For the past few weeks, I have been experimenting with soap making as a way of canalising my energy and creativity and I can say that it is proving to be a precious craft.
There is true magic in combining things that might not stand out on its own and end up creating something that is simple, beautiful, delicate and useful. It's definitely a process that it's worth appreciating. It sounds great, doesn't it? So, what do you need to create this magic on your own?
This post is a list of ingredients, equipment and utensils that you will need to start making your own cold process soap bars at home.
Oils and butters
The main ingredients in soap bars are oils and butters. There is an extensive list of them and each has its own properties. These are only a few examples:
- Olive oil: This is the best and most common oil used in soap making for its saponification values. Olive oil moisturises the skin and it can make a very conditioning soap bar. One of the great things about it is that it can be used up to 100%.
- Coconut oil: This is another favourite among the soap makers. The use of coconut oil contributes to the hardness of your soap bar because it is naturally solid at room temperature. It is also very cleansing and creates large bubbles.
- Avocado oil: This one is a great option to add to your soap because of the vitamin A, D and E which help moisturise the skin. It helps to create gentle soap bars.
- Cocoa butter: It provides a luxurious feel to your soap. Additionally, it is high in fatty acids so it's great for nourishing the skin.
Sodium hydroxide (lye)
Caustic soda, sodium hydroxide or lye, is a key element in soap making. Its purpose is to transform the oils into soap, which is called saponification.
The caustic soda is always combined with a liquid, like water, plant-based milk or herbal infusions, which makes it possible for the lye and the oils to bind together.
It is extremely important to handle caustic soda carefully as it is a hazardous material and it can create serious injuries if it gets in contact with your eyes or skin.
A different blog post will be written about how to properly handle and store your caustic soda.
As mentioned in the section above, a liquid is necessary to bind the lye and the oils together.
The most common liquid used is water but other liquids can also be used like plant-based milk (great for the skin and without the harm) and herbal infusions.
If using water, it is recommended to use distilled water as it is in its purest form, however, if you're making soap for yourself you can use water from the tap.
If you want to make a scented soap bar, essential oils are a great addition.
The great thing about them is that not only they contribute to the smell but depending on the essential oils you use, you could add certain properties to your soap bar. These are a few examples:
- Lavender: It can help to treat acne and it has anti-inflammatory effects. It's great for sensitive skins.
- Tea tree: It is similar to lavender because it's also commonly used in cosmetics to treat acne and it has anti-inflammatory effects as well. However, tea tree essential oil is also known for its antimicrobial properties.
- Grapefruit: It is a very refreshing scent that it's commonly used in cosmetics for its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
When using essential oils in soap making, you need to make sure that the ones you choose are safe for the skin. If you have highly sensitive skin, you might choose to not include essential oils in your soap bar.
Botanicals are mainly used for decoration. I truly love to include them in my soap bars because it can transform their look completely. Depending on which one you're using, you can add it to the soap mixture so it is inside of the soap bar or only on the top.
I do enjoy minimalism, so adding just the right amount of botanicals can contribute to a very luxurious soap bar that it's not overwhelmingly decorated.
Exfoliators are another great addition to your soap bar if you want to add something that helps to remove impurities from your skin. Some great examples are poppy seeds, raspberry seeds, lavender buds, oatmeal, sea salt and coffee grounds.
Sodium lactate is completely optional and can be used to harden up your soap bars so they can be unmoulded sooner.
If not using sodium lactate, it can take around 72 hours (or even more depending on the oils and butters used) for your soap to be ready for unmoulding and the surface could still be a bit sticky so it would get damaged.
I started using sodium lactate in my soap bars and I definitely recommend it. When unmoulding, the soaps are nice and smooth with no damages.
Clays are the perfect luxurious ingredient because they are very cleansing and detoxifying. No wonder why they are used in face masks, right?
Clays can also contribute to the colour of your soap, which is great if you are looking for natural colouring.
Equipment and utensils
Soap making doesn't have to be an expensive hobby and you could use equipment that you might already have in your kitchen. However, you need to keep into account that whatever you use, it cannot be used again for food preparation.
You must invest in safety gear so you can make soap safely and avoid any undesirable accidents.
You should wear safety goggles and gloves at all times. You need to be protected, otherwise, even a tiny splash of lye or raw soap in your eyes or skin could result in serious burns. Besides wearing safety gear, you should also wear clothes that do not expose your skin.
It is also recommended to wear a mask when pouring the sodium hydroxide into the liquid of your choice to avoid breathing the fumes. You can do this without it if you make sure that you are not breathing it in by standing back, holding your breath or covering your nose with your shirt. You should do this in a well-ventilated area.
There is no need for you to fear the soap making process if you handle everything very carefully and you do it safely.
Heat resistant containers
During the soap making process, you will need heat resistant containers. I like to use heat resistant glass or stainless steel.
Do not use anything made of aluminium for making soap as the reaction between sodium hydroxide and aluminium is highly exothermic. You cannot forget about this or this is something you can expect.
A stick blender is used to emulsify the oils with the lye solution. It's not necessarily a must, but unless you want the soap making process to take forever, it is highly recommended to use one.
Don't forget that if you have one in the kitchen, you can't use it again for food preparation.
A scale is essential for soap making. You need to use one that it is precise in order to measure correctly all the ingredients that go into your recipe. I would recommend buying one that displays decimals in case you don't have it already.
- Spatula: It is very handy to scrape every last bit of soap when it's been poured into the moulds. I would recommend a silicone spatula as a wooden one could deteriorate over time and some wooden pieces could fall and be left into the soap.
- Spoons: They are used for mixing the lye with the water and for taking ingredients like botanicals, exfoliators, clays, essential oils... Do not forget that they cannot be made out of aluminium. Stainless steel spoons are the best option.
- Whisk: It is used for mixing well the essential oils, clays or exfoliators with the soap mixture.
You need a few moulds to pour your soap into.
My favourite type is silicone moulds because they are quite flexible and very easy to handle. Once your soap has been resting for 1 or 2 days and you see that it's ready to be unmoulded, to just have to push it out.
There are other moulds that are quite popular among soap makers, like wooden ones.
Choosing one mould over the other is a personal preference and it depends on what type of soap you want to make and how you want it to look.
The purpose of this post is to let you know what things you will need to start making your own cold process soap bars at home, what ingredients and equipment you should have around before you get into it.
Soap making is a beautiful craft and you learn a lot about natural cosmetics and what goes into your skin. It is very fun and inspiring to learn about what the properties of different oils are and how to combine them with other ingredients to create something that you will be using and enjoying.
Soap bar: freestocks from Unsplash
Olive tree: Alex Holyoake from Unsplash
Essential oil bottles: Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash
Dried flowers: Allie Smith from Unsplash