Cold Process Soap Making Article

My attempt at Cold Process Soap Making:

I had been wanting to make cold process soap for years but had always been terrified of using the lye so I had stuck to melt and pour which is nice but just not the same. I wanted to make my soap from scratch.

I looked for recipes on the internet and soon realised that using a recipe wasnít going to work, I simply did not know enough to start throwing ingredients into a bowl and whisking. I had read about soap calculators so I went in search of one. Soap calculators can be found on the internet and they are very easy to grasp once you know how they work. I had to sit and look at the calculator for some time before I was sure that I understood it all.

The calculator offers a list of different oils, waxes and butters; I added the oils and butters that I wanted to use into the calculator, so I wanted to use sweet almond oil, shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil. I added the amount of each oil and butter that I wanted to use. I did have to nip off and do more research on super fatting which, as I understood it is the addition of a percentage more of oil which is added for ensuring that there is more than enough oils in the soap to saponify with the lye. I also had to do some research of saponification just so that I understood how my soap would work. Reading up on this allowed me to feel more secure that I would actually have an end result that was going to be safe to use.

The calculator then tells you exactly how much lye or caustic Soda (Sodium Hydroxide) you will need. When buying caustic soda which is readily available in places like B&Q and hardware shops, make sure that it is at least 99% pure.

The exact amount of water is then calculated, distilled water is suggested for soap making but boiled cooled water also seems to be acceptable. I measured my water very carefully and added the lye powder, this needs to be done with caution so I did it outside wearing safety goggles, a face mask, marigolds and a protective apron, yes I looked very odd but I felt safe from the caustic effects of the lye. The lye always has to be added to the water and never the other way round otherwise the chemical reaction can cause the lye to react and this is dangerous. The lye was stirred at armís length with an old wooden spoon and I left it to do its thing. The oils and butters were all added together and heated to melting point. I didnít have to faff with thermometers as I had read that I would need to do so I was pleased about that.

I had my mould and fragrances at the ready, I had decided that I wouldnít add any colour or do anything fancy to this first batch, I needed to see how it all worked first so I selected lime and patchouli essential oils; I used my new wooden soap mould which I lined with freezer paper, using the lid of the mould as a template for the freezer paper. I had a hand blender which I bought second hand, you canít use utensils that you have used for soap making for food use so I grabbed the oldest plastic jug, some wooden spoons and an old quality street container to use for my soap, oh and a wire baking rack, apart from a good set of digital scales I didnít need anything else.

Just one other thing that I had to read up about was the term ďTraceĒ I had read that this could take quite a long time to reach and it is when the soap starts to thicken and blends to a stage where the lye and the oils will not separate, this is evident by using a spoon to remove a small amount of the soap mixture and dribbling it back into the bowl, if it sits on top and leaves a trace then you know that the point of trace is reached. The instructions that I was following said to hand blend for 2 minutes, allow the mixture to rest for 5 minutes and then repeat.

So, I added the heated oils to the lye and water solution and started to blend, at this time I was pleased that I was still wearing my goggles and protective gear and that I had protected my surfaces well because there was some degree of splatter. The blender had been on for about a minute when my soap made its change, I wasnít expecting this so soon at all and I had afore me a bowl of mush, looked like congealed custard and I thought it was all over. Anyway without time to measure essential oils I removed the dropper lid from the lime essential oil and threw in the full 10ml and then half of the bottle of patchouli, this helped and the mixture was more even and smooth. Phew. So it took all of one minuteís blending for the soap to be blended. I will know to be better prepared with fragrances and colours and anything else that I wish to add to the next batch.

The soap which with all of the ingredients added together made about 1.5 litres of soap, I had used 1200g of oils and butters, was added to the mould, I smoothed the top with a silicone spatula which I quickly grabbed from the utensil pot and placed on the lid and put the mould into a safe place away from the reach of children and waited, and waited. I kept having a tiny peek because I wanted to know what was happening in there. I also placed an old towel over the mould because whilst I felt sure that the wooden mould and lid offered enough insulation, I wanted to be really sure that this would work.

24 hours later, I was able to release the sides of the mould and voila, there sat a perfect loaf of soap, no oils leaking, just lovely lovely soap. Wearing my rubber gloves again, the soap is still harsh at this stage and so care needs to be taken when handling it, I sliced the soap using my new soap cutter, this needs to be done before the soap has cured and hardened otherwise it can get too hard to slice. I arranged the soap onto the wire cake tray and covered lightly and it is now curing. I had read that this takes between 4 to 6 weeks so I am impatiently waiting to use my own hand-made soap and canít wait to make another batch. Thankfully my mould allows me to make smaller batches because I was surprised at just how many bars of soap I had made, easily enough to last a year so I will give some away as gifts and I may even now, when I am more experienced, think about getting my soap licensed to sell. I have to say that making my own soap was the most exciting thing I have ever made.

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