Question: How to make soap?

So you’ve got your equipment, and you’ve got your ingredients. Now it’s time to get down to work and formulate a recipe!


What do we want in soap? Generally people want a hard bar of soap, as the general rule of thumb is, that the harder a bar of soap is, the longer it will last. We want soap to last as long as possible, we want the soap to moisturise, we want the soap to lather awesomely, we want the soap the not be stripping of our skin loving oils, we don’t want to be itching after a shower from dry skin, and… I don’t know about you, but I want to use the soap to shave my legs with. I’m exceedingly lazy and I don’t want too many products cluttering my shower. Or poofs or gloves or cloths… I like my shower area to be clean, organized and nothing on the floor. Ew. Hair on the shower floor. Yuck.

And can we get all those demands? Yup! With some tweaks here and there, it is totally possible to get that done. I mentioned this before in previous posts, but what works for me, may or may not work for you. Take into account your water you bathe with, the condition of your skin, your climate/environment, clothing, type of lotion, all these and more will factor in how your soap will work.

Soap Prep1
preparing my soaping work space

To make soap you will need to follow this simple equation:

(fats)+(lye)+(liquids)= soap

But to make a bar of soap that doesn’t look like fudge, you might want to add in some scents and colours, and maybe some other ingredients like coffee. So our equation would then look like this:

(fats)+(lye)+(liquids)+(additives)= soap

Soaping is generally always done in percentages, and each and every recipe needs to go through a lye calculator (this one is my favourite).

First things first.

How much soap do we want to make?

We want to use 500g of oils to make approximately 770g of soap. You can make a smaller amount say 250g of oils, but then you are looking at mixing for a while with spoon or a fork. And who has an hour to constantly stir?

What oils, butters and fats are going into our basic recipe? 

As we discussed ingredients in this post, we are going to use;

  • Olive Oil 20-30%
  • Coconut Oil 20-30%
  • Animal Fats/Cocoa Butter/ Palm Oil 15-30%
  • Shea Butter 10-20%
  • Castor Oil 5-10%

I don’t have those oils, can I use something else? 

Sure! You will have to run your recipe through the Lye Calculator before you move forward though. Today, we are only going to be using the fats and oils mentioned above.

What if I want my first batch of soap to be bigger? 

I’d strongly advise you to keep your very first batch of soap to be 500g, and simple. Your second batch? Go big! Think of it like this. If you mess up this batch of soap, it’s not that big a deal as you didn’t use a lot of ingredients. Give yourself a batch or two to kind of get an idea of how things work; figure out trace, how long it takes you to pour, the mess.

Goodness sweet lizards… the mess.

Can I use a wooden spoon to stir?

No. Play it safe. Use a silicone spatula! Wooden spoons and bamboo ones too could possibly splinter in the heat of the lye solution and cause you to get a splinter in places you really wouldn’t want to get a splinter.

Let’s get started! Looking at SoapCalc; this is what you input.

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 1.14.37 PM

  1. Type of Lye: NaOH is the lye needed for cold process soap.
  2. Weight: today we are going to use 500g of oils.
  3. Water: 38% is a great place! You can bump this up to 40 and then down to 35 to see the difference.
  4. Super fat: This simply means the amount of oils left behind that will not be converted to soap. So, at the end, once cure is over, you will have 5% of that bar of soap still as “free” oils and not soap. Talk about moisturising! You can super fat at 0% for a very cleansing bar for say laundry, or at 8-10% for a highly moisturising bar. Be careful though, the higher the percentage you go, the higher chances you won’t get a long life from your bar of soap. Or your soap will might colour after a few months! I shudder to think of those DOS spots! (Dreaded orange spots)

Recipe One: two animal fats

(rock hard solid bar and highly moisturising bar, will last a long time, a personal favourite!)

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 1.17.32 PM

Ok! Now plug in your oils. I always plug in my oils in amounts like ingredients on a label. So, the oil that I am going to add the most of will be first, and the least will be last. You’ll see in any decent soapers recipe they use percentages. This will allow you to upscale or reduce any recipe easily. We will cover how to come up with percentages in a future blog post!

Click on calculate recipe, and your oils should equal 100%. Then click on view or print recipe. A new page will open. You’ll see a lot of mumbo jumbo stuff at the top of the page, and just ignore all that for a little while. This is what you want to look at:

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 1.19.05 PM

This is our recipe!

  • 190g Distilled Water
  • 68.87g Lye- NoOH
  • 500g Oils

With the oil break down looking like this:

  • 150g Olive Oil
  • 100g Coconut OIl
  • 75g Lard
  • 75g Tallow
  • 75g Shea Butter
  • 25g Castor Oil

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 1.19.27 PM

Then your eyes will certainly move over and see this chart. And your heart will start to race thinking YAY! A cheat chart! I just need to move my amounts around and get them to the high end of conditioning and and and and…. no. 100% pure olive oil soap makes for a insanely hard bar of soap. But it only tells you that it will make a 17 on the Hardness Range.

This chart is only just a guide. And like all guides, it’s not 100%. So don’t put a whole lot of faith in it. It only gives you a general idea; and most of the time, that general idea is not really right. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here; the only way to truly know how the end result of a combination of oils will work in soap, is to make it and test it out.

Test. It. Out.

Recipe option TWO: one animal fat

(highly moisturising, hard bar but the end result will feel almost slick like

And just so you can see;

Screen Shot 2018-01-23 at 2.32.38 PM.png

And look at that! Your lye amount is different! How neat is that! Just by removing one ingredient, our whole recipe needs to change! You might think, whoa! It changed! But not by much. What’s the big deal? Each and every oil, fat, butter requires a different amount of lye to convert it to soap. So by swapping one oil for another, won’t work. Or you accidentally pour and extra 100g of one oil and shrug it off thinking meh, it’s all good! I’ll just reduce this other oil/fat. Don’t think so! Imagine you are grilling up a steak. You swap out salt for sugar to season your steak. Your steak is still edible. But is it good? Nope. Notta. Yuck.

Now that we have our recipe, let’s get cracking!

Barb SUITED UP!Don your apron, gloves, eye goggles and safety gear. Be sure to be wearing closed toed shoes too!

Be sure to read all instructions carefully, two or three times before beginning.

  1. Into a heat resistant pot, measure in your water.
  2. Into a separate bowl; like a margarine tub or a cottage cheese container, weigh out your lye.
  3. In a well ventilated space, wearing your safety gear, slowly add your lye to your water, stirring the whole time.
Remember! Snow falls on water! Add lye to your water, not water to your lye!

4. Stir until all the lye dissolves. Be very careful as adding the lye to the water, it will create an exothermic reaction and it gets bloody hot. Yes, hot enough to burn you! If you do get a splash of lye water on you, rinse with lots and lots of running water.

5. Put somewhere to cool. Out of reach of anyone. No touchy touchy, allowing the temperature to come down to room temperature.

6. Into a large pot/bowl, weigh out your fats and oils. Melt over a double boiler if you need to. Allow to cool. IMG_2676.jpg

7. Using a thermometer, make sure your fats and oils and lye are approximately  the same temperature. I personally aim for room temperature so sometimes I weigh out everything the night before and mix when I wake up. This way, I know for sure that everything is the same temperature. For me personally, I find when my bowls are at room temperature, I get the best pours and have the most time to make fancy dancy swirls or tops. Some soapers find that when things are a smidge warmer it provides them with more time… this is one of those things that you will need to learn on your own that no one can tell you what will work best for you.

8. Prepare your mould. You might need to line it if it is not a silicone mould. If you need to line it, please use parchment paper NOT wax paper.

8. This step is critical if you want to ensure a soap that is pretty and you remain stress free. Have every possible tool, piece of equipment, colour, additive, scent… have everything you might need right here with you. You could have made the same batch of soap a million times before, but this time it could cause you a headache. Be prepared! This is also when you will want to go to the bathroom even if you don’t need to! Grab your camera, set it up if you’d like to, turn it on to remember your first batch of soap (hint hint nudge nudge turn it on!!!!). Be sure you have all your additives if you have any, your mould, your pitchers if you want to swirl, your colours, make sure you have everything lined up.

Black Orchid Soap before mixing, look! My mould is already lined!
Bamboo and Teak Waves before the mix
Magarita Salt Bar pre-mix.
Himalayan Salt Soap Bars before mixing

8. Once everything is around room temperature, it is time to combine! You add the lye solution to the fats and oils. I usually allow the lye solution to trickle down the immersion blender so it is not such a huge shock to the batter and I find it just behaves a wee bit better.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 1.48.55 PM.png
The mixing of Ancient Gold Secrets

9. This is where it gets tricky to explain things. I turn my immersion blender on the lowest setting and basically pulse it through the batter. I do not leave it on and stir. Some soapers will tell you that you need to come to a full trace, whilst others will tell you a light trace. At the end of the day this information is not really all that helpful to a new soaper. Cause what the hell is trace? Trace is where you lightly pour some batter from your spoon or blender and it remains on top.

Tap tap tap, you can see the air bubbles coming to the surface

I usually will pour my soap at a light or a thin trace because I like to do some funky swirls. At the moment I am all about the drop technique which I really can’t seem to master! Vicky at The Soap Mine has the most amazing looking soaps! And that’s all she does. The Drop Technique. I love the look of it! One day I’ll master it! When to pour is really a personal choice and it mostly depends on what you want to do. If I am making a solid colour soap, I’ll pour at a thicker trace as there is not going to be anything special happening in the soap. If I am swirling or doing a complicated swirl, I’ll pour at a thin trace.

So we’ve poured the soap into the mould.

IMG_196510. Tap the soap GENTLY on the countertop to get rid of any air bubbles, and then put it on a shelf away from any sunlight and curious fingers and walk away. For about 12-48 hours. This is again what makes soaping a challenge. Learning when to cut. I usually cut my soaps about 16 hours after I make soap. Some soaps I need to wait two days, whilst others cut within a few hours. It all depends on you and your soap and what you add to it. And temperatures when you mixed, how long you blended for, how hot or how cold your room is… It’s one of those things you need to learn through time and practice.

11. Once you decide it is time to cut, don your gloves, and begin to gently unmould your soap. We are wearing gloves here otherwise you’re going to leave your fingerprints everywhere! And as a safety feature. Your soap may have lye pockets (basically a a pocket filled with liquid lye that could burn you, or a pocket of fragrance oil or just something pockety filled with stuff that could hurt you, so safety first! Wear your gloves!)

12. Using a chopping knife or a clever, GENTLY and SLOWLY begin to cut your soap into soap sized pieces.

13. Stand your freshly cup soap up and put into a cool, dark and well ventilated space to cure.

14. And try to forget about your soap for at least four weeks. I try to let each bar of soap age for about six weeks before using as then it has had a little more time to become a better bar of soap. The longer it ages the better the soap becomes. Like wine! I don’t really like using soap that is less than 8 months old. I’m a snob.

And that is it! Making soap is quite easy, but it does require a whole lot of patience.


Cure 1
Goodnight freshly cut soap for a few weeks!

11 thoughts on “Question: How to make soap?

Add yours

  1. Very informative read, no wonder your soap ROCKS! No pun intended 😊

    I love how simple the instructions are and lots of tips added in for us “non” soapers…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love making soap but since I have cats I do my soaping in the basement, and it gets COLD down there att this time of year (I don’t know exactly how cold but it’s around -15°C outside at the moment and we have no heating in the basement so maybe around 5°…). I’ll focus on lotions, balms and such until it gets warmer.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I haven’t tried that many yet but I really love Marie’s meadowfoam cupuacu butter lotion (although I make it with mango butter since it’s easier to get). I use it as my everyday moisturizer. I made her winter solstice facial cream a couple of days ago (substituted the squalane with macadamia nut oil) and that’s amazing as well. So far I’ve liked making everything I’ve tried 😂

        Liked by 1 person

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