How to make natural soap from scratch

As we learned in the previous unit, to make natural soap from scratch you need to mix oils and/or vegetable butters such as shea, cocoa or mango butter with lye (caustic soda/NaOH) and water. 

You need to dissolve the lye in water first because lye is not readily soluble in oil. Always pour the lye in the water beaker, not the other way around, as you will have a dangerous lye volcano on your hands. The chemical reaction of water reacting with the lye is exothermic so the water (or any other liquid you might use) will heat up to 94C/201F. The reaction will also release fumes which you must be careful not to breathe in!

You can use the heat of the lye solution to melt the hard oils and butters. This is called the heat transfer method and it’s the easiest method to make soap because you don’t need to heat/melt/cool or freeze any ingredients.

Just mix the water with the lye and while the solution is hot pour it over the hard oils and butters to melt them. Then mix them with the liquid oils.

You will then need a high shear mixer (hand blender) to mix the soap batter until it reaches the consistency of thin melted chocolate (this is called trace). You can now add essential oils to fragrance your soap and natural colours and botanicals to decorate it.

You can then pour the soap in the mould and let it set.

This method of making soap is called the cold process method because the soap is made at room temperature and it’s not heated or cooked (the method used to cook the soap batter is called the hot process method).

Exercise: look around your flat or house and make a list of oils and butters you can use to make soap. This includes all kinds of food grade vegetable oils (if it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to go on your skin). If you do not want to make vegan soap you can include ingredients of animal provenance such as lard or tallow.

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