I spent most of my day Sunday on the computer researching oil properties and soap information. I've made soap for years. I've used the same recipe which I love. But, I wanted to learn more about how to design a good quality recipe. So, I hit the internet!
First, a little Soapmaking 101. Please beware - I have written in generalities here according to my research and experience. I know there are probably plenty of exceptions to some of what I'm writing here. I am also trying to write in a concise fashion to not make a long post any longer. I've underlined topics / words that you might want to search on the internet for more information if you're interested.
There are several ways to make soap. All of them involve the use of Lye. No Lye, no soap. It's the chemical reaction of Lye and Oils that make soap. Do you have Lye in your finished soap? You shouldn't. If the soapmaker's recipe is figured correctly - the ratio of Lye to Oils is enough allowing all the Lye to bind with all the Oils - saponification (process where lye and oils combine to make soap).
I have been making soap for 10-15 years now. Wish I could remember the year I started. I do remember my first batch. I had purchased Dee Boone's book Handcrafted Soap - my hot process bible. I LOVE this book and Dee has been such a help over the years. I remember Dee's favorite thing to say - KNOW YOUR OILS! Yes, if you want to make quality soap, knowing your oils makes the difference. You wouldn't make a food recipe without knowing about the ingredients you're including. Soapmaking is the same way.
For years, I have used the Hot Process Soapmaking Method of making soap. This method involves mixing the lye (mixed with distilled water) and oils to trace in a heat source, usually a crockpot. (Trace - when mixing the oils and lye together - usually with a stick blender - trace is the point when you lift your blender, the drops from it onto the surface leave a "trace" on top - your soap looks kind of like pudding at this point). Then, you let the soap cook in the crockpot until the saponification is complete. Once complete, I add my fragrance, additives (herbs, oatmeal, flower petals, etc.), and colorant. Then, I spoon it into my soap molds. Later that day or early the next day, I unmold my soap and let it air-dry. After a day of air-drying, I cut it and leave it out to continue air-drying. As the soap air-dries, water evaporates from the bars.
In April 2012, I attended the Ohio Soapmaker's Gathering. The majority of the attendees make soap using the Cold Process Method. I came home and made a batch. Now, I'm hooked!
Cold Process Soapmaking Method also involves mixing the lye (mixed with distilled water) and oils. They are mixed to trace and fragrances, additives, and colorants are added. Then, you pour your soap into molds. When you're ready to mold this soap, it is more liquid compared to Hot Process soap at the molding stage. Saponification takes place in the molds while the soap is "curing". Usually, 3-4 weeks or longer is the suggested curing time. While the soap cures, water evaporates from the soap.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two soapmaking processes?
Hot Process Disadvantages: 1) can produce a softer bar than Cold Process but won't if you know your oil properties plus you can add Stearic Acid and Sodium Lactate which both increase hardness, 2) more difficult to produce the fancy swirls, 3) more difficult to use fancy molds because the soap is too thick when ready to mold.
Cold Process Advantages: 1) usually a smoother harder bar, 2) easier to do fancy swirls and designs, 3) faster to make - don't have to wait for the soap to "cook", 4) can work at lower temperature so you don't burn off as much fragrance / essential oil, 5) easier to use fancy molds.
Cold Process Disadvantages: 1) have to wait for the soap to cure, 2) risk of developing ash on the soap (a white powdery looking substance that forms on the surface of the soap as it cools in contact with air), 3) risk of soap "seizing" (when the soap becomes very very thick very very quickly).
Now, I have a third and I think it might turn into my favorite method -- CPOP -- Cold Process Oven Process. In this method, you make the soap using the Cold Process Method above. Once you've poured your soap into the molds, you pop the molds into the oven (set on 170 degrees) for an hour and then turn the oven off and allow the molds to stay in until the next morning. This way, the soap heats up and cools down gradually. Thoughts re: this method are that it decreases the curing time to 2-3 weeks instead of 3-4 or more.
So, my research on Sunday --- I studied and made recipes and tweeked recipes until I got what I wanted.
What I wanted didn't occur until Tuesday night after I made a batch on Sunday that was too soft.
Soap Bar Quality - When you make soap, you want the bars to be hard, cleansing, and conditioning and the lather to be bubbly and creamy. These factors depend on the combination of oils you choose for your recipe. I designed a recipe that feels wonderful! It's hard and conditioning, cleans well without stripping and making my skin feel tight, its lather is super bubbly and creamy as evidenced in the photo above. That lather is from washing up one piece of equipment at the end of making a batch.
I make 6-7 lb. batches at a time. Olive oil makes up the largest % of the oils in my recipe. Others I use include Avocado, Almond, Sunflower, Safflower, Castor, Coconut, Palm, and/or Palm Kernel. Each oil affects the end product differently.
How do you make sure a soap recipe that you're making is safe? First, you know your oils and understand the process you're doing. Next, you run your recipe through a Lye or Soap Calculator. Finally, you buy a good scale and measure everything accurately.
Why do I make soap? Because I can. That's why I do most things that I do -- knit, spin, garden, photography, paint, etc. Because I can. In this life, I want to make the most of what I can do and the time I have to do it. I'm fortunate - I appreciate that I can. Also, I love the way handmade soap feels on my skin. Yes, it is my face soap and has been since I started making it. And, I LOVE the fragrances! Then, there is the fun of adding herbs and flowers I grow, oatmeal, honey, ground almonds, etc. and the different colors to the soap. It's just so creative and satisfying. It's fun!
I hope you've enjoyed this post and found the information interesting. Have I convinced anyone to give soapmaking a go? Have I convinced anyone to convert to handmade soap? I hope so! Visit the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild site to find a soapmaker or to see pictures of handcrafted soap. You can also Google soap blogs or sites on the internet. Sites, such as, Etsy and Artfire are also a good source to view/purchase handmade soap.
I am looking into either a web site to sell my soaps or an Etsy shop. Currently, you can find my soaps at Dorothy Lane Market in Springboro, OH, Haberdashery in Waynesville, OH. I'm getting guest soaps ready for a bed & breakfast and a store in Lebanon, OH - more info on that in another post. I also take email orders. If you would like to purchase soap, just leave a comment to this post and I can email you information re: ordering.
All of the soaps pictured here have been made using the Hot Process Method. The picture at the top is my latest batch - Orange Peel & Patchouli (left) and Rosemary Lemongrass (right). Smells and feels delightful!