#1 – What is soap?
Technically, soap is a “salt”, made from a combination of an alkali with fatty acids. The alkali comes from the lye we use and the fatty acids come from the oils. During the old times, when there wasn’t any lye (sodium hydroxide, aka caustic soda) around, people used potash which was basically wood ashes.
#2 – How soap cleans?
There are substances that can be dissolved in water, such as sugar, and others that can’t, such as oils. Water and oil can’t mix together, right? This is where the soap comes in.
Soap is made up by molecules with one hydrophilic (which means that they are attracted to water) and one hydrophobic (which means that they are repelled by water) end. When you wash your hands, the water sticks to the hydrophilic end and the oil particles (dirt, grime) stick to the hydrophobic end. Then an emulsion of oil in water is formed, which means that the oil particles are suspended in the water and when you rinse the emulsion, along with the oily grime, is taken away.
#3 – What are the benefits of making my own soap?
Making your own soap is an absolute blast, you have complete control of what gets into your soap, you can experiment as much as you want (although as a beginner it’s best to stick to the recipe), you learn a lot of new things and you get the satisfaction of making something from scratch. Handmade soaps are chemical-free, they protect the natural ph of your skin, they are eco-friendly and they are not tested on animals.
#4 – What is the difference between commercial and handmade soap?
Glycerin is a natural by-product of the saponification (soap-making) process. It is a humectant substance, meaning that it attracts moisture to your skin. Commercial soap manufacturers remove the glycerin to use it in more profitable products, like lotions or moisturizers, or they sell it separately. Glycerin is then replaced by synthetic lathering substances, artificial colors and other chemicals. You might have noticed that most of the products on the shelf are not labeled as soap, but as moisturizing bars, body bars or something like that. These are detergents, not soap. Detergents are synthetic, often petroleum based cleansers and bad for the planet.
#5 – What are the basic ingredients of soap?
The basic ingredients of soap are sodium hydroxide, also called “lye”, water and oils. Let’s get into more details. Potassium hydroxide, also called “potash” is used to make liquid soap, whereas lye is used to make solid soap. As far as oils are concerned you may use vegetable oils or animal fats, some you may find in liquid form and other in solid. Water can be replaced by other liquids, such as milk or herbal tea. Apart from the basic ingredients you can also include in your recipes essential oils, fragrances, clays, butters etc.
#6 – Can we make soap without lye?
There is no possible way to make real soap without some kind of lye. Either it is artificially made from a chemical company, or it is mix of water and wood ashes, it’s a necessary ingredient in soap making. All types of soap – solid or liquid, melt and pour, hot or cold process – include lye in the making soap process, but of course there is no lye in the final product.
#7 – Why does soap have to cure and how long does it take?
The saponification process requires only 24-48 hours to be completed. Although it is then safe to use our soap, it is not recommended as it takes more time for it to become milder. The main reason to cure our soap is that the water evaporates, which results in a harder soap. A hard soap means that it will last longer than a soft soap. It usually takes 6-8 weeks for the soap to cure, but soaps that are 100% or mostly made from olive oil require at least 6-9 months.
#8 – Which are the different ways to make soap?
There are basically three ways to make soap, melt and pour, the cold process and the hot process.
The melt and pour process is the easiest one because you use a purchased, pre-made base soap. You don’t have control of the ingredients in the recipe or do any customizations except of the mold you choose to use. On the other way, it’s a lot safer, easier and more convenient. It’s the best way if you want to make soap with your children. The process is that you buy base soap, which is unscented and uncolored soap. You melt the soap in the microwave or a double boiler. When it is melted, you add the fragrance and additives of your choice. Then you mold and as soon as it’s hardened it’s ready to use.
With the cold process you make soap from scratch. It’s more a complicated procedure, you’ll have to learn some techniques first and be very accurate when measuring your ingredients. But it is definitely worth it, you can customize it and experiment as much as you want and you’ll enjoy a high quality all natural soap. In short, you mix an exact amount of lye and water with your preferred oils and essential oils. You let it in a mold for 24-48 hours and then you unmold it and leave it to cure for 6-8 weeks (or longer for some soaps).
The hot process is similar to the cold process, except you use heat in order to speed up the saponification process. This usually happens by putting our soap in a crock pot, where we basically cook it to completion. When we pour it in the mold is much thicker. The hot process allows us to use our soap faster. The final soap has a rougher, more rustic look.
#9 – How can I create my own soap recipe?
We start from the amount of soap we want to make. Let’s say that we want to make 1000 grams of soap. 60% of our soap is oils, so we want 600 grams of oils. We want our soap to be hard enough to last longer, so we choose coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, shea butter and olive oil in a percentage of 85-100%. For the remaining 15% we choose oils according to the properties that we want our soap to have, for example almond, avocado, jojoba, castor oil etc. In order to calculate the amount of lye and water needed we use a lye calculator.
#10 – What makes the particular qualities in homemade soap?
Each oil that we use gives its unique qualities in our soap. The secret is to adjust their percentage in the whole and create the right combination of oils which will result in a well balanced soap. Apart from the oils we can use other ingredients as well, which also give specific qualities to our soap, such as essential oils, clays and butters.