You guys know that I just started learning how to make cold process soap and I gotta admit, I’m hooked! There is so much creativity with this craft. One of the things I’m most excited to experiment with is learning how to create my own soap recipes. I did some quick research and believe that creating soap recipes boils down to thinking about two things:
- The qualities you want your soap to have (moisturizing? fluffy lather? hard? any scents or decorative elements?), and
- The exact amount of lye and water to make your soap…well, soap.
Sounds doable, yes? But first…
A little background on my soaping experience
Full disclosure: I am a complete soap making newbie. I’ve made one “practice” batch so far which was surprisingly easy. It came out looking and smelling great too. I still have SO much to learn and am planning on using this blog to share my experiences, blogs that have helped me (and of course the amazing bloggers that go with those blogs), tools and resources I learn about, and of course my successes and fails. In this post, I’ll share with you how I created my first soap recipe. (I’ll update you on how that went in a subsequent post soon… spoiler alert – they came out good, but with some twists and turns along the way!)
I posted a picture on Instagram and jokingly asked if anyone wanted a bar of soap…and PEOPLE DID!! Like, lots of people. I couldn’t believe it. One of those people is a friend of mine, who asked me to make soaps for her wedding. I was floored. Of course I said yes… even though I’ve only made the one batch of (10) soaps (I totally appreciate the vote of confidence!!). But, hey – I can figure this out. I love a good logistical challenge! (And, the mountains of information online and my newly purchased book helps too.)
My approach was to make the same type of soap as my first batch (“dollar store oatmeal, milk, and honey soap“). I didn’t want to mess with essential oils or colorings with this batch because, well, I’m still new to all this and definitely want to produce a quality product for my friend. Also, the dollar store soap recipe I used originally was intended for small batch, personal use. I knew that I’d have to modify this recipe to make quality handmade soaps in bulk. I should share a note of caution here – everything I’ve read online really recommends practicing (mastering, really) the technique of soapmaking using simple recipes (in small batches) before attempting to create your own recipe. One thing you will learn about me is that I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to doing things I want to do. So…I’m going to take a chance and I figure, I will learn something that (I hope) will be of value as you start your soapmaking journey too!
This is the fun part! This is where you can dream up combinations of beautiful colors, scents, textures, and soap qualities. (BTW – just do a quick search for cold process recipes on pinterest and you’ll get a taste of the breadth/range of soap recipes that exist out there.) Bar soap can have a combination of the following properties:
- creamy lather
- stable lather
- cleansing, and
Before you select your oils, I recommend taking some time to explore this reference document to help you pick oils based on their chemical properties and soap qualities. I’m grateful for resources like this because it makes creating soap recipes very easy. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a chemistry class so I’m not sure if this is correct, but I’m guessing that combinations of oils and fats can impact a recipe (or final soap product) very differently – and in unexpected ways – because of each oil or fat’s individual chemical (fatty acid) properties. What I’m not sure about is how you anticipate (and then adjust) for weird or bad combinations (is there any such thing, for that matter?). If anyone knows… please leave me a comment!! (Thank you in advance :-))
Here is an example of the soaping oils/butter properties table from Nature’s Garden (the resource I linked to above). It is easy to understand, provides detailed information about specific oils (including recommended usage range where applicable), and links to purchase the oil. Right now, I’ve been using oils I can find at the grocery store, but I’m sure that I’ll start getting into the more “specialty” type oils (my phrase) soon 🙂
Ok, so now, you’ve decided what qualities you want your soap to have and you know what what oils you need to make up your soap. Next, time to figure out how much lye you will need to make these luscious, body soothing oils and butters turn into soap.
(Side note: I haven’t tried using colorants or scents yet so I don’t have any information to share about adding that to a recipe just yet. If anyone can share insight into that, please share in the comments – I would be forever grateful!)
Ok, so the interwebs is home to MANY lye calculators. These calculators are designed to help soapers create their own recipes by taking the porportion of oils you want to use and the final (desired) weight of your soap batch and calculating the exact amount of lye and water you will need. Of the many I found, I decided to try SoapCalc to make the recipe for my friend’s wedding soaps. The calculator looks intense, but I think once you take a few minutes to explore it, you’ll notice the numbered prompts which are pretty helpful. This link will take you to detailed instructions on how to use this particular calculator.
I like that the calculator provides standard numbers for fields like, “water as % of oils,” “superfat,” and “fragrance” levels. I would have no way of knowing what values to use for those fields, otherwise. Also, if you hover over the number in blue, a text box with additional instructions or definitions appears.
- Make sure you select NaOH if you want to make solid soaps.
- Enter the total weight of *all* the oils you want to use in your soap.
- I left the water, superfat, and fragrance levels as-is.
Now, we will customize your one-of-a-kind, totally fabulous, totally unique soap recipe! It’s as easy as 1-2-3. (or in this case, 5-6-7 as the numbers below show). Pick your oils, enter the percentage you want of each oil and then a recipe is automatically generated for you.
The soap making recipe magic happens when you press “Calculate Recipe.” Then, click on “View or Print Recipe” and you’ll see this screen:
This is the top half of the screen. The bottom of the screen will show you a bar graph with the distribution of soap qualities I mention above. I thought this was such a useful feature to understand what type of soap bar you are making.
I have started a little notebook (pictured in the featured image of this post! LOL) where I am jotting down my recipes and a few notes about each batch. I am also keeping my soapcalc recipe as well so that over time, I hope, I’ll be able to see some patterns and repeat what worked well and avoid any mistakes I’ve made.
I hope this post was helpful to you! If you know of other resources or have experience or tips you can share related to making cold process soap recipes, please share them in the comments below. I will be posting new soap recipes as I make them and will also be sharing my own and other recipes on this pinterest board I started. I hope you’ll follow me! In the meantime, happy soaping!