Now that you’ve gathered all the basic equipment you’ll need, let’s move on to choosing the ingredients needed for that successful batch of soap. The best way to determine what kind of soap you want to make is to think hard about how you intend to use it. Are you looking to make some nice size bathroom bars? Or maybe you’re thinking of something more creative for a Christmas gift or present. What you want your end product to be will tell you where to start. Here are some tips to help you get started.
The ingredients you select will determine the type of soap you get. Each type of oil carries with it its own specific properties.
Olive Oil: This oil is available in various grades, all of which are suitable for soap making. This oil produces a very hard and brittle soap, which dries quickly and is very durable. Soaps made with olive oil have a luxurious, creamy lather and are great for all skin types. Olive Oil soap is originally from Spain and is also known as Castile Soap and is of very high quality.
Palm Oil – This oil ranges in color from white, gold, orange to almost red. The color of the oil will affect the final color of the soap, although this will diminish as the bars dry. Palm oil can be found through many suppliers online or in stores that offer foods from the Middle East, Asia, or Africa.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is derived from the meat of the coconut. This oil melts easily when heated and can be found online or in many Asian stores and large supermarkets. Coconut oil is very lathery, great for making hair shampoos, but because it tends to dry out the skin, it is often used in conjunction with other oils and/or fats.
Castor Oil: Expressed from the seed of the castor plant, castor oil is thick and medicinal in nature and is often used as a supplement to other oils to add richness and smoothness to your soap. It can be found at your local pharmacy.
Vegetable Oils: These oils are generally a combination of olive oil and other oils such as peanut, corn, or soy. They are very inexpensive and generally give good results in soap making. Blended vegetable oils produce a milder soap than olive oil alone; They don’t dry as fast but do well later.
Fats and Butter
Tallow: Tallow is the fat that surrounds the cow’s kidney. Good-quality tallow varies in color, but should be white or slightly off-white with traces of pink, rather than gray. Suet, when processed, produces hard tallow that is easy to work with and results in a relatively mild soap. Suet can be purchased at your local butcher or grocery store and can be frozen until ready to use.
Beef Fat: Because beef fat is softer than tallow, its tallow is not as high quality. Beef fat soaps tend to be milder than tallow soaps and can be difficult to work with.
Sebum: It is the product that results from the extraction of fats and sebum to eliminate impurities. Soaps made from tallow are quite mild and produce small creamy bubbles.
Lard: It is the fat extracted from pigs. You’ll usually find lard in one-pound packages at your local grocery store. This must be refrigerated or frozen until ready to use. The downside of lard is that it doesn’t foam very much, so it’s usually combined with other fats or oils. Lard soaps are quite harsh to the touch and quite gentle on the skin.
Kitchen fats: For many there is something very attractive in creating soaps with the leftover fats from your kitchen; bacon grease that has been accumulating in a can or leftovers from frying meats. These fats must be processed just as you would sebum. These types of soaps are truly for the adventurous heart as you never know what the final product will be. But if this doesn’t concern you, then by all means experiment. A note of caution though, too much chicken fat will make your soaps too bland!
The next ingredient you will need to make soap is Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide. This is a caustic alkaline, which makes soap when combined with fats and/or oils. Traditionally, dripping water through wood ashes produced lye, but today it is manufactured commercially and gives us a much more consistent product. While there are plenty of sites online that sell lye specifically for making soap, I’ve always used the good old “Red Devil Lye.” This can be easily found at most hardware stores next to the drain cleaners.
the final ingredient
Lastly, you will need cold water to make your soap. Many recommend using distilled water, however, since we have well water instead of city water, I have always used water straight from the tap. If you feel that your city water is overly processed with a strong chlorine odor, you may want to seriously consider purchasing distilled water for your soap making.
one final note
As you search through various recipes for soaps, you will notice that the vast majority combine two or more different types of fats or oils, to achieve the specific qualities of each ingredient. This guide should help you evaluate those recipes to determine if they will be right for your needs.
In our next article, we’ll take a look at possible additives for your soap, such as dyes, scents, herbs, and more. Until then, happy soapmaking.