Saturday, December 5, 2009

Veggies Get Crafty: How To Make Soap

From the Fabulous Blog of Erin of Krug's Eco-Logic

While making soap isn't difficult, you do have to take special safety precautions, be able to measure accurately, and be prepared to spend beaucoup denaro (i.e. cash) upfront to create your own recipes.

I will walk you through the basic process (start to finish), but before you try your hand at it, please read all you can about the specifics before delving into this craft. With a little time, patience, and money ... you can create something beautiful and useful!


Set out all of your materials you'll be needing .....

- butters/oils
-gloves and goggles
- molds/liners
-essential or fragrance oils
-stick blender
-vinegar (for spills or accidents)
-pH strips

Colorants and Scenting

How you choose to color, scent, and create your soaps is entirely up to you. There are such a wide variety of fats, oils, butters, scenting options, and colorants available - this is where you get creative. Research each type, kind, brand, etc... and find out what's best for you. I chose all vegan and natural ingredients (no animal by-products of any kind, and only natural iron oxides for colorants). Use your search engine to find the multitude of suppliers. Buying scents and colorants from your local craft store will work, but are not near the quality of something you would purchase from a ingredient supplier.

SAP Calculator

The very first item on the agenda is plugging in some numbers into your SAPonification Calculator. You can find ones all over the internet. Soaper's Choice offers a great online version or you can download one into an excel program, like the one suggested at Miller's Soap.

Miller's Soap also has a great table illustrating the different properties and characteristics of oils or butters you may choose to add to your soap. You'll want to add some oils that create a hard bar, good lather, gentle for the skin ... this is where you can be scientifically creative.


Make sure that before you actually begin making the soap, you determine the total volume needed to fill the mold you will be using. You can find some calculations HERE. You want to make sure you have a good sized soap bar, so some calculation and planning is key. Make sure to line your mold (if the one your make/purchase is not lined) with either a garbage bag that you've positioned to 'hug' the edges and corners, or freezer paper.

Measure Oils/Butters/Fats

All measurements MUST be extremely accurate (especially when working in small batches). Use a digital scale that measures to the hundredth of an ounce (at least). Measure each type of oil/butter as you have pre-determined using your SAP calculator. I use a large stainless steel pot and place on a burner. I melt them on low heat so they don't heat too quickly and burn, and also, so that as soon as they're totally melted they're the perfect temperature to soap!

Some soapers choose to accurately measure the temperature of their oils. I did do this in the beginning but found it much easier to heat the oils on low heat, and as they just finish melting - they're the perfect temperature (about 105-110 degrees F if you choose to measure).


Next, measure out the volume of water as you've accurately calculated using your SAP calculator. When I measure out my liquid (other soaping liquids can include - milk, goat's milk, coconut milk, beer, wine, etc..), I make HALF of the volume frozen. For example, if my total volume of liquid is 20 oz, 10 of those oz would be frozen. When lye is mixed with water, it causes an exothermic reaction (produces heat). By using room temperature liquid, the solution will become so hot, you'll have to give it lots of time to cool. By freezing a portion of your liquid, you eliminate the waiting game.

Before you handle lye, PLEASE make sure to use proper safety apparel - gloves, goggles, shirt/jacket with long sleeves, pants, and foot coverings. Keep vinegar close by to neutralize any spills.

Next, use a clean DRY container to measure out your lye (only use 100% pure, technical grade lye). A few great companies include: Boyer or Camden-Grey.

SLOWLY pour your lye INTO the liquid (NEVER pour liquid into the lye). Gently stir as you pour the lye little-by-little into the liquid. If you're using a liquid other than water, please read up on how it may react with the lye (for ex: beer must be flat, otherwise it will bubble/volcano over your bowl when mixed with lye). You may even experience color changes of the liquid with lye (ex: agave nectar turns a multitude of colors as it's mixed with the sodium hydroxide).

Once the sodium hydroxide is carefully mixed into the liquid (if you've used about half the liquid volume in it's frozen form), it should be the perfect temperature to mix with the oils/fats (again, around 100-110 degrees).

Begin Saponification

Plug your stick blender in and immerse it into the melted oils/butters. I give it a few quick whirls to ensure the melted oils are blended evenly together. CAREFULLY and SLOWLY with gloved hands, and goggled eyes, pour the lye/liquid mixture into the melted oils. Begin blending with your stick blender. It shouldn't take very long (anywhere from 1 minute to 10 depending on the types of oils you used and the temperature of the mixture) until you reach a light " trace " . Trace is considered when you can dribble some of the liquid on the surface and you can see a 'trace' of where it has been.

When your mixture is at a very light trace you can add your colorants (if you are opting for a solid color), and your scenting oils (fragrance oils (synthetic) or essential oils (natural ) ). Please do you research on the amounts to be used and skin safety for anything you might add to your soaps.

Once your mixture reaches " trace ", it's time to pour it into your mold. Timing is crucial here - if you pour it too soon, it has the potential to separate. If you pour too late, the mixture will become hard in the pot and not pour nicely into the mold. Scenting oils often change the speed at which the mixture traces. Essential oils that are spicy (cinnamon, clove, etc..) often speed up the process so quickly, they always seize the mixture in the pot. When I use an oil that causes quick seizing, I actually pour the mixture into the mold FIRST, then add the scenting oil and blend it IN the mold. This way, when it seizes, it will solidify in the mold instead of in my pot.

Once you've poured your mixture into your mold ( you may choose to texture the tops as I do with a spoon) it is time to cover it and let it sit for about 24 hours. I always cover the lid and the sides of the mold with fleece blankets, towels, or anything that will hold in the heat of the chemical process. If too much heat escapes, it will not allow the soap to set up properly and you will end up with very, very soft soap. The saponification process creates it's own heat (exothermic reaction) but requires that heat to allow it to "gel", and thus producing the fabulous natural glycerin soap our skin loves!

Unmolding / Cutting

Once about 24 hours has passed, most likely, it is time to cut your soap. I always feel the outside of the mold first. If it's still warm, I let it sit until it's room temperature to ensure the process is complete. If it's totally cooled, I pull the soap log out of the mold. Every soaper has a different method of cutting their soaps (and sometimes it depends on the type of mold you use). I like to use a regular old chef's knife.

Curing & Testing

Most soaps need to sit for approximately 3-4 weeks before they are ready for use. This time allows the soap bars not only to harden (which will allow the bar a longer usage life), but to very slowly continue to saponify, thus becoming more gentle for your skin. I have small containers with lids I place my soaps in so that they're protected. I don't fully close the lids, though, allowing water to evaporate.

After about 3 weeks, I use a pH strip to ensure the product is skin safe. A suitable pH level is around 9-10 . Any higher than 10, and it becomes too harsh for your skin.

Final Product

AND YOU'RE DONE !! Once you become comfortable with the process, you can do some more creative things - swirls, adding multiple colors, and blending scents. Become comfortable with the process, and then let your imagination soar!

*** This is only a general guideline ... please research the process thoroughly before you begin. Intently read information about ingredients, their safety, and amounts BEFORE using. ***


FireHorse3 said...

Thank you for sharing this fascinating article with us, Erin.

Krug's Eco-Logic said...

Thanks for posting this Kylie !! It's always interesting to hear about how crafts are made. Before I started making soap, I wouldn't have had the foggiest idea how to go about doing it :-)

Julie Webb Photography said...

Thanks Erin for sharing this with us. You obviously love what you do and it really shows in your final products. :)