If you are just beginning your homemade soap adventures, there are definitely a few tips and tricks you may want to consider. Cold process soap making is on of the easiest ways to make soap at home. Learn more about what to think about when beginning soap making.
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As it turns out, there are lots of different methods to making soap. From the easiest, melt and pour, to some of the most complicated, detergents. At home, most people make hot process or cold process soap. In both of these processes, you are taking fats and oils and combining them with a special salt and creating a chemical process called saponification. That is to say making soap.
Cold process soap making is different from hot process soap making in that you use time to cure your soap rather than heat. The main reason people prefer cold process at home is because the hot process soap is less smooth and generally less able to create the pretty swirls, tops and piping that cold process allows for.
My top tips for getting started making soap
Although it might seem intimidating, as long as you take safety seriously you should be ready to go to make your own cold process soap at home. When working with lye, always use lots of precautions. Try to avoid using lye around young children, pets and even sleepy adults. Lye is often found in products used for drain cleaning and thus is a serious poison as well as designed to degrade things like hair/skin. Be careful.
To the best of your ability, before you even break out the lye, measure EVERYTHING. When first getting started, measure everything twice. In this way soap making is very similar to baking. As a beginner, you will want to be sure of all your ingredients.
The other helpful thing about pre-measuring, is you need to do something else, children, laundry, whatever, those amounts will remain the same. Put them individual containers (label if its going to be an extended period) and then start soaping when you are ready.
Pre-measuring the lye is also fine with some caveats. First, be careful around lye (goggles, gloves, long sleeves). Second, put it in a labelled container where it is VERY CLEAR that this is lye. Keep away from children and dogs. It is because of this that I do not normally premeasure the lye.
Supplies not to skimp on
You can get away with a variety of lower end items, like the hand blender. However, a scale is not a good one. Along with pre-measuring, you should measure rather precisely. If possible find a scale, a small battery powered kitchen scale is fine, with measurements that weigh in the 100ths. Such as 9.95 grams. That 5 is in the 100ths place and can be helpful with recipes that are specific.
You will need heat and lye safe containers to mix. Do not skimp on this area either. Double check your spatulas and mixing bowls can handle the heat, especially the chemical reaction related heat of mixing lye and water. One of the things I found out the hard way is that even plastic, which is the recommended material for mixing lye and soap, can be weak and degrade with the lye water.
Fragrance and essential oils
One of the highest cost items for someone such as myself trying to get into soap making is the price of essential oils. I am trying to avoid chemically manufactured synthetic fragrance oils but essential oils are very expensive. Be on the look out for good deals on essential oils if that is what you are aiming for.
Also remember, when considering soap recipes, they should include however much fragrance or essential oils you will need. Usually it is not much but is more than you would just dab on. Also, it is enough to alter the oil content of the recipe and thus can change the way the soap sets up.
Check with soapcalc.net
It is always a good idea to double check soap recipes with soapcalc.net or the fragrance and oil calculator at bramble berry. These are great resources for making cold process soap. They also provide information that might be helpful if you have other oils/fats you want to add or substitute.
Getting fats and oils
First, I would like to advocate to not participate in palm oil production. If you must, please purchase from RSPO sustainable palm oil producers, the orangutans will thank you. I do not use palm oil. I generally lean toward recipes that require stuff I find in my kitchen.
It is because of this, I keep these staples around:
- olive oil
- coconut oil
Other common butters, oils, etc. I have but are not common in my kitchen are:
- avocado oil
- castor oil
- sweet almond oil
- jojoba oil
- shea butter
- cocoa butter
Time to make soap
One of the things I find frustrating about food recipes online the estimated time it takes to make it. It almost ALWAYS takes me longer, for two main reasons. One, pre-measuring isn’t taken into account. It takes time to locate and measure all your ingredients, same is true for soap making. Second, skill level. If you are a short order cook, you may be well versed in speed chopping and prepping. But I am not and even after years of cooking mostly from scratch, the time it takes to chop, mix, season, etc. is almost always longer than noted.
Keep track of how long it actually takes you, from start to finish, to make soap. Finish in this case means poured into molds. The next parts, like cutting the soap and curing it will naturally take a while but do not require much from you.
Try hard to carve out a good amount of time to measure, mix, heat, cool, pour, add, etc. It always takes a little longer when you are new to something.
Cooling and warming
Another key note here is to note how very looooong it takes for oils to cool compared to lye mixture. Most recipes aim to have the temperature of both around 100F. There are lots of tips and tricks to get them to the same temperature such as cold water baths, warm pots, etc.
I generally pull the melted oils and fats a good 15 minutes before I mix the lye with water. However, if you are making castile soap, keep in mind that its olive oil soap and olive oil is already a liquid. It will depend on what fats and oils you are using for how long it takes to cool down.
Final thoughts on soap
You can do this! It is fun and relatively easy to get started making soap. After a little research I discovered that one of the reasons there has been increased interest in making soap at home is the hand blender. If you made soap at home in the past it might take you hours. Now with this device its relatively quick. Also, the commercial use of lye made it much more available to everyone.
If you are interested in making your own lye, check out this post on making lye from wood ash. As always remember to be safe, careful and thoughtful…and have fun! Good luck!
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