The Soap Making Process
The technical definition of soap, as documented on Wikipedia and various other websites, is ‘a salt of fatty acids’. Soap makers know that all this really means is that soap requires two things to be soap: natural oils/fats and lye. It is the chemical reaction of the two (known as saponification) that causes the substance we know as soap to be formed.
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.
First, the distilled water and lye (sodium hydroxide) are weighed and combined. 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’. The next step is to weigh out any base oils or butters. Oils that are solid at room temperature need to be gently melted before mixing with the already liquid ones.
The remaining steps are where the two processes begin to differ. While the oils and lye solution are combined 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. Both mixtures should continue being stirred and blended until they reach trace (the stage where the batter begins to thicken). In the hot soap making process, this should take longer as the mixture needs to cook and thicken further in order to complete the saponification process.
Once the batter has reached trace, any essential oils, colourants, or additives need to be stirred into the mixture. The batter is ready to be poured into moulds and, in the cold soap making process, it needs to be left for 24 hours to harden at which point it can be removed from the moulds and sliced into bars. These will need to be left to saponify for at least 4 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 is already complete for this soap, it will already be safe for use but should be left to cure for 1-2 weeks for a more effective bar of soap.
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. It is also important to be mindful of the ingredients used. For example, Bee Clean Soaps favours the use of locally sourced rapeseed oil, lavender oil, and coconut oil as these are not only kind to the skin but also better for the planet, the local bee population, and the local community.
This is not the only benefit to using barred soap over its liquid counterpart. Whether they are made using the hot process method or cold process method, soap bars last much longer than liquid soaps. In addition to this, bars of soap eliminate the need for hard plastic packaging. This is a benefit to the planet as it reduces the amount of non-recyclable waste that is left to damage our wonderful wildlife, and also means that we are not rubbing nasty microplastics on our body.
It is safe to say that for all these reasons, soap bars are a much healthier option overall for both humans and Mother Earth alike.