Soap Basics

 

Making soap is not difficult. With a little bit of knowledge you to can turn out nice batches of soap with things purchased at the local grocery store.

Water used should be distilled, rain or de-mineralized water. Some tap water will not give the best results.

Lye is a very strong base, so use with caution. Make sure you put on your eye protection and rubber gloves. Dissolve the lye in cold water. If you have half your water as ice, this is even better. Never pour the water into the lye; always pour the lye into the water (very slowly while stirring). Pouring the water into the lye could cause the mixture to explode, blowing very caustic lye water and crystals all over your work area. When you mix the lye and water together a lot of heat will be generated. You should let the lye/water cool to about 85 degrees F before adding it to the fats.

Fats: Almost any fat can be used to make soap. Animal fats such as tallow (beef fat), lard (pork fat) and chicken fat were used as the primary fats for making soap in the past. Although these are still used by some soapers, most soap makers today use fats derived from plant sources.

Each fat brings a certain quality to a bar of soap. You must experiment with different fats to find the combination that you will like in your soaps. You must make certain that the fats you use have no impurities in them and is not rancid.

The best soaps are made from a combination of hard and soft fats. Below is a chart showing the classification of some fats.

Classification of Fats

 

ANIMAL SOURCE

FAT TYPE

QUALITY

Mutton

Hard

Best

Beef

Hard

Best

Venison

Hard

Best

Pork

Soft

Good

Poultry

Very soft

Fair

Olive

Soft

Good

Palm

Soft

Good

Palm kernel

Hard

Best

Coconut

Hard

Best

 

Some fats are better at producing bubbles than others produce. Coconut oil produces the best bubbles, but 100% coconut oil can be a little harsh for the skin. Olive oil produces good bubbles and is good for the skin. You should use at least 30% of these oils in your overall recipe.

Saponification Values: The fats that you use will require a certain amount of lye to change it to soap. There are many web sites on the Internet that have done the work for you and have created a saponification table for you (please click on saponification table for a hyperlink to the web site). There is also a wonderful web site with a lye calculator that will give you the total lye needed for your recipe. I must stress using the lye calculator to check all of your recipes. Here is a website to download a lye calculator for use on your computer. Fats and lye should be at their optimum temp for the saponification process to take place. As mention before, lye should be around 85 degrees. The fats should be: 130 degrees F for tallow, 85 degrees F for lard, around 95 degrees for vegetable oils.

A note on mixing: When the lye/water is at optimum temp, gradually add it to the optimum temp fats. Stir with your wire whisk until trace occurs. Trace is when the solution becomes thick. When the solution falls from the spoon and stays on top without mixing back in, you are at trace. Trace make take a long time when stirring by hand, as much as several hours. I have found my using a stick blender, trace occurs much faster. I have had recipes to trace within minutes using a stick blender. A stick blender is the long hand type mixer used to mix milk shakes. Once your soaps have trace they have gone thru about 90% of the saponification process.

Saponification Chart

Oil

Saponification Value

Almond oil

183.3-207.6 *

Apricot kernel oil

191.4-198.2

Avocado oil

187.5

Babassu oil

247

Beeswax

88-100

Butterfat, cow

227

Butterfat, goat

233-236

Canola (rapeseed) oil

174.7

Castor oil

180.3

Chicken fat

193.0-204.6

Cocoa butter

193.8

Cod-liver oil

186

Corn oil

192

Cottonseed oil

194.3

Grape seed oil

171-191

Hazelnut oil

191-197

Hemp seed oil

190-195

Jojoba oil

97.5

Kuku nut oil

190

Lard oil

194.6

Linseed oil

190.3

Mustard oil

174

Neat's foot oil

190-199

Neem oil

194.5

Niger-seed oil

154-178

Olive oil

189.7

Palm oil

199.1

Palm kernel oil

219.9

Peanut oil

192.1

Perilla oil

192

Poppy seed oil

194

Pumpkinseed oil

188-193

Safflower oil

187.9

Sesame oil

187.9

Shea butter

180

Soybean oil

190.6

Sunflower seed oil

188.7

Tallow, deer

194.5-200

Tallow, beef

197

Tallow, mutton

194

Tallow, Chinese vegetable

179-206

Tallow, goat

194

Tung oil

193.1

Walnut oil

190.1-197

Wheat-germ oil

185

Wool fat (lanolin)

82-130

 

Super fatting should be done a trace. Fats are added at this point to make your soaps softer. Usually exotic oils such as Almond oil, Shea butter, Cocoa butter etc are used to super-fat. My adding these oils at trace you get the benefits of the oils without losing them in saponification. The rule of thumb is to use 1oz of super-fatting oil per pound of fat used in the recipe. Example: if you used 8 pounds of oil in the recipe then you would super-fat with oz of oil.

Dyes and Colorants: There are several things that can be used to color your soaps, believe it or not even crayons. The approved colorants are spices, mineral pigments and clays. You can get these from soap suppliers, Health stores and some even at your grocers. Some soap maker use crayons to color their soap. You must add crayons to your soap at trace.

Adding Scent: You can add scent by using FO (fragrance oils) or EO (essential oils). There is a large difference in the two oils. EOs are made from the distillation of the oils from the plant. FOs are man-made chemicals that are based in alcohol. EO are much better for making soap. FO can some times cause your soap to seize forming a color disaster or cause a saponification mishap. Always buy FO that has already been tested for use in soap. One of the big differences in FO and EO is the price. EOs can pretty expensive. EO usually retain their scent longer than FO.

Molding your soaps: Just about anything can be used as a mold. I have used everything from a Rubbermaid container to PVC pipe. In my opinion, anything is fair game. When I use a horizontal mold, such as the Rubbermaid container, I like to line it with freezer paper or a good plastic trashcan liner.

Curing and Storage: After you have taken your soap from the mold and have slice it in the desired shape, stack and place it in a warm dry place for about 3 weeks. This is the curing time. All soap must go through this curing phase before it can be used. After it is cured, you should then place it in a bag or airtight container, in a cool dry place until use. You may notice a thin layer of ash on your soap. Nothing to worry about, this is soda ash. It will wash off with the first use. You can retard ash formation by placing your soap in a bag.

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