Soap-making, part 2

January 5, 2012

Soap Making

Lessons learned while making soap

Several weeks have passed since I made my first batches of soaps.  They have cured now and we have been using them and given them as well-received gifts.  I have learned several things that I thought I would share with others who are interested in getting started.

To begin with, I must confess that I did not invest in the fancy digital read scale.  We have had an analog postal scale that I know has some play in it, but I figured it would be my luck to buy a really nice digital scale and then have an EMP destroy it anyway.  Since I would be back to my old standby then, I decided to try learning to make soap with it  now and see what happened.  All of my soaps set and none seem to have extreme pH values, so that’s a pretty good start.

Lesson from My First Batches

In retrospect, I’ve learned a few things from these first few batches of soap.

  1. One of the first things I learned is that I mustn’t judge the initial product.  Soap continues to change some even after it has first set.  The chips of new soap left from cutting or unmolding it are not really “finished” yet.  Whether I liked the scent or didn’t like the texture or whatever at that point did not mean the final product would have quite the same properties.  The curing process takes several weeks.
  2. Another thing I found is that it is important to maintain clean hands and tools when cutting and unmolding.  I’m not sure what could have contaminated a couple bars of soaps, but they developed brown spots on their surfaces where they had been handled or placed to cure.
  3. If you want to use shape molds, silicone ones are best.  I tried to use the hard thin plastic ones that we had from making glycerin soap last year and the lye soap was almost impossible to get out intact.
  4. hand towelsDo some research on the properties of the oils you are going to use.  Each has special attributes.  Some make good lather, some are moisturizing, and so on.  Some, like coconut oil, should not be used above a certain percentage in your recipe or they will be drying to the skin.
  5. You need to plan ahead where your soap will cure.  We don’t have many unused spaces, so we had soap spread out on cookie cooling racks all over the place.  They need to have good ventilation for a couple weeks at least.  That was a bit inconvenient when we had other projects and baking to do at Christmas.
  6. The most surprising thing I learned is that scenting soap correctly is definitely an art and takes some trial and error.  One of my first batches was largely made of cocoa butter, giving it a wonderful chocolate scent.  For Christmas, I added some very expensive peppermint essential oil.  It smelled like peppermint bark for several days and we had a hard time not licking it.  Then it completely lost its smell.  Contrast that with the rosemary scent I added to the last batch that nearly drove us out of the house.  Not only was it strong, but it has settled into something that smells, well, kinda like dirt.  Hmmm…. not what I was going for.  I expected to get out of the shower smelling cleaner, not dirtier.

So these are the main lessons I have come away with so far.  Have you had similar experiences or want to share some other things you have learned?  Please do so in the comment section.

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13 Comments on “Soap-making, part 2”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I have had aspirations of making soap and read lots about soapmaking, but this is the first time I have read the particular aspects of soapmaking that you have mentioned. These things are good to know!


    • Laura Says:

      Thanks. I still need to do another post and share the books that I have found helpful. Please list any you have thought were particularly good.


  2. Beck Says:

    I love the soap you so graciously gave me for Christmas. It makes my hands feel so much better than any of the commercial soaps I’ve bought. J is right, I may use it sparingly to make it last longer.

    Your article makes me want to research more about how to make soap. I’m sure there was a lot more work involved than I would have thought.

    Thanks again for such a special gift.


  3. Kim P Says:

    I was wondering about the cost of making soap. When compared to buying 7 bars of Irish Spring for $3.00 it almost seems more economical to buy 1-7pk per month and put this into your stockpile. The total cost would be $36 for 84 bars of soap.


    • Laura Says:

      I’m pretty sure you are right, though I have not done a careful cost analysis yet. It would depend in part on what oils you use to make the soap. If you use mostly lard and don’t scent it, then it may be close.

      Most of my reason for learning to make it was in case I ever needed to. It is fun to do and it makes great gifts, but I am most interested in learning a valuable skill and acquiring the basic things I would need (thermometer, scale, etc.). Now that I have competently made basic soap, the next step would be to try and render lard and create my own lye from wood ashes and rain water. Ideally, I would go ahead and practice that now, but with all that is more pressing at the moment, I think I will just make sure I have a printed copy of the instructions for those processes. (I know in theory that the lye water is strong enough when an egg almost floats in it, etc. but in practice, it may be a bit less straightforward).

      I still buy a large multi-pack of commercial soap every month, though I have varied the brand I buy a little. Then I’ll have some choices later in case someone has sensitive skin. I try to be sure the brands I’m buying do not contain “anti-bacterial” ingredients, though.

      Thanks for your comment. You make a very valid point. If cost for the final product was my only consideration, I would not bother learning to make soap myself because I have plenty to do without picking up a hobby. As I told Joe just yesterday, I will most likely try to make a batch using different recipes every few months just to be sure I don’t have the opportunity to forget. If I get sloppy or forgetful and add water to the lye rather than the opposite, that could be problematic.


      • Practical Parsimony Says:

        Reconsider antibacterial soap. I never use any antibacterial soap. But, in an emergency with little recourse, antibacterial soap can be used to wash a wound or around a wound to keep down an infection. I only have one six-bar pack, and that is all I intend to store. I only use Dove, but do have other brand soaps.

        Learning to make soap is more about learning a skill and knowing what ingredients you are putting on your skin. I don’t know many bloggers or preppers who make soap to save money.


  4. Lauri Hansberger Says:

    read your store bought “soap’if it says deoderant bar it is not soap, dove beauty bar is not soap, there is a rule on what can and can’t be called soap in the stores, so do you really know what it is you are buying, soap or detergents?

    Don’t forget, plain castille soap, no scent, or skin sofeners, can be put thru a grater and used for washing laundry, vinegar for rinse agent, better for allergies.


    • Laura Says:

      Thanks for mentioning those points. That is a rule of thumb I haven’t looked at yet- whether “deodorant” on the front of the package automatically means “detergent” vs. “soap.” That could save some time picking up every brand out there. Will have to look next time.

      Ivory seems to be one of the better commercially made soaps. At least, so says this site.


      • Hirondina Says:

        Yes, we do plan to include herbs and flroews from the garden. We wanted this first batch to be the basic coconut, olive and palm oil soap. Our next batch will probably be Oatmeal Honey, but I definitely want to experiment with our lavender. Coloring with plants and spices and adding fragrances will be exciting. As far as the time, really it only took us a little over an hour to make the actual soap. Like you, the only thing that has stopped me was dealing with the lye and it’s really not that bad as long as you take precautions (goggles, gloves and long sleeves) and treat it with respect like any other chemical. That website link really gave me the confidence to proceed. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.


  5. pioneerinthesuburbs Says:

    I have made a ton of soap and lavender is the most popular. I add a tablespoons of ground up lavender flowers and about half a small bottle of lavender essential oil. I started making my own because I’m allergic to the commercial ones. My recipe:
    1 3lb can of veg shortening melted
    12 oz cold water
    8oz by weight pure lye crystals
    Assorted essential oils/herbs

    Follow cold process soap making procedures.
    Cure for 3 weeks

    Cost is about $6 for 16 bars

    You can grate this up, mix with water and make hand soap or grate a bar 1c. borax and 1 c. washing soda to make laundry soap.


  6. Meagan Says:

    Did I miss the soap recipes somewhere? This is definitley a skill that is on my to do list to learn. 🙂


  7. Jacqueline Says:

    To use a non silicone mold and get the hardened soap out easily always line your mold with waxed paper or parchment paper. I also oil the paper lightly with one of the oils used in the soap. My favorite soap method is hot process in a crock pot. the finished product is complete much faster as most of the curing is completed in the pot.



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