Soap makers top 10 list

Top 10 things I love about soap making

  1. The scents of essential oils that cling to everything I own, including my family
  2. Creating new recipes
  3. Always having amazing soaps and creams to give as gifts
  4. Donating to a million worthy causes that people come to your booth and ask you for
  5. Trading soap for chocolate!
  6. Meeting other cool artsy craftsy people
  7. Designing your own labels
  8. Don’t have to dress up
  9. Work from home- mostly
  10. Amassing a lot of change in your purse.

Top 10 things I hate about soap making are these very same things!

  1. Having strong scents around can get annoying. My husband – a burly diver/woodworker/ artist, often stinks like Patchouli.  One time someone borrowed a library book and said, oh the soapmaker’s daughter must have just read this one… she could smell it on a Harry Potter Book.
  2. Creating new recipes is great but I have had to dump 10 pounds of soap out many more times than I will admit. My wine soap was a bomb and so was my liquid laundry soap the first couple of times!
  3. Sure it’s great to always have gifts, but I have a give- stuff- away problem that has reached epic proportions. I sometimes have soap in the car to give to hitchhikers to make their day
  4. Donating is nice but I think I  may have donated over a  hundred bars a year and always lose the slip of paper to declare it on taxes.
  5. Too much trading soap for chocolate can cause diabetes you know. (But really I still love this one)
  6. Meeting other cool crafty people is great, but it is hard to impress them with your soapy abilities when they all make soap too. Not to mention they often grind their own wheat for Lord’s sake.
  7. I love to design my own labels but also have a bin of labels that didn’t line up properly that I am saving like a hoarder. I have many wasted labels that have no use whatsoever.
  8. Sometimes I wish I didn’t dress like an oil stained hobo-but even if I put on a nice new shirt and promise myself not to wear it in the shop, inevitably I do wear it in the shop and it gets spoiled instantly.
  9. Working from home is great except that your family always wants a snack when you have just taken an hour to make the kitchen impeccable and up to soapy standards. No snacks! Hungry? Too bad! You guys eat too often anyways.
  10. Having lots of change is great, but I find my family often asks for money all of the time and if I have it… they take it and it’s gone!


Basic soap making instructions- Cold Process


Cold Process Soap Making

The method of soap making that we are going to learn today is called cold process soap making or CP for short. There are other methods, such as melt and pour which is made from a pre- made soap base, or there are recipes that you can make in a crock pot or oven, or even glycerin soap on the stove top, these types of soap making are called hot process. Basically in cold process soap making the saponification is achieved by mixing the lye/water mixture with the melted oils at the same temperature…. until a chemical reaction occurs after you stir them up…. and if everything is done right- magic happens and soap is created.

To make soap you must use Lye – also known as sodium hydroxide.

The other kind of lye is called potassium hydroxide this is used for liquid soap making only.

The water portion you must use for your soap must be distilled…not tap water… not sure about well water but I have been successfully using reverse osmosis water that I buy from the grocery store.

I will explain how to use other liquids in another post…i.e. Teas, beer, wine, goat milk


1-Always work in a well – ventilated area when pouring your lye… I always pour it outside if possible.

2-Wear goggles, rubber gloves, tuck in your sleeves when making soap, lye burns suck! I always have an emergency eye wash near the sink, yes… since a visit to Dr. Bosman when I splashed some in my eye …it has made me more careful. I also use a respirator mask to not breathe in the fumes.

3-Use a rubber maid container or glass carafe with a lid to mix up your lye solution… also never use aluminum of any sort, as the lye will eat away at it. When stirring, I use a nice stainless-steel spoon, you may use a silicone spoon, but I find the wooden handle gets eaten up by the chemical reaction.

4- IMPORTANT!!!! Always add your lye slowly into your liquid… don’t add the water to the lye as you will get a volcanic reaction (I am told).

5- When setting your lye solution aside to wait for it to cool down, make sure it is in a spot away from children and pets…(Obviously, but I had to say it anyways)

Okay now that we have the lye rules figured out…

Pick a nice recipe…again, I will be posting some yummy recipes so stay tuned. Most people use a combination of palm oil (vegetarian alternative to tallow or lard) I wrote this years ago for a class I was teaching-since then there is a back to no Palm oil movement because of the deforestation occurring for the world’s demand for palm oil. I will have a whole post on this issue, so stay tuned and use local animal fat if you can get your hands on it.

Palm oil adds lasting power to the bar…so your soap doesn’t disintegrate quickly in the bath…

Olive oil (for great moisturizing properties. Also, reasonably priced and easy to find)

And coconut oil…pretty much every soap maker uses some amount of coconut oil in their recipes… it makes a beautiful bubbly moisturizing bar, make sure not to order fractionated coconut oil( It is liquid and mainly used to make lotions) order coconut oil 76 or I think mine is called Kokoheart 23…by Bunge company…the number is the melting point…

Then do some research. Add any interesting oils that your heart desires!! There’s so much out there to choose from.

Make sure you have a nice big stainless-steel pot to stir up your batch, 2 candy thermometers one for checking the temp. of the lye, the other for checking the oils…or use a handy dandy laser thermometer- get one from a hardware store.You want both temp’s to be between 80-130 degrees, I usually stir at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit…  I use beeswax in a lot of my recipes and this takes a higher temp. to melt…also an accurate scale is important, London drugs has many good ones for about $ 40-50. Everything you use in your recipe from water to lye to oils will be measured by weight.

Also, you will need a stick blender. This cuts off about an hour of hand stirring, if you want to be like the pioneers, go ahead… but I love my stick blender… most of my recipes take about 7-10 minutes of actual stirring time.

Keep all of your soapmaking utensils separate from your kitchen utensils. Don’t cook up soup in your soap pot afterward! Yuck. Again this is probably obvious too.

Basic instructions

1-First measure out your lye and water, stir and set aside in a safe place until it cools to about 100 degrees. Remember to slowly add the lye to the water and to put a lid on it while it is heating up and then cooling down.

2- Measure solid oils and butters, melt them gently in your stainless-steel pot, then add in your liquid oils such as olive oil, or castor oil etc. Sometimes I put the liquid oils in to cool the temp down a bit if I overheated.  Set aside until 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

3-Next, get your molds ready, grease them, have sleeping bags or towels ready to throw on top to keep them insulated, also cut your wax paper. The wax paper is used to place on top of your soap batch to protect the towels or sleeping bag from getting goopy and also helps with reducing soda ash. I believe exposure to air creates this problem.

4- Make sure you have your essential oils weighed out and ready to go, also have all other colorants, and any other additives close by.

5- When your oils and lye solution are at the same temp. this is the fun part!! Slowly add your lye/water solution to you melted oils and begin stirring by hand, for five minutes, A nice brisk stir, I do a combination of figure eights and circles. Then after 5 mins. I hit it with the stick blender for one minute, then hand stir for one minute until you reach light trace. Just alternate until the soap thickens…

6-At  trace…(when you can dribble a bit of soap on the surface and it leaves a trace… the soap will be kinda thicker than when you started and sort of pudding -like) this is when you add your additives, orris root, or oatmeal, colourants etc., then add your essential oils last.  Give the essential oils a nice thorough  hand mix, maybe one minute or so should do. Sometimes I stick blend the essential oils into the batch-very briefly, but be careful to not overheat and seize your batch! Certain oils are more prone to seizing… for instance Clove oil.

7-Pour soap into your greased molds, place wax paper over the top, and quickly insulate with blankets and VOILA!!  You did it!!

Wait at least 24 hours before popping out of the mold. It should be set up nicely by the next day,  but you can put the batch in the freezer for a few hours to help release it from the mold.

Here are some of my fav. Online companies that I use for ordering supplies;

New directions aromatherapy( go to the Canadian site) has a lot of great butters and waxes and has great write ups on each properties… essential oil prices are good too.

Aquarius Aromatherapy has great natural additives and colourants that arrive quickly if you live in BC. I find new directions takes quite awhile as it is in Ontario… but their prices are quite good.

FPI North America for essential oils and some basic oils like sweet almond oils and cocoa butters, mango butter, shea butter etc.

Home Hardware has smaller portions of lye in Nanaimo. You can’t order it online as it is considered a dangerous goods. For larger bags of lye you can try Borden Mercantile in Victoria.

Soap molds…

Your mold must be somewhat flexible to get your soap out… again a reminder… no metal!

There are a lot of places that you can buy wooden soap molds but these often should be lined, and I can’t bear fussing around with waxed paper etc. but you are welcome to try. You can pour your soap into a cardboard box, but of course, must line it with waxed paper or plastic… I always worry of leakage with this method!! Leakage is no fun after all the effort you have made up to this point!!

I  prefer to use plastic molds. You can use anything such as a plastic bin, just make sure you grease it well, I use olive oil. You can also order cool soap molds.  Google Milky Way molds they are very good, but try a tray mold of some sort first, as I find just pouring into individual ones is tricky to keep up the temp. when you are first beginning. Silicone soap molds are nice too. For a round bar, you may use plastic PVC tubes from your local hardware store, but you must seal the bottom well. ( I use a torturous method of waxed paper, elastic bands from broccoli bunches, and tape that probably costs more than my essential oils etc)…grease them very well too, and good luck getting out a sticky batch. I hate pushing these out so much that I refuse to make them. The pain of pushing them out of PVC tubes can be likened to pushing out a baby in childbirth. Another soaper told me he lines his with silicone liners, but I am unfamiliar with this method.

Let’s see what else, NATURAL COLOURANTS;

There are many ways to colour your soap naturally, Greens, I use seaweed powder, French green clay, stevia leaf powder or wildcrafted stinging nettles— stay tuned for my nettle post.  Pinks, I use French Pink clay …Yellows, I use Yellow clays, carrot tissue oil in sunflower oil or Marigold petals or calendula, note, these are the only flowers that hold their colour in soap, all other flowers turn brown in the chemical reaction. for browns, I use cocoa powder. For Blacks, I use rattenjot spice or alkanet root or activated charcoal stirred in at trace. For Purples, you may use alkanet root mixed into your olive oil the night before and then strained before using -this makes a lovely purple colour, also I have been using Rhubarb root but it is a little scratchy, so maybe use it for a mildly exfoliating bar. For blue ,  I have found a natural blue indigo powder… Some essential oils add colour to your final bar such as vanilla , makes a brownish colour.

Ultramarine powders are considered safe for soap but are not necessarily considered natural…

I often add orris root powder for a natural scent fixative, right before I stir in the essential oils.

Orange Peel is a good scent fixative as well.(it also adds an exfoliating element) These supplies are easy to find in any of the online companies I have previously listed.

Essential oils

There are so many to choose from, I often take one type and google properties of say Geranium Essential oil, and then I will note what other essential oils they blend well with—then experiment!!! I often use 3-4% usage rate for my bars… 4 is fairly strong… so try 3 to begin with.

Also leave Clove oil alone, until you are a confident soap maker… it tends to seize up batches.

You will find some oils stay longer in your soap i.e. Peppermints, rosemary… some fade quickly, ie any citrusy oils, like orange or lemon tend to fade… also Lavender often fades, I always add orris root to my lavender batches to keep the scent from fading. I try not to use fragrance oils, although they are a much more affordable alternative for scents… I have found a few made of natural ingredients like orange spice…from FPI North America.

Creating your own Recipe

I often use MMS Lye calculator and punch in my numbers…

I am not great at math, but you can learn how to do it by hand if you like, but why suffer when there are so many great online tools available I say!!

My new fav. Calculator online is Soapcalc.net.  I love it because it gives you the fragrance weight and an in-depth description of how creamy or bubbly it will be, etc.

Here is a nice easy recipe. I like to put in a little bit of beeswax in each recipe to keep down the soda ash.

Bramble Berry also has a separate fragrance calculator that I like.

Good luck on your soap making adventures… and remember to be brave, wear protective gear…. cause you don’t want lye in your eye, experiment… and have fun!!!