Soapmaking 101

Cold Process Soap Tutorial 

Since many of my former (and beloved) customers visit my blog regularly, I thought I would add the promised tutorials to this page as well. If you have any questions or something isn’t clear please email me and I will see if I can shed some light!

Soapmaking 101
the Science of Saponification
by Susan Dahlem (The Soap Maven)

What is Saponification???
**Saponification is a process that involves the conversion of fat, oil, or lipid, into soap and alcohol by the action of aqueous alkali (e.g. NaOH). Soaps are salts of fatty acids, which in turn are carboxylic acids with long carbon chains. A typical soap is sodium oleate.

When an acid (fats, oils) and a base (sodium hydroxide) react together and neutralize into salt, the product is called soap. The method you will learn about in this tutorial is cold process soapmaking. It is a very simple way to accomplish something magnificent!! There are many other ways to make soap, but non has called to me like this old fashioned method. So read on and soon you will be ready to make soap too!!

What do I need to make soap?
Gather all equipment and ingredients ahead of time. READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE BEGINNING.

If you have any questions feel free to email me at notquitejunecleaver(at)

 Enamelware pot or stainless steel pot. – NEVER USE ALUMINUM
 A good quality scale that measures in tenths of ounces – I use a digital postal scale that measures up to 10#
 One wide mouth glass measuring cup or pitcher
At least two spoons – stainless or high heat plastic
Small stainless or glass container for measuring sodium hydroxide (lye)
One small stainless steel wire whisk
Quick read thermometer that registers 80-200degrees
a pair of well fitting rubber gloves
safety goggles
a mold suitable for your size batch of soap – can be plastic, glass or wood – lined with freezer paper or greased with shortening. For the recipe below a small box about the size of a baby’s shoe box will be about right.
Old Towel

Basic Soap Recipe 

Ingredients -vegan – this is a good recipe to start with…simple ingredients, good quick trace

 8 ounces palm kernel oil
 4 ounces coconut oil
6 ounces olive oil
2.7 ounces of sodium hydroxide dissolved in 6 ounces of distilled or rain water.

You may scent this size batch with up to 1 ounces essential or fragrance oil at trace.

Now you have all your supplies you are ready to MAKE SOAP!!!

Allow yourself 1 1/2 hours for making a batch of soap – and use extreme caution! Sodium Hydroxide is a very dangerous substance AND so is your raw soap.

Prepare your mold ahead of time. Spread out an old towel. You will wrap your soap in the towel after pouring and covering with plastic wrap.

Use safety goggles and rubber gloves from the time you start until you are finished cleaning up after your soapmaking. Always keep lye, lye water and raw soap out of reach of children and pets. Lye is caustic in both dry and wet form and will burn your skin, can blind you and will ruin just about any painted surface or linoleum floor. So BE CAREFUL! Now that all of that is out of the way…let’s make some soap!!!

In your glass measuring cup with a spout or glass wide mouth jar, put the measured amount of cold water. Stir in the lye until all is dissolved – DO NOT INHALE FUMES!

Caution: Always pour lye into the water slowly while stirring.<span style=”color:#ff0000;”> <strong>NEVER</strong></span> pour the water into the lye.  NEVER POUR LYE INTO WARM WATER- IT WILL CREATE A VOLCANO!

Set aside in a safe place to cool down to about 100 degrees. Check it often.

In the meantime, over low heat melt your solid oils in a stainless or enamelware pot that will accommodate both the oils and water when mixed. When they are melted, remove from heat and add olive oil. Check your temperature on the oil and keep a watch – both lye water and oils need to be about 100 degrees. You may need to give one or the other a hot water or cold water bath to bring them to the right temps. Water baths are simple…just put either cold water or hot water in one side of your sink and put the  container of either lye water or oils in it till it reaches desired temp. This takes a little practice but works well.

When both lye water and oils are around 100 degrees you will now mix the two. Pour the lye water in a steady slow stream into the oils, stirring constantly and consistently in a circular  8 pattern, alternating between the two. This will cause
saponification**. YEAH!!!

Continue to stir, noting the changes in your mixture. It will eventually become slightly thicker and more creamy looking. Continue
to stir until the mixture traces…this is when your mixture is thick enough to support a drop or dribble of it on its surface. It should be the consistency of thin pudding. This can take 30 minutes to an hour or more. This is the point to add your fragrance and/or additives (lavender buds, French green clay are just suggestions*) if desired. If making plain soap – pour into prepared mold.

After pouring your soap, cover with plastic wrap and then wrap the towel over and back again until it covers the mold well. This is to insulate the soap and allows it to continue saponification at a constant temperature and will keep it from cooling too quickly which might prevent your soap from getting hard enough.

After 18-24 hours, unmold the soap and remove any plastic wrap that might be clinging to the soap. Let the soap sit another 12-24 hours before cutting into bars. Stack the bars to allow air to circulate around them and let them cure for 4-6 weeks or more. You may even leave your soap in a log and cut as you need it.

*If you use botanicals or clays, it is best to put a little mixture into a bowl, mix in the additive and then pour and stir it back in the
batch. Mixing well.

FOR IN THE MOLD HOT PROCESS: follow all steps until you are ready to pour up the soap.&nbsp; Be sure you use a mold that will withstand 175 degrees F. I use wooden molds lined with butcher paper (shiny side out); Preheat oven to 175. Pour up soap cover with clear plastic wrap, and place in preheated oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, leaving soap in until oven has completely cooled (several hours or overnight). As soon as soap is cooled it is ready to cut. Let it sit a couple of days to finish drying and VOILA! it is ready to use!!!