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Cold Process Soap Making

This is a Guest Post written for my blog by Nysia at


I have been asked to guest post my method of making homemade soaps. Thank you Gretchen! I am so excited to be welcomed into your circle of friends.

First let me start by saying I try to focus on keeping my family healthy, and to provide chemical free options in our household. I have always been a kind of nature nut. I enjoy outdoor activities, camping, backpacking, etc. And I practice a smidge of home, herbal and essential oil remedies at home.

Herbal and natural medicine was first introduced to me at the age of 13 in the book The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel.  Later in that series she writes about making soap from fat and wood ash (lye comes from wood ash). Both of these ideas fascinated me.

In my early 20s, I was finally introduced to modern soap making for the first time.

I really like that I can provide my family with an all natural soap to use on their skin and in their laundry. I am not good at much, but this I can say, I am good at. We haven’t used store bought bar soap in about 10 years. I am not fancy, I use the same soap base recipe that has provided us with a moisturizing soap good for most personal hygiene purposes.

I do like to experiment with different essential oils for fragrance or medicinal purposes, and other ingredients such as coffee and oatmeal. It is fun formulating your own customized soap.

Cold process soap was the first method I ever learned for making soap and continues to be my “go to” method. I am experimenting with the other processes now, and hope to incorporate making my own lye from wood ash when I finally move to our homestead.

Please begin by reading up on the tools necessary for making soap and what they are use for here: Soap Making 101. This will come in handy.

Please research recipes as well. I use Natural Soap Making, by Elizabeth Letcavage, and Melissa Harden, but you can find a virtually unlimited supply of recipes with just a quick internet search. Use your best judgement as to the ingredients used, and the level of natural, organic, holistic, etc. that you want your soap to be. Personally I aim for as much organic as possible because I also sell my soap. Besides, the idea is to get away from harmful chemicals in your soap, isn’t it?

Another option, if you are wanting to just work with the fats you have at home. You can use the lye calculator from brambleberry. Tell it what fats you have and their weight, and it will tell you how much lye to use. This is helpful to those of us who will be using whatever fat we can render off our farm animals, etc.

Without further ado…

Cold Process Soap Making

Choose your recipe and gather your ingredients and equipment.

All proper soap recipes will use weight as measurement. This is important to get the proper chemical balanced reaction. You MUST use a scale of some kind.

Creating your Lye Solution

It is important to be free from distraction when making soap and specifically when working with Lye which is very caustic. Lye is a basic chemical typically purchased in a powder or crystal form. It is handy to have a  spray bottle with vinegar to help neutralize any spills or minor contact with skin, a bottle to flush larger spills. Also rinse any contact under running water. Where protective clothing and eyewear while working with lye. You may also want to lay newspaper to protect surfaces.

  1. Weigh your required lye using a digital scale if available. Put aside in a safe place where it won’t get spilled.
  2. Weigh your water (distilled is best, but don’t use hard water at all).
  3. Add your LYE to your WATER, this is very important.
    1. The lye will react exothermically (creating heat) when added to water, so it is very important to add the lye to the water and NOT the other way around. The water will help dilute the lye reaction.
      1. If you add the water to the lye, which is sodium hydroxide, it will react violently and you could get chemically as well as heat burned. If you have ever added water to baking soda, you will understand this type of reaction on a much smaller scale.
      2. The lye water mixture could reach as high as 200°F due to this reaction.
    2. Set your solution aside to cool.

Fats and Oils

  1. Weigh out all your fats and oils for your recipe, and gently melt using your stainless steel pot. (NO aluminum.)
  2. You will want to keep the temperature as low as possible as you will need both your fats and your lye to be more than 110, but less than 120 to mix together.
    1. The temperature does a couple of things
      1. Aids in the saponification process mentioned in the Soap Making 101.
      2. Helps bring your soap to trace more quickly.

Mixing and Trace

When your fat mixture and your lye solution have reached an agreeable temperature between 110 and 120, you can mix them together.

  1. Mix the lye solution into the fats. Again this is important for easing the chemical reaction.
  2. Continue to stir the new mixture until you reach trace. This could take as little as 15 minutes or as much a 1 hour.
    1. Trace means your soap is the consistency of soft pudding.
      1. Using a handheld electric blender stick can help speed this process.
      2. If you pick up your spoon and drizzle soap from it, it will sit briefly on top of your soap in the pot before blending in.
      3. If you run your spoon through your pot of soap, it will leave a slight depression in the top of soap before coming back together.
      4. If an hour has passed and you do not see trace, you may just not be sure what to look for yet, do not worry and move on to the next step.
  3. Once you are reached trace you can mold your soap however you choose.

Additives and Curing

If you are planning to add additional ingredients to customize your soap such as powders, clays, scents, etc. There are a couple of ways to do this.

In my readings it seems that  anything but scented oils can be added to the fats prior to adding the lye mixture and saponification. I typically add all my extra ingredients at trace.

11097276_10205684244641317_330791113_oIf you add any essential oils, or other scented oils before trace, much of the oils will react with the lye and you will lose their useful properties and most if not all of their scent.

You will need to let your soap cure for at least 4 weeks. They should only need a few days in the molds, but, after the first couple of days, the more air exposure the better. Be sure the soaps are hard before unmolding.

Cold process soap makes one of the cleanest molded soaps for intricate molds.

I generally mold my soaps into a pvc pipe. I let them cure in the pipe for about 4 days, then I freeze the pipe for a couple of hours. As they thaw out, the moisture helps to slide the soaps from their molds.

I then slice them with my handy dandy corrugated slicer on the cutting box my son lovingly made for me.


3 thoughts on “Cold Process Soap Making

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