How To Make Soap
Soap is a very important staple in the home, so it’s only natural that a lot of folks are interested in learning how to make soap. Without it, cleaning, washing and even bathing would be very difficult. The basic ingredient today for making homemade soap is either animal fat or vegetable oil. The soap industry is an important one, simply because soap is something we cannot do without. There have been a lot of changes in soap making, and due to the potentially harmful additives found in commercially produced soaps, homemade soap is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Learning how to make soap can be fun for the whole family, especially the kids.
How To Make Soap – History of Homemade Soap Making
In simple terms, soap is a cleansing agent. It is manufactured in a variety of forms. There is liquid soap, bar soap, granules and other forms. Technically, soap is the salt of a fatty acid. It is the chemical composition of soap that makes it suitable for use as a cleansing agent. When learning how to make soap, bar soap is the simplest place to start.
Soap is one of the few things today that have stood the test of time. There are a few schools of thought as to how soap emerged to be what it is today. Some people claim that it is the Greeks who first came up with the idea of using chemicals to clean things. The story goes that they realized that ash was suitable for cleaning pots and later extended the same to their goods. With time, ash was purified to lye, which then became the active ingredient in soap making.
Others claim that it was the Babylonians who invented the idea of soap in 2800 BC. They claim that the Babylonians used cypress oil, water and ashes to clean their goods. There are also those who put its rise into existence in 1550 BC in Egypt. There are other different stories explaining the origin of soap, but not all of them are authoritative.
The accepted history of commercial soap making begins in France. This is where vegetable sodas were first introduced as washing agents. This was because the area, Marseilles, was rather fertile for olive oil production. It is from olives that oil was extracted to make soap. It became so popular that soon, raw material imports were needed to meet the rising demand. From there, it spread to different countries in mainland Europe before being taken up by other countries.
Today, there are different ways of making soap, but they use similar ingredients, more or less. To make soap, you need a base (alkali), a fatty acid (animal fat or vegetable based oil) and water. Other ingredients are mainly used according to personal preference, such as color and fragrance.
Soap making is not difficult or dangerous, if you follow the right procedure. The soap ingredients should be handled with care, especially lye. There are safety precautions that you need to take during the process. For example, you need gloves- preferably rubber, and no reactive metals should be used to hold ingredients. If possible, the whole process should take place in an open, well ventilated area so you do not breathe in the vapor.
Types of Homemade Soap
Most of us who make soap at home strictly for our own use make one or both of the two basic types. Lye soap and glycerin soap.
Lye soap is a term you hear a lot with regard to homemade soap, but few people really understand what it means. It has a negative connotation because we are used to hearing how lye is corrosive and can eat through your skin. Lye soap is just… soap. For some reason, we only call it lye soap when it’s homemade. Lye is one of the basic ingredients of most bar soap. Lye is also known as caustic soda. In chemistry, lye is known as sodium hydroxide with the chemical symbol NaOH. It is exceedingly corrosive and should be handled with care at all times. It is available as a powder, pellets, or even flakes.
Lye is essential in soap making. This is because of its chemical composition. It is what breaks down the fats or oil in soap so that they can cling to dirt and clean whatever is being washed. If there were no sodium hydroxide in soap, there would be nothing to break down the fats and oils, and the soap would not do what it’s supposed to do.
Besides being excellent for cleaning, homemade soap has a mild curative effect on skin irritations. If you have mild irritations, for example, those caused by fleas or poison ivy, you would do well to wash the affected area with lye soap. It should be used in moderation, though. It is an irritant, and if not used carefully, it can cause burns on the skin. This is why there are definite proportions of lye to water to oil in soap making.
There are places for buying sodium hydroxide used in lye soap. You cannot just walk into a grocery store and ask for it. Supermarkets do carry Red Devil brand lye, but I’m not sure it’s pure enough for making homemade soap. Many online sellers of sodium hydroxide have proven to be very reliable. Some only sell in bulk, but there are plenty who specialize in supplying homemade soap enthusiasts. From these sellers, you can purchase as much or as little as you need.
If you decide to buy in bulk to save money, make sure you have a cool dry place to store it, and always keep it in an airtight container. A little bit of lye goes a long way, so my recommendation would be to not go this route. The purpose of making homemade soap is to have fun, not turn your basement or garage into a warehouse for corrosive chemicals.
When making lye soap, it is imperative to calculate the exact amount of lye to be used. Excess lye makes the soap an irritant and too little makes it very greasy. There are saponification charts that are used in this calculation. In this chart, you factor in all the ingredients and it returns the proportion of lye to be used. Alternatively, you can also calculate the amount of lye to be used manually.
Glycerin soap is a translucent soap made from the usual ingredients of soap making, plus extra glycerin, sugar and alcohol. The lye soap described above does contain some glycerin, as glycerin is a by-product of saponification. Most commercially made soaps have had the glycerin removed because the manufacturers can use it in other products that are more expensive than soap.
To make homemade glycerin soap, most home soapers use the melt and pour method. All you need is glycerin soap base, colorants and your favorite fragrances in the form of essential oils.
You melt the glycerin soap base in a double boiler and let it get up to 55C. Then remove it from the heat, add the coloring and essential oil, and mix well. Pour into molds, let it cool, and your homemade soap is done. Soap making is very simple as you can see.
Learning how to make soap is not difficult. Once you have the ingredients, the basic steps are not that difficult to follow. There are three main processes homemade soap enthusiasts use for their soap making.