Have you wanted to try making your own soaps but you were intimidated by the process? I wanted to replace our commercial bath soap with hand made soap, but I was NOT keen on heated pots of oil and caustic lye. I also didn’t want to invest in a huge amount of soap, only to find out I didn’t like it. Luckily, I located a super easy method at www.diynatural.com that uses the microwave and makes nice small batches, and I’m going to share my experience with that today.
This recipe makes nice hard cream-colored bars with a creamy moisturizing lather. It’s great as guest soaps and really nice as a bath soap. The main ingredients are olive oil, coconut oil and grapeseed oil. The olive oil makes the soap harder, the coconut oil produces a great lather and grapeseed oil is a good conditioner.
2/3 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup grapeseed oil (or almond oil)
1/4 cup lye 100% sodium hydroxide (available from Amazon here)
hand blender (optional, but it is really helpful here, again dedicated only for soap-making)
a spray bottle of vinegar – for neutralizing lye if some spills
Really most of the cost is in the lye (~$17), goggles (~$10), hand blender (~$15) and molds ($5-10). The rest of the materials you either probably already have or can get at your grocery store or thrift store.
Cover your work area with newspaper and put on protective gear (goggles, gloves, long sleeved shirt, making sure legs and feet are covered). Have a spoon ready. Make sure the room has good ventilation (open a window, turn on kitchen fan) and keep children and pets away.
Measure 3/4 cup cool water into the quart mason jar. Carefully measure exactly 1/4 cup of lye granules. Pour the lye slowly into the water, stirring as you go. Stand back while you stir to avoid fumes. When the water starts to clear, insert the candy thermometer, allowing it to sit, and move on to the next step. The lye may be around 150 degrees at this point.
In the pint jar, add your three oils together. If the coconut oil is somewhat solid heat it in the microwave for a few seconds until it is all liquid before measuring and combining with the other oils. You should have a pint of oils. Heat the jar of oil in a microwave for about a minute, or place the jar in a pan of water to heat. I find the oil is around 140 degrees after 1 minute. Put in the thermometer.
After about 30 minutes or so both liquids will be approaching the right temperature. I periodically stir the liquids and check the temperature, being very careful not to spill the lye. Wait for both to cool between 95 and 105 degrees. Make sure the your molds are near by and have been greased. Ready your mixing bowl (I actually measure my lye inside the bowl to minimize the chance of lye getting on the work area and I store my mixing spoons in the bowl). Make sure your stick blender is near by.
When the lye and the oils are at the right temperature, pour the oils into the mixing bowl. Slowly add the lye, stirring until it’s all mixed. Stir by hand for a full 5 minutes. It’s very important to get as much of the lye in contact with as much of the soap as possible. After about 5 minutes, you can keep stirring or you can use an immersion blender. Be cautious with the immersion blender so that it doesn’t spatter caustic material out of the bowl. The soap mixture will lighten in color and become thick. When it looks like vanilla pudding it’s at “trace” and you’re good to go.
Add herbs or essential oils at the point, if desired. Stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into mold(s) and cover with plastic wrap. Set in an old towel and wrap it up. This will keep the residual heat in and start the saponification process, by which the base ingredients become soap. NOTE: if you are using really floppy molds like me, you’ll want to set the molds onto a hard surface, such as a cookie sheet or cardboard prior to filling. For my last batch of little hand soaps I put the molds into a cardboard box before filling, skipped the plastic wrap and towel and just closed up the box overnight as insulation.
After 24 hours, check your soap. If it’s still warm or soft, allow it to sit for another 12-24 hours. When it is cold and firm, turn it out onto parchment paper or a baking rack. Allow the soap to cure for about 4 weeks, turning it over once a week to expose all sides to air.
When your soap is fully cured, wrap it in wax paper or keep it in an airtight container to keep it from attracting dust and moisture.
I neutralize equipment that touched the lye by spraying it with white vinegar and then rinsing it out. For the bowl, spoons and hand mixer I set them aside for a day or two so that the soap mixture can fully saponify. At that point the soap residue will not be caustic any more and I just clean the equipment throughly in hot water.