Handmade, natural beauty products are becoming increasingly popular and I know that many of you are interested in making your own soaps at home. However, it’s important for you to understand there are significant safety risks associated with making soap with sodium hydroxide.
The first thing you should be aware of is that the process of soap making involves a chemical reaction between a fatty acid and an alkali, soap being the salt of an acid. This chemical reaction is known as saponification.
The basic ingredients for making soap are:-
- fats or oils
- sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda or lye)
Lye is a highly corrosive alkaline substance which you can buy as flakes, pellets or powder. It has the potential to cause serious burns to soft tissue and should always be handled with care. You need to wear protective clothing when handling lye including safety goggles to protect your eyes, rubber gloves to protect your hands and coveralls to protect your body. Wear appropriate sturdy closed-toe shoes.
Making Your Own Soap
The fats or oils used in commercially produced soaps are often animal fats such as tallow lard. Handmade soaps tend to be created using natural oils such as palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil or shea butter. Soaps made with oils usually have a softer texture than those made with hard fats.
- To make soap with sodium hydroxide, you need to prepare a lye solution using the exact measurements of your chosen soap recipe
- Use a container that can withstand very high temperatures as the chemical reaction will produce a heat of more than 90 degrees Centigrade
- ALWAYS ADD SODIUM HYDROXIDE TO WATER, NEVER ADD WATER TO SODIUM HYDROXIDE
- You will need to stir the solution continuously until all the lye has dissolved. Place a soap-making thermometer in the lye solution and put the solution in a safe place while you prepare your oil or fat
- Following your chosen recipe put your oils or fats in a large container and gently heat until liquid. At this stage you may add a natural preservative such as carrot root oil or grapefruit seed extract. Put a soap-making thermometer in the liquid oil and leave to cool
- When both mixtures drop to the required temperature as indicated in your soap recipe slowly and carefully pour the lye solution into the oil and fat mixture and stir constantly to ensure thorough blending
- You can tell when the mixture is ready by drizzling some soap from your mixing spoon onto the surface of the liquid. If the soap stays on top for a moment before it sinks back into the mix, then the soap is ready and the mixture has saponified
- You can now add any other ingredients such as herbs, plant extracts or fragrances, as well as any dyes if required. Mix well then pour into soap moulds and cover with cardboard.
- Wrap thoroughly in towels or blankets to keep the heat in and to assist the curing process. This will take about 36 hours to complete
Rebatching: A Safer Way To Make Soap
If you would prefer not to handle sodium hydroxide there are much safer and easier ways of creating your own handmade soap. ‘Hand-milling’, ‘rebatching’ and ‘melt-and-pour’ methods of soap making eliminate the need to work with caustic soda as the natural pre-made soap bases are purchased ready for your to customize with essential oils, plant or herb extracts.
If you have had any experience of making your own soaps either from scratch or ‘rebatching’, I’d love to hear from you. Why not share your experiences with other readers?