The Soap Making Process
The soap making process can seem like a complete mystery that involves strange scientific terms and chemical reactions that can seem like alchemy, or even witchcraft.
But don’t worry; soap makers aren’t wizards waving magical wands at cauldrons, incanting mystical enchantments while gradually adding oil of lavender and eye of newt.
We could, in very loose terms, be described as chemists who specialise in a single, rather niche form of chemical reaction. A reaction whose only purpose is to make people clean through bespoke, personalised combinations of plants and salts.
As soap makers ourselves, Bee Clean Soaps love making soap and that’s why we’ve put together this simple guide on the soap making process.
What is soap made of?
Soap is made by combining fatty acids and sodium hydroxide (lye) together. It is the chemical reaction of these two elements that creates soap that actually cleans your skin. The scientific word for this reaction is saponification.
Fatty acids are fats, butters and oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, or rapeseed oil, to name only a few. These oils make up the base of all natural soap bars. By choosing to use organic oils over animal fats, soap makers can easily make their soap vegetarian.
But what is lye, we hear you asking? Lye is a compound, commonly referred to as sodium hydroxide, and without it, you simply wouldn’t be able to make soap. Instead, you might have created a fancy smelling concoction that makes a lovely looking ornament in your bathroom.
Once the lye and fatty acids are sorted, you will need water and other scents and colourants to create the perfect soft and silky soap bar.
How to Make Soap Bars
Solid soap bars are generally made using either the hot process method or cold process method. Both of these approaches to soap making begin in exactly the same way:
1. Mix the water and lye
First, weigh and combine the distilled water and lye. It is important to note that lye must always be poured into the water, as pouring water onto lye creates a dangerous chemical reaction known as a ‘lye volcano’.
2. Weigh the oils
The next step is to weigh out any base oils or butters; these are your fatty acids. Oils that are solid at room temperature need to be gently melted before mixing with the already liquid ones.
At Bee Clean Soaps, we favour the use of organic, locally sourced coconut oil and rapeseed oil to keep the carbon footprint of our natural soap bars to a minimum.
3. Combine the oils and lye solution
At this stage in the process, the oils and lye solution are ready to be combined.
While the oils and lye solution should be mixed together at this stage in both hot process and cold process soap, hot process soap requires the mixture to continue being heated throughout the blending stage whereas cold process soap does not.
4. Blend the mixture
Continue to stir and blend the ingredients until the mixture begins to thicken. This part of the soap making process is known as reaching trace.
In the hot process method, it will take longer for the batter to reach trace because the mixture needs to cook and thicken longer in order to complete the saponification process.
5. Stir in the extras
Once the batter has reached trace, any essential oils, colourants, or additives need to be stirred into the mixture.
6. Pour the batter into moulds
Once fully combined, the batter is ready to be poured into moulds and left to cool in a safe place. This is the part where we love to get a little creative and top our soap loaves with beautiful, organic ingredients so that they look marvellous in your bathroom.
But don’t be fooled! Topping soap with a little touch of finery doesn’t just make them pretty. By adding natural salts, petals and even flakes of oatmeal, your soap can gain extra exfoliating power and cleansing abilities.
7. Leave to cure
In the cold soap making process, soap batter needs to be left for 24 hours to saponify when it can be removed from the moulds and sliced into bars. These will need to be left to cure for 6-8 weeks before they are safe for use.
In the hot soap making process, the batter needs to be scooped into moulds and left overnight to cool. As saponification was completed during the cooking of this soap, it will already be safe for use but should be left to cure for 6-8 weeks for a more effective and solid bar of soap.
8. Keep yourself clean
Now that the soap bars have finished curing, they can be removed from their moulds and used to keep your body, face and hands fresh and clean.
Soap making health and safety
Soap making can be a dangerous process due to the use of lye, therefore it is essential to make sure that you have watched the appropriate safety videos and are fully clued up before attempting this at home.
To keep yourself safe when making soap, make sure you:
- Fully research the dangers of lye and how to protect yourself if the mixture gets on your skin
- Wear safety equipment including protective gloves, goggles and clothing to prevent chemical burns
- Where clothing and shoes that are hardy and completely cover your skin
- Remove any distractions from the soap making area
- Store soap making ingredients in a safe place that is out of reach of little hands
Or you could opt to keep yourself safe by choosing to buy pre-made soap bars from Bee Clean Soaps.
It is also important to be mindful of the ingredients used.
At Bee Clean Soaps, we favour the use of sustainable lavender oil, coconut oil and Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil for our natural soap bars because these are not only kind to the skin but also better for the planet, the local bee population, and the local community.
For a more sumptuous exploration on the making of hot process soap, visit our blog, or follow us on social media to see what we get up to behind the scenes.