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Tales From the (Science Lab) Kitchen

In the past few months my kitchen has turned into the likes of a science lab.

Soapmaking supplies

I'm making the lye solution.

I'm careful to be in a well ventilated area for this step. After adding the lye to the water, fumes are created as the solution heats itself up.

Lye/water soultion is complete and ready to be mixed into the oils.

Oils, butters and fats are melting to be brought into a fully liquid state.

The saponification process begins as the lye solution is added to the oils/butters/fats.

The making of cold process soap is interesting for sure.  To be able to take a chemical (sodium hydroxide) and create the perfect environment for a chemical reaction to take place which changes it from a caustic chemical to an amazingly pure and gentle soap is totally amazing to me.   I was never all that interested in chemistry in high school or college…just did the minimum to pass the class.  But now I’m totally enthralled by the endless combinations of oils, fats, butters, herbs and essential oils that I can combine and cause to saponify creating different soaps with different properties.


Before I started making soap, I never knew what I was missing.  I was never a fan of bar soaps because I always found them to be drying and unpleasant so I stuck with liquid body washes.  When I first tried a bar of homemade cold process soap I was amazed how nourishing it felt to my skin.  So different from any bars I had ever tried before.  I was hooked.


I have learned that there is a reason why cold process soap feels so much better on the skin than commercial bar soap.  The chemical reaction that occurs between the sodium hydroxide (lye) and the various oils/ fats/butters creates glycerin.  This natural glycerin is a wonderfully emollient moisturizer which actually draws moisture to your skin.


When commercial soaps are made, this glycerin is removed.  Apparently glycerin is more profitably used in lotions and such.  (You can purchase glycerin in the store to make your own lotions, by the way).  Sure, glycerin might be added back in to a commercially made soap to some extent, but the results are obviously never the same as just leaving it alone in the first place.


My first bars of homemade soaps were made with a combination of olive oil and coconut oil.  Olive oil soaps are the most gentle soaps one can make, perfectly suitable for delicate baby skin as well as for the whole family.  I gave them away as gifts and got great feedback.  I, and others, have found these bars to be an excellent facial cleanser as well.


From there I’ve moved on to adding rich butters like cocoa and shea.   Just today I made my first “spa” bar, a sea salt scrub bar.  I can’t wait to try it out!   I have a long list of combinations I’m ready to try out.  I’m keeping my recipes simple focusing mainly on olive and coconut oils as my main oils and adding rich butters and some healing oils like avocado and castor bean.  I’m scenting only with pure essential oils.


One thing about soapmaking is that there is no instant gratification in this hobby.  Once the soaps are made, they must undergo a time of “curing” which can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks, depending on the oils used.  I have a few curing right now and can’t wait to feel their smooth lathery bubbles in a few more weeks.  I’m also excited to compare and contrast the resulting products of the various oils and butter combinations. It’s one thing to see the values on paper or on an online soapmaking calculator, but a whole other thing to actually feel the difference on your skin.  I’ll keep you all updated for sure.


Best of all I feel great that I’m using the purest, most natural soap for my family. Saponified organic oils/ butters and  pure essential oils…it doesn’t get any more pure than that!



Any soapmaking friends care to share your favorite oils/butters/fats to use?  Please share here.




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