DIY Basic Cold Process Soap

This is one of the most basic recipes and one of my old go to's for soap classes. 
If you have ever taken one of my soap classes the recipe below is the one we use in the class and the one you get a copy of.  The thing I like most about this recipe is that all the oils can be found at your local grocery stores and super centers.
It gets very expensive ordering specialty oils and butter online with shipping and waiting for them to come in when you need to make an product is no fun.
I want to start by saying that the following recipe and instructions are the very basics of soaping. I will go over some simple tips and tricks but I won't go too far in depth as I'll saving that for another blog. 
This is to get you ready and started. The science behind soaping can be really overwhelming. If I went over every do, don't and why. I can almost promise you, you would turn and run away. I want you to be able to use this as a jumping off point, make some beautiful soap and gain some confidence. 
Let's face it, working with lye is scary enough on it's own. 

Speaking of lye, you will need some personal protection gear like googles, gloves and a mask. I have gotten lye burns on my skin and I have even inhaled it, it's not fun. It can kill you but with simple steps, the right gear and common sense, you should be just fine. Just keep out of reach of children and pets, especially when you go to mix the water and lye. 

The yellow bar was actually colored by the Lemongrass essential oil. Very convenient and pretty!

It's funny though, I remember the first time I made soap, about 10 years ago. I was terrified to use lye. So much so that I mixed it outside while my kids were inside, I had a mask, gloves and goggles on while I was outside! What a kook but I got over it pretty quickly, especially after my first lye burn. I guess I expected what happened in Fight Club to happen to me, I thought for sure my skin was going to melt off. I can say that while Lye burns aren't fun, it's not that dramatic. There are also plenty of things you can do at home to neutralize the burn as well if it happens to you. Like running the area under cold water or vinegar. Chances are you will be paranoid like I was and you won't, it wasn't until a few months in that it happened to me because I thought I was a pro at this point and I stopped wearing my PPE like a fool. 

The biggest thing to remember in soap making is that you will make mistakes. I have been doing this for years and I still mess up sometimes.
You want to measure carefully and always use weight not cups. Making sure you have a properly calibrated kitchen scale as well. If you try to convert the ounces to cups, you will have issues when it comes time to making the soap. 
Now the recipe below is not only simple but it leaves little room for mistakes. Until you become better at soap making, it's best to practice with liquid oils and only a little bit of hard oils. The more hard oils you use can make it difficult for you to cut your soaps. 
If you are trying this out for the first time and you're not sure if you want to turn it into a full time job, I suggest buying things used. You can also use things like rectangle juice cartons that have been cleaned for molds and a cheese cutter with a wire to slice your soap. These are all things I did to make sure it was something I really enjoyed doing because the average start up cost for a soap company can start around $300 for the basics. 
One thing you will need and can run you a lot money is an emersion blender. Now my first one was $20 and I think it lasted me a little over a year. These are one of those things where it's best to invest in a good one when you know it's something you want to keep doing. Right now I have been having pretty good luck with the kitchen-aid emersion blender. It's fairly quiet, it's effective and it doesn't over heat like others that I have used. 
The emersion blender is used later on when we go to mix our lye solution and oils together. 

This is the one I have and it's been so good to me.

That brings me to the lye. I personally have been ordering Lye from The Lye Guy since the beginning. You can buy it at most plumbing supply stores but from what I have gathered, it's not usually 100% lye and there is often little blue pellets in it. Another thing to keep in mind is that there are two types of Lye. You want Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) to make bar soap. The other type is 

Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) and that's used to make LIQUID soap. 

The thing I like the most about the Lye Guy's products is that his Lye is Powder vs. flake like other companies. I find this way easier to measure but that's my take on it. 

One more tool you will need is a non reactive pot like a stainless steel stock pot. and a rubber spatula.

Once you have your Personal Protection Gear, Emersion Blender, Lye, Molds, scale, Pot, Spatula and cutter. It's time to think about if you want to scent the soap. Given that it's the first time you're going to be making soap, I would suggest doing an unscented batch for a couple reasons. One, essential oils are expensive, fragrance oils can cause reactions unless made and tested for Cold Process soap and lastly, soap uses a LOT of oil for smell. Typically 2-4 ounces depending on the size of the batch. That much oil can slow your thickening process AKA trace and it can cause other issues like seizing and ricing. 

If you decide to use fragrance or essential oils just be sure to check a fragrance calculator so you know exactly how much to add. Every scent is different.

Now that that's all out of the way, let's talk base oils. Your base oils are the oils you use to make the soap. Further into it if you decide to keep making soap, you may find it fun to use Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Hemp Oil and more. Once again, the oils were using in this recipe are easy to find and easy to work with. If you mess up, you're not out a ton of money.

One of the concern I get a lot in my classes is; " Won't the Olive Oil make my soap green? The short answer is no. During the over night cure it changes the oils to an off white. There are also different tricks you can do to change that as well. If you want the colors to be more natural like the color of the oil, place a kitchen towel on top of the soap, over night and this will force a gel phase. But even forcing the gel phase won't make it totally green. If you want them to be more pale or white, you would just cover it with plastic wrap and not with a towel. 

Another trick to getting your soap whiter would be to add Titanium Dioxide (TD). This is something I will get further into in another more advanced blog. 

To begin all of this, you want to measure your lye in a glass or plastic container, then measure your distilled water in a large glass container. I use a 4 cup measuring cup for this. Slowly pour your lye into the water while mixing with a metal spoon. Always poor the lye into the water and not the other way around. The lye can become hardened when trapped by the water of you do and it can also have a volcanic reaction. 

Set that aside to cool. This can take a while as the chemical reaction when mixing lye and water can raise the temperature to 170+ degrees Fahrenheit. Another reason it's dangerous. You can get a chemical burn as well as a heat burn. 

While that's cooling it's time to measure out your oils. To save on dishes, I add mine right to my stainless steel pot. Once all three oils have been added to the pot, place the pot on the stove top and heat on medium- low until the coconut oil is liquid then remove from heat.

Now comes the timing. You want the water and lye mix to be about 120 degrees and your oils to be about the same. I don't like soaping over 125 or under 110. This is a preference you will gain with time. Everyone is different and it can depend on what you do with the soap as well. 

If you need to reheat the oil, you can. You just don't want your mixes to be more than 10 degrees off. The oils can be 10 degrees less or more. 

Once you get everything to the right temperature, it's time to add your oils to your lye mixture. Slowly add your lye to your oils while being careful not to splash. Begin mixing with your emersion blender on a medium high speed. 

What you want to do now is bring it to a trace. Trace is when you reach a certain thickness. There's light, medium and heavy trace. Light trace is when you can lift the emersion blender out of the oil when it's not running and you can see little dimples where it drips back into the pot. Medium is almost like a light alfredo sauce and heavy trace is like a thick pudding. 

The little dimples that the bubbles left means you have come to a medium/heavy trace

As a beginner, it doesn't really matter as long as you get to trace. If you use fragrance or essential oils they can speed the trace process making it difficult to blend. Fragrance can also Seize your soap which means your soap will not harden. 

Bubbles are normal especially for a heavy trace. Just tap your mold on the counter to pop them.

After you get to trace, you can pour into your mold. Next if you have it, you can spray the top of the soap with rubbing alcohol. This will prevent soda ash from forming on the top of the bars. Soda ash is just a chemical reaction between the lye and oxygen. It is not harmful an doesn't effect the soap in anyway other than looks. If you don't have a spray bottle and rubbing alcohol just cover tightly with Plastic Wrap as soon as possible.

Place your mold with soap somewhere not too hot and not too cold. Both can change the outcome of the soap. Somewhere between 65 and 80 is perfect.

During the next 24 hours your liquid will turn to a solid but it's best to wait 48 hours before unmolding. Waiting the full 48 hours prevents soda ash and this way you know the oils are set enough to remove. If you get antsy and pull the soap too soon from the mold, the soap can stick to the mold and cause breakage. When the 48 hours is up, carefully remove the loaf from the mold and cut into the desired size. Place your freshly cut bars in a cool and safe place away from possible flying objects from kids or cat hair. You want them to be about 1/2 inch apart.

This batch I used Saffron Flower Petals on top

Your bars now need to cure! This time can vary depending on a lot of things like heat and humidity. Generally it takes 3-4 weeks to cure soap. You can know for sure that they're done when they stop losing weight. Do so by weighing them in either ounces or grams to be super accurate then weigh them again in 2 days. If they haven't lost any weight then all the water evaporated and your soaps are ready to use! Just don't skip the cure process... they need to cure so they last otherwise they will turn to mush in the shower and it will be a big mess to clean up. 

 Things you will need:

Stick Blender

Stainless Steel Pot

Soap Mold

Soap Cutter

Rubber Spatula 

 Base Oils:

12 oz Canola Oil

8 oz Coconut Oil

8 oz Olive Oil


Lye Mix:

4 oz lye

8.5 oz Distilled water or liquid


1. Start the lye by carefully pouring the Lye into the water or liquid, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

2. Measure all the base oils and place them in a non reactive pot like stainless steel (no aluminum)

3. When the Lye mixture cools down to around 120 is when I heat my base oils on the stove top to around 110 degrees. Now the base oils and lye mixture should be between 110 and 120 degrees but no more then 10 degrees off. For instance the base can be 110 and lye can be 120 or the other way around.

4. Once the base oils reach 110 degrees, remove from heat and pour into a bowl (optional if you don't mind mixing in the pot). Next pour the lye mixture in the base oils.

5. Begin blending using a stick blender until fully blended and you no longer see streaks in the mixture. 

6. Now blend to a trace using a stick blender, a trace is the point in blending when the soap mixture starts to form. When the stick blender is lifted above the mix it leaves a trail from the drips. How much of a trace you want depends on what you're doing with the soap. If you want a nice deep texture on the top you may want to come to a med/heavy trace.

7. Once trace has been achieved, pour the soap mix into the mold.

8. Place the mold on a counter or somewhere that pets and children can't reach it. If you have rubbing alcohol and a spray bottle give the soap a couple sprays to prevent soda ash. Cover the mold with plastic wrap. Then layer a towel over top/

9. After 48 hours uncover the mold and press the soap out of the mold. Now you can cut it.

10. Last, let the soap cure for 3-4 weeks. Keep it around 65 - 75 degrees. Space the bars about 1/2 an inch apart and place on parchment paper or wax paper. Do not use foil or place them directly on a cookie sheet because the metal will stick to your soap. Remember the longer it cures the longer it will last in use because the circulating air pulls the moisture from the soap. Enjoy

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