There are 4 main ingredients you need to make soap – olive oil, coconut oil, water and Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH, also known as caustic soda or lye).
What does each ingredient do? The olive oil and coconut oil will combine with the NaOH dissolved in water and after the reaction of the 4 ingredients (saponification) is finalized you will have soap.
You can off course use other oils and butters, but for the purpose of making a simple soap, olive oil and coconut oil are perfect.
Where to buy ingredients:
Olive oil – you can find it almost anywhere, most of you probably already have it at home. The food grade olive oils you find in the shops are perfect. If they are good enough to eat, they are good enough to go on your skin. There’s no need to use an expensive oil, a standard olive oil will do. Be careful when using olive oil pomace as it will make your soap harden fast. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the soap, you just need to be prepared so you can pour your soap in the mould fast.
Coconut oil – same, some of you might already have it at home.
You can buy food grade oils from shops such as Tesco or Sainsbury‘s if you live in UK (KTC coconut oil brand), Waitrose or Holland & Barrett for up market oils. You can also buy oils and butters from shops specialised in soaping supplies such as Gracefruit, Soaposh or Soap Kitchen or from Amazon. If you live in the US you can buy your supplies from Costco, Essential Depot, Big Lots, Walmart, Soaper’s Choice, Trader Joe’s, Nature’s Garden or Wholesale Supplies Plus;
Lye – when buying lye make sure it’s from a trusted source and that is 100% purity, with no additives. In UK you can buy lye from the Soap Kitchen and from specialised shops which sell chemical supplies such as Robert Dyas where it’s sold under the name caustic soda. If you live in the US you can buy the lye from Essential Depot or hardware shops like Ace Hardware. You can also buy lye on Amazon.
Distilled and deionized water – in UK you can buy deionized water from car shops such as Halfords, from supermarkets, from Robert Dyas or petrol stations. You can also use distilled water but it’s harder to come by than deionized water in UK. In US is fairly easy to find distilled water, you can buy it in gas stations. You can also buy water from Amazon.
If possible, you should have a special space where you make your soap, maybe a separate room, so you are not bothered while working with lye or freshly made soap. The place should also be well ventilated so you don’t breathe the fumes released from dissolving the lye in liquid.
It’s very important that pets and children are kept away from the area so they don’t come in contact with lye or freshly made soap which has active lye in it.
Below is a list of equipment you need to make soap:
Accurate scale – you can buy them in shops (Amazon, eBay, Argos if you are in UK, or local shops). Ideally you should have a scale which weighs larger quantities (up to 2 kg, depending on how large quantities of ingredients you need to weigh) and which weighs with increments of 0.01 g which is needed to weight smaller quantities such as fragrances and colours;
Stick or hand blender – the standard ones which I a sure you have at home or you can find in the shops or on Amazon. You should buy one which has at least 600 W power so you don’t have to wait for a very long time for your soap to trace. Some hand blenders come with 2 heads and one of them will introduce more air bubbles than the other. Please read the instructions and don’t use the head that introduces air bubbles as they will make your soap look unattractive;
Beakers and jugs in different sizes – i.e. at least one must be larger than the total quantity of soap you plan to make, including water and fragrance i.e. if you are planning to make 1000 grams of soap the largest beaker hold 1500 grams so you can easily use the hand mixer without any soap splashing out. You should also purchase small beakers to weigh smaller quantities of ingredients such as colours or fragrances;
Use a Plastic polypropylene (PP#5) jug or stainless steel pot to mix up your lye and water. Please make sure the jug has this identification code above on it.
Pots – use only stainless steel pots or enamel pots which have the enamel layer intact. The lye will react with/corrode pots made of other metals or if it reaches the iron layer under the enamel;
You need 3 beakers and/or pots – one to weigh the oils in, one to weigh your water (liquid) in and the third to weigh your lye in.
Moulds – you can use the following without having to line your mould: Pringles cans, silicone baking moulds, yogurt containers, empty milk or juice cartons. In the UK, you can find a long enough crinkle cutter and mould on Amazon. I would recommend the ones with silicone liners. Click here to see some moulds from Taiwan and China which are very popular with soapers. You can also use a shoe box or drawer, food containers or a wooden mould if you line it first. If you are in the UK, Tesco own brand unbleached baking paper is great as it has a very waxy side to it so won’t leak soap like other baking papers. If you are outside UK please make sure you buy waxed paper of sturdy baking paper with a non-stick side to line your mould;
Alcohol – Isopropyl Alcohol. It’s not vital but you can use it to spray onto your finished soap to stop soda ash from forming. Soda ash is a harmless white powder which is caused by the oxygen in the air reacting with the soap during saponification. You have to spray quite a lot every 15 minutes for the first hour and then every few hours for the next 3 days. Another option is to remove the soda ash by steaming the soap, or if you didn’t make any swirls on top you can even plan it. Another option is to wrap the top with cling film for the first 7 days, that should stop the soda ash from forming;
Other equipment – put aside the following: stainless steel fork, knife and lots of spoons (all of these must be stainless steel otherwise they will be corroded by the lye or you can use plastic or wooden ones) and also your rubber gloves (you can use household/dish washing gloves you have at home, either nitrile or latex) and swimming/ski goggles to protect your eyes, newspaper to protect the work surface, paper or linen towels, spatulas (silicone, again you can take them from your kitchen but not use them for cooking again), chopsticks (for swirling the soap), cling film/plastic wrap, a small strainer (to strain the powder for a powder line and when you pour the lye solution, to stop any pellets of lye which didn’t dissolve completely), silicone cake trays (you can use them as moulds but you can also use yogurt pots instead).
Note: If you use any equipment from your kitchen you must not use it for cooking again as you might have traces of lye on it.