Learn how to make your own natural glycerin soap. Robin will guide you through the steps to make a small batch using the cold process method.
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I’m Robin Wilson, one of the soapmaking instructors at Ploughshare. In this video, we’re going to cover the basics of soapmaking. As you gain experience, you can branch out into different colors, different scents, different shapes, and really have a lot of fun with it. Soapmaking does use lye, which is a necessary part of soapmaking, but it’s caustic.
So we need to be careful. You do not need to be afraid of it, but we do need to have a healthy respect for it, so we’re going to want to use some safety equipment. You want to wear gloves and then a mask. As you mix the lye, the fumes are released. You want to wear a mask in order to protect your lungs from the fumes. And then we recommend that you wear goggles the whole time then you have the lye out until you’re done pouring your soap. So I’m going to go ahead and put mine on.
OK, so now we’re going to make a cold process badge. It is a slightly different procedure than the hot in that we’re going to blend our lye and water and blend our oil separately. We bring both of those to the same temperature, in this case 98 degrees, and then combine them. A lot of people ask the difference, really, between the hot and cold processes.
Is there a benefit to one over the other? I find that the hot process bars themselves last longer. They’re harder. But also they shrink a lot, so one advantage to the cold is if you’re going to pour it in fancy little molds, if you use a hot process in the mold, you’re going to lose the pattern. You’re going to lose the definition as it shrinks. Cold process also you can add a lot more. We’re going to add Rosemary to this one.
If you’re selling it, it’s more stable in size. When you do your hot and you wrap it, it starts to shrink out of its wrap, so most of us who do it for a business switch to the cold just because it’s more stable packaging-wise when you keep it on the shelf. OK, so the first thing we do always is assemble ingredients and equipment. Of course we’re going to use water and our lye.
We’ve got vinegar here just in case we end up with a spill. We’re going to use coconut oil, olive oil, in this case instead tallow, we’re going to use palm oil. And the palm oil is going to add some hardness to the bars that a tallow soap gets from the tallow. That and all vegetable oil’s going to come from your palm.
We need an appropriate sized pot, our spatulas, and spoons, and whisk, the mold that we’re going to pour it into, the measuring cup. And then with cold process, because we mix the lye separately, you’re going to want a pot to blend that in. Of course something heat proof, but also it’s handy to have it with a spout. It’s easier to pour it in. And then a scale.
We’re going to use a digital scale to weight out our lye and our oils, and then a basin of some sort for a cold water bath to chill the lye water after we mix it. OK, one thing you always want to make sure you have ready before you start your soapmaking process is your mold. This is a wooden one that we build here, and you see its lined with plastic bottom and sides, and then the sides come off, so tomorrow when we cut it, we can take it apart easily.
OK, so the first step is to dissolve our lye, which again, because when the lye hits the water, it’s going to react, send out some of those caustic fumes, and so we’re going to mix it up outside. So we’re going to take our, water our lye, and our pot, and move outside. So we’ve come outside to dissolve our lye and our water. Rachel’s going to go ahead and start with the water.
It is crucial that you use water that doesn’t have any minerals or salt in it. You can buy distilled, you can collect rainwater. Any minerals in there can hinder the saponification process. We’re going to use 6 cups. So you’ll see we’ve got our goggles and Rachel’s got her mask on. As we dissolve the lye into the water, it is going to release those caustic fumes, so we need to be careful.
It’s more accurate to weight ingredients, really, than go by volume, so we’re using our scale and we’re headed toward 18 ounces. OK, so there we go, 18 ounces of lye. And you just start your water moving really gently. Pour the lye in. Don’t dump it all at once. You don’t want it to splash. You can see how, of course, the water was clear and then it goes kind of foggy as the lye is dissolving, and once it’s more clear again, we’ll know it’s ready.
So we started out with room temperature water. When we add the lye, the chemical reaction causes the temperature to spike up to 140, 150. In this particular process, we’re going to need to cool it back down to 98 before we blend it. So we’re going to put it in a water bath once we get back inside. OK, were going to keep stirring until it goes clear.
If you look, you can see you’re starting to be able to see the bottom of the pot again, reflection down there, so you’ll know that all those little crystals have dissolved. For this particular recipe, the lye is rather concentrated, so it’s never going to go perfectly clear as I would for the hot, which has more water in it. OK, that’s good. So now we’re going to move back inside.
So we’ve just come back in from mixing up our lye water. It is warm, so I set it on this hot pad so we don’t melt the plastic on the table. We’re going to go ahead and mix our oils together, and then we’re going to start to balance out the temperatures. We’re going to turn this into a cold water bath to cool the lye water. So I’m going to go ahead and fill it up.
I fill this up with just a couple inches of cool water. You want it to be shallow enough that your lye water doesn’t try to float and tip. You can add ice cubes if you need to. I think this is cool enough, it’s going to be OK. So I’m just going to set this right out down into the cool water, and I am going to go ahead and take its temperature just to see how far it is that we’re looking to drop. It’s 160, so it needs to drop 60 degrees.
OK, so the next thing we’re going to do is blend our oils, and I am going to weigh them out to measure them. We want 57 ounces of olive oil. Olive oil’s very traditionally used in soap. It’s very moisturizing, it’s very good for your skin, readily absorbed. Whenever you see a soap recipe and it’s telling you how many ounces to use, it is ounces by weight, not fluid ounces, and it does make a difference in your finished product if you’re not accurate.
OK, we’re going to blend all of our oils together in this larger pot. Our lye water’s over here, we’re keeping them separate. So that’s the olive oil. Now we’re going to do coconut. The whole time you’re working with your oils, you do want to keep an eye on your lye water. It’s only been a couple minutes, but it has dropped down to 138. And again, we’re headed to 98, so you don’t want to go too far.
You don’t want to drop it down to 70 and have to heat it up again. You do want to keep an eye on it the whole time. OK, so we’ve put out olive oil in. Now we’re going to use coconut and palm. And they are both solid at room temperature, so we went ahead and water bathed them. We just put them in some warm water for a few minutes to liquefy them again. This was the coconut oil.
Coconut is used in soap primarily because it adds to the lather. It hardens the bar a little bit. Actually, it saponified very readily, so it helps the saponification process speed up. We’re going to use 37 ounces of coconut. We’re going to add it to the olive oil. Palm oil can separate on you. You want to shake it up a little bit before you measure it out.
We’re going to use 34 ounces of palm. Palm is used to add hardness to bars that you don’t use tallow in. I’m going to add this to the coconut and the olive. OK, so now at this stage, we really need both of them to be at 98 degrees, and they are only at 84. You always, always go ahead and take your temperature before you heat it.
If your oils were still warm from the water bath, they could be warmer than 98 and need to cool back down anyway. But this is only 80, so I’m going to put it on the stove for a couple seconds and warm it up. And then our lye, the lye is still up at 115, so it needs to cool a little bit more. So at this stage, you really just go back and forth.
You want to move slowly. I’ve got the heat on low. You don’t want to spike it up to 130 and have to cool it down again. Don’t hurry through this phase. Just go slow and let them gradually lower and raise until they meet in the middle at 98. So as we’re adjusting the temperature of the lye and the oil, you also want to make sure you have gotten ready whatever additives you’re going to put in later.
We’re going to do a lavender rosemary blend. So this is the essential oil, lavender and rosemary together. We’ve done ahead and prepared. And then we’re going to add some fresh rosemary too. So I’m going to snip just a little bit smaller here. OK, so it looks like both of these are at 98. Let’s take this one again.
So, now this is the fun part. We’re going to actually incorporate the lye water into the oil. OK, so for this stage, it is crucial to use a whisk, not a spoon. And same thing, you want to get the oils moving, and we’re just going to start to pour the lye water in.
In the hot process recipe, the boiling action’s what actually causes saponification to occur. Here, you are the action, so you have to whisk vigorously for a while. If you do it by hand, it can take a while– anything up to 20 minutes, until it starts to imulsify. One way that we often use to speed the process up is using an immersion blender, in which case it should only take four or five minutes.
As you can see, it’s starting to change color already. It’s getting a little lighter, although there are still streaks of oil through it. The signs that cold process soap is ready to pour are really very slight. You have to look very carefully, but it has thickened up a little bit.
If you look at the reflection of the light as you drizzle it around, you can see that the little strands of soap lay on top for minute before they sink down in. OK, so I’m going to go ahead and add the scent. For this batch, we use six ounces. And you always want to make sure your scent, anything you add toward the end, is very well incorporated so that your soap doesn’t separate out later.
So we added the scent, now I’m going to go ahead and put in the rosemary. Stir it in really well. It’s ready to go. We’ve got the scent, we’ve got the rosemary, and I’m going to go ahead and pour it in the mold that we prepared earlier. At this point, even though we’ve poured the soap, it’s not fully saponified, which is easiest to see when we go to the sink and run the water in it.
You should still see little oil molecules floating around, and if you touch it, there’s free lye in there. So see as we run water into this, you should still see free oil floating around, and it doesn’t really suds the way the hot does. See? It’s just really not soap. OK, so for cold process soap, you are going to need to add soap in order to clean up.
And you’re going to want to use your gloves to wash so you don’t get burned, because there could still be some free lye in there. So, to correct that, to continue the saponification process, we’re going to insulate the soap itself. So I’m going to use the Styrofoam. I’m going to use this piece of Styrofoam.
You can also use cardboard, just lay it right over the top of it and then cover it with towels or blankets. Anything that can actually give some insulative value. And what happens is that as the saponification process continues, it builds up heat in the mold and insulations going to hold it in there.
And really, you should leave it covered for another 24 hours to 48 hours. Actually if tomorrow when we come back, if you stick your hand in here and its still warm, leave it covered until it is totally cooled off. If you were to look in there, you’ll see that it’s going through what’s called a gel phase, and it starts to go transparent, it actually liquefies a little bit, and then as it comes out of that phase, it sets up and becomes firm enough that you can cut it.
OK, so a tomorrow we’ll come back uncover it, mark it and cut it into bars, and then set it on a rack to cure for a few weeks. So after 24 hours, our cold process soap should be ready to cut. Whereas yesterday it was liquid when we poured it, there it is today. Near the consistency of fudge.
So, the first thing we’re going to do is take the sides off the mold. The sides of the mold will come off easier if you run a knife down the edge first before you try to pull them off. Here we go. OK, there it is. Cold process soap really doesn’t shrink very much, so the size that you cut it is pretty much the size bar you’re going to end up with.
The easiest way to get square bars is to go through first and just notch it on the edge. In this case, every 2 inches. And then the shorter end is 14 inches, so we’re going to do it at 3 and 1/2 to make four bars. OK. Once you have all four sides marked with your notches, you can use one of the side rails off your mold to score just a little line to follow as you cut.
OK, I’m just going to set these out of the way, and then using just a butcher knife, you cut as straight down as you can, and then follow your score line back towards yourself. OK, now, if you’re going to make a lot of soap, one of these things is very handy. Our metalsmiths here make them out of stainless steel for us.
And in that case, you really can skip the scoring stage. You just line it up in each notch and then just go straight down. These blades definitely speed the process up, and you can buy one from us. So once we have them all cut, we’re going to transfer them to a rack. If you have sensitive skin, you can go ahead and wear your gloves.
It really shouldn’t bother you at this stage, but feel free to wear them if you want. Now, whatever you transfer them to, your rack really needs to be stainless steel, or else plastic coated wire. An aluminum rack will react with any remaining a lye that is in your soap.
OK, you’ll see I’m standing these on edge. In this case, I’m doing it just to get all them on this rack, but it also adds a little bit more air circulation. You are more than welcome to lay them out flat if you have the space. OK, so once you have them on your rack, they need to cure for four to six weeks in just a cool, dry area that has good air circulation until they’ll develop a little bit of a rind on them and dry out more.
Really, the longer you age your soap, the better the lather’s going to be, the longer the bars themselves are going to last. So really even two to three months is ideal, but really a minimum of four weeks is best.