Handmade soap is becoming more and more popular. I think this is a good thing. The more it spreads, the more people will get conscious about the things they will put on their body and in the water. Handmade, vegan, solid and natural soap is a great durable product. In this post I will give you some tips and tricks to get started. All these tips are written from my perspective and it will be Europe oriented. Second, English is not my native language, so please forgive me if there are any mistakes.
First of all, realize you have to work with natrium hydroxide, also called lye or NAOH. It is simply not possible to make any soap without it, because soap isn’t a molecule that exists on it’s own. You need to make with with a chemical reaction. This reaction will create the substance soap. You need to react the natrium hydroxide with oils. The NAOH will saponify the oils which creates soap. NAOH isn’t a safe chemical to use. It will also react with your skin and cause terrible burns (remember Fight Club?). So always make sure you are wearing eye protection, a gasmask and gloves while handeling the lye. Only use lye in a well ventilated area without the presence of pets and kids. If you want to read more about soap and lye visit Wellness Mama.
Second, you need to make the right calculations. If you don’t make the right calculations, there will be lye left in you soap which will cause skin irritation. Luckely, there are good online calculators that will calculate it for you. My personal favorite is soapcalc. Every oil asks for it’s own amount of lye, so every combination of oils will ask for different amounts. That’s why you simply cannot substitute one oil for another without running it through a soap calculator first. If you made sure you used all the right measurements, your soap is probably skin safe. You can always double check after your soap is cured with a ph strip, the zap test and testing it on your arm before using it on your entire body.
Now you know the most important things about making soap. To get started you need a base recipe. Soapqueen has some great beginner tutorials to get you started. I will sincerly pledge that you use vegetable oils instead of animal fat. As many of you may already know, veganism is a great way to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. You can read more about that on your daily vegan. Eventhough animal fat is a rest product from the meat industry, I believe that if we take away the demand, companies will realize that they have to change their game. So let’s give an good example with our soap!
There are some great vegetable oils that will do the job in soap, like: olive oil, coconut oil, argan oil, castor oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, grapeseed oil, cacao butter and shea butter. You can play with these oils and eventually make your own base recipe. It is important to know the qualities from each vegetable oil in soap. For example, a 100% coconut oil soap will be very hard and even crumbly and drying, but lathers great. A 100% olive oil will be very nourishing but soft and takes 1 year of curing. So maybe it is an idea to make a combination of both oils in 1 soap. I highly recommend you make a small batch of soap containing only 1 vegetable oil so you understand them better when they are saponified.
Now that you know about safety, lye, calculations and you made your base recipe, you can start to think about your scent and color. I only use essential oils in my soap for scent. The reason behind this is because essential oils are natural. If I use a essential oil from lavender, I know that there is only the lavender essence in the oil. Frangrance oils or perfume oils recreate these scent with synthetic ingredients. Because of this they won’t need kilos of plantmaterial to create these oils, which makes them a lot cheaper. Fabricants of fragrance oils don’t have to list their ingredients for the consumer to see. So when these oils are used in products you will see “frangrance oil” or “perfume oil” listed on the back of the product. This 1 ingredient can contain 100 chemical substances without you even knowing. That’s why I only use essential oils, because I want to know what I put in my product. Always look up the right measurements of essential oils which are allowed in your soap. This can vary.
Last but not least, you maybe want to color your soap. If this is the case, I recommend natural coloring from clays, herbs and botanical powders. These herbs and clays also work great as an anchor for your essential oils which will make the scent last longer. Here are some examples I like to use in soap: spirulina (green), turmeric (yellow to orange), pink french clay (soft pink), bentonite clay (grey), reef red clay (brick red), activated charcoal (black). You can make a small batch of soap and test every colorant out in small molds. You can see how the color behaves after curing and how much you will probably need. You also can make nice colors with vegetables in soap, but I will tell you more about that in a different post. Of course there are synthetic colorants, but you cannot list your soap as natural once you start using synthetic colorants. Mica’s for example are lab created and therefor not natural. For me, the same arguments apply here as for the fragrance oils.
Now your soap making is done! Before you can use it, it needs some time to cure. The chemical reaction in your soap will proceed for the next 48 hours. After this, the curing proces will let the water in your soap evaporate which will extend their shelf life. A soft soap will melt easier while a hard soap wil last longer. The longer you let it cure, the harder it will become, until there is no water left in the soap. It is always good to keep your soap on a soap dish. A soap dish has holes in the bottom so that the water can pour out so your soap won’t melt away without you using it. It will last even longer if you store it outside the shower.
My last tip, or actually demand, is to not pack your soap in plastic. I know shrink wrapping is a popular way to pack soap, but totally unnessecary. You just made a beautiful, handmade piece of solid soap. And the great thing about solid soap is that it won’t need a plastic bottle like liquid soap does. So why pack it in plastic? There are some great ways to pack your soap without plastic! Think about carton boxes, carton labels or coffee filters. When I still made soap only for family and friends, I packed mine in toilet paper rolls! Be creative and save the planet 🙂
I hope you enjoyed reading this post about soap making. In the future I wil post more of these kind of informative reads. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!