Soap Making 101: Instructions, Tips and Warnings

This soap is a pleasure to give – and to receive.


STEP 1: Dissolve 12 oz. lye in 32 oz. softened water in a plastic or glass bowl. If at all possible, do this outside or under an exhaust fan.

STEP 2: Add the lye to the water, not vice versa. Pour the lye slowly and in a steady stream, and stir constantly with a plastic spoon.

STEP 3: Set the mixture aside to cool. The mixture will heat up considerably due to the lye reacting with fats in the oils. This is called saponification.

STEP 4: Melt 24 oz. coconut oil and 38 oz. solid vegetable shortening in a stainless steel pot.

STEP 5: Add 25 oz. olive oil (not virgin) and any fragrance oils you want to use.

STEP 6: Allow the oils to cool.

STEP 7: Grease the soap mold with Crisco.

STEP 8: When both the oil and lye mixtures have cooled to room temperature, slowly combine them, adding the lye to the oils.

STEP 9: Stir slowly and constantly. If you see bubbles, stir more slowly.

STEP 10: Drizzle the soap into the pot once in a while. When it keeps its shape momentarily before sinking into the rest of the mix (tracing), it’s time to add whatever extras you want.

STEP 11: Stir your botanicals, grains and coloring into a cup of soap taken from the mix.

STEP 12: Combine that back into the original mixture.

STEP 13: Pour the soap into the mold.

STEP 14: Wrap the mold in a towel and leave it undisturbed for 18 hours. The soap mixture will heat up and then cool down. Avoid uncovering it until it’s cooled.

STEP 15: Allow the soap to sit in the uncovered mold for another 12 hours.

STEP 16: Loosen the sides by wiggling the mold a little.

STEP 17: Turn the mold over onto a clean counter.

STEP 18: Cut the soap into bars with a knife. Some people use a miter box to make square corners.

STEP 19: Allow the bars to cure for three to four weeks before using. Smaller bars cure faster than larger ones.


STEP 1: Mix candle coloring into the oil solution. If it’s wax-based, melt it first in a couple of tablespoons of oil and then add it to the rest of the oil mix.

STEP 2: Realize that you can also use crayons for coloring. Experiment with colors. Note that purples are very difficult to keep true.

STEP 3: Use 1 tsp. per pound of soap of the following ingredients: cocoa powder for brown, cayenne pepper for pink-peach, liquid chlorophyll for light green, turmeric for yellow, paprika for peach and titanium dioxide for white.

STEP 4: Use 1 oz. essential oil to scent a 4-lb. batch of soap.

STEP 5: Know that 2 tsp. ground cloves makes a great-smelling soap. Try grated orange or lemon peel or ginger, too.

STEP 6: Use rose water instead of regular water for rose soap.

STEP 7: Oatmeal makes a great complexion soap. Use 8 oz.

STEP 8: Add 4 oz. cornmeal for a gritty texture.

STEP 9: Make soap with 1/2 oz. geranium oil for dry skin.

STEP 10: Use tea tree oil – 1/2 oz. – for problem skin.

Tips & Warnings

Hard water is difficult to work with. Use distilled bottled water.

Soap colored with liquid food coloring tends to fade.

Be aware that leaves and flower petals will go brown from the heat.

Don’t wash your soap-making supplies in the dishwasher, or you’ll be cleaning your kitchen floor as well.

Keep a cup or two of vinegar handy in case you get lye on your skin.

Lye is wickedly caustic. Always wear eye protection and gloves when using it.

Never use aluminum with lye.

Use Red Devil lye, not Drano.

Don’t use containers or utensils used for mixing lye solutions for anything else.

Cinnamon causes allergic reactions in some people and should probably be avoided.

Add lye to water. If you add water to lye, it could react by splashing and burning you. Add the lye slowly.

Ensure that the lye mixture and the oil mixture are the same temperature and at room temperature before combining the two.

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