Now that time has become abundant, DIY craft projects are an ideal way to spend an afternoon. The art of soap making is not only a relaxing way to funnel energy, it yields a hot commodity in today's market. And, the Food and Drug Administration claims that regular lye soap is just as effective at killing germs as antibacterial soap, if not better. Plus, an emulsifying soap with natural oils—like the one in our recipe below—may prevent cracking and dry hands.
Once you learn how to make soap at home, you can batch a bar for different skin needs. With the exception of lye, which you can order online from any craft store or retailer, you can find most ingredients for soap in your pantry. Luisa Cruz, who co-founded and co-created, The Body Note, an all Latina woman handmade artisan soap making company out of New York says, "I've been making soap for a while. With the cold process, the beauty is you can use whatever oil that best suits your skin type."
Here's What You'll Need
- 2 ounces lye
- 6 ounces purified water
- 5.3 ounces coconut oil
- 5.3 ounces olive oil
- 5.3 ounces almond oil
Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is a chemical made from salt and necessary for the hardening of the soap—when it's combined with vegetable oils, a chemical reaction occurs which breaks down the fats or oils into fatty acid chains. Then, when heat is applied, the water molecules in the bar are evaporated, and the saponification process begins (more on that to come). Cruz prefers lye in the form of flakes. "They're chunkier than the liquid, and the soap always comes out a little better."
Take note: Lye is very caustic until it evaporates completely from the soap and should be handled with caution—be sure to wear gloves and a mask throughout the process.
- Stainless steel thermometer
- Gloves, protective eyewear, face mask
- Hand blender
- Stainless steel pot
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Stainless steel spoon
- Silicone spatula
- Soap mold (or any silicone baking mold)
- Parchment paper and towel
Prep and Calculate
Once you decide on what type of oils you want to use, based either on what's readily available or your preference, double check your ratios. Be sure to use a lye calculator to get your measurements exact. Lye requirements will vary depending on the fat content of the oil you choose. This is called the saponification value, and will tell you how many milligrams of lye are required to convert one gram of fat into soap. (It's easy, we swear.) Once you calculate the lye ratio, the rest of the process is a cakewalk. Our recipe uses a blend of coconut oil, olive oil, and almond oil and is designed to make five 3.5-ounce bars of cold processed soap.
When prepping your soap making tools (i.e. measuring cups, utensils, and pots) please note that anything that comes in contact with lye should be only used for soap making and is no longer safe for culinary use. Also, it's important not to use copper or aluminum utensils or bowls, as they will react with the lye.
Mix the Formula
In the pot, begin melting the coconut oil using low heat.
Wearing protective gear, in a well-ventilated area, slowly pour the lye into warm water, stirring the solution carefully and slowly. This starts the chemical reaction necessary to make soap. Stand back and be careful of the fumes. Once the water and lye mixture is clear, let it sit while you prep the oils.
Now, blend olive and almond oils and gently heat in a microwave for about a minute. When your oil solution reaches a temperature of 100 to 120 degrees, you're ready to begin the emulsification process.
For an extra special bar, Cruz suggests adding coffee grinds for texture, or French rose clay for color and scent.
When your lye solution is within 10 degrees of your oils, you're ready to blend the two in a mixing bowl following the below steps:
- Pour the lye solution into the oil, blend, and let thicken.
- Stir with a hand blender for five minutes. Stop stirring when your mixture has the consistency of pudding.
- Add some essential oils to the mixture for a nice sensory treat. (15-20 drops works well for this formula). Be careful here, though—some essential oils can be irritating, so you'll want to start off slow with just a few drops if you have particularly sensitive skin.
Pour the Soap and Set
Slowly pour the mixture into your silicone mold and tap the mold to release air bubbles. Cover in parchment paper, and wrap mold in towel to properly set and start the curing process. Now is when your soap "sweats" out the lye.
Cure the Soap
After 48 hours, remove the towel and pop the soap from the mold. You might need to let the soap sit for another day before it's hard enough to cut if you used a single mold.
The soap now begins its curing process, which can take four to six weeks. It's important you allow the soap to finish saponification, allowing all the water to evaporate.
When your soap is properly cured, it's important to find it a proper storage place. Keep the soap in a cool, dry place—your batch should last several months. The best part of DIY soap, says Cruz, is the bespoke "experience of the formula, from the types of oils best for your skin," to any extras (like essential or fragrance oils) that make the soap your own. "There's no way you're getting that from a commercial bar."