Monday

How to Make Soap for Beginners, Part One: Getting Your Supplies Together


 

"What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul."


I debated for some time whether or not I wanted to tackle the subject of soap-making in my blog.  It is not a complicated process, but people write entire books on the subject, so putting my "soaping" knowledge into a blog post seemed a daunting task.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.  Of all the things I have learned on my path to self-sufficiency, I would have to say that making soap is one of the skills I am most proud of.  Soap can be used not only to clean our bodies, but also to make products that can be used to clean our homes and clothing, make a more earth-friendly pesticide, and even as a lubricant (no, not that kind of lubricant--as in rubbing a bar of soap on a rusty zipper to get it zipping again).

With all this usefulness that soap provides, I finally decided that I had to blog about it.  If there is anyone out there reading this who is on the fence about possibly trying to make soap, I hope this will nudge you to just give it a shot.  Making a basic batch of soap is not difficult, doesn't cost much, and will not take much of your time.

I will be posting my soap "how to" in two parts.  This first part will outline the supplies you will need to make soap, and the second part will go through the actual process of making your own bar soap using the cold-process method (the hot-process method is for another time my friends...).

Supplies You Will Need to Make Soap

You will probably be able to find many of these items around the house.  If not, save yourself some money check second-hand stores before you buy new.

For your convenience, I have created a shopping list of all the supplies you will need.

Safety Equipment


For the most part, making soap is not a dangerous project.  We will be using lye (sodium hydroxide), however, a caustic substance--which means it can cause chemical burns if it comes in contact with unprotected skin or organs (such as the eyes).  Generally, as long as you use common sense, there is little risk of getting any lye on your skin or eyes.  However, it may be a good idea to wear rubber gloves while making soap, along with goggles.   In addition, you should keep a jug of vinegar nearby.  Vinegar is acidic and it will neutralize the caustic lye.

Scale

Most soap recipes are measured in either ounces or grams, which means that you will need an accurate scale to measure your ingredients out.  Scales are not expensive--I purchased my digital scale at a local "big box" store, but you can buy them online as well.  They range in price from around 15 dollars to as much as 150 dollars.  There is no need to go all out and spend tons of money on a scale if you only plan on using it for making soap.  My scale was a cheap one, and it has worked just fine these past few years for making soap.

Containers

You will need a small container to measure your lye into.  This container should not be metal since lye will corrode metal (unless it is stainless steel).  You safest bet for containers is something made out of glass, plastic, stainless steel, or enamel.  I generally use an old sour cream container to measure my lye into, but a jar or bowl would work just as well.  You will want to be sure your container is big enough to hold all the lye necessary for the recipe; something with around a 2 cup capacity should work fine.

You will also need an additional container for adding the lye to the water.  Again, your container should not be metal.  I use a glass bowl, but many people prefer to use a plastic pitcher or large glass measuring cup since they have a pour spout.  It is important that your container is heat proof as well, since the reaction between lye and water creates heat.  And finally, you will want to be sure your container is big enough to hold the water/lye mixture, and allows you to stir it comfortably without any spilling out; something with at least a 4 cup capacity is recommended.

There are many types of containers that can be used for making soap, just be sure that they are not metal.

Spoons or Whisks

You will need a spoon or whisk to mix your lye and water, to mix your oils, and to mix the final soap concoction.  Plastic or wooden spoons work best, or if you are using a whisk, it should be plastic or stainless steel so the lye will not corrode it.  It is a good idea to have a couple spoons or whisks on hand while making soap.

Pot or Pan

You will need a large pot or pan for melting the oil that you will be using to make soap.  Again, choose glass, enamel, or stainless steel because these substances will not react with lye.  I absolutely love my stove top-safe pitcher for melting my oils.  It has a pour spout on it, making it convenient for pouring.  If you don't have a stove-top pitcher, don't worry--any pot or pan will work for melting your oils.

Thermometer

You will need a thermometer to check the temperature of your lye mixture and the melted oil.  I use a glass candy thermometer, but a stainless steel deep frying thermometer would work as well.  If you don't already have a thermometer, they are relatively inexpensive--you can probably get one for around five dollars.

Molds

You will need a mold to pour your soap into.  You have many options when it comes to molds.  You will most likely want a large, flat edged, rectangular or square mold--at least 8" x 8" x 2".  Plastic containers work well for this purpose, but stainless steel pans or even a wax paper-lined cardboard box can be used.  You will want a lid or cover for your molds as well.

Parchment paper is also very helpful.  If you line your mold with parchment paper, it will be a breeze unmolding your soap.

You can turn almost anything into a soap mold--some people even use PVC pipe that has been capped at one end.  For easiest removal of your soap, line the mold with parchment paper.


Blankets or Towels

You will need a couple blankets or towels to keep your soap warm during the "insulation" period.  Don't worry too much about these items; any old blankets or towels will do, and I'm sure you've already got some laying around the house.

Knife

You will need to cut your block of soap into bars, so you'll want a knife for this purpose.  The knife should be stainless steel to prevent corrosion.  A large butcher knife works well.  As an alternative, you can try using some heavy gauge wire or even a dough scraper.

Lye (Sodium Hydroxide)

The reaction between fats and caustic lye is what produces soap, making lye an essential ingredient.  You can find lye online or at a hardware store.  Be sure that it is 100% pure sodium hydroxide with nothing else added to it.  I buy Roebic Heavy Duty Crystal Drain Opener (which is 100% sodium hydroxide) at a local hardware store.

Fats and Oils

You can use virtually any fat or oil for soap making.  They all have different properties, and will lend various qualities to your soap, such as how much lather it produces or how hard your bar is.  For our first recipe, we will be using vegetable shortening.

Yes, that's right, shortening--you can find it in the baking aisle.   I figured shortening would be a fat easily obtained by a beginning soap-maker, and it produces a fine bar of soap with a stable lather.  You can use any brand--Crisco, Spry, Spectrum, your store brand--it doesn't matter.

Once you have mastered the shortening recipe, you may want to move on to other fats and oils, such as lard, olive oil, coconut oil, or palm oil.

Water

It is best to use filtered or distilled water for making soap since tap water contains impurities that can affect the quality of your soap.  If you have a water filter, use it.  Other options include buying distilled water or collecting rain water.

Again, I made a condensed version of this list that I hope will be helpful to you as you are gathering the needed supplies.

There are other ingredients (such as fragrances, essential oils, colorants) and equipment (like immersion blenders, specialized molds, stamps) that soap-makers use.  However, for a beginner, I feel that this list is a good start.  If you decide you'd like to get more into soap-making, these extras may be worth considering down the road.

Please keep an eye out for How to Make Soap for Beginners, Part Two:  Simple Shortening Soap

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