Finished, cut soap bars

By Beth Corcoran, Contributing Writer

To start, I just want to say I am so excited that Stephanie is allowing me the opportunity to share with you one of my favorite hobbies–soap making.  I have been making bar soap for my family for almost a year now, and I have tried different methods and a variety of recipes, and today I’m going to share what I think is one of the easiest methods of soap making—hot process using a crock pot.

I really wanted to share this tutorial because a lot of people I have met have said to me, “Beth, you make soap?! But isn’t that difficult and time consuming and dangerous?!” I am hoping to show you that you, too, can make high quality, good-for-your-skin (and inexpensive) lye soap at home with just a little instruction and encouragement. When I started making soap, I was very intimidated and confused.  But I found that having someone walk me through the process really helped.  So that is just exactly what I want to do for you!

The purpose of this tutorial is not to define all the soap making terms or to give you a list of resources.  But after you check out my tutorial, if you head over to my blog, I’ll have a page that hits more on the tips and resources for soap making aimed at helping the soapmaking “newbie.”

That said, let the fun begin!

Necessary soap supplies

Necessary soap supplies

To start your soap making experience, you will want to lay out all your necessary items.  While you probably don’t have lye just sitting around your home, you may already have many of the items you need.

Equipment you will need includes:

  • Crockpot
  • Spoons (wooden or rubber/plastic only!)
  • A disposable cup or plastic sandwich baggie
  • A pitcher
  • A heat resistant container such as a mason jar
  • An immersion blender
  • A soap mold of your choice
  • Vaseline
  • An accurate food scale that you can zero out.

You will also need proper safety equipment such as goggles and gloves to protect from the lye.  You will want to also make sure to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants and closed toed shoes. You don’t want a chemical burn!!

Finally, you will need the oils for your recipe, the lye, cold tap water, and essential oils or additives, vinegar to clean everything afterward—the cheapest kind will do—and, finally, some paper towels to clean up the lye because you won’t want to use cloth rags to clean up the caustic chemicals.

Measuring the oil on the scale

Measuring the oil on the scale

Once you have gathered everything, you will want to set your crockpot to high and let it heat up.  Place the pitcher on the scale and zero it out.  Measure the oils, one at a time, into the pitcher.  Your recipe will tell you how much of each oil you need.  Remember that in soap recipes, the ounces refer to weight, not liquid measurement!!

Coconut oil melting in the crockpot

Coconut oil melting in the crockpot

After measuring each oil, pour it into the crockpot. Using a spoon, you’ll want to get as much as possible out of that pitcher to maintain the proper ratio of lye to oil.  If you have solid oils, such as coconut or palm, let the oils melt down in the crockpot.

Modeling the proper safety precautions

Modeling the proper safety precautions

At this point, you will want to put on your gloves and goggles.

Dissolving the lye into the water

Dissolving the lye into the water

While the oils are melting down, place your heat proof container (I use a wide mouthed mason jar) on the scale and zero it out.  Add the proper measurement of water to the jar.  Then, remove the jar and set aside.

Using a plastic disposable cup or a plastic baggie on the scale, carefully measure your lye.  Then, slowly pour it into the water, stirring as your pour to avoid any clumping.

Note: NEVER add water to lye.  ALWAYS add the lye to the water. Stir until it is completely dissolved and the water is mostly clear.  At this point, the water will be extremely hot because of the chemical reaction.  So make sure you don’t burn yourself or your counter top!

Pouring the lye into the oil

Pouring the lye into the oil

Once your oils are melted, pour the lye/water solution into the crockpot with the oils.  Stir together well.

Carefully mixing the soap with the stick blender

Carefully mixing the soap with the stick blender

Now it’s time for the immersion blender.  Carefully blend the oil and lye mixture together, pulsing for about 6-10 seconds at a time. Be sure the stick of the blender is all the way down because lye is caustic and you don’t want it flying up in your face.

This is what trace looks like

This is what trace looks like

You will want to blend everything until it reaches what is called “trace.” Trace happens when the soap mixture reaches what looks like a thin pudding consistency.  Be sure to periodically turn the blender off and stir everything down because stick blenders can cause so many bubbles to form in the soap that it can create a “false trace.”  It generally takes me about 10 minutes for the soap to reach trace.

Now put the lid on the crockpot and let it cook for a while.  While it is cooking, I generally put all of my used utensils into the pitcher I used for my oil, and then I pour vinegar and water into the pitcher to neutralize the very basic lye.  I then wipe down my counter tops and gloves with vinegar before I remove my goggles and gloves.  While I’m waiting on the soap to cook, I also coat the inside of my soap mold with Vaseline so that when I am ready to pour my soap, it will not stick to the mold.

The soap is cooking

The soap is cooking

As soap cooks, it generally “grows” and looks like a gel consistency.  If it grows too big, just stir it down.

Raw soap chunks inside the cooked soap

Raw soap chunks inside the cooked soap

You’ll find that inside your big gooey gel, there will be patches of smooth whitish soap.  Make sure you stir that in because that is soap that hasn’t fully cooked yet.

This is what it looks like when it is ready

This is what it looks like when it is ready

Once the soap is consistently a semi-translucent yellowish color, you can now add your additives such as essential oil, oatmeal, etc.  Or you can leave it plain, which is the way I prefer.

I use an old plastic storage container for my mold.

I use an old plastic storage container for my mold.

It should now be ready to pour into your mold.  Pour quickly because it forms a crust rather quickly.  I use a rubber spatula and parchment paper to smooth my tops out in the mold.

Finished, cut soap bars

Finished, cut soap bars

Let the soap cool thoroughly, and finish cleaning everything up.

Depending on the size of the mold, it could take up to a day for the soap to cool and dry.  Once it has cooled, carefully remove the soap from mold and cut it if necessary.  Although the soap is ready to use immediately, I let the bars sit out for a couple of days to improve their hardness. The soap also becomes milder the longer it sits.

And that’s it!  It’s really quite simple, and you have wonderfully nourishing homemade soap for your family!  And once you know what you are doing, the whole process from start to finish can be done in less than two hours, so it can be done while kids are napping.

And now for the really fun part!

How would you like to use some of the soap that I cooked while making this tutorial?

I will be giving away one pound of soap from the batch pictured above—that’s 4 bars of soap–to one lucky winner.  When you visit my blog for more tips and resources, you’ll find out more information on the giveaway.

Have you made your own soap before?  What are your favorite soap making resources to share?