Well that's positively awesome! I want to share the tips and tricks
(and links) I have found along the way to help you discover your soap making process. If you are just now stumbling across this blog, let me give you the reader's digest version of, well, me. I have been formulating soaps and other body products for the past decade. I used to have a pretty successful wholesale soap making business with some really fun clients but decided to scale back and become smaller and work more on direct sales to the folks that are using my products (that's you!). I also have always had a strong interest in educating and sharing what I have learned with the next generation of makers. I like it better this way, I went back to making small artisanal batches that are delicious and sized in a way that I can have fun experimenting with new colorants, scents, oils and whatever else comes to mind.
Currently curing in the studio (2018)
So let's get rolling kids....LET'S MAKE SOAP! At the bottom of this post I will put all the resource links I can think of for your convenience. First of all if you are reading this I assume it is because you were doing the google on how to make soap. The type of soap I make is called cold process soap. There are many other styles of soap making, this happens to be the one I enjoy making the most and the one I make most often. I have tried my hand at liquid soap making (too long of a process, and not enough room for creativity for me). I tried hot process.....too ugly.....and I have tried melt and pour which I find to be a lot of fun especially for making cute holiday soaps.
Melt and Pour Soaps
Melt and pour is super fun, incredibly safe (all the heavy duty lifting is already done as far as formulation and using sodium hydroxide to get the actual soap made). This style of soap making leaves loads of room for creativity and there is no waiting around for the soap to cure! In fact some of my prettiest soaps have been from melt and pour bases. It's also great if you are looking for a cool project to do with children.
But I digress, back to cold process (CP) soaping. Let's skip the long version of the history lesson. Long story short, many different countries claim to be the home of soap making, it typically involves a hill (conveniently named Sapo hill), an animal sacrifice and the fats from said animal being washed down said hill into a creek/river/etc. where women just happened to be washing clothes and bubbles formed or something like that.....there.....do you feel like a better soaper now that you know the very dodgy history of it all? Lol.....history is funny.
Cold process soap involves three basic components: Lye (sodium hydroxide), water or a liquid to dissolve the lye into and oils or fats as some people call it. That's it. That is what makes the most basic of soaps. As you get better you can play around with essential or fragrance oils, an endless amount of colorants, both natural and synthetic and other additives.
Ok sounds easy right? I mean.....when you break it down into small steps and do things methodically it can be easy. You just need to pay attention to what you are doing because you are working with a caustic chemical. Wear your proper protective gear, double check your measurements before you pour and make sure you are pouring the correct ingredient. Work clean and try to avoid interruptions during this process, this is the best advice I can give.
Ok, let's talk supplies. I do recommend having supplies that are for soap making only, don't use your kitchen supplies. I find that the essential and fragrance oils can linger which is unappetizing. Many of my supplies came from the dollar store hardware store, I added to my stock slowly as I needed something. Now I am pretty well set. The only metal you should use is stainless steel, other metals can react with the lye in a bad way. You can also use heavy duty plastic, silicone and heat proof glass. I have a dedicated stainless steel bowl (that I bought at a garage sale for $0.50 cents) that I use for my lye mixture, I also use a stainless steel spoon to stir it. I use plastic bowls to measure and mix my oils into and I use either glass or a little stainless steel measuring cup to measure out my scents. Oh, also, silicon spatulas, I have a bunch from the dollar store so I don't have to stop and clean it off each time I have to mix something different. You will also need some sort of mold to pour your soap in to. My very first mold was a milk carton, you know, the paper ones coated in that waxy plasticy stuff. You can also use plastic take out containers, those are great. I also keep popsicle sticks handy for my mica colorants and what have you. You will also need an accurate digital scale, soap is measured by weight, not volume and some things only require a small amount so it needs to be able to measure very small amounts (less than an oz.). Last, you should have a hand or stick blender. Now, of course you can just stir the absolute heck out of it by hand but a stick blender gets you to emulsification faster and creates a consistently mixed product so you can feel confident that there are no lye pockets in the batch and know that it will hold it's emulsion and not separate back out after you pour it into your mold (also known as "false trace"). Just get a $20 stick blender and move on with your life. I have had the same one since I started soaping, it's worth every penny.
Ok we have basics on supplies now let's talk about a soaping space.
Soapsmith's studio - still being fixed up in this picture, check out that throwback wood paneling! (2018)
Until we moved into our house a few months ago I never had a dedicated soaping space and I was able to make do. I will say, if you can dedicate a corner to soaping do it, you will be happy you did. I used to soap in the kitchen, it wasn't s perfect solution but it was the best place for it because I needed access to water and lots of surface space for molds and ingredients. I did not have an efficient way to lock my animals out which was not great but after they realized that I was not making food they usually disappeared anyway. Ideally you will be able to soap in a space that is clean and clear of debris, and contaminants that could find their way in to your batch, it will be free of distractions (children, a hungry partner, a cat set on tripping you, etc.) and it will have adequate ventilation. <<<< THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!
Another important thing to know is what protective gear you should have. Here is what is recommended: Goggles, gloves, long sleeve shirt and pants and wear close toed shoes, some people find the lye fumes to be a bit much and also use some sort of respirator mask. What I like to use is a full face shield which helps protect against possible splashes. As a beginner I absolutely wore all the proper PPE, as I figured out my specific process I tweaked things to fit my needs, you will probably do that too.
Ok, now the fun stuff. The ingredients! Let's talk oils/fats. A really good bar of soap typically uses a combination of hard and soft oils. You can choose to use all vegetable based oils, you can use rendered animal fats or a combination of both. I have used both but tend toward vegetable oils. It's a matter of preference for you and if you ever end up selling it will be a matter of preference for your customers too. My basic 4 oil bar contains olive oil, coconut oil, palm kernel flakes (sustainably sourced, of course) and castor oil. I have spent many years tweaking this very basic recipe to become the amazing bar of soap it is. Other favorite oils that I use in other recipes are almond, avocado, shea butter and cocoa butter, they all have their own benefits and purpose in a soap. Try to stick to oils that have a long shelf life. Oils, like everything else in life can go bad, they go rancid and smell awful. Also don't waste your money on really expensive exotic oils for soaping. While they may catch someone's eye and create great marketing potential they really aren't going to do much for the skin or impart any of the benefits you would think because soap is a wash off product, save the expensive stuff for lip balms and lotions.
Other ingredients can be added but work on formulating a really great basic recipe before you throw everything including the kitchen sink into a recipe. To this day I limit my colorants to no more than 2, my scent to no more than 3 essential oils blended together or one fragrance oil and my additives to no more than one per batch. Why? Because restraint is beautiful. There is no need to show your whole bag of tricks in one bar of soap. Plus, when I am testing new ingredients I need to know which ones were successful and which ones are better left out of soap, I can't do that if I have a ton of extras in the recipe.
Alright so how do you come up with your very own recipe?
Let's take a step back and get you on track here. Use someone else's basic soaping recipe, someone who has been doing this for awhile and knows the ins and outs of formulating. When I started out I was NOT formulating my own recipes, I was just trying to remember to put all the ingredients in and not get lye splashed in my face. I bought a lot of books which were incredibly helpful, I still have those books and love lending them out to people hoping to learn the process. My very first book was "The Everything Soapmaking Book" by Alicia Grosso. It is a fantastic book and very easy to understand. She has a bunch of great beginner recipes. My all time favorite book is "Smart Soapmaking" by Anne L. Watson, It's a smallish book that is a really easy read and very to the point. There are other great authors out there too but these are my favorite ones to refer to and share.
After you have a few batches under your belt and have learned about the qualities that different oils impart on a recipe go ahead and take a stab at formulating your own recipe. It's fun and super cool to make a soap that you came up with all on your own. You will need to run the recipe through a lye calculator, this will help you to know that the correct amount of lye is being used to saponify the oils. I use THIS calculator, I like it because it also gives a number quantification of how the oils will play together in a recipe. I take it with a grain of salt though because other items that you may add outside the calculators abilities can affect the final product.
Alright, so there you have it, the basics of soap making. It's an awesome journey to take and such a great creative outlet. The possibilities of what you can create are limited only by your imagination.
What are some other cool things you like to make?
My E-Book of course! Cold Process Soapmaking 101
The Everything Soapmaking Book
The natural soap book
The soapmakers companion
Bramble berry < my very first suppplies came from here. She also has fantastic tutorials and videos.
Wholesale Supplies Plus
Mountain Rose Herbs
Tutorials and web thingy's:
Soap Queen TV(this is made by bramble berry)
Try to find local classes if possible, as a visual learner I found them to be endlessly helpful and I made some really cool friends too!