Making soap isn’t difficult. Today I’m sharing my quick and easy, basic beginner soap recipe with fun ideas for personalizing it by adding exfoliants, essential oils, etc.
Growing up, I was always interested in making things.
I also loved being outside in the garden, and growing herbs in every little spare area of the garden. Somehow, I don’t think my mom appreciated my spearmint overtaking the rest of her garden quite as much as I do. (I personally think, “The more the merrier!”)
Going to the bookstore, when I was’t forced to use the time to study for some big exam, meant time to sip coffee or tea while looking at crafting books and magazines, beautiful cookbooks from around the world, or, of course, books about herbs and how to use them.
One of the books that we had at home that I remember loving was a book about making your own soaps and perfumes. I followed a few of the recipes, but didn’t really have much luck with them. I tried making a rose petal perfume, but didn’t particularly love the way it turned out.
My first attempt at making homemade soap
The worst disaster, though, was when I tried to make soap.
The book shared ways to be frugal. It explained how to clean used cooking oil for using in your soap. For some reason, I decided that I would be doing that right from the beginning.
I mean, reuse, recycle, right?!?!?
Refining the oil was a horrible, messy process, and I don’t know what sort of quality fat I ended up with. I proceeded, though, and continued to make my soap. The trouble is, I remember trying to use my soap later on, and it stung every time I used it!
I don’t know if it was because I didn’t let it sit. In fact, years later, I don’t even remember the book mentioning that you should let your soap sit; it probably did; I probably had. In any case if I had made the soap right, it shouldn’t have stung days later. By that point the saponification process, the chemical reaction which turns lye and oil into soap, would have finished. More likely, the main problem was that the fats used weren’t really specified, and that the right concentration of lye probably didn’t get used. I ended up throwing most of my soap away, only to find, and try, a bar years later. It no longer stung as much, but it wasn’t a great soap and I ended throwing it out anyway. I probably should have stuck with the frugal idea and used it for cleaning somehow.
Part of me had been wanting to try making soap again, but part of me was held back by my not-so-stellar first experience with soap making.
Trying to make homemade soap again.
Months ago I bought lye with the intention of making some soap again, but when I sat down to find a good recipe for it, I became overwhelmed!
I wasn’t really finding straight recipes for making soap, but was instead led to various lye calculators online that would help me formulate my own.
Normally I love this sort of experimentation, but, I guess, being a newbie with soap making, I just wanted somebody to tell me exactly what to do; just this once!! Maybe having been here for so long, seeing that most of the calculations and recipes were calculated in ounces really intimidated me too. Although I still weigh myself in pounds, rather than kilos, I much prefer seeing things in grams than ounces (Are they weight ounces? Fluid ounces?!?!?!?).
I searched the web in Spanish, hoping to find some good soap recipes in grams, and I did! I made my second soap from a recipe off from a Spanish blog, and I have been playing with the concentrations ever since. I was going to make a basic castile soap. (In the eyes of a purist, castile soap only uses olive oil like my liquid castile soap recipe. The term has expanded, though, to include soaps made with only vegetable oils.) After having bought a liter of olive oil just for that very purpose earlier in the morning, I decided that my husband was’t going to be impressed with a soap that wouldn’t lather much…
You see, soaps made with olive oil tend to be very conditioning soaps. Olive oil is great for making soaps for face and body for that very reason. The problem with olive oil in soap is that it isn’t considered to be as “cleansing,” nor does it make a bubbly lather.
Soaps made with coconut oil, on the other hand, are very cleansing and provide a great, bubbly lather, but they can be drying on the skin.
So, I decided to make a modified castile soap, a soap that not only uses olive oil, but that also uses coconut oil, instead.
Why This combination for an Easy, Beginner Soap?
Why did I formulate this soap the way I did to make it a great, customizable basic beginner soap?
It’s a great, conditioning soap that is perfect for face and body!
There are lye calculators online that will help you to formulate a recipe for a balanced bar of soap. They will give you an idea about how cleansing vs. conditioning a soap will be, what type of lather it will give, etc.. This soap falls on the conditioning end of the spectrum. According to one of those calculators, this soap could be more on the cleansing side, and could use more bubbles. In practice, though, I find this soap to be great! I don’t have a problem with this soap leaving a greasy residue, and it feels perfectly cleansing to me. It also gives me a great lather from the beginning. (Some soaps need to set for longer first.) A lot of people love using a pure castile soap made with only olive oil, and that soap falls further on the conditioning/less lather/less cleansing end of the spectrum.
Apart from this being a great soap, I find it a simple soap to make.
Not only are the ingredients simple to find, there aren’t a lot of them. I purposely didn’t want to use a lot of different oils in this soap because seeing too many ingredients is enough to scare off beginner soap makers! Olive oil and coconut oil are both oils that should be relatively simple for anybody to find. Plus they are some of the more economical oils that are good for making soaps.
This soap also has a long “trace” time. “Trace” refers to the stage in soap making when the oils and the lye have begun to emulsify and the chemical process of saponification (becoming soap) begins. Some soaps move from thickening to solidifying very quickly, leaving little time for personalizing your soap with essential oils, colorants, or exfoliants. This soap recipe has a longer working time that will allow people to have fun adding ingredients to their soaps.
Before you begin, you should read these safety warnings:
Keep in mind when making soap that you have to be very careful with the lye. I don’t think the book I had read was quite as emphatic about that as most places I have read since. I don’t remember mixing the lye into the water outside, or wearing protective gloves or glasses. Luckily, nothing bad happened.
I don’t want to scare you, but I do want you to be careful. Lye is a strong base that is very caustic and can cause chemical burns just like any strong acid would. Keeping that in mind, you should protect yourself when making soap! Wear glasses and gloves throughout the process! If you should happen to get some lye on your skin, rinse it off with plenty of clean, cool water- not vinegar. You can later neutralize leftover lye wherever you have spilled it with a bit of vinegar, if you feel it is necessary, but always rinse everything well with water first. I had read in the past that lye on the skin should be quickly neutralized with vinegar, to neutralize it as quickly as possible, but it was pointed out to me that you should NOT do that. After further investigation it appears that doing so would do more harm than good! You could inadvertantly be setting off a chemical reaction that gives off heat and can (further) burn you.
Ok let’s get to making an easy beginner soap!
Once I reached trace, I decided I couldn’t resist trying out adding things to my soap.
I made the majority of the soap in a silicone bread pan using lavender essential oil just as the recipe had suggested. That said, I set some of it aside before adding in the essential oil. I divided the soap without lavender oil, and added coffee grounds to part of it and tangerine essential oil and poppy seeds to the rest.
The coffee grounds and poppy seeds should help with exfoliation when using the soap. If I decide that I like the coffee soap, I would probably substitute coffee for the water in the recipe when making a coffee soap to give it more of a coffee scent. Who knows, maybe the caffeine in the grounds can help with circulation and combatting cellulite. A lot of cellulite creams do add caffeine! Coffee is also known to help remove odors, so it might be a good soap for cleaning up in the kitchen too.
As for the tangerine poppy seed soap, it just sounded like a fun combination to me. I love citrus scents, and think I will have to buy more citrus essential oils for using in soaps and other personal products.
Now that I have gotten over the hurdle that has kept me from making soap again all of these years, I forsee myself experimenting with it quite a bit. The lye calculators no longer intimidate me either; I can just convert from ounces to grams! (That said, most digital scales allow you to weigh in either.)
Since I originally wrote this post, I’ve shared more soap recipes:
This post is also available in Español.