There’s nothing quite like showering or bathing with a bar of your own handmade soap. And making handcrafted soap is much easier than you might think. Before I share my go-to soap recipe though, I wanted to talk about the equipment needed for soap making at home.
My favourite way to make a bar of soap is using the cold process method. Cold process soap-making involves mixing oils and sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. The soap is then cured for a minimum of one month, though I cure mine for at least 2 months. The longer you can bear to leave it, the better I find it gets.
You don’t need special equipment to make soap. Much of what you need is probably already in your kitchen.
Sodium Hydroxide aka Caustic Soda aka Lye
Lye is highly corrosive. After all, it is the basis for most drain cleaning products that work. For this reason, the equipment you use to make your soap should be kept for soapmaking and nothing else – and definitely not for food preparation. However Lye is perfectly safe to use if you follow some sensible safety precautions.
Sometimes people worry about lye being used to make soap, and ask whether you can avoid using it. But the chemical reaction created when mixing the oils and lye together, known as saponification, is the only way to make true soap. All solid and liquid soaps are made this way. Once the chemical reaction has taken place and your soap is fully cured, no sodium hydroxide remains in it. Your soap is, in effect, the neutral by-product of mixing acid and alkali.
Lye reacts with aluminium, so aluminium equipment cannot be used when making soap. For this reason you will be working instead with glass, heavy duty plastic or stainless steel.
What equipment do I need to make soap?
For your first soap making, you only need a few basic things. As you get into soapmaking you might want to invest in some more equipment, but you absolutely don’t need to.
Equipment Needed for Soap Making
- A large Stainless Steel Bowl for melting the oils and, eventually, mixing the soap.
- A saucepan over which the stainless steel bowl will fit comfortably. You will be boiling a small amount of water in that saucepan which will heat the stainless steel bowl above, allowing your solid fats to melt.
- Kitchen Scales– digital ones are best, as your measurements must be accurate.
- A Hand Blender. Once you’ve used this for soapmaking, it will need to be kept for that purpose. So either use one you already have and don’t plan to use for food again, or pick up a cheap second hand one.
- A couple of 1 litre jugs made from heavy duty plastic and/or glass.
- Rubber gloves which reach at least to your elbows. Plus you need to be wearing long sleeves when soapmaking to ensure no lye makes contact with your skin. And long trousers whilst you’re at it, for the same reason. No flip-flops on this one.
- Safety Goggles. Absolutely essential, to protect your eyes in the event of splashing. They are very inexpensive to buy.
- Two Flexible Rubber Spatulas to get as much of the soap out of the bowl into the mould as possible.
- A thermometer. When I started making soap I used a basic cooking thermometer. Later I invested in a non-contact digital thermometer which you simply point at the ingredients to find out the temperature. This avoids having to dip the thermometer in lye and then rinsing, but is by no means essential. A simple thermometer works perfectly well.
- (optional) An ice cube tray. When you mix lye with water, a chemical reaction occurs and the liquid gets hot. To avoid it getting very hot and the liquid rising up inside the jug, I freeze some of the water once I’ve weighed it out for the recipe. I then put the ice cubes into the remaining water before I add the lye to it. You don’t have to, this step is entirely optional. Hence so is the ice cube tray.
- A Soap Mould. You could re-purpose a small cardboard box, an (empty) Pringles tube, a yogurt pot, even some old plastic drain pipe. I invested in a Wooden Soap Box lined with a silicon mould from the beginning, because I wanted a loaf shape and it was the easiest option. But you certainly don’t need to buy a soap mould to make soap.
- Baking parchment, greaseproof paper or waxed paper to line your mould (unless you bought soap box lined with a silicon mould).
- Cling film and a clean tea towel in which to wrap your soap for the first 24 hours.
- A large, sharp knife with which to cut your soap into bars after 24 hours. I got a soap cutter later, I was lucky enough to get one for Christmas in fact (best. gift. ever). However a knife worked perfectly well the first few times I made soap.
So how about a soap recipe then?
I will share a soap recipe tomorrow. It is the first one I used, and remains our favourite.
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