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Okay, this stemmed from hubby's love and adoration for spendy soap. Sometimes I really do think he has a gay man (or a girl) in there trying to get out. He doesn't like chemical smells, and to be fair certain things irritate his skin, so he gets picky about soap. The idea of making my own soap always intimidated me. It just seemed so involved and technical and potentially dangerous. But seriously, about $3-4 a bar?

Well, back when I was using StumbleUpon!, I got into crafty links. I found this woman's lovely and simple soap recipe, which promised to soften even winter-dry skin. It sounded too good to be true. Lots of things make that claim.

We made the cold-process soap the first time, which takes weeks and weeks to cure out the lye (and that's after the relatively precise and complicated assembly of it), and now you begin to see why spendy soap is spendy. The soap, however, turned out well worth the wait. Our fragrance and additive choices (sandalwood blend oil and cinnamon) yielded a lovely scent and the tiniest bit of exfoliation. Gorgeous. After a few days, I noticed my elbows were softer, and after a while longer, my dry, scratchy heels. No soap has ever done that for me unless I spent $4 on Olay ultra-supergood moisturizing lotion ribbon stuff.

Alas, the soap disappeared much faster than other kinds, and not to mention that we were so excited about it that we were making gifts of it.

Unwilling to wait weeks for more, I decided to make hot process soap. In hot process, the lye is cured out by cooking, so as soon as it is cooled and set, it can be used. Now, as Tina Jiang points out:

Hot process soap making has other advantages over cold process as well. For one, it requires less fragrance oil, since it's added after the soap has become neutral and it's no longer affected by lye. Also, if you are adding oatmeal/almond meal/corn meal or any additives that may settle to the bottom of cold process soap mixture, they will stay well mixed in hot process soap. There are also disadvantages - the texture of hot process soap can be spongy depending on the amount of water added, and usually is less fine than that of cold process soap. Sometimes hot process soaps have a marbled look without any colorants added (could be good or bad depending on what you had in mind). Also it's harder to fill smaller molds with freshly cooked hot process soap due to its thick and goopy consistency (needs to be scooped with a spatula rather than poured) - if not packed firmly the finished soap may have holes on the surfaces.

So. Now I can say I've done both. While the soap cools, I shall give you hot process soap. I used her original recipe for cold process to make this; hot process seems to have a wider margin for error, so that's okay--any cold process recipe can be used for hot process soap, though I did double check my lye measurement with a calculator. One site I looked at suggests you run lye calculations even if you find a complete recipe online. Sounds like good advice.

A note about lye: we read on Tina's site that there are brands of plumbing lye that can be used, but we were unable to find any locally. I would recommend going/logging on to a soapmaking supply retailer and buying lye from them. This is something I wouldn't want to screw around with, and plumbing products can contain things like metal shards, colorants, etc. that DO NOT GO IN SOAP. So just don't go there. We are using sodium hydroxide; there is also potassium hydroxide. If you go with the potassium version, use a lye calculator to double check.

Other than the lye, everything can be obtained at a health food or grocery store. In fact, the reason we started with this recipe is that other than the lye and distilled water, we had everything on hand. Being a geeky, foodie packrat DOES have its advantages!


  • Safety glasses

  • long sleeves/pants/shoes you don't mind potentially wrecking

  • rubber gloves

  • pyrex measuring cups or bowls, preferably 4-cup

  • a kitchen scale with a tare/zero function

  • a kitchen thermometer, preferably digital/instant read

  • muffin tins (if they're silicone, you do not want to use them for food after this because silicone picks up flavors/fragrances and this is seriously going to impact the smell/taste of food baked in there in the future), Bundt pan, wax paper- or parchment-lined cookie sheet, 13x9 glass pan, etc. etc. for setting the soap

  • silicone spatula you can dedicate to soapmaking. I will use a Bundt pan next time; I think that would make lovely bars.

  • stainless steel spoon for stirring the water and lye

  • a knife for cutting the soap once it's cold and set (if you used other than the muffin tins to mold the soap)

  • a stainless steel stick blender or a plastic one you can dedicate to the soapmaking

  • a large slow cooker

Ingredients by WEIGHT, not volume:

  • 12 oz distilled water

  • 4.5 oz lye (sodium hydroxide)

  • 20 oz olive oil

  • 12 oz coconut oil

  • 1 oz castor oil

  • 2 tbsp fragrance oil of your choice (I used a blend called Love Potion, which is jasmine/sandalwood)

  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tbsp ground coriander

1. Don your gear.

2. Put your 4-cup Pyrex on the scale and tare it out. Pour your 20 oz olive oil; tare out. Spoon in the coconut oil to 12 oz, tare out. Measure in your castor oil. Put in microwave until the oils are warm and the coconut fat is melted.

3. Meanwhile, measure out your 12 oz water and SLOWLY add LYE TO WATER while stirring.

NEVER EVER add the water to the lye; you will end up with an explosion or boilover.

The lye and water mixture will get hot. It's important for your oils and your lye water to be within about 20 degrees of each other when you mix them; that's where the thermometer comes in. You're wanting a range of about 90-110 degrees F.

4. Pour your oils into the slow cooker and turn it on low; stir in the lye water.

5. Stick blender time: you could spend up to an hour mixing by hand, so stick blending really is the best option. You want to blend until you have reached "trace," which means when you pull the blender out, the dribbles coming off the blender will leave patterns on the soap rather than disappearing into it. It will be the consistency of thick gravy. This could take anywhere from a couple of minutes to around ten.

6. At this point, you could pour your soap into molds or a capped, parchment-lined PVC pipe like we did the first time. This would be the end of your soap adventure for today; you would have cold process soap in about four weeks. If you want it today, keep going:

7. Cover your cooker and let it go for about 15 minutes. At that time, stir your soap with the silicone spatula. It might have separated; that's okay, just stir it all back together. Cover again.

8. Stir again. My process didn't look anything like Tina's photographs. What you'll ultimately get after several cycles of 20 minute increments of heating and stirring is a movement from the consistency of applesauce to mashed potatoes to the beginnings of translucence and a similiarity to Vaseline. Many sites have indicated that you can test for doneness by pulling out a small bit, letting it cool and then sticking the end of your tongue on it. If it zaps you like a 9-volt battery, it's not done yet, so cook for another 20 minutes.

9. Once your mixture has saponified, spoon it into your mold and smooth out as much as you can. You need to work quickly, as it begins to solidify fast, and it develops a skin that makes it hard to get a cohesive bar when you add more. And then? Done! Let your bars cool and if you used one giant mold rather than small muffin cups, cut with a sharp knife. Tina says if you want a harder, longer-lasting bar, wait a couple of weeks, but to my mind that defeats the purpose of making hot process soap in the first place.

This seems like such a complicated mess, but once you've done it, it gets easy. It's no more anxiety-ridden than a good, complicated dish, and the end result is a lovely, fragrant bar that is excellent for your skin and completely natural. No parabens, no crazy smells, no weird colorants. Have fun and enjoy your new hobby. I dare you to try to quit doing it.


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