Making Natural Handmade Soaps Using the Cold Process Soap Making Method
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    Default Making Natural Handmade Soaps Using the Cold Process Soap Making Method

    Lesson 1: Safety First

    We’re going to take a minute to talk about safety. You'll be working with chemicals and I want to impress upon you the importance of protecting yourself from injury. Before you even think about making soap from scratch here’s some of the safety gear you’ll need:

    * Ventilated workspace away from other adults, children or pets
    * Long-sleeved shirt and long pants
    * Closed-toe shoes
    * Wrap-around eye goggles
    * Respirator or similar breathing filter
    * Waterproof gloves

    If you begin soap making as full-time hobby you’ll also want to consider:

    * A rubber apron
    * Rubber Sleeves
    * A full-face shield

    YOUR WORKSPACE

    Soap may seem like a complicated science experiment but in reality it’s just a very simple chemical reaction between some kind of fatty acid material and some kind of alkaline material. The alkaline material most often used by home-based soap makers is sodium hydroxide dissolved in water. The lye solution, as it’s called, is as clear as plain water and capable of causing severe internal burns if ingested. I’ve never made soap in my home and I can’t possibly recommend you do, either. PLEASE consider moving your soap making to the garage or outbuilding.

    YOUR CLOTHING

    Both the alkaline solution and the raw soap are highly corrosive so protecting your skin is a must. A long-sleeved shirt and long pants will give you some protection from splashes while wrap-around goggles will protect your eyes.

    When you’re making your alkaline solution (by stirring sodium hydroxide into plain water) caustic fumes will be released. An inexpensive respirator will protect your lungs and can be purchased at any home improvement or farm supply store.

    DON'T WORRY!

    Remember, people have been making soap for centuries. During my years as a professional soap maker I made thousands of bars of soap and never experienced an injury. Be smart and you’ll be perfectly safe.

    Lesson 2: The Science of Soap

    Soap may seem complicated but it's actually a very simple chemical reaction that even occurs, albeit in very crude ways, in nature. Soap is simply a chemical reaction between a fatty acid and an alkaline. Home based soapers use vegetable oils or animal fats as fatty acids and a solution of sodium hydroxide and plain water for their alkaline. Mix appropriate volumes of those two materials together thoroughly and you'll start a slow chain reaction that will give you smooth, perfect bars of soap in just a couple of days.

    Your first few batches will probably be made from recipes you pick up from web sites or out of books. But as soon as you feel comfortable doing it, I recommend you that begin designing your own recipes. This is where knowledge of basic soap chemistry comes in. Dr. Bob McDaniel's book "Essentially Soap" does a wonderful job of explaining the chemical properties of various fats and oils and what those properties will bring to your soap.

    But for now, let's just get started.

    Lesson 3: Assembling Your Tools

    As we’ve previously learned, both the alkaline material and the raw soap are highly alkaline so any tool that comes into contact with either one must be heat resistant and non-reactive. That means stainless steel, Pyrex ® or dishwasher-safe plastic-type materials. Here’s what you’ll need to make your first batch:

    * A large stainless steel stock pot for heating oils and fats
    * A small glass or plastic pitcher for measuring out your sodium hydroxide
    * A large glass or plastic pitcher for your alkaline solution
    * 2 heat-resistant spatulas or similar to stir your oils and your alkaline solution
    * 2 heat resistant cooking thermometers (candy thermometers are ideal)
    * Plastic shoebox, drawer liner or other non-reactive mold
    * Plastic cutting board
    * Knife
    * The most accurate scale or balance you can find.

    I prefer a small digital scale that can measure to the nearest gram but to the nearest tenth of an ounce is perfectly appropriate. You’ll want to make sure that it has a capacity of at least 80 oz. Go for a 10 lb scale if you can find one but if you have to make a choice between capacity and accuracy I recommend you go with a smaller, more accurate scale. You’ll also need:

    * A stovetop, crock pot or other way to heat your fats and oils
    * A sink with running water for clean-up and safety.
    * Refrigerator freezer

    Now, let’s talk recipes.

    Lesson 4: Assembling Your Materials

    For our first batch, we’re going to use a recipe that I (almost) guarantee not to fail--plain old lard soap. Lard is easy to work with, easy to find, inexpensive and makes a hard soap with lots of bubbles. Here’s what you’ll need:

    * 5.5 oz of sodium hydroxide (lye)
    * 2.5 lbs of lard
    * 16 oz water (tap is fine; distilled is better)
    * 1/4 oz peppermint oil (optional)

    With the exception of the lye, which you may have to hunt to find, everything else should be available at a good health food store or supermarket.

    Our first batch of soap is going to be made with 2.5 lbs of lard and you may be wondering why you need such a large batch your first time out. I find that smaller batches are difficult to achieve with the measuring tools you’re probably using. (As you become more experienced you may want to purchase a digital scale but most people start with a spring-loaded food scale which doesn’t give the precise measurements needed for smaller batches.)

    Before you begin, please note these special bits of information:

    * Soap ingredients (at least the basic ingredients like the fats and the sodium hydroxide) are always measured by weight-not volume. Measuring cups are notoriously inaccurate; weighing your ingredients will give you much more consistent results.

    * Fats aren’t interchangeable; never substitute a basic ingredient. For instance, never substitute olive oil with lard unless you also adjust the other ingredients in your recipe. (You'll learn how to do this later, don’t worry.)

    * Protect your work surfaces from both your materials and the raw soap. Several layers of newspaper should give you plenty of protection.

    * Remember, everything that comes into contact with either your chemical solution or your raw soap must be non-reactive. Plastic, glass and stainless steel all make good tools. Aluminum, iron or copper does not.

    * I prefer to wear my gloves throughout the entire process. To make them more comfortable I line my latex gloves with white cotton gloves that pharmacists refer to as “dermal gloves”. You should be able to find them wherever chemicals are sold.

    * Don’t believe those old soap making books that tell you to neutralize raw soap with vinegar. If you splash either the chemical solution or raw soap onto your skin, immediately rinse the area under cool running water.

    * Never, ever, ever substitute drain cleaner for sodium hydroxide. Make sure you're actually using pure sodium hydroxide.

    I know this all seems intimidating at first but it really doesn’t have to be. Let’s make our first batch.

    Lesson 5: (Finally!) Making Soap

    GETTING YOUR CHEMCIAL SOLUTION READY

    1. Put your water pitcher (that’s the larger pitcher) onto your scale, reset the scale back to “0” and add 16 oz of water. Remove your water pitcher and set aside.

    2. Put your lye pitcher (that’s the smaller pitcher) onto your scale, reset the scale back to “0” and measure out 5.5 oz of lye. Recap the lye container tightly and shake any stray lye crystals into the sink. Remove your lye pitcher and set aside.

    3. Take your lye and your water to a well-ventilated area and slowly add the lye to the water while carefully stirring. (For safety’s sake add the lye to the water-not the other way around.) Be careful, the water’s going to heat up very quickly and release hot, caustic vapors.

    4. Continue stirring until all your lye is completely dissolved and the solution begins to clear. This takes about 2 minutes and it’s very important that you not have any un-dissolved crystals in the bottom of your water pitcher.

    5. Add your thermometer to your lye solution and then set your pitcher aside in a safe place to cool a bit. (Remember, this solution is extremely caustic and capable of causing severe burns to eyes, skin and mucus membranes.)

    6. Take the pitcher that held your dry lye crystals and place it in the sink. Fill it with water and let it sit. (This will dissolve any lye clinging to the pitcher.)

    GETTING YOUR FATS & OILS READY

    1. Put your stock pot onto your scale, reset the scale back to “0” and add 40 oz of lard. Add your thermometer, put the stock pot onto your stove and turn the burner to a low setting to begin melting your lard. You want a temperature of about 120-140 degrees or so.

    2. After your lard is melted remove it from the heat and let it cool, if necessary to somewhere between 120-140 degrees. (Regardless of what others tell you the temperature isn’t all that critical.)

    MAKING YOUR SOAP

    1. Check your chemical solution’s temperature. I prefer a chemical solution at room temperature but anything under 140 degrees is just fine. (The idea that the chemical and the fat need to be exactly the same temperature is a big myth.)

    2. Add your chemical solution to your fat, stirring all the time and being careful not to splash. Your melted lard will immediately begin to become cloudy as soap crystals form.

    3. Stir your raw soap until it thickens to the consistency of home-made pudding or pie filling. The time this takes varies but lard soap usually traces in 30-60 minutes. You’ll know your soap is ready to pour into your mold when you can see a “trail” or “trace” as you stir.

    4. If you’ve decided to scent your soap add your peppermint oil now and stir it in well. (This is also the point at which you’d add other additives, like oatmeal, but I recommend you get a few batches under your belt first.)

    5. Pour the raw soap into your mold and cover the surface of the soap with plastic wrap. (The plastic wrap is optional but it will prevent the formation of “ash”.)

    6. Put your stock pot, thermometers and other implements of destruction in the sink. Rinse everything well and either pop it all into your dishwasher immediately or wash by hand. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to wash your utensils in the dishwasher-after all, sodium hydroxide is the main ingredient in dishwasher detergent. Don’t let your stock pot sit out very long before you put it into the dishwasher, however, or you’ll have a real mess on your hands. And on your floor.

    7. Leave your soap undisturbed for 48 hours to finish the chemical reaction.

    8. After your soap has “rested” for about 48 hours it’s time to un-mold. Pop your mold into the freezer and let it sit for a couple of hours.

    9. Invert your mold onto a plastic cutting board. If the soap doesn’t come right out try pushing gently on the inverted mold or briefly dipping the bottom of the mold into hot water. Usually, though, the soap will be cold enough that it’ll slide right out.

    10. Cut your soap slab into bars and put it in a ventilated place to cure. (Here comes another myth-busting tip: By now, your soap is 2 days old and perfectly safe to use. Contrary to what other authors contend, saponification [the chemical reaction that causes soap] is finished. “Curing” your soap only makes it harder-it won’t drop the pH.)

    You’ve just made soap!

    Lisa Barger is a traditional naturopath in private practice as a natural health educator. She is the founder of LisaBarger.com and believes in "Empowerment through Education".

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    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This explains it so well. I have most of my ingredients (just need to get the lard). Going to try this next month.

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    Registered User Pepper's Avatar
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    Great article. I hope all here who make CP soap read this.

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    Super Moderator Michelle's Avatar
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    This is a great article. I'm going to try soap making soon, I hope.

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    Thanks for the article. I have just been hunting for the lye.
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    Super Moderator Michelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Debbie-cat View Post
    Thanks for the article. I have just been hunting for the lye.
    That's why I bumped up the article. I saw your blog entry, so I searched for soap threads hoping to find the post (that I thought I saw) mentioning where to find it.

    Did you check the plumbing dept. of your local hardware/home improvement store (e.g. Home Depot, Lowe's, etc)?

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    Registered User Momto2Boyz's Avatar
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    I found my lye in the plumbing dept of our local tiny hardware store. Our lowe's, menards, etc. didn't have it.

    And be really careful while mixing the lye. I breathed in just a split second of it, and it was really nasty. It'll make you catch your breath for sure!

    I am actually getting ready to make a second batch here in the next few days! Once you try it on your skin, you'll never use commercial, detergent soap again!

    Another safety tip, which I didn't see. Keep a bowl of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water dishsoap. It will neutralize the lye. So anything that comes in contact with the lye solution, just pop into the vinegar mixture, to neutralize. Also handy in case you get some on your skin!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michelle View Post
    That's why I bumped up the article. I saw your blog entry, so I searched for soap threads hoping to find the post (that I thought I saw) mentioning where to find it.

    Did you check the plumbing dept. of your local hardware/home improvement store (e.g. Home Depot, Lowe's, etc)?
    We don't have a Lowe's or Menards here. There is one in the city so next time we go I will look. I checked our tiny hardware store and the owner said they had to pull it because of people who make meth UGH. There is one more place in town I am going to look but I will go there next time I head to town. I don't want to make the extra trip. (frugal )
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    Quote Originally Posted by Debbie-cat View Post
    We don't have a Lowe's or Menards here. There is one in the city so next time we go I will look. I checked our tiny hardware store and the owner said they had to pull it because of people who make meth UGH. There is one more place in town I am going to look but I will go there next time I head to town. I don't want to make the extra trip. (frugal )

    Deb, don't waste your gas....they wont have it. I believe those laws went into effect Oct of 2008. I ordered mine off of ebay.

    Make sure you order from someone who states it is in a sealed container..many unscrupulous vendors send it to you in a plastic bag....

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    Registered User cab54's Avatar
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    I've been making this type of soap for years and never knew it was called the cold process method. Huh.

    Why do they call it that? Just curious.

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