Soap Opera

So you want to make soap.
It’s a great hobby, fairly cheap, and not nearly as difficult as you think it is. It’s the only hobby I”ve ever had in my life, and I got so good at it that I actually set up a short-lived soap boutique out of my studio apartment. But you needn’t go that far: it’s quite satisfying to be able to make one of life’s necessities in your kitchen. And once you use your own, you’ll never go back. And neither will the friends and family who will be on the receiving end of your creations.

Here are the absolute basics you need to start making small batches of soap.
*A stainless-steel saucepan, at least 3 quart capacity. Cheapies are OK.
*A large sturdy plastic spoon.
*A rubber spatula.
*An accurate scale. Digital is best.
*A liquid measuring cup.
*At least one clip-on candy thermometer.
*A pair of rubber gloves.
*A mold. This can be as simple as a loaf pan lined with Saran Wrap, a flexible Tupperware-style container, or even a paper quart milk carton. Rigid cardboard or plastic is best: metal may corrode, wood will disintegrate, and ceramic is too rigid.
*An old blanket or towel.
Optional: A stick blender, available in houseware stores or K-marts for under $20.
I guess I might as well start off my talking about lye, since that seems to be what scares off most beginning soapers. Lye is the common name for sodium hydroxide (NaOH). It’s not a nice substance. It burns. It stinks. But soap can’t be made without it. So treat it with care and respect, and it can be your friend. You can get it in the supermarket, usually under the brand name “Red Devil” near the drain cleaners. (Don’t substitute Drano, that’s got suundry crap in it that you don’t want.) Once the soap is made and cured, there is no lye left in the soap, so don’t worry about chemical burns on your body. And that’s why we wear rubber gloves.
Lye is a catalyst, in that it “saponifies” oils and fats into the bubbly substance we know as soap. I’ll spare you a rundown of the actual chemical process, but there are plenty of places online where you can find it.
Easy Soap for All Skins
100 grams by weight coconut oil (get it at Asian, Indian or Latin markets, or at healthfood stores)
400 grams by weight olive oil (save your best extra-virgin for the salad; here the cheap variety is better and less likely to give you a green and olive-scented soap)
1 ounce fragrance oil of your choice (make sure it’s cold-process appropriate: the absolute best ones are from Sweetcakes) or slightly less essential oil (lavender is good and usually inexpensive: spearmint and cedar are nice too)
68 grams of lye
160 ml of cold water
a prepared mold
1. Weigh out the oils and place in your saucepan. Heat gently until the coconut oil is melted.
2. Weigh the lye and slowly add to your measuring cup full of cold water. Stir well. You’ll notice it gets very hot very fast. This is what it’s supposed to do. Place the cup in your refrigerator to cool down (Label it if you’ve got kids who might try to drink it.)
3. Using the thermometer, take the temperature of the oil and lye solutions until both of them have reached 105-110F (40-43C).
4. Slowly, while stirring, add the lye solution to the oils. It should look like greasy yellow soup and smell slightly revolting. Stir vigorously. If you’ve got a stick blender, now’s the time to give it a few quick blasts, being careful not to splash yourself.
5. Eventually, the mixture should start to thicken slightly. Add the fragrance oil and stir like crazy. Be sure to scrape in the corners of the pan and down the sides.
6. Shortly, the mixture should “trace”, that is, a spoonful of soap drizzled will leave a slight raised trail or trace on the surface. This is your sign that the soap is ready to be poured into your prepared mold.
7. Wrap the towel or blanket around the soap filled mold and let it rest for 24-48 hours. When it is firm, remove from the mold and slice into bars.
8. Allow to cure in a well-ventilated area for at least 2 weeks, but preferably 4. The soap will be safe to use after a week, but it will dry out, firm up, and become milder the more you age it.
For the absolute best soaping sites and heaps of links, visit and