Copyright 1995 Elaine C. White. All rights reserved.

So, you want to make soap?

Good! I'll try my best to tell you how. I'm Elaine White, author of "Soap Recipes: Seventy tried-and-true ways to make modern soap with herbs, beeswax and vegetable oils" These instructions are very condensed and cannot possibly contain the details included in "Soap Recipes."

Nonetheless, I believe you will have a good overview after you read these instructions. Once you learn basic safety precautions, soapmaking procedures and termonology, you will be able to make soap from any recipe. The outline for these instructions is:

Once you read these instructions and if possible, join the soapmakers at America Online. Go to "The Exchange" click on "Crafts and sewing" then "other crafts" and you will find "soapmaking." AOL gives me free time online to help soapmakers and I often join the discussions. I am glad to help you in any way.


A) Locating lye and safety precautions in handling it.

(The following may frighten you, but I promise that thousands of people make soap everyday without mishap. You need to know all the dangers present in order to avoid trouble. If you can get past the following warnings--you are destined to make soap!) Look where drain cleaners are sold and buy 100% lye (Red Devil is one brand). Don't bother looking at liquid drain cleaners and don't try Draino (it contains metal). If you aren't sure the product is 100% lye, then order lye from a soapmaking or chemical supplier (addresses listed). Most good soap recipes list lye by weight for accuracy: lye in granular form (drain cleaner) measures differently than lye in flake form (the form of lye from laboratory chemical suppliers, pool chemical suppliers, etc). Scales are a necessary part of sucessful soapmaking and allows you to use any type of lye. Lye can be nasty if handled improperly. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is also known as caustic soda. Upon opening a container of lye, the lye crystals absorb water from the air, which can weaken the strength of the lye and cause it to form a solid lump. When not in use, keep lye closely capped. Lye reacts with some metals: aluminum, zinc, and tin. Safe containers include heatproof stoneware, glass, enamel, stainless steel and plastic. Lye can be fatal if swallowed. Lye can remove paint. If lye, lye/water or freshly-made soap splatters onto a painted surface, wipe it off immediately. Wash the area with water and detergent; wash it with clear water, then wipe it dry. Lye, lye/water and freshly-made soap can burn and irritate skin. You'll notice itching before burning. Lye/water on skin is first noticed by a slippery feeling. Rinse your hands with vinegar and immediately rinse them with running water. Since lye can burn skin, you can imagine what it does to eyes. It's difficult to rinse your eyes while they're burning and you can't see. This painful and dangerous situation in entirely avoidable. Always wear eye protection! You may wonder why anyone wants to bathe with soap that contains something as harsh as lye. Well, the good news is that soap is *made* with lye, but soap doesn't *contain* lye. Lye reacts with fats, creating roughly three molecules soap and one molecule glycerin. The lye is no longer present--only great soap and glycerin. *NOTE: If you have small children, keep lye (and essential oils) in a *locked* cabinet. Lye/water sitting at the edge of a counter can easily be reached by children and even swallowed. Drinking lye/water is like drinking liquid fire. Anyone ingesting lye/water should immediately be taken to an emergency room for treatment! Like I said: everyday, thousands of people make soap without mishap. In order to do so, you must be aware of all safety hazards. Children and feeble-minded people should not be in the soapmaking area or have access to stored soapmaking ingredients, especially lye and essential oil.


B) The equipment list:

# one 4-to-6 cup mixing container made of lye-resistant material
(I use a stainless steel mixing bowl)
# one heatproof container that holds at least 2 cups
(I use a Pyrex measuring cup)
# stainess steel, plastic, wooden spoon or a rubber spatula
# two thermometers made of glass or stainless steel
(candy and meat thermometers work well)
# eye protection (wear sunglasses if you have to!)
# rubber gloves (optional)
# scale to weight the fats and lye
# soap molds (any flexible plastic container works well)
# a clock with a second hand or other type timer
# wire whisk (optional)
# pot holders or oven mitts
# measuring spoons


C) The procedure

1) Put the fats in a lye-resistant container and place a glass or stainless steel thermometer into the fats. Be sure the thermometer doesn't touch the bottom of the container and give a false reading. Heat the fats and optional ingredients to the temperature specified in the recipe.

2) Put on eye protection and rubber gloves.

3) Use a heat-proof container to measure the amount of cold water (70 to 75 degrees F) specified in the recipe. Cold water is important. If you add lye to hot or boiling water, the water could "boil-up" out of the container; if you add lye to *really* cold water, the lye/water might not reach the high temperatures required to make some recipes. Stir the water and slowly add the lye. The water will get hot and turn cloudy. Continue to stir until the lye dissolves. Don't breathe or intentionally smell the fumes coming from the cup because they are quite "chokey." If you wait too long to stir the water, the lye could harden in the bottom of the container. This is not a problem. You can still sitr it, but it will be more difficult. Add a glass or stainless steel thermometer to the lye/water and wait until it reaches the temperature specified in the recipe. (Note: Some people are extremely sensitive to fumes which come from the lye/water. The fumes which come from small batches (1 pound) isn't a problem. Be aware than larger amounts of lye (larger batches) creates more fumes, which, with prolonged contact, can burn eyes and skin of sensitive people.)

4) When both the fat and the lye/water reach the temperature specified in the recipe, add the lye/water to the fat. It's sometimes a balancing act to get the fat mixture and the lye/water mxiture to specific temperatures at the same time. Never place lye/water in a microwave (the cup could break). It takes lye/water longer to cool than it takes fat to heat. Most soapmakers wait for the lye/water to cool to about five degrees above the desired temperature, then heat the fat. When both the lye/water and the fat are within five degrees of the temperatures specified in the recipe, use a pot holder and move the bowl to a sink (to contain splatters). Slowly pour the lye/water into the fats while stirring. (Note: Temperatures for small one-pound batches of soap poured into individual molds aren't critical. As long as the lye/water and fats are between 120 and 140 degrees F you will have good success. Larger batches or batches poured into a single mold, require the lower temperature range.)

5) Stir the soap until it "traces." When lye, water and fat first combine, the mixture is thin and watery. Gradually, as the lye and fat react chemically to form soap, the mixture thickens and turns opaque. "Tracing" is a term to describe the consistency (thickness) of soap when it's ready to pour into molds. To test for tracing:
a. Drip some soap onto the surface of the soap in the stirring bowl. It should leave a "trace" or small mound.
b. Draw a line in the soap with a spoon or rubber spatula. If a "trace" of the line remains for a few seconds, the soap has traced. Tracing is easy to recognize, yet it causes new soapmakers a lot of worry Relax and know that the soap will trace eventually. Just stir the soap constantly for the first 15 minutes or so, then stir the soap every fifteen minutes until it thickens and traces, no matter how long it takes.

6) After the soap traces, add up to one tablespoon essential oil (if desired) and stir a few minutes longer to incorporate the oil. About the only soap that remains totally scent-free is the Pure Soap Recipe that follows. Other fats result in soap that has a "fatty lye" smell. Essentials oils are necessary for a pleasant-smelling product.

7) Pour the soap into molds and wait for it to harden.

8) Unmold the soap, Soap is still harsh when it's time to remove it from the molds. Put on rubber gloves and press the back of each mold compartment to release the soap. It's a lot like removing ice cubes from a tray. Sometimes the soap doesn't release easily from the mold. To overcome this problem, leave the soap in a freezer for a few hours. Freezing soap causes it to contract slightly, becom hard and release from the plastic mold.

9) Wait the time specified in a recipe for the soap to "age." (usually 3 weeks). During the aging time the pH of the soap decreased (the soap becomes mild) and the bars harden. It's a good idea to write the following information on a piece of paper and place it with the soap: the date you made the soap, the date the aging time is over, and the recipe name.

10) Step 10 is *enjoy your soap!*

As soap ages, a fine, white powder may appear on the surface. This is soda ash (sodium carbonate) formed by a reaction of lye with carbon dioxide in air. This white powder is mostly on the surface exposed to air while the soap was in the molds. Soap that contains wax develops little or no soda ash. There are three ways to deal with soda ash:
a. Try to prevent it. Immediately after pouring soap into molds, cover the soap with plastic wrap or waxed paper. Press the wrap or paper onto the surface of the soap to prevent air contact.
b. Cut it away. Overfill the molds slightly. Later, when the soap hardens, take a knife and cut the soap level with the mold. This also cuts away the soda ash.
c. Wash it away. Wait until the soap ages and hardens. Wash the powder away by rubbing the soap with your hands under running water or by rubbing the soap over a wet dishcloth.

Set the soap aside to dry----then, *enjoy your soap!*


D. Herbal soap

You can replace the water in soap recipes with herbal tea, but to be honest, most of the properties (color and fragrance) are lost. The best way to use herbs in soap is to add dry, finely powdered herbs to the fats before adding the lye/water. Use anywhere from 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup dried herbs to 1 lb soap. Coarsly ground herbs should be restricted to about 1 or 2 tablespoons per lb soap because they contribute a coarseness to the soap that sometimes makes it uncomfortable during use. The nicest way to add properties of herbs to soap is the addition of pure essential oils. Most soap develops a "lye/fat" odor, which essentail oil prevents. Use anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons essential oil per lb soap (depending on the strength of the oil). Color is an illusive thing as far as soap is concerned. Natural colors can be obtained by adding 2 tablespoons red clay, calendula petals, or palm oil from Lorann Oils (yellow).


E. Superfatting soap

The following recipes have the exact amount of lye to make soap that contains very little excess fat. This soap leaves skin perfectly clean and smooth feeling. Some people like excess fat in recipes. For this I recommend 2 to 4 tablespoons castor oil added when the soap traces. Castor oil is emollient and contributes to soap lather. Adding castor oil after tracing along with 1 tablespoon essential oil also seems to help retain the soap fragrance. To superfat with other fats, you can subtract about .2 oz weight lye from one lb batches of soap recipes which allows excess fat to remain.


F. Soapmaker's supply list (United States)

Barker's Enterprises, Inc.
15106 10th Ave SW
Seattle WA 98166
Telephone: 206-244-1870
retail/wholesale: waxes, molds and candle dye (which works for soap)

Chem Lab Supplies
1060 Ortega Way, Unit C
Placentia CA 92670
Telephone 714 630-7902
Fax 714-630-3553
retail: pH kits, electronic scales, lye

Hagenow Laboratories, Inc.
1302 Washington St
Manitowoc WI 54220
No telephone, correspond by mail and request catalog lye, waxes, clays, essential oils, thermometers and pH kits

Liberty Natural Products
8120 SE Stark St
Portland OR 97215
1-800-289-8427
$50 minimum order retail/wholesale same price essential oils, soapmaking fats, herbs, clays, etc.

Lorann Oils
4518 Aurelius Rd
Lansing MI 48909
Telephone 1-800-248-1302
retail/wholesale: essential oils, fats, candy molds, waxes The powdered food coloring these folks recommend for soap doesn't work. Don't buy it.

Pourette Soapmaking Supplies
6910 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle WA 98115
Telephone 1-800-888-WICK (9425)
retail/wholesale molds, wax (request *soapmaking* price list as it's different than their regular catalog, which contains candle molds) Their dye once worked great in soap and is recommended in the "Soap Recipe" book.. Pourette changed the dye and what they sell now DOESN't WORK!--don't buy it!

Sunfeather Soapmaking Supply
HCR 84 Box 60-A
Potsdam NY 13676
Telephone 315-265-3648
retail only: lye, fats, soap fragrance, soap color


G) Now, the moment you've been waiting for--the recipes!

Ounces (oz) are determined by weight unless otherwise stated.
Lye is "sodium hydroxide technical grade" granular or flake form.

Soap I -- Pure Soap (the only recipe I've discovered that remains scent-free and doesn't require essential oils) A bit harsh for bath soap, but great for cleaning, washing dishes, delicate laundry, etc. Great lather and no fragrance..

16 oz coconut oil
2.8 oz lye
1 cup water (8 fluid ounces)
Fat and lye/water temperature about 120 degrees F
Estimated tracing time: 1 1/2 hours
Time in molds: 48 hours
Age: 6 weeks

Soap II -- Pure Soap Mink Oil Shampoo
16 oz weight coconut oil
1/2 cup mink oil or (4 T. Castor oil)
2.9 oz lye
1 cup water (8 fluid oz.)
Oil room temp
Mix and use lye when the water turns clear
Put all ingredients in the blender. Follow the instructions for "Blender Soap" Don't let this soap trace. Process until the mixture is smooth (no oil streaks) and pour it into molds. Leave in molds 2 days, freeze soap 3 hours to release it from the molds.
Age 3 weeks.

Soap III
6 oz coconut oil
6 oz olive oil
5 oz vegetable shortening
2.6 oz lye
1 cup water (8 fluid ounces)
Fat and lye/water temperature about 120 degrees F
Time in molds: 48 hours
Age: 4 weeks

Soap IV
9 oz vegetable shortening
4 oz coconut oil
3 oz lard
2.4 oz lye
3/4 cup water (6 fluid ounces)
Fat and lye/water temperature about 120 degrees F
Time in molds: 24 hours
Age: 3 weeks

Soap V - Sorta a traditional and blender soap combination
The fats are expensive, but milk allows for about 12 bars, vs. only 6 bars of the same recipe without milk. Pretty sneaky, hugh?
8 oz weight cocoa butter
5 oz weight palm oil
3 oz weight castor oil
2.2 oz weight lye (sodium hydroxide)
1 cup cold milk (I used 2% right from the frig)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon essential oil (I added 2 chamomile tea bags and 2 jasmine tea bags, dry) Fats: 100 degree range
Lye/water/milk combination: 125 degree range
Add the lye/milk/water mixture to the fats and stir about 5 minutes. Add the fragrant oil and put the soap mixture into a blender. Process about 30 seconds, or until the mixture looks smooth and a uniform color. It will not trace. Pour it into the molds (it won't separate, trust me)

Soap VI & VII
16 oz lard or beef tallow
2.3 oz lye
3/4 cup water (6 fluid ounces)
Estimated tracing 45 minutes
Fat and lye/water temperature about 120 degrees F
Time in molds: 24 hours
Age: 3 weeks

Soap VIII -- Beeswax Castile
13 oz weight olive oil
2 oz beeswax
1 oz palm oil
2.1 oz lye
1 cup water (8 fluid ounces)
(melt the beeswax with the fats)
Fat and lye/water temperature about 150 degrees F
Tracing time: about 12 minutes FAST! (This is not a good blender soap candidate!)
Time in molds: 48 hours
Place the soap in a freezer for 3 hours, then remove it from the molds
Age: 6 to 8 weeks for the bars to harden
Soap X -- Beeswax Soap IX
(follow directions at "Soap VIII". This is not a good blender soap candidate.)
16 oz weight olive oil
2 oz weight beeswax
2.2 oz weight lye
1 cup water (8 fluid ounces)

Soap XI -- Goat Milk Soap (by measurements, not weight)
1 cup lard, melted
1 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup goat (or other) milk
1/4 cup Red Devil lye granules (not flakes or crystals from other sources)
1/4 cup water
Ingredients near 110 to 120 degrees F. Tracing time about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Leave in molds 2 days, place in freezer 3 hours, remove soap from molds, age 3 weeks.


I really hope you feel confident enought to prepare your first batch of soap. Good luck and happy lathering. Best regards, Elaine C. White


These instructions are based on a book:"Soap Recipes:
Seventy tried-and-true ways to make modern soap with herbs, beeswax and vegetable oils" by Elaine C. White
International Standard Book Number 0-9637539-5-9
The book is available from bookstores and from:
Valley Hills Press
1864 Ridgeland Drive
Starkville MS 39759 USA
$23.95 US funds includes price and air shipping to US and other countries
1-800-323-7102 Visa/Master Cards accepted
Toll-free number good in US only, other countries call 601-323-7100 (This is a voice line and fax.)
Valley Hills Press specializes in craft how-to information regarding honey and beeswax products. They will send a free brochure about this book and other products: MS Beekeepers Honey Cookbook, soapmaking kit, mead/honey wine kit, "Super Formulas" (book tells how to make 360 useful products that contain honey and beeswax) etc. Free brochure. Just ask.

H) Dear Soap Enthusiast: April, 1995

I'm writing this special note to inform you about the latest development in hand-crafted soap. A new technique, developed on AOL April, 1995 by Joyce Chance. Ms. Chance agreed for me to print this new technique in the next printing of "Soap Recipes." I suggest you learn to make soap by following "Soap Recipes" or these condensed instructions. Save the technique (I'm about to describe) until you are comfortable handling lye and familiar with soap reaction (tracing, etc.) Im sure you will see the great chance of accidents so please be careful! Follow all safety guidelines provided with your blender! Yes, your blender! Im going to tell you how to make "Blender Soap!" Heres the procedure:
1) Use the recipes as described in "Soap Recipes" (one-pound batches only). 2) Use liquid fat at room temperature. Heat solid fats only until melted. 3) Dissolve the lye in cold water and wait until the mixture turns clear. 4) Put all ingredients into the blender (lye/water, fragrance--everything). 5) Lock the blender in position, *secure the cover* and process at the lowest speed. 6) Stop the blender and check the soap often to watch for a thin-trace stage. When you stop the blender, wait a few seconds before removing the cover. Sometimes the soap "burps" when it stops (as a large amount of trapped air comes to the top). 7) At the thin trace stage, stop the blender. Stir the soap to check for tracing and to allow bubbles to escape. Pour the soap into individual molds. Thats all there is to it!
Now, what are the advantages of blender soap? There are many! First of all, no thermometers! You're going to experience very short tracing times. Soap that requires a 30-to-45-minute tracing time by the "cold-stir method" can trace in 30 seconds in the blender! (Soap that takes 2 days to trace can trace within 15 to 20 minutes in the blender.) Tracing times are so short, that I don't recommend you use recipes with "cold-stir" tracing times shorter than 30 minutes. I suggest you use the blender method instead of the "oven method" outlined in some of the recipes in "Soap Recipes." The texture of blender soap is more opaque and smoother-textured. You'll also discover less problems with separation. The only shortcoming is that the process can produce bubbles in the mixture. That's why it's important to pour the soap into individual-bar molds at the thin-trace stage. Stop the blender and stir the soap. The soap should be thin enough so that bubbles can escape the mixture and come to the top of the soap. Hope you enjoy this new technique and we should all be grateful to Ms. Joyce Chance for sharing it with us!--I am!

Best regards,

Elaine C. White

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