I have always wanted to make my own soap, but I have always been put off by the idea of using caustic ingredients that give off dangerous gases. Not to mention the precise recipe requirements – not one of my strong points. My mother talked about making soap when she lived in Ireland, and nothing she said convinced me it wasn’t a messy, temperamental process, prone to failure. Soap was most often made outside because of the fumes and toxic nature of the ingredients. It all seemed just a little bit too hard. I make most things in my kitchen, so the thought of using such a strong chemical in the house put me off. I finally decided to give it a go, mainly because Go Native has a great starter kit, which provides all of the key ingredients, measured out for ease of use and because we had run out of soap. Two great motivations!
Soap recipes don’t vary much, this is because the key element to making soap is a chemical reaction called saponification which is essential the reaction of a fatty acid with an alkali base. There are many different ways to achieve this reaction but fundamentally the core ingredients must be a fat such as oil or lard and an alkali such as lye or caustic soda. Some soaps claim to be free from caustic ingredients, but this is a bit of obfuscation as all soap needs an alkali to saponify, however once the chemical reaction takes place then the soap is not caustic.
Hot process soap: This is when soap is made by cooking and the chemical reaction is completed once it has set. Hot process soap takes longer to make, but is ready more quickly. It looks a bit more rustic and coarse but otherwise the end product is very similar to cold process soap.
Cold process soap: Made with the same essential ingredients as hot process soap, but is made ‘cold’ without long cooking time. This soap is not ready to use once it has set and must cure for a number of weeks after making.
Superfatting: This is increasing the fat content of the soap to ensure it doesn’t retain any causticity. It makes for a soap that is gentler on the hands. Important to note that superfatting can only be done within certain margins or the recipe will fail.
This article by Soap Queen has a great overview of all of the types of soap that can be made.
Soap Recipe for Beginners
- Do not use aluminium containers. The soap and the pot will be ruined.
- Treat sodium hydroxide with the utmost respect. It is a dangerous chemical.
- It is ESSENTIAL to wear eye protection and gloves.
- If you spill sodium hydroxide on your skin, it will sting. Flush with cold water until the stinging stops. Dabbing with vinegar or lemon juice helps too.
Plastic, glass or stainless steel pot or bowl
Stick blender (very useful and, after making a batch without one, you will say essential!)
Container to use as a mould; all go native recipes can fit in one of their loaf moulds.
Baking paper to line mould, if the mould isn’t silicon
NB: If you are going to make a habit of soapmaking, have utensils dedicated for that purpose.
Method for all cold-process soap recipes
- Melt gently the solid oils.
- Add the other oils and cool to 40°C.
- Put on safety glasses and gloves. Add sodium hydroxide to COLD water and stir until dissolved. Don’t breathe in the fumes.
- Cool to 40°C. Keep in a safe place away from people and animals.
- Put on safety glasses and gloves. Add sodium hydroxide mixture to oils. Stir until thick. A stick blender will shorten this process but don’t mix too fast. Stop and stir in the OFF position often.
- Add essential oil. Stir until the soap is like thick porridge.
- Pour into a Go Native silicon loaf mould. Cover to keep warm for 24 hours.
- Uncover, unmould and cut into bars.
- Separate bars to dry for 3 weeks before using.
Variations: botanicals, dried flowers, colours, etc, can be used. Add these before the mixture becomes too thick and before adding the essential oil.
Go Native New Zealand is New Zealand’s premium online supplier of natural and organic skincare ingredients. We stock essential oils, carrier oils, cosmetic butters, waxes, fragrance oils, raw materials, ready-to-go bases, and more. We’ve been in operation since 2001 and in our present form since 2007. We’re a small, close-knit team of family and friends who are committed to finding the finest ingredients from around the world. These ingredients must be ethically sourced and where possible we buy direct from the growers, so we can establish a relationship with them and get to know their lives and businesses. Often, countries we deal with have no systems in place to be able to stamp their products with Fair Trade or Certified Organic logos (both are very expensive processes), but since many of our suppliers are family or village enterprises, we feel comfortable with their conditions.
We have created our DIY kits especially for people who are thinking of making their own skincare but don’t quite know where to start. We have cold-process soapmaking kits, the easier melt and pour soapmaking kits, skincare kits, lip balm kits and kits for hair care. All come with all the ingredients and easy-to-follow instructions.
They make great gifts too.