Safety first! Wear eye protection, gloves and an apron. Keep kids and pets out of the area.
Set-up a work area with:
- Easy outdoor access (to avoid fumes )
- A stove
- A sink
- Clean counters
- Ingredients and equipment
- Be exact!
- Always measure ingredients by weight
- Give yourself about one-and-a-half hours from start to finish
- It takes three weeks to cure bars
Soaps made with vegetable oils (recipes coming next week!) should be processed at 27 C. It's the hardest part — having the oils, fats and lye solution at 27 C at the same time!
When you add lye solution to fats and oils the mixture is runny. But as it saponifies, it thickens to cake batter consistency. Then you look for something called "trace". "Trace" is your clue to stop blending — when you can "write" on the mixture with the mixture.
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Step one: lye solution
Don safety gear. Carefully weigh lye in a heat-resistant glass container. (Lye crystals are round beads that easily stick to things. Keep them away from skin!) Set aside. Weigh tap water in a heat-resistant glass container. Take both outside.
Place lye and water on the ground or table. ADD LYE TO WATER. Stir with silicone spatula — without splashing — until crystals are dissolved. This solution gets dangerously hot! Keep your nose away from the fumes! Prepare remaining ingredients indoors while the reaction continues outside.
Step two: weigh fats and oils
Weigh oils and fats that are solid at room temperature (e.g., coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax). Put them in a large pot. Turn the burner on low. Stir to melt.
Weigh liquid fat and oils (e.g., olive oil). Pour into a stainless steel bowl.
Remove pot from heat and stir in liquid oils.
Speed things up: Measure oils and fats the night before!
Step three: check lye solution
It should be cooling down and not fuming. Carefully place the glass container in the sink. Take the lye solution temperature. Create an ice bath (cold water and ice cubes) in the sink to cool the solution to 27 C.
Step four: check fats and oils
Take the oils' temperature. If they're really hot (e.g., 40 C or higher), place the pot in a separate ice bath.
Wipe your thermometer well with an old cloth between back-and-forth dipping. Avoid accidentally splashing more water into either solution.
Step five: prepare mold(s)
While solutions are cooling, line soap block, pan or mold with parchment paper — the flatter and smoother, the better!
Check solution temperatures — don't miss the magic 27 C! Remove either from the ice bath if one is cooling down faster than the other.
Step six: measure additives
Measure additives, like honey, herbs and essential oils, to add after saponification. (Great to do the night before, too.)
Check temperatures again.
Step seven: processing time and waiting for trace!
When both solutions are close to 27 C, place the pots on the counter. Immerse stick blender into oils. Start blending while slowly adding lye solution — keeping the batch in constant motion. (I mix with both hands, using a metal whisk in the other!) Keep the blender head immersed. Make as few bubbles as possible. Avoid splashing or spilling!
Stop mixing when you have "trace" i.e., when the mixture is cake batter consistency and you can "write" on the mixture with the mixture. Depending on the recipe, this takes five to eight minutes.
Step eight: mix in additives
Quickly and thoroughly mix in additives like essential oils.
Step nine: pour soap
Carefully pour soap into molds, using a spatula to clean out the pot. Tap trays/molds for even distribution.
Step ten: wrap soap
Cut a piece of parchment paper for the tray/mold top. I use a wooden soap block and wrap it all in an old towel. I place heavy books on top and set it aside for three days.
Step eleven: cut soap
On day three, unwrap the soap. Cut into bars using a steel blade or knife. Try cookie cutters or stamps!
If the soap's too soft and sticks to the blade, wait another day.
Step twelve: cure soap
Cut bars need to air cure for four to six weeks before using! Arrange bars on metal cooling racks. Keep out of direct sunlight or cold. And flip bars at least once. Bars will become hard and more mild.
Enter to win a deluxe soap making kit donated by Voyageur Soap & Candle Company Ltd. ($79.95 value)!
Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green