What are the main methods used to make soap?
There are four different methods you can use to make soap. In this unit you will see a description of how to make them, but the rest of the course will describe in detail how to make soap using the cold process method.
Melt & Pour (M&P)
- You can buy the melt & pour soap base already made from soaping supplies shops. So the process of making soap is significantly simplified;
- To make the soap you have to cut the M&P base into cubes, melt them in the microwave oven or double-boiler;
- Add colours, fragrances or embeds to make them more luxurious;
- Pour the soap into moulds, let it cool and harden, and you can use in 1 or 2 days;
- It’s the easiest soap making method, and you can make it with children as you don’t have to use dangerous substances such as Sodium Hydroxide;
- It’s great for soap making parties, either with children or just adults, like birthday parties, hen parties, team buildings.
Cold Process (CP)
- The soap is made from scratch from oils, butters, water and Sodium Hydroxide;
- The soap is made at room temperature, and this is why is called Cold Process (because the soap is not cooked);
- The ingredients are mixed and emulsified with a hand mixer. A high shear mixer is needed, preferably one with at least 600W power (see here);
- The soap is fragranced with essential or fragrance oils, and coloured with natural or man-made colours and then poured into a mould;
- The soap must cure for 4 to 6 weeks before you can use it.
Hot Process (HP)
- The soap is made just as in the case of the cold process method from scratch with oils, butters, water and Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) for soap bars and Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) for liquid soap;
- You can use the same recipes as for cold process soap, but instead of pouring them in the mould, you “cook” them, so the soap is hot processed;
- Mix the ingredients and then cook the soap in a crock pot or double boiler/Bain Marie;
- The heat of the cooking process will accelerate the saponification and evaporate the water;
- Because the water will evaporate during cooking, the soap will be a thick paste after it’s cooked. That will make it too thick to mix with colours and make patterns or swirls;
- HP is great if you want to make soap that you can use fast, if for example you run out of soap. But not if you want to make decorative designs. So it’s a matter of convenience over beauty;
- You don’t need to wait for 4-6 weeks for the soap to cure, you can use it after 1 to 2 week.
- Re-batching is the method of “re-making” soap by cooking it;
- You can use soap shavings or grated leftover soap with a small quantity of water to make a new batch of soap;
- You don’t need to add too much water, just enough to allow it to cook, the water will evaporate;
- You can re-batch cold process soap which didn’t turn out well (if the soap is lye heavy, it’s split, it lost its fragrance, etc);
- Just as with hot process soap you can use the re-batched soap after 1 to 2 weeks.
How to make natural cold process soap from scratch easily
As we learned in the previous unit, to make natural soap from scratch you need to mix oils, plant butters and fats with lye (caustic soda/NaOH) and water.
You need to dissolve the lye in water first because lye is not soluble in oil.
Always pour the lye in the water beaker while mixing slowly. 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 of making soap, and it’s the easiest method 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 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.
Watch the video below to see how easy it is to make soap from scratch
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