Hello and Welcome!
Before we get started, I have to tell you that for me writing a soapmaking tutorial is not the ideal way to teach you all how to make soap. If I had my way, there would be about six of us gathered in my kitchen and we would be making a batch of soap. I would be explaining everything we were doing and why and you would be asking questions and maybe even taking notes.
For many reasons that isn’t going to happen (unless you live in the area and would like to spend a couple hours here with me making a batch of soap in which case leave me a comment and we will see what we can work out).
One thing that remains the same is that I encourage you to ask questions. I may not have all the answers, but I’ll do my best.
I have decided to break this tutorial up into a series of posts. In this first post I will give some definitions; Part II I will talk about equipment you will need for making soap; Part III I will write about ingredients and give you a recipe; and Part IV will be the actual process of making the soap.
Let’s get started.
Soap Definition – Note: this definition or explanation comes from the US Food and Drug Administration which is the agency in the United States that regulates, among other things, the soap and cosmetics industry.
“Ordinary soap is made by combining fats or oils and an alkali, such as lye. The fats and oils, which may be from animal, vegetable, or mineral sources, are degraded into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. The lye reacts with the oils, turning what starts out as liquid into blocks of soap. When made properly, no lye remains in the finished product. In the past, people commonly made their own soap using animal fats and lye that had been extracted from wood ashes.”
They also tell us “Today there are very few true soaps on the market. Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products. Detergent cleansers are popular because they make suds easily in water and don’t form gummy deposits. Some of these detergent products are actually marketed as “soap” but are not true soap according to the regulatory definition of the word.” Source
Lye Definition – “1: a strong alkaline solution (as of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) 2: a solid caustic (such as sodium hydroxide)” Source
Both sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide can be used to make soap. I have never made soap using potassium hydroxide; however, it is my understanding that potassium hydroxide makes a softer soap. It is also worth noting that sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are not interchangeable, meaning a recipe would require a different amount of sodium hydroxide than potassium hydroxide.
Since lye is a strong alkaline it does have the potential to cause harm if it comes into contact with our skin and can be hazardous if spilled so, along with safety gear that I will cover in my next post, I would like you to read this article about how to neutralize lye spills.
Soap Making Methods – There are two methods of making soap from scratch. They are cold process and hot process. I have never used the hot process method and will only be writing about the cold process method. The two methods however are interchangeable, meaning that a recipe that can be made using the cold process method can also be made using the hot process method.
If you ever hear or read about someone making soap without lye, then they are not making soap from scratch. They are talking about what is called melt and pour where a premade soap base is melted down and then colors and fragrances may be added, and it can be molded into fun shapes.
Hopefully this first post has answered some questions that might otherwise come up later. Again, feel free to ask questions about anything that is not clear. Thanks for reading.