When one begins to consider the idea of making their own soap, it is like traveling to a new country. It is similar to learning a new language. There is so much you need to know before you travel that road. Of course there are kits and books and blogs with recipes, but really…. slow down and become familiar with the topic of soap first. When the question comes to you, “What is cold process soap?” you will be ready to explain to the next novice what you understand of the process. You will be ready to make your own cold process soap.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHEMISTRY OF SOAP
To understand what is cold process soap, you first must have a basic understanding of this creation we call soap.
First let’s look at the definition of soap. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that soap is a cleansing and emulsifying agent usually made by action of alkali on fat or fatty acids and consisting essentially of sodium or potassium salts of such acids! Wow. What does that mean?
Breaking down that description, we know that cleansing is simply to clean. Emulsifying means to mix two or more ingredients until they become one. Imagine mixing oil and vinegar until it becomes blended for a salad dressing, That is emulsifying.
Now, this definition of Soap speaks of alkali on fat or fatty acids. Simply speaking, we are talking of a chemical reaction. In the cold process it is called saponification. It is a process that combines animal fats or vegetable oils and lye. This action creates a bond thus releasing fatty acid salts, sodium or potassium salts known to us as soap.
This may sound confusing, but let’s think of baking a cake. You take flour, eggs, and oil, all individual items that stand on their own and mix them till they emulsify. Then all the ingredients combine and react with heat in the oven. The ingredients no longer standalone as flour, eggs, and oil. There has been a chemical change in the properties of the ingredients. This is the chemical reaction similar to saponification in the soap process.
Soaps are basically the sodium or potassium salts of fatty acids. Simple, right?
When working in the soap world, you will use a language that others may not understand. Let me introduce you to a few basic terms to get you started.
Trace is the point when the oils and lye water are emulsified. The soap mix will be similar to a thin cake batter. When you raise the mixer from the batter, t will drip in a slow line from the mixer to the batter leaving a slight trail. When this happens, happens you have trace.
Curing is a vital part of the cold process. Cold process soap is safe to use after a few days, but not advisable to use immediately upon setting up. The chemical reaction of saponification is still happening and the soap could actually burn your skin. So wait a few days and ideally, let your soap cure for 4-6 weeks in a cool dry place. As the water evaporates you will get a harder, milder bar that will last longer in the bath.
THE NECESSARY TOOLS
When we are asked what is cold process soap, we must be aware that there actually is a process! Understanding that cold process soap is made by combining oils and lye to get a chemical reaction called saponification is just the beginning.
In order to begin your process you need the necessary tools and ingredients. Then it is just a matter of following the instructions. Just like baking the cake. First you gather yours containers such as the mixing bowl which can be plastic, glass or stainless steel.
You will also find a stick blender to emulsify the soap mix a great tool. It will speed time over the traditional whisk or standard hand mixer which could take up to or over an hour waiting for trace.
Silicone spatulas will help get the very last bit of soap into your mold. You will also need a scale in order to measure weight instead of volume. This is much more accurate. And of course you will want to have your soap molds ready.
Soap molds can be many things. However, they must be clean. Silicone molds are my favorite as they are easy to unmold and cleaning is a snap. I do have several wood molds for when I want to make larger batches. Still, molds can be anything from tin cans, Pringle containers or even cardboard boxes.
Along with the above tools, you must think about your personal safety when working with lye. Lye is the main ingredient needed to reach saponification. But beware, lye is a very corrosive product and must be handled properly in a well ventilated area.
For your protection use rubber gloves, goggles that fit on your face (safety glasses will not be good enough) and wear long sleeves, long pants, and closed toe shoes to protect yourself from any splatters.
Also, there will be strong fumes when working with the lye so you might also want a face mask. This may sound over the top, but lye will burn and damage your skin and that is not what any of us wants.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Now we are ready to actually make our first batch of soap.
We will use a recipe that has very basic ingredients. It will not include any colors or fragrance or textures. It will be perfect for your first try, and great for anyone with sensitive skin.
- Gather your ingredients first.
8 oz. Coconut Oil (gives soap bar firmness and lather)
15 oz. Olive Oil (creates a mild and creamy lather)
11 oz Palm Oil (gives soap bar firmness)
54.8 oz. Lye
22.2 oz Distilled Water
- Choose your mold. If you anything besides the silicone mold, I recommend you line the container with freezer paper.
- Prepare your lye water. Slowly add the lye to the water and gently stir until the lye is dissolved. It will be clear. Set aside to cool. The lye will initially be quite hot. Let the lye cool down to around 120 degrees F. I use a large mason jar to mix my lye.
- Combine your oils. Heat and melt. Let cool to around 120 degrees F. Next dip the stick blender into the oils. You will tap the blender on the bottom of the bowl several times to release bubbles.
- Add the cooled lye. Both the oil and lye will be around the same temperature now. Gently pour the cooled lye down the shaft of the stick blender into the oils. This will prevent splatters
- Pulse the stick blender several times. After about 30 seconds test for trace. The batter will be thin at this point and you will continue to pulse your stick blender until it becomes thicker. Trace will rest on the surface of the batter
Your batter is ready to be poured into your mold. Use the spatula to remove all batter into the mold. Tap the mold firmly on the counter to release any bubbles in the soap. If bubbles do appear, spray the top of the soap with 99% isopropyl alcohol.
Let soap set in molds for 3-4 days. Unmold and cut into bars. Allow bars to cure 4-6 weeks
TIME TO REST
As you let your soap rest for 4-6 weeks you can now answer the question, what is cold process soap. You can answer this question because you are now a member of the soap making family. I know you will enjoy your soap. Next time you can add a fragrance of choice or a color! There is so much for you to experience and I know you will have a great time.
If you have any questions, let me know and we will talk.
Happy in Bubbles