The following cold process soap making tutorial is currently the most common method used for making homemade soaps today.
This method is fairly simple and requires very little external energy to produce wonderfully creamy bar soaps.
I find the cold method the most versatile when it comes to creativity (next to melt and pour) and is my favorite type of soap making....so far!!! (**Update - I stand corrected...take a look at the Room Temperature Method as well)
Be sure to read all of the instructions first before proceeding and have fun!!
Before you make cold process soap, be sure that you're prepared and have everything you need. A little extra time spent on the planning pays off in the end.
I spent an entire month reading everything I could about how to make soap before I made my first batch....and it was a success!
1. Choose your location carefully.
- Your soap making area should be free of distractions, have an element (stove or portable), be in close proximity to your oven, have access to water and have a large, flat work surface.
2. Protect your area.
- Lay down a protective layer on your work surface. I use a vinyl table cloth. It's cheap, easy to wipe clean so I can reuse it, and oils won't leak through.
- Put down a rubber backed carpet if your floor needs protection.
3. Assemble all equipment and ingredients.
- Set up all your soap making supplies and ingredients in a manner that works for you.
4. Prepare soap molds.
- Line your soap molds with butchers paper or plastic wrap.
5. Prepare insulation area.
- Lay down folded wool blankets in a warm, draft free area. This is where your cold process soap will cool down for 24 hours.
- Have an extra piece of butchers paper ready to place over the top of the soap.
- You may also want a piece of styrofoam or plywood to place on top as well. This helps to regulate the heat loss during the cool down period (rapid heat loss can result in a chalky soap) and protects the soap from "accidents".Top of Page
When you're first learning how to make soap, it's best to limit yourself to just a couple of additives to begin with. As you become more familiar with making cold process soap, you will be more confident about adding in other techniques.
1. Pre-heat oven.
- Set the oven to the lowest setting. If you were warming plates, you would be able to remove them without using oven mitts. Warm NOT hot.
2. Measure additives and essential oils.
- Measure out any botanicals or colorant you will be using and place them in ramekins.
- Measure out the essential oils, rosemary extract if using, and superfatting nutrients and place them in a small sealed jar.
3. Assemble decorative pieces.
- Using any cold process soap making decorative ideas like confetti soap bits or pebble soap bits? Now's the time to prepare the soap pieces and place them in a container. I have often used clean, empty beer flats. They're free and allow the soap bits to spread out.
4. Into the oven.
- Place additives ramekin, essential oil jar, prepared soap mold and decorative soap bits into your oven.
- through experimentation, we have found this step assures a better bond between the added soap bits and the new cold process soap base. It also reduces the temperature shock that can occur when adding extra ingredients to the base.
- adding cold ingredients to a hot base and then placing it all in a cold mold can cause the base to cool down too quickly resulting in a chalky soap.Top of Page
All the steps in these cold process soap making instructions are important but with this step it is crucial that you pay particular attention to measuring accurately. Make sure you are familiar with your weight scale before you start.
Inaccurate measurements can produce lye or oil heavy cold process soaps which you will either have to re-work or throw out. Learning how to make soap is a lot more fun if you don't have to throw it out!! Make sure you get a good scale....it's the best investment you can make.
1. Prepare the lye solution.
- Measure out your water and place it in the juice jug.
- Before using sodium hydroxide, put on your safety equipment; goggles, gloves and long sleeve clothing.
- Measure out the sodium hydroxide (lye) beads or flakes and pour them slowly into the water. Be sure to stir the water as you pour the lye beads. Keep stirring until the lye beads are completely dissolved.
- You will notice fumes being produced while you are mixing the lye solution. I hold my breath until the lye is dissolved and then leave the area for a few minutes until the fumes disburse.
SPECIAL NOTE: Always add the sodium hydroxide (lye) to the water. NOT the water to the sodium hydroxide. An unpleasant, violent reaction occurs if you do. Kind of like vinegar and baking soda is my understanding.
2. Measure base oils.
- Starting with the solid oils, measure each and place it into the stainless steel pot.
- Place the pot on the element and set the temperature to medium-low. As you continue to measure, the solid oils will melt.
- Once the solid oils have melted and before putting the liquid oils into the pot, remove the pot from the element. Add the liquid oils and the grapefruit seed extract (if adding).
3. Check temperatures.
- The goal is to get the temperatures of both the oil mixture and the lye solution to 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit or 32-35 degrees Celcius.
- The lye solution can be heated/cooled in a hot/cold water bath in the sink.
- The oils can be heated on the element or cooled in a cold water bath.
- Getting the temperatures similar can be tricky at first but it gets easier as you develope a feel for how long it takes the lye to cool.Top of Page
This is probably one of the most confusing steps when you're learning how to make cold process soap. "How do I know how long to mix for?" and "What is this 'trace' that everyone is referring to?" are a couple of the common questions asked.
In answer to the first question - It can take anywhere from about 5 minutes to hours and hours. The ingredients you use will determine how long you must mix for. Most of my cold process recipes take about 5 to 10 minutes to trace using a stick blender and whisk alternately.
The second question is answered below by David Fisher in his exceptional video.
1. Combine lye solution and oil mixture.
- Slowly pour a thin stream of the lye solution into the pot of oils while using the whisk to stir the mixture.
- Maintain a steady, strong stirring motion. Not so fast as to splash but fast enought to keep the mixture in constant motion. The idea is to get the oil, lye and water molecules to meet and combine to make soap.
- Make sure to stir thoroughly all areas of the pot. The mixture will turn creamy and opaque and then will begin to thicken.
2. Stir mixture until it begins to trace.
- Keep stirring until the mixture reaches a thin trace.
- Remember - just a thin trace at this point. We still have some ingredients to add yet.
- What does "trace" look like? Here is a wonderful video by David Fisher that will show you exactly what trace looks like.
Ever wonder how to make soap with all those interesting designs? Layers, marbles and embeds are all decorate soap making ideas that you can add to your cold process soaps.
1. Incorporating additives.
- Retrieve the additives and the soap mold from the oven.
- Mix in the additives, starting with the ramekin of color and botanicals. Next, stir in your jar of essential oils and nutrients and then the beer flat of soap pieces if you're adding any.
- You will have to work quickly while mixing since some of the ingredients may speed up the saponification process causing the soap to become too thick to pour.
2. Pour the soap.
- As soon as the ingredients are mixed in thoroughly and the soap is showing a good trace, pour the soap into your soap molds.
* In the picture on the right, I have used a marbling technique when I poured. Before you pour into the mold, simply pour a small amount of the base into another container. Incorporate the color to either that or the main batch. Pour the main batch into the mold and then drizzle the smaller amount over it. If you hold your container up high while drizzling, the drizzle will reach the bottom of the mold. Now run your spatula or the stick of your thermometer through the batter to marble.
- Carefully take the filled molds over to the location you will be insulating it at.
- Place the molded soap on the wool blankets. Make sure there is enough of the blanket on either side to wrap around the soap molds.
- Top the soap with the piece of butchers paper and then the styrofoam or plywood.
- Fold the blankets up around the soap making sure it is well wrapped.
***NOTE***Insulating may or may not be needed depending on your geographical location, the location in your home that the soap rests in during the saponification process, the recipe used, the temperature that you mix at and what type of mold you use! A lot of factors contribute to how hot the cold process soap will get so you will need to keep an eye on your soap for the first few times until you are familiar with what works best for you.
- Cold process soap must be left for about 24 hours or until it reaches room temperature. *Update - I have found that with the addition of sugar and milk, my soaps are getting too hot if kept insulated for the full 24 hours....as soon as a full gel occurs, I uncover the blankets and turn the wood lid so some heat can escape.* Your soap should have a smooth, creamy, even appearance.
- While cleaning up, be sure to wipe all pots, bowls and utensils with paper towel first to remove as much of the oil and soap as possible. They are not kind to your plumbing.Top of Page
The next 24 hours will feel like an eternity. You finish making soap and are anxious to see what the final result will to be. I'll bet you even peak...a couple of times! That's good. When you're learning how to make soap, it good to be curious. You will notice the soap going darker and having a clearer look to it. This is called the gel stage. Once your soap reaches the gel stage you can start to take off some insulation to prevent overheating.
- You've waited about 24 hours, the soap is now cooled and its time to unwrap it. Remove the soap from the mold and take off the butchers paper. Place the soap on a towel or white paper.
- You can either cut the cold process soap into bars now or wait a few days for the soap to firm up.
- I use a soap cutter that requires you to push the soap block through a thin wire, so I prefer to wait and not damage the soap while it's too soft.
- If you are using a knife, this might be the best time since the soap is very flexible right now.
- Once you have cut the soap into bars, they need to cure for about 4 - 6 weeks in a cool, dry, dark location.
- Place them in a single layer on a beer flat or tray lined with paper towel. Turn them each week so that all sides are exposed to the air.
4. You're Done!
- Learning how to make cold process soap is fun and easy to do. Watch out though....it is addictive!