Wednesday, 5 December 2012

my creative space - cold process soap

I love to make things from scratch - (which you'll know if you've read this blog for any length of time!) bread, yoghurt, ricotta cheese, quilts, plants, bagels, jam, clothes, knits, etc.

Truth is I love knowing the ingredients and processes that go into simple artisan products, and soap making has been on my 'to do' list for a while.  I was really inspired a couple of years ago when Suse and I did a swap and she sent me some of her delicious homemade soap. It was so wonderful to use, I just loved it and I was sad when it eventually ran out.

When I recently got reinspired I used this video to understand the basic method. I found it nice and simple. There are millions of videos and other wonderful soap resources online for beginners and experts alike and they are a great way to get the feel for this craft before you launch into it.

The main thing that had put me off soap making was tracking down 'scary' lye. The web is full of warnings about this ingredient and it is definitely something you need to be careful of. In actual fact though its just plain old Caustic Soda, and they sell it off the shelf at Bunnings (and possibly at the supermarket as well). The other ingredients you need are cooking oils which you probably have already and essential oils if you want to fragrance your soap. I found some essential oils at a local health food store because I was in a hurry, but they are particularly unhelpful and expensive at this store and its actually way cheaper to buy them online.

I shopped without a proper recipe and when I got home with the oils I'd found, coconut and canola, and added the olive I already had, it felt like fate had led me back to Suse's soap recipe which uses that combination of oils. I didn't have enough coconut for her recipe on my first batch, so I bravely put my amounts through a soap/lye calculator and made a bespoke recipe, which was a more olive oil based soap. We buy our olive in bulk so I had a big tin already. Straight olive soap is called Castille.

For the second batch I took Suse's advice and used Copha, a much cheaper alternative to the expensive jar of coconut oil I'd bought at the health food shop. I think this solid form helped the batch to come to 'trace' much quicker too. Trace is when the drops of mixture sit proud on top of the mixture as in the photo above.

You need a good set of scales to make soap, to get your ingredients accurate. I used my posting scales and only noticed later on a drop of lye water had burned a hole in the plastic, look you can see it in the photo on the left! I think a tiny pellet of lye must have fallen there and then had water splashed on to it.

The water and lye need to be carefully measured to react properly with your oils and 'saponify' them, hence the lye calculator. Don't forget - YOU ALWAYS MIX THE LYE INTO THE WATER AND NOT VICE VERSA. Make sure you have gloves and glasses for this part, its quite fumey which I didn't completely get in the videos I'd seen, so keep a window open nearby and cover your mouth and nose.

My Ingredients:
Olive oil
Coconut oil
Canola oil (you can use a wide range of oils, check out the calculator for a list)
Lye/Caustic Soda
Lemon Myrtle essential oil and Grapefruit essential oil.

Pyrex or plastic jugs
plastic or wooden spoon/stirrer
Stainless steel pot (no aluminium)
cooking thermometer
mould (cardboard box, plastic, wood container)
lining (plastic or baking paper)
vinegar as safety measure to neutralise lye
rubber gloves
safety glasses

Once the heated oils and lye/water mixture are at the same temperature, about 40 degrees, they are mixed together and form a custardy consistency. You mix that until you get trace and then pour it into a prepared lined container. I used a box with silicon bake paper for batch one and a plastic container with a plastic bag lining for batch 2. I then put them in the cupboard wrapped in blankets to start their cure.

24 hours later it had solidified and I sliced it into bars. Mine are quite small, which I kinda like, but next time I will have a better idea of how to pour and cut them. And there will definitely be a next time. I loved making this!

Now I need to be patient to let this batch cure for at least a month. I can't wait to try it, if its a patch on Suse's soap I will be in heaven. Some will go as Christmas presents to those people I'm not really meant to buy for and some will fill the soap container to be used at home.


  1. Whoohoo yours looks great. And yes, it's totally addictive!

    Thanks for all the linky love too.

  2. OMG... I am going to have to give this a go... you know I will! I have always wanted to make soup! A great little holiday project :)

  3. Wonderful! I'm so inspired. I have been wanting to give soap making a go for a while now, since reading about it on the Down to Earth blog. Time and child wrangling have put me off until this point. Perhaps a project for the holidays! :)

  4. I love that you make from scratch. I will get to it one day. Thankfully, until then I can save everything on Pinterest. :)

  5. Looks great, like Suse said it is addictive! Everyone has their favourite fragrance around here. Aussie Soap Supplies sells different fragrances and lots of different oils and has recipes on their site.

  6. This looks fun - like doing a science experiment! :-)

  7. Thanks for all the details - I had been a bit scared by the lye thing and also finding all the ingredients but you've taken away that concern. Think I might try it in the new year then hopefully have some as Xmas presents next year! Like you I love to have something little for all those lovely people in my life who I am not meant to buy for :-). Thanks again!

  8. Wow, great job! Making soap is on my to do list and has been for a while, but all the scary chemistry stuff has been putting me off a little. I know it will be well worth the process by looking at your results!

  9. wow - looks amazing! soaps are something i';ve wanted to try out for ages! I'll be bookmarking this for sure!!

  10. Your soap looks so yummy! Love the stamp detail. I've wanted to try soap for the longest time - hopefully when Violet is a little older. We go through so much of it here because we don't use pump soap.

  11. Sounds like an interesting process but not one to be tried with small children under foot!

  12. I've also been nervous about using lye, but now I'm tempted all over again....

  13. Thanks so much for this. It has n=been on my list of things to do for a long time too. I am going to do it!

  14. Oh they turned out beautifully! I have always wanted to make soap, now with your awesome step by step process i can give it a go. xx

  15. They look absolutely fabulous...i think I shall set my reminder for July next year and give this one a go. xx

  16. Oh lovely! I really want to make my own soap. I think you may have inspired me to give it a shot! I'm so looking forward to checking your blog out more. I love handmade goodness of all kinds!

  17. Ok, that's it - I'm going to finally give this a go! Like Christina, I've had it on my to do list after reading in Rhonda's book. Yours looks so very good, plus I love the way you've decorated it with the "f"
    Thanks for this post Susie.


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