I taught myself how to make cold process soap this past spring with the help of The Soapmaker's Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch. All the soap recipes in her book are vegetable based, using high quality oils, essentials oils and natural colorants. If you are at all interested in making handmade soap, I recommend this book. Cavitch also wrote The Natural Soap Book which is equally great, but I think The Soapmaker's Companion is the best book to get started with due to the recipes for smaller batches. I am still very new to the craft, but find the process fun and the ability to pick and choose what goes into our soap so rewarding.
Many people ask me if you still have to use lye for soapmaking and the answer is yes you do. Lye is made by mixing sodium hydroxide and water and provides the base necessary to mix with the acid (fats and oils) for the most fascinating process of saponification. In this photo you can see the poison designation on the back of the sodium hydroxide bottle. You need to be careful when handling the sodium hydroxide, but if you are - there is no need for fear. Also shown are my essential oils mixed and ready to go and the calendula petals from our garden this summer dried and ready to be added.
Our kitchen serves as my soapmaking work station. I am checking the lye solution temperature in this photo in preparation of adding it to the mixed and melted oils.
Once the lye and oils reach the appropriate temperatures, you add the lye to the oils, stir or beat with a mixer until you reach trace (when the mixture has reached a thickness when a small amount of soap drizzled on the surface remains before disappearing), add your essential oils, colorants, herbs, etc., mix quickly a few more times and then pour the mixture into your lined soap mold.
After a period of covered incubation (I also used blankets)....
it is time to uncover,
cut your big soap block into bars,
and put the soap in a well ventilated area to cure for about 4 weeks. From this 5 lb. batch of soap I cut 16 bars. This particular batch is scented with lemon and rosemary with a small addition of tea tree for skin health. Calendula petals are also good for the skin and make the bars look so beautiful.
I plan on making 2 or 3 other varieties of soap in preparation for a holiday sale at a friend's house. I will post more details on that event soon.