Making true old-fashioned soap using fats and lye, or cold-process soap making, can seem a bit daunting. We know, because two of us at Botanie (who don’t normally make soap!) were asked to test drive one of our organic soap making kits. We walked in to work on Friday morning, ready to assume our positions at our respective computers, but instead, the owner, Tim, handed us a Pure Peppermint soap making kit, a camera, and told us to get going!
We opened up the soap making kit, printed out the instructions from the enclosed CD, and after looking through the detailed instructions, we got just a little bit intimidated. But we put our aprons on, rolled our sleeves up, and got right into it and ended up having quite a bit of fun along the way…
Our results, a homemade soap making how-to guide, rich with images, that will hopefully show how approachable and interesting making cold-process soap is. Our final product was a delicious smelling, silky soap reminiscent of peppermint ice cream, begging to be eaten! (Don’t worry, we didn’t, but the overwhelming desire to do so was there.) At the moment, we are letting the bars harden, or cure, and are anxiously waiting to use it.
(This is not meant to replace our detailed instructions. Please view our image rich soap making guide and read our detailed soap making instructions for all the necessary safety precautions and methodology. You will also get the detailed instructions with any Botanie soap making kit.)
We first gathered all our necessary supplies, and then took a picture to provide a digestible visual summary of the equipment needed for the soap making process.
Our picture includes: a liquid measuring cup, a metal wire whisk, a heavy-duty rubber spatula, a thermometer, an immersion or “stick” blender, safety goggles, rubber gloves, stock pot, mixing bucket, 3 one-quart, empty cream cartons, and some blankets or towels.
A few notes on the equipment: If you have a non-aluminum stock pot, you can use that for the entire process, and don’t need a separate bucket. And although you can use the metal whisk for everything, we highly recommend saving your forearm and an hour or two of time by using an immersion/stick blender (plastic is fine) for the final oil and lye mixing. And not in our picture, but we found might have been helpful is a canning funnel with a wide base to help pour the soap into the carton molds.
In our Pure Peppermint soap making kit, all of our ingredients were pre-measured for us: a base oil blend (sunflower oil, safflower oil, coconut oil, and palm oil), lye, peppermint leaf, and peppermint essential oil. Depending on which kit you choose, you may have different herbs or Shea butter and essential oils.
With all of our materials and equipment ready, we jumped in. We started by pouring our base oil blend into our metal stock pot, and heating it up a little. The oils were ready when they turned clear, and we could see the bottom of our heating pot. Then we prepared our lye solution — a very simple process of adding the lye to water and mixing, but one which needs to be handled carefully, as lye is a very caustic substance. We made sure we were wearing long sleeve shirts, rubber gloves, and some safety goggles. Then we used a shallow cold water bath in our sink to bring both the lye solution and the oil blend to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the lye and base oils were the same temperature, we first poured the oils, then the lye solution, into the plastic bucket and started mixing. We used the immersion blender to speed up the process, and ensure that the newly forming soap didn’t cool down too much. With the immersion blender, it took about 3-5 minutes to reach “trace” — the point at which, when drizzled, the soap just began to pile on the surface before sinking back in. Once we reached trace, we mixed in the peppermint leaf for about 20 seconds. Lastly, we poured the peppermint essential oil in and mixed for about 10-15 seconds, making sure the oil was incorporated into the soap, and just didn’t sit on top of the mix.
Finally, we filled up our 1 quart cream cartons (our molds) with our soap. It’s important to use cartons or large loaf-type molds, because the soap is still being forming over the next few days, and it needs to stay warm. When pouring into our cartons, we stopped about 1/2 inch from the crease that separates the main carton body from the top section. We then folded the top of the cartons back up, stapled them, and made sure that any other openings were covered up (we used duck tape to cover up the spout opening). Then we set them carefully in a box, wrapped them up with towels, and put them in the office, the warmest part of our warehouse.
On Tuesday, 4-5 days after making our soap, it had hardened enough that we could peel the cartons off. The waxy lining of the cartons made it easy to strip away from the soap. We let the outsides of the loaves dry for an hour or so, and then we used a kitchen knife to slice the loaves into bars about 3/4″ to 1” thick, making both 3oz and 4 oz bars. If we saw any chalky parts, we cut them off and discarded them — it’s where lye accumulated.
We set the bars on a tray in front of fan, and are now allowing them to cure (finish hardening and drying) for about three weeks. We were pleasantly surprised by how simple the process really was, and now we are just counting the days until we can use it!