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How to Make Natural Soap

How to Make Natural Soap

By: Donna Hancock

For years, a friend of mine would give me her homemade natural soap from time to time (as Christmas or birthday gifts) and I asked her to show me how to make her wonderful soap. So she came over one day and showed me, and a few of our mutual friends, how to do it. That was about a year ago. Several months after she showed us how to make the soap, I tried doing it on my own. This is what I learned.

For starters, you will need to have some basic equipment. Most of it you can get at your local thrift store. Things like a metal pot (stainless steel only. DO NOT use aluminum, tin, or non-stick pots because they are violently and toxically reactive with lye), rubber spatula, measuring spoons, glass measuring cup (I found a 4 cup glass measuring cup sufficient), a wooden spoon or two, plastic container (to measure the lye), immersion/hand blender, cheap paper towels, and rubber gloves. You will also need a good thermometer (candy thermometer " don't use a meat thermometer, as the line markings are very small and close together and it will be hard to see exactly what temperature you are at.) As you will see, temperature is very important in soap making, as is precise measuring of the ingredients. You may also need some paper (such as newspaper) to put down on your countertop when working with the lye, as the lye may ruin your surface. You will need to have some regular white vinegar on hand to rinse everything that touches the lye. It is preferable when making soap to do it near a sink or tub full of vinegar water so that you will be prepared to safely clean up after yourself. Working with lye is dangerous because it is a caustic material. You don't want to breath it (work in a well-ventilated area) or touch it (if you get it on your skin, flush it with vinegar water).
Now you will need to order your supplies. I haven't found any local shops that sell soap making supplies, so most of it you can order on line. I ordered my first soap making supplies from SoapGoods.Com (mainly because that is where my friend to me that is where she got her supplies, and that the prices were pretty good). They sell all kinds of oils (both solid and liquid), butters, beeswax, essential oils, and even lye. There are two chemical formulas that are called Lye and they are Sodium Hydroxide and Potassium Hydroxide. Both are corrosive, caustic and hazardous. You can use either one for making soap (the one I ordered online was Potassium Hydroxide, and the one I got at the hardware store was Sodium Hydroxide). If you want more detail about lye, click here.  

Here is the recipe I use for the Natural Soap (makes about 4-5 lbs. soap):

20 oz. Distilled Water

7.6 oz. Lye

18 oz. Palm Kernel Oil

18 oz. Coconut Oil

16 oz. Olive Oil

2 oz. Essential Oil (whatever fragrance you wish)

1. Fill sink with water and pour some white vinegar in the water. You will need to have this available when using lye.

2. Combine Palm Kernel Oil, Coconut Oil, and Olive Oil in large stainless steel pot and heat on low just until the oils melt.  (Do not overheat, as oils take longer to cool than the lye solution). I heat my oils to about 135 degrees Fahrenheit then set them aside to cool.

3. Put on protective gear, including goggles, gloves, and long sleeves.

4. Measure distilled water and place in a 4-cup glass measure. Sprinkle the lye SLOWLY and CAREFULLY into the water. Stir with wooden spoon until dissolved. Set aside to cool. (DO NOT POUR WATER INTO LYE " ALWAYS POUR LYE INTO WATER). The lye solution will get to be about 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. When both mixtures are 110 degrees F, pour the lye solution very slowly in a thin stream into the oils. Mix with immersion blender constantly until the mixture 'traces', about 10 minutes. (If stirring by hand, it will take about 20-30 minutes). If using an immersion blender, take care not to whip air into the mixture. You just want to make sure it gets mixed really well, not fluffed up. (TRACE " To test for trace, dip a spatula or spoon into the mix and dribble a bit of it back into the pot. If it leaves a little "trace" behind, you're there. The soap does not have to be really thick just yet, it just needs to be well mixed with no streaks of remaining oil. It should have the consistency of pudding.

Trace is a sort of "point of no return" in the soap making process. Technically, "trace" is when your soap has reached saponification - when the oils and water have mixed and are not going to separate. Once your soap "traces", the mixture will not separate back into the original oils and lye-water. The soap does not have to be really thick just yet; it just needs to be well mixed with no streaks of remaining oil. That's the key thing to know.

6. Once you have mixed all the lye solution into the oils and before it 'traces', add your essential oils and blend thoroughly.

7. When soap batter traces, pour the batter into a lined mold, taking care to scrape as much of the traced soap out of the pot as you can.
Above photo shows the mold (bottom) that I use and the cutting mold (top). There are several types of soap molds, but I found this one to be simple, fairily inexpensive, and easy to use.
You will want to line your soap mold, or it WILL stick. 
Pouring Soap Mixture into Lined Soap Mold
8. Cover the mold with plastic wrap, then wrap the mold in a towel for warmth and let it sit, undisturbed, for a day or two.

9. Cleanup " use the cheap paper towels to wipe off all utensils, blender, and pot. Dip everything in the vinegar water to neutralize the lye. Once all of that is done, then you can drain the vinegar water and fill sink with hot, clean, soapy water and wash everything thoroughly.


10. After your soap has been in the mold for a couple of days, unmold it and remove any liner/paper used to line the mold. Cut as desired.

NOTE " The first couple of times I made soap, I lined a small box with a plastic garbage bag. Then I purchased a soap mold and cutting mold so that I could standardize the size of the soap.

11. Place soaps on a brown paper bag, or some type of butcher paper to dry and cure. You can turn them daily to be sure they dry evenly.

12. In 4 weeks, your soap will be mild and quite firm and ready to use. Store in a ventilated container.

There are several types of soap making processes " hot process, cold process, and melt and pour. I have tried both hot and cold process soap making, and I definitely prefer making the cold process soap. Hot process is where you make the soap the same way as above, but instead of putting it into a mold right away, you put it in a slow cooker for several hours and cook it. The advantage of doing it this way is that it will be ready to use in a few days, but the disadvantage is that it's messy and the soap in not as smooth as with the cold process. The first time I made soap on my own, I used cold process. The next time, I tried the hot process. Neither of those batches came out well " they never 'traced' and therefore it took a very long time to harden up. I live in Arizona and it's pretty dry here, so I left the soap to sit in the lined box for about 6 months, and it eventually dried out and hardened up and we used it. One thing to note here is that the quantities of the ingredients need to be exact and the temperatures of the lye and oils need to be the same (ideally 110 degrees F) for you to get a proper trace. I learned the hard way, but ever since I invested in a digital scale and measured everything out perfectly and managed the temperatures of the lye and oil, I have not had a bad batch since.
So there you have it. Having natural soaps to use instead of heavily perfumed soaps are much better for you, and leave you feeling clean and moisturized. I have spent the last month or two building up my supply and am just beginning to sell these Natural Soaps (I am calling them Clean Living Natural Soap), so if you are interested in purchasing any, please feel free to email me at and we can work out the details. I will also eventually have other natural products (deodorant, lip balm, shampoo, laundry soap, etc...).


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