PART ONE: INTRODUCTION
The inspiration behind this guide was that we wanted to create something which gives any aspiring soap maker the information that they need to know when it comes to making soaps. Rather than focusing on one method or what our favourite technique is we decided to cover everything, from what you need to make your soap, what methods are available to you, what shortcuts are possible, how to make your soaps beautiful and everything in between. Basically all the information that you need to make a choice when you are deciding to make soap for the first time.
The problem with gathering so much useful information in one place is that it has created a huge guide which we think is too big to take in all at once so we have broken it up into different sections, with easy to understand links between them. The first part of the guide covers some of the basic information you need to know before you get started, areas such as what is lye? What equipment you may need and some of the ingredients you may end up using.
The second part of the guide deals with the four most popular methods for making soap, these we have also split out individually to ensure that you can go straight to the one that is relevant for you. There is also a brief introduction at the end of part one to help you decide which method will be best for you to find out more about.
A) The Basics of soap making
Soap making is a process that can range from being very simple to incredibly complicated, the most important thing to consider is what you want to achieve.
One of the most amazing things about making soap is that your options are entirely unlimited, you can make it look, smell and feel however you want and you are only limited by your own imagination. It is worth mentioning at this stage though that some techniques are more difficult than others and can involve a lot of expense when buying the equipment and materials that you need. So for beginners it is often a good idea to start with something simple and work your way up from there.
If you have never tried a real bar of handmade soap before then you will be amazed by the difference between it and the typical mass produced soaps that are available to buy in most shops. If on the other hand you have tried one before but have always thought that it would be too complicated to make your own then you are also in for a pleasant surprise.
Being able to choose the oils, scents and colours that are used in your own soap means that you can be like a modern day Picasso and can blow away friends and family with your results. Before we get into the nitty gritty of choosing the best process for you here are some of the things you need to know.
You may have heard of Lye before when it comes to making soap or you may have heard of its chemical name Sodium Hydroxide. This is an essential ingredient in the soap making process. Soap is made by combining a mixture of ingredients including oils and water and to make these combine into soap a process called 'saponification' must take place which forms your soap and its cleaning properties. For this to happen lye needs to be mixed in and once the process is complete there will be no lye remaining in your soap. So what is the big deal with Lye? I hear you ask. Well Lye is a caustic alkali and can eat holes in fabric and cause burns on your skin and it can also cause extreme reactions when mixed with other chemicals. This is why extra caution is always essential when using it, and we would always recommend that you use gloves and an eye mask at all times. This can be off putting to many of those thinking of making their own soap but if handled correctly there is no great risk and if you are uncomfortable about using it but you still want to experience making your own soap you can use the melt and pour or re-batching methods discussed later which do not require the handling of any Lye!
We will discuss the best types of equipment for each process later in the guide but some of the important things to consider at this stage are that when you are making soap, although you may already have some of the items needed in your kitchen it is good practice not to use anything that you will cook with later. Even if you plan to give everything a thorough clean after, it is always best not to take a chance. <
For mixing bowls, stainless steel, tempered glass or enamel are typically good choices and it is worth mentioning that you shouldn't use copper or aluminium bowls as they can react with the lye!
You should be able to get soap moulds at your local craft store or you can find them online with lovely retailers such as The Soap Kitchen who are our preferred provider in the UK and offer everything from essential oils to moulds and everything else inbetween.
In no particular order here are some of the other kitchen tools that are useful to keep on hand: A Digital Scale, variety of glass jars and bowls, a metal spoon, a wooden spoon, gloves and eyewear (if using lye), a spatula and a large bottle of white vinegar for neutralizing the lye mixture if it spills on anything.
D) Ingredients - How to make Your Soap Unique and Beautiful.
Once you have decided on the method that you will use and have purchased your equipment and raw ingredients. You can start to think about how you will customise your soap, which oils you will use, the colours of your bar and any additional texture elements or scent properties. We introduce some of the common enhancements below to help give you some ideas on which way you would like to go.
1. Essential Oils and butters.
Some of the common oils and butters for handmade soap include:
Beeswax – Suitable for vegetarians but not vegans, beeswax will add hardness to your soap and will give it a beautiful scent. In larger quantities beeswax can stop your soaps from lathering so be sure only to use small amounts.
Cocoa Butter – Well known for providing a gorgeous moisturising effect and boosting skin protection, cocoa butter will also help to harden your soap.
Lemongrass Oil – Fresh citrus scent, lemongrass oil in soap contains a wide range of benefits for your skin. You can read more about the wonderful benefits of Lemongrass Oil here.
Coconut oil – When used it will help to create a harder bar which produces a rich fluffy lather and cleans and moisturises the skin. Read more on the benefits of coconut oil
Olive oil - Soap made with olive oil is sensitive, conditioning, and great for all skin types. You can read more about the benefits of olive oil in our guide.
Palm oil - A great oil for soap making but one that is also very controversial. Palm plantations in south-east Asia have led to devastating deforestation and loss of habitat for animals such as Orangutans. If you choose to use Palm oil please consider using an oil that has been certified as sustainable.
Soybean oil – Helps to create a conditioning bar which will have a stable lather.
Shea Butter - An interesting oil since it has more difficulty turning into soap than the others and will often stay in your finished soap as a moisturising butter rather than as soap.
Sweet Almond oil – Popular for its light feeling and well known for its ability to moisturise and condition the skin.
Castor Oil – Excellent for creating a long lasting lather but be careful not to use it at more than 10 to 15% of your recipe as it can lead to the bar becoming sticky or rubbery.
Avocado Oil – Great for making a soft soap bar and the high concentration of vitamins A, B, D and E result in postiive effects on the skin.
Mango Butter – Will melt upon contact with the skin and helps to create a rich moisture when using the soap.
2. Dried herbs (for texture or colour)
There are no limits to the variety of dried herbs that you can add to your soap, some will add distinctive and relaxing scents. Others will be able to provide the texture to give your bars that handmade feeling. Some of our favourites include dried lemongrass, orange peel or cinammon though it is often a personal preference.
The colours you create in your soap are only limited by your imagination. Some of your options when it comes to creating colours are Micas, Pigments, Lab colours or Natural colourants. Whilst they can sometimes produce a less vibrant colour natural options are always our favourites as they ensure that you are not adding any unnecessary chemicals, some of our favourite options include spices and plant materials like lemongrass, turmeric, cocoa, ground coffee, orange peel, seaweed and others.
4. Texture add ins
Once you have decided on the makeup of the oils that you will use, the scents and colours you can now consider if you would like to add any additional ingredients which will help to give your soap a unique texture and personality. Some common examples are dry freshly ground coffee, healing clays, seeds, salts, oatmeal or any other natural ingredient.
Depending on the type of process that you choose for making your first batches of soap the equipment and ingredients that you need will vary, a lot of the required materials can be found in a regular kitchen shop but as you improve your technique and want to try out more complicated methods and ingredients.
E) Hints and Tips
To help you get started on your soap making journey we asked some experts for their opinion on what are the most important things to consider. Lindsey from the fantastic lovely greens blog gave the following advice:
"My top three tips are to always begin by following a true and tested recipe to the T -- trying to use your own right off the bat just asks for disaster. Next, always have your work space clean and organized and free from distraction. Lastly, keep it simple. Fancy techniques and intricate essential oil blends can come later. Focus on making soap first and art later.”
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The Lovely Greens philosophy is simple – handmade and natural skincare products that are kind to your skin and the environment. We aspire to create beautiful handmade bath and beauty products with natural wholesome ingredients including rich oils and natural fragrance. Based on the Isle of Man, Lovely Greens offers a range of handmade soaps, beeswax lip balms, body balms, candles, gift sets, and soapmaking classes. You can find out more on the lovely greens website.
E) Choosing your process
Now we have discussed the basics and you are still reading, that means that you are at the stage where you can start to plan which process you will use to make your soap. Hooray!
There are four main methods for making soap and we introduce each one briefly below and give you the links to the corresponding guides.
Melt and Pour – melt pre-made blocks of soap and add your own fragrance, colour or texture. Ideal for those not wishing to use lye and to keep down equipment costs.
Cold Process – the most common process, doing it all yourself. Make soap from scratch using all the necessary equipment and choosing your own recipe.
Hot Process – a variation on cold process which involves cooking the soap in an oven or large pot. Additional equipment required than with cold process.
Re-batching – grinding up existing bars of soap, adding any additional oils or other ingredients and re-blending and setting them. Lower costs and equipment requirements but less control over recipe.
We hope that this guide has helped to introduce some of the need to know areas to get you started on your soap making journey. If you have any questions or would like to know anything that is not covered in the guide then you can leave a comment below or contact us on the details in the footer.