Getting started with soap making PLUS basic soap recipe

three bars of soap made using soap making basics

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Check out our basic soap making supply list so you don’t go overboard

Making your own cold process soap can be overwhelming. It’s definitely not something you can start after an impulsive trip to the craft store. BUT you also can get going with a minimum of supplies and if you’re willing to hit up a thrift store, you can save quite a bit.

I started soap making almost 20 years ago. I made a handful of batches, got frustrated, and gave up the hobby. I didn’t have the right equipment and that made it extremely difficult to get the results I was looking for. I picked the hobby back up this year and used a digital scale along with an immersion blender and have had much improved results. 

Because of the lye (sodium hydroxide) that is necessary for soap making, you not only need to wear protective gear but also have designating soaping equipment. Basically you don’t want to use your immersion blender for soap and then turn around and use it for a smoothie. If you have a friend who soaps, ask if you can join them the next time they are soaping. It’s a great way to see if you want to give it a go. 

Working with lye is probably what puts most people off from making soap. Wear your protective gear like I just mentioned, take your time, work in a well ventilated place and you’ll be fine. I have a separate area of the house I work in now, but I started in the kitchen, on a side table (out of traffic) and didn’t soap when there was too much going on in the house.

4 different bars hand crafted soaps stacked on top of each other for soap making basics

Here is my list of soap making necessities for beginner soap makers. Borrow, buy used, repurposed items you are no longer using. I don’t recommend spending a lot until you are sure this is a hobby for you. 

Beginner Soap Making Supply List

Container for dry lye 

Container for lye water – Both lye containers should be  sturdy, heat-resistant plastic or glass. I don’t recommend measuring lye or mixing lye solution in a metal container. Lye solution gets incredibly hot and some metals produce a hazardous reaction.

Heavy container for combining oils & lye – I generally use a pyrex 2 quart glass measuring bowl.

Protective gear: gloves, glasses, long sleeve shirt

Digital scale – I used the scale I have on hand for weighing packages for postage. 

Immersion blender – I had one I rarely used, so I just designated it soap only. I bought this one from Amazon. You can also find them at thrift shops.

Scrapers, spoons – Clean out your kitchen drawer and delegate older utensils to the soap department

Two thermometers – regular candy thermometers are fine. Just have 2 that are designated for soaping.

Soap mold(s) – this can be almost any kind of box that can withstand the high temps of the curing soap. Line with parchment paper for easier unmolding. There are specific soap loaf molds available. You can also use individual silicone molds in a huge variety of shapes.

Lye (sodium hydroxide) – Good sources are soap making suppliers like Brambleberry, Amazon, or locally many hardware stores carry lye for clogged drains. Always make sure it’s 100% NaOH.

Oils & butters – To start with, keep it simple. You can make soap with just coconut oil & olive oil. You can order these oils online, but they are easy to find locally.

bottle of olive oil for soap making

If you decide to get more into soaping, there are many different types of oils and butters you can use to create soaps perfect for your skin.

Fragrance – optional, especially at first. Many people even prefer unscented soaps. I stick to essential oils, because I want to keep my soaps natural but many enjoy experimenting with fragrance oils. Keep it simple at the beginning since some additives speed up trace which can be tricky for a newbie.

So here is my <still a beginner> take on the supplies you need to get started soaping along with a really basic soap recipe to get you going. You should run any recipe you plan to use through a soap calculator to verify the ratio of oils:lye are correct. Even experienced soapers have errors, and you don’t want to end up with soap that is unusable. Soap calculators can be a little overwhelming, so I’m planning on doing a tutorial for my favorite. For now, message me if you have any issues figuring it out. 

Once you get your feet wet, be sure to check out our zero waste dish soap bar recipe. I’ll never go back to buying plastic bottles of dish soap. AND…. 100% coconut oil soap is not so great for personal care, but makes a perfect base for homemade laundry soap.

three bars of soap made using soap making basics
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Basic Soap Recipe

This soap recipe uses only 2 oils making it a simple recipe to get started with
Keyword: coconut oil, cold process soap, essential oils, olive oil, soap making

Equipment

  • soap mold
  • digital scale
  • immersion blender
  • thermometers

Materials

  • 175 grams coconut oil
  • 225 grams olive oil
  • 72 grams lye
  • 190 grams water
  • 15 grams essential oil (optional) such as lavender, lemongrass, patchouli, cedarwood, spearmint, peppermint, tea tree, or eucalyptus

Instructions

  • 5% Super fat – This is the percentage of oil over what will react with the lye to make soap. It makes the soap more moisturizing and also insures you don’t end up with lye-heavy soap. Lye heavy soap can burn your skin.
  • Make sure kids, pets, and other distractions and tripping hazards are out of the way. Always soap in a well-ventilated area. Grab your goggles, gloves and wear long sleeves.
    Using your digital scale, measure lye and water in separate lye-safe containers. Slowly and carefully add the lye to the water (always lye to water and not the other way around) and gently stir until the lye has fully dissolved and the liquid is clear.  Place a thermometer in container. Set aside to cool.
  • Melt the coconut oil and combine with olive oil in a container large enough to hold the oils and lye water with several inches of room. I use a 2 quart glass mix & pour bowl. Place your second thermometer in this container. Allow the lye water and the oils to cool to around110°F or below (and are ideally within 10 degrees of each other).
  • Place your immersion blender into the oils. Tap the blender on the bottom of the bowl several times to release any bubbles that got trapped by the immersion blender head. Blend oils for a few seconds.  Gently pour the cooled lye water into the oils.
  • Turn on the immersion blender and pulse for a few seconds. Alternate between using the immersion blender to stir the mixture, and pulsing the blender. You will immediately see the lye and oils begin to come together, and create a creamy yellow color. After about 30 seconds, test for trace. Because this recipe contains a large amount of olive oil, it will stay at a thin trace longer than recipes with fast moving oils such as butters. 
  • As you continue to pulse and stir with the blender, the soap will start to lighten in color. It will also become thicker. The soap should be thick enough to support the trailings and drops on the surface. It’s slightly thinner than pudding. 
  • At this point, add your essential oil (if using) and pulse the immersion blender a few more times.
    Pour soap mixture into the mold. Tap mold on counter to release any trapped bubbles. Cover mold with waxed or parchment paper and a towel. 
  • Allow the soap to sit in the mold for 3-4 days. Remove from the mold, and cut into bars. Allow the soap to cure for 4-6 weeks. During this time, water evaporates from the soap making it firmer and longer lasting.
  • ***Helpful clean up tip: Place your used soaping equipment in a bin or other out of the way place for a couple of days BEFORE cleaning. This gives the soap mixture time to saponify. This means no danger from the lye AND everything is covered in soap for easy cleanup!

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