Knitting the Light Fantastic

Knitting, spinning, dyeing and other crafty goodness

Making Soap Part 3 – Is it done yet?

Posted by notthatkat on August 27, 2007

When we left off last time, I had left the soap mixture to sit overnight and finish the magical chemical process of becoming soap.


I’ve unwrapped the mold and taken off the plastic wrap. Looking good so far. It’s a shame they haven’t perfected smell-o-vision, because it smells wonderful too.

Out of Mold

I untaped the freezer paper liner from the sides of the mold, unfolded the corners and peeled it away from the sides and bottom. Next step is to cut it into bars.


I use a long thin metal blade I got in the drywall section of the local hardware store. It is just a bit longer than my mold so I can cut the block lengthwise all at once. They come in various widths and are cheep and cut really well. I’ve looked at other cutting systems and molds, but for now, this one works for me.


Once I have my block divided in half, I each part into bars (since I don’t offer my soap for sale, I don’t stress evenness too much. I tend to give away the larger bars and keep the smaller ones for my own use).


At this point, if the wrinkles on the top, now on one long edge of each bar, bother you, you could cut or shave it off. If you wanted to, you could bevel the edges as well. Personally, I go for the rough handmade look that doesn’t result in lots of trimmings (which can be re-batched or otherwise used if you choose to do so) I figure within the first few uses, any irregularities in the soap will even themselves out.

The bars of soap are still quite soft, and a rather harsh as well. While I don’t wear gloves at this stage, there is still a fair bit of lye present in fresh cold processed soap. The bars must cure to allow them to dry and finish becoming soap.

Laid out to cure

I lay my soap out on sheet of plastic canvas and put them up on an out of the way shelf. I turn them every few days to allow them to dry evenly. I let my bars cure for 4 weeks before they are used. At this time, all the lye is gone, the excess moisture has evaporated, and the resulting bar is the wonderful, skin-pampering delight that I have come to know and love.

So that’s the basic process of making soap. I’ve deliberately stayed away from getting to deep into the geeky chemical stuff that underlies the process (there’s a pretty good summary of the chemistry and history of soap making here), so as to not scare away the uninitiated. However, the process of making soap from base ingredients is at it’s heart a chemical reaction. If you want to be able to evaluate published recipes, and especially to formulate your own soap recipes, you will need to learn about this stuff, as well as the properties of various ingredients and what they contribute to the finished soap.

To that end, I’ve included a list of sources and resources that I found helpful when I was learning the craft and return to over and over again.

Suppliers: (Most have various recipes for soap and other skin care products as well as lye calculators)
From Nature With Love This is the primary supplier I use, they have a wide variety, competitive prices, and are on the east coast, an important consideration when you consider freight cost on larger quantities of base oils.
Snowdrift Farm Another east coast supplier, I’ve found them to have great customer service and arguably the best formulary online – a source of inspiration as well as instruction.
Majestic Mountain Sage This one is located in Utah, so I haven’t done so much large/heavy orders from them, but I like their containers and the fragrance and flavor oils I’ve gotten from them. If they were closer I would probably get fixed oils from them as everything I’ve gotten from them has been excellent. They are in Utah, so those of you in the American Southwest/West – they would be a good option.
Rainbow Meadow This one is located in Michigan. Melody has outstanding essential oils and given her commitment to quality, I would expect anything I received from her to be of excellent quality. Melody runs the now-mostly-defunct Yahoo group I followed obsessively when I was first learning this stuff.

Books: (I am a book person, and I have bought a lot of soap making books, although not so much in recent years – I’ve been more focused on making my own formulations)
Essentially Soap, by Robert S McDaniel, now sadly out of print, was my first soap making book. While I’ve only made a couple recipes out of it, the information imparted on the properties of various oils is invaluable. “Dr. Bob” is a retired oleochemist (fat scientist) and his technical information warms my science geek heart. If chemistry scares you, don’t start with this one. But if you can pick up an inexpensive copy, it is a great resource for any soap library.
The Natural Soap Book and The Soapmaker’s Companion, both by Susan Miller Cavitch are probably the most mixed received books about soap making. Ms Cavitch holds strong opinions about the “right” and “wrong” way to make soap and feels that her way is the only way. Many others disagree with her. All of her recipes use extremely heavy lye discounts at the risk of rancidity from too much fat remaining in the finished bars. I have always re-calculated her recipes for a lesser discount with very good results. Love or hate her, however, she does provide some very good information in both books regarding the process of making soap and the properties and strengths and weaknesses of various oils, scents, colorants, etc. Also, I have yet to find a lotion/cream recipe I like better than the ones presented in The Soapmaker’s Companion.
Smart Soapmaking by Anne L Watson – I haven’t added this one to my soap library mostly because when it came out, it was more basic than my skill level. However, I’ve looked through it, and it seems like a good beginning soap book.
The Everything Soapmaking Book by Alicia Grosso – Don’t let the fact that this one comes from a “Dummies”-like franchise put you off. This book is another good primer on how to make soap.
Finally under the category of “advanced” techniques we have Making Transparent Soap and Making Natural Liquid Soaps both by Catherine Failor. Both of these books describe special techniques designed to make the soaps described in the titles. Both use hot processing as well as special ingredients and/or equipment, so they are best attempted after you have completed a few basic batches of cold process soap.

On the Web:
A quick Google Search will yield lots of online resources for making soap. Just remember that many sites are designed to sell soap making supplies as well, and often include expensive or exotic ingredients which may have a hefty price tag. These ingredients might add a lot to a soap recipe, but I feel it’s best to get several batches of basic soap made and get a good feel for the process before investing in such ingredients. You will have failed batches, more so at first.

A basic recipe:
Coconut Oil – 10 oz
Olive Oil – 18 oz
Palm Oil – 12 oz
Lye – 5.6 oz
Water – 10-15 fl oz (more water will yield a softer bar after incubation)

You can enrich this recipe by decreasing the Olive Oil to 16 oz and adding 2 oz of Shea butter.

Both formulations have about a 6.5% lye discount (excess oil v/s lye consumed in the reaction) which should result in a nice mild soap.


3 Responses to “Making Soap Part 3 – Is it done yet?”

  1. Colleen said

    Thanks so much for doing this tutorial! I really enjoyed your pictures and clear explinations. I want to make soap some time (maybe soon) and will definately use your references. You Rock!

  2. Colleen said

    Thanks so much for doing this tutorial! I really enjoyed your pictures and clear explinations. I want to make soap some time (maybe soon) and will definately use your references. You Rock!

  3. […] Soap Making Part 3 […]

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