes—make sure you have ventilation! I have a big fan I turn on and the kitchen door open, directing all air flow outside. Your lye solution will turn cloudy as you add the lye. Eventually it will clear up again, which is how you know its equilibrated and ready for use after cooling down to 100-110F.
Step 5: Okay your lye solution has been made and your oils have dissolved into liquid, now what? Let your two separate solutions cool down until they’ve reached 100-110F. This is crucial to making cold process soap. If it’s too hot you’re going to end up making hot process soap! Or your soap will seize. Or boil over. Or do other disastrous things you don’t want! While you wait, measure out your additives (like honey, oatmeal, colorants, exfoliants, etc.) and measure your fragrance into the oil you set aside.
Step 6: Now add your lye to your oils! Then introduce your friendly stickblender. Blend until fully mixed, but do not over mix—you still need to add your fragrance solution and whatever else you were planning on!
Step 7: Fancy up your soap! Add your additives, fragrance, colorants, etc. Below I put some soap in a different stainless steel bowl in order to dye it.
Step 8: Pour your soap mixture into your soap mold! You’re going to want to make sure you perform steps 6-8 fairly quickly as the soap will start to harden over time and can be difficult to work with if left too long.
Step 9: Cover your freshly poured soap with a layer of freezer paper and a blanket of some sort and leave it for 2-3 days to harden properly. You want to cover it or you get a reaction between the soap and the oxygen in the air which forms a thin layer of white sodium bicarbonate on the top of your soap. Sodium bicarbonate is completely harmless but it might not be the look you’re going for!
Step 10: Remove your soap loaf from the mold, cut, and cure for 3-6 weeks to allow it to properly harden! That’s it, and you’ll end up with beautiful soap!