I haven't bought soap for my family in years. No, we're not on some weird anti-soap campaign. I simply make it myself. It's been so much better for my family's sensitive skin. Plus, it's a lot of fun.
Once I finally took the leap and decided to try my hand at making my own soap, I realized how much I'd been missing out. It isn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, and because I choose everything that goes into it, I can ensure that it's safe for my family.
If you aren't familiar with the process of making cold process soap, I highly recommend that you read my post on basic soap making first. It will help you understand the basics and become familiar with the process. This post will focus on the recipe for this particular soap, not on the soap making process itself.
I put a lot of thought into each ingredient I put into my soap, I choose herbs that are beneficial to our skin. When I select oils, I choose ones that are not only good for the skin but also good for the soap. In the basic soap making post above, you can read more about why oil choice is important to making a successful batch of soap.
Ingredients for lemon balm and lavender soap:
1/4 cup of dried lemon balm (cut leaves) for herbal tea
1/4 cup of dried lavender flowers for herbal tea
16 ounces of boiling water for herbal tea
6 ounces of sweet almond oil (mine was infused with lemon balm following this method)
4 ounces of avocado oil
8 ounces of coconut oil
3 ounces of meadowfoam oil
11 ounces of olive oil
4.31 to 4.45 ounces of lye (sodium hydroxide)
Note: Remember that the tea will be measured in fluid ounces, but the lye and oils are measured by weight on a digital kitchen scale.
I chose lemon balm and lavender because both of these herbs are soothing to the skin. They won't leave much, if any, of a smell in the finished product. If you would like your soap to have a scent, I'd recommend adding some lavender essential oil at trace. I don't recommend adding any citrus essential oils as they can be phototoxic, meaning they can cause your skin to burn in the sunlight.
Note: Please do research on essential oil safety before you use them, as even though they are natural, this does not automatically equate to safe for all uses. I have a great post on essential oils for beginners that you can view here. Also, because of the heat generated by saponification and the flashpoints of the essential oils, it takes more than you might think to add scent to your soap, and that can get pricy.
I chose sweet almond oil because it is great for dry skin and it produces a stable lather in the end product. Avocado oil is great for sensitive skin, which all my family members have. Coconut oil helps make a hard bar of soap with a nice, creamy lather. Meadowfoam oil can help increase the shelf life of the soap, and olive oil also helps make a harder bar.
If you're not sure what supplies you'll need to make your soap, please see my previous post, "Basic Cold Process Soap Recipe." This will help guide you in the right direction. A few additional supplies you'll want to have on hand for this recipe include:
A glass heat-proof container, like a mason jar, to make the herbal tea
A fine mesh strainer to strain the herbs from the tea
A measuring cup for the tea (this does not need to be a special cup for soap making)
The first thing you'll want to do is make a strong herbal tea with the dried herbs. This is a simple process. Simply place the dried herbs into a glass heat-proof container (I use a quart-sized mason jar) and pour 16 ounces of boiling water over them. Stir them and place a lid or cover over the jar's top to steep. I use a small saucer for this.
It will take a little while for the tea to steep. Since you want this tea to be much stronger than you would if you were drinking it, you need to let it steep much longer. I let mine cool back down to near room temperature. This usually takes about two hours. Doing this also keeps the temperature of the lye solution down slightly, allowing you to mix it with the oils sooner.
Once the tea has steeped and cooled, strain the herbs out with a fine mesh strainer. You can strain the liquid into the measuring cup. For this recipe, you will need to reserve eight to twelve ounces of tea. I like to split the difference and use ten ounces.
Pour the herbal tea into the glass jar you'll use to make your lye solution. Carefully measure the lye and slowly add it to the tea. Remember, NEVER add water to lye, always add lye to the water (or any liquid). Stir this carefully with your soap making spoon and set it aside in a safe place to cool. You don't want to put it where children or animals could get into it.
It could take a little while for the solution to come back down to within the necessary range. Lye solutions can reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit or greater. For me, it usually takes at least half an hour for the lye solution to come back down to between 100 and 125 degrees.
The photos below show my measured lye (left), the solution as I began to mix it (center), and the temperature right after mixing it (right). You can see that it's nearly 200 degrees. This step should always involve great care to avoid injury to yourself or anyone else.
Next, measure each of your oils one at a time and place them all into your soap pot. Heat them over low heat on the stovetop until they're all warm and melted. This usually only takes four or five minutes.
Remove them from the heat and allow them to come back down to between 100 and 125 degrees. Monitor the temperatures of both solutions with an infrared thermometer (or two candy thermometers).
Once both your lye solution and your oils have come back down to between 100 and 125 degrees, it's time to combine them. Slowly and carefully pour the lye solution into the pot with the oils and stir them with the spoon to combine.
Using an immersion blender, you will mix the soap batter until it reaches trace. To do this, turn the blender on (making sure it's fully submerged to prevent splattering) and mix for 15 to 30 seconds; then turn it off and stir the batter manually with the head of the blender for 15 to 30 seconds. Continue this pattern until trace is reached.
Below, the images show the soap batter at various phases until it reaches traces. At the top left, I've just begun to mix it. At top right is an image of the batter about one minute into mixing. Both bottom pictures show the soap at trace. Note the designs I am able to "trace" into the batter.
Once your soap has traced, you can pour it into its mold. I always like to cover my soap batter with a piece of parchment paper to keep the lid from sticking the top of the soap after it hardens. This is not a fun thing to pry apart!
Once your soap is in the mold, wrap it in a blanket or some towels to retain heat and leave it alone for a few hours. After two to three hours have passed, you can carefully unwrap it and check its progress. It should be thickening and beginning to look like soap. Just be sure to wrap it back up.
It may have gone through gel phase, so all or part of it might be shinier than it was. Whether or not the soap goes through gel phase won't affect the end result. Gel phase gives the soap a more translucent look, but it does not change your soap's cleaning properties. This batch did go through gel phase, and in fact, the blanket was still warm to the touch the next morning!
Cover the soap back up and set the mold somewhere safe to cure. This will need to be an area where it won't be disturbed by family members or pets. How long it needs to cure depends on the temperature and your unique batch of soap. I can usually unmold my batches the next day, after about 24 hours have passed. However, I have had it take a few weeks. Don't rush this part; soap will unmold when it's ready. You'll know it's ready when the sides of the mold peel away from the soap easily.
A quick note on this batch of soap: It took three weeks for me to feel comfortable unmolding this soap. It just didn't want to harden. Even then, I put it in the refrigerator for a few hours before I unmolded it to cut it. I'm not sure if it is the fact that the place I set it to cure is warmer than usual since it's summer, or if this was just a stubborn batch. Either way, it's a perfect example of having to be patient with it.
Once you've unmolded the soap, cut it into bars of your desired size and thickness, then set them on end to dry. If you have an extra wire cooling rack for baking, this would be best. If not, no worries, just make sure you turn the bars every few days to encourage even and complete drying.
Below you can see how I cut my soap. I use an herb and vegetable chopping tool that I got at Dollar Tree. It's got a ruler along the edge, so I can measure the bars to one inch thick. In the far right picture, you can see the soap set on cookie racks to dry. This is inside a spare cabinet, so it's out of the way and won't be bothered as it sits for the next six weeks.
That's it, you've got soap! Now you just need to let it cure for roughly six weeks. Again, be patient. Rushing this and using the bars too soon could cause skin irritation, and it will also lead to a soft bar that doesn't last very long.
If you're comfortable making soap, you could use additives such as oats, cosmetic clays, or essential oils in this recipe easily. Play with it and make it your own. If you do make changes, please share them with me. I'd love to give them a shot!