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Making Cold Process Bar Soap From Scratch

It's not a big mystery, just simple chemistry. Soap is simply the result of combining a caustic agent (lye) using a liquid carrier (such as water, milk, tea) with fats and oils. All recipes are listed by Weight and not volume. An accurate scale is a must in soap making.

Basic Supplies
Supplies Lye Solution Container Stainless Steel Pot Stick Blender

Oils, lye, stainless steel pot, bowls to measure oils, bowl to measure lye, bowl to measure liquid, stick blender, recipe, rubber gloves, eye goggles, apron.

Fats and Oils:
Measured Solid Oils Any types of fats and oils can be used to make soap, different oils and fats will lend different characteristics to your final soap. Each fat has a saponification (SAP) value. Simply put, each fat needs a different amount of lye to convert the fat into soap. There are a number of SAP & fatty acid tables available on the web as well as lye calculators. If you are using solid fats such as palm oil, coconut oil, lard, tallow or others, be sure to melt these before adding the lye solution. Shown is Lard and Palm Kernel oil.

Liquid Carrier:
Frozen Cream and Aloe Juice You can use water, milks, herbal teas, or hydrosols. The purpose of the liquid is to disperse the lye throughout the oils and fats. Your liquid should be between 25%-38% of your total fats and oils by weight. I suggest you use the higher end of the scale (38%) until you are familiar with how your particular soap recipe acts. If you are using milk, teas or hydrosols, I recommend you freeze it for better results. Adding lye to thawed milk can result in it burning. The milk turning a bright yellow or orange is a good indication of burnt milk. This does not make the soap unusable, but it will be dark in color.

To the left is cream and aloe vera juice blended with aloe vera leaves frozen in zipper-type bags.

Lye damaged eye

Lye:This is the caustic agent used in making soap. NaOH or Sodium Hydroxide is sold under various commercial names in the plumbing department of hardware and big box stores.
Be absolutely certain you buy only lye that states 100% Sodium Hydroxide on the label.
NaOH is used to make bar soaps. KOH or Potassium Hydroxide is used in making liquid soaps, but this is a separate discussion. PLEASE USE EYE PROTECTION WHEN WORKING WITH LYE. PRESCRIPTION GLASSES AREN'T ENOUGH. Accidents happen all the time and it only takes a split second for permanent damage to occur.

Stainless Steel Pot Lye is a very strong base and it is very dangerous when improperly used. Take precaution when using lye. Using eye protection and rubber gloves is recommended. If you get a little on your skin, you should dilute it by flushing the area with copious amount of water. Do NOT use vinegar, as this will cause a chemical burn! Better yet, protect yourself! Lye can reacts to some metals, Never use aluminum!. Only use stainless steel (pictured to the left), non-chipped enamel, glass, or heavy plastic containers.

Frozen Goat's Milk and Lye Dissolve your lye in cold liquid in a large container. Always pour your lye into the liquid and not the other way around. You will want the temperature of your lye solution to be between 75*-130* F before mixing with your fats and oils. Make sure your lye is thoroughly dissolved. Un-dissolved pieces of lye will end up in your soap and burn your skin. The picture to the left shows lye being incorporated with frozen cream and frozen Jersey cow's milk.

Frozen Cream, Aloe Juice and Lye To the left is frozen cream and frozen Aloe Vera juice being used with lye. For my milk soaps, I dump the lye in 3 equal portions, stirring well between 'dumps' and using the stick blender after the final 'dump' to break up the remaining frozen milk and fully incorporation the lye. Pour immediately into the waiting oils so the milk/lye solution does not heat up!

If your recipe does not state a temperature a temperature of 95* to 125* F is fine for your oils.

Combining & Saponification
Your fats and oils should be about the same temperature as your lye solution, unless you are making a milk soap. The more solid oils you use, the higher temperature you will need. Saponification is the term used for the chemical reaction that takes place between the lye solution and your fats. It starts to take place when you first combine the two and ends between 12-96 hours later depending if you encourage the exothermic (heat producing) reaction by insulating your soap or retard it by placing it in a cold environment.

Pouring lye solution into oils. Slowly pour your lye solution into your fats and oils in a steady stream with continuous stirring. You should start to see the mixture get grainy as the oils react to the lye solution. Keep stirring. Your goal is to achieve trace. Shown is the cream and lye based solution being poured into your oils. I should be mixing as I pour but I ran out of hands!

Mixing Oils I separate trace into 3 stages. Light trace is when your soon to be soap starts to emulsify and thicken up. You can see trails left from your spoon or stick blender. These trails will quickly disappear. Medium trace is when the soap mixture is thick enough you can dribble soap onto the surface of the soap and it stays on top before disappearing. Heavy trace is when your soap mixture becomes very thick! (You can also experience something called a seize when you add a fragrance oil that accelerates trace. This is different from a heavy trace, as it looks more like mashed potatoes!)
Stick Blender Stirring by hand can take hours, I highly recommend using a stick blender (pictured) commonly used for mixing drinks. Use your stick blender off and on with hand stirring other wise you can burn out the motor in your stick blender.

In the mold!
When your soap has reached 'trace' it is time to add your goodies, if you so desire. Your goodies could be extra oil for emollient purposes, scents, colors or botanicals.

Natural Colors for Soap

When scenting your soap, be sure to use only fragrances approved for use on skin. Potpourri is not suitable! Listed at the bottom are some web sites that sell fragrance oils and essential oils for soap making.

Molds Almost anything that will hold your soap mixture is a candidate for a soap mold! From a garbage bag lined shoe box to a Pringles can all the way to intricate Milky Way Molds. As long as the mold is not aluminum and the opening is not smaller than the bottom, it is a possible soap mold. Pour your soap into your molds, cover with plastic wrap, wax paper, cardboard or something similar. Wrap with blankets or towels to insulate or place in refrigerator to retard saponification.
Unmolding & Curing:
Drying Rack Your soap will be ready for un-molding and cutting in 8-72 hours. It really depends on the oils you use. If you soap does not release from the mold easily, give it another 12 hours. Cut your soap when it is unmolded and set it on a rack for 3 - 6 weeks to cure. (**Note: The difference in cure time can be traced back to the amount of liquid used in your lye solution. Don't be mistaken that soap made with hot process doesn't need to be cured! Hot process only speeds the saponification.) This cure time is needed for the water to evaporate out of the bar, making it harder and longer lasting. Fragrances that seem to disappear during the saponification process may again reappear. Lather is greater the longer the soap dries.
Miscellaneous Ramblings:
  • Always use a scale to weigh your ingredients.
  • Always double-check every recipe with a reputable lye calculator, some are listed below.
  • Always take precautions when handling lye.
  • Be sure to record your exact recipe used and such items as how much additives were used. This comes in handy if a recipe does not turn out the way your expected or if you have created the "ultimate soap", you will want to be able to repeat it!
  • CrockPot Cold Process for Milk Soaps

If your soap did not turn out, do not throw it away! Every batch of soap can be reclaimed in some way. Please email if you need help!

Links to get you started
Fatty Acid Tables: SAP Tables
Kathy Miller's Oil Properties Kathy Miller's soap pages
(*You will need Adobe Reader to access this)

Lye Calculators:
Natural Colorants:
===> SOAP CALC <=== My personal favorite!
MMS - Majestic Mountain Sage
From Nature With Love

Muller's Lane Farm
Essential & Fragrance Oil suppliers: Fragrance & Essential Oil suppliers:
Majestic Mountain Sage (aka MMS)
New Directions Aromatics
Bulk Apothecary

Mountain Rose Herbs
Appalachian Valley Natural Products
General Soaping Supplies: Good Soaping Links!
Soapers Choice ~ aka Columbus Foods
- Majestic Mountain Sage
From Nature With Love
Wholesale Supplies Plus
Facebook Tallow Soapers!
Kelsie Molds (the ones I use!)

Join me on Facebook at Tallow Soapers!

How to hand calculate a soap recipe:

To hand calculate Lye & water amounts based on oils used:

  1. Select amount of oils to use:
    Olive Oil 24 oz
    Lard 24 oz
    Palm Kernel Oil 15 oz
    Sunflower Seed Oil 10 oz
  2. Multiply amount of oil by corresponding NaOH SAP value
    Olive Oil 24 * .134 = 3.2 oz
    Lard 24 * .138 = 3.3 oz
    Palm Kernel Oil 15 * .175 = 2.6 oz
    Sunflower Seed Oil 10 * .134 = 1.3 oz
  3. Add the calculated amounts together
    3.2 + 3.3 + 2.6 + 1.3 = 10.4

    This is the total amount of lye needed to fully saponify your soap. You will want to take a discount of your lye amount so your soap is "superfatted", meaning some of the good oils are left in your soap to moisturize your skin. Normal "superfatting" or lye discounting is 3-10% with the norm being 5-7%. There are two methods of achieving this. First is to total the amount of oil used (24 + 24 + 15 + 10 = 73) and calculate your superfat percentage (let's say 7%) 73 * .07 = 5.1. You can add 5.1 oz of an oil after you reach trace to superfat. The second method is to take a lye discount. Using the total amount of lye you calculated, apply your discount percent, we'll use 7% again (10.4 * .07 = .7) Subtract this amount from the calculated lye amount and use this new figure 10.4 - .7 = 9.7 oz.

  4. To calculate the amount of water to use, multiply the total amount of oils by .3 to .4, in other words, for our example recipe, liquid in the amount of 21.9oz to 29.2 oz would work fine.
  5. Please email me if you have any questions about soap making or are in need of supplies!

Soap Recipes
Sorry these are not the recipes I am currently using in my line of soaps!

3# Basic Soap
(copyright Cyndi Muller 2000)
  • 14 oz. olive oil
  • 14 oz. coconut oil
  • 14 oz. Lard
  • 6 oz. Sunflower Seed
  • 16 oz. cold water
  • 6.8 oz. lye crystals
  • 1.5 - 2 oz Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil of choice
  • Oils and water/lye temperatures between 90 to 130 degrees
3# Classic Soap
(copyright Cyndi Muller 2000)
  • 16 oz. olive oil
  • 16 oz. coconut oil
  • 16 oz. lard
  • 16 oz. cold water
  • 6.99 oz. lye crystals
  • 1.5 - 2 oz Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil of choice
  • Oils and water/lye temperatures between 90 to 130 degrees
3# Cocoa Butter Delight
(copyright Cyndi Muller 2000)
  • 12 oz Lard
  • 12 oz Olive
  • 9 oz Coconut
  • 10 oz Cocoa Butter
  • 5 oz Sunflower Seed
  • 16 oz cold water
  • 6.67 oz lye crystals
  • 1.5 - 2 oz Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil of choice
  • Temps: Water/Lye 100-110 degrees / Oils 120-130 degrees
3# Grocery Store Soap
(copyright Cyndi Muller 2000)
  • 14 oz Lard
  • 14 oz Olive
  • 11 oz Corn Oil
  • 7 oz "creamed" shortening (make sure ingredients say animal fat used)
  • 2 oz Castor
  • 16 oz cold water
  • 6.3 oz lye crystals
  • 1.5 - 2 oz Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil of choice
  • Oils and water/lye temperatures between 90 to 130 degrees.
3# Lathering All-Vegetable
(copyright Cyndi Muller 2000)
  • 14 oz coconut oil
  • 14 oz olive oil
  • 10 oz canola oil
  • 10 oz palm oil
  • 16 oz cold water
  • 6.8 oz lye crystals
  • 1.5 - 2 oz Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil of choice
  • Oils and water/lye temperatures between 90 to 130 degrees
3# Hog Wash (Laundry/Cleaning Soap)
(copyright Cyndi Muller 2002)
  • 24 oz Coconut or Palm Kernel Oil
  • 24 oz Lard
  • 16 ounces cold water
  • 7.5 ounces lye crystals
  • 4.5 - 6 oz (combined weight) Sweet Orange Essential Oil & Rosemary Essential Oil
  • Oils and water/lye temperatures between 120 to130 degrees
3# Pine Tar Soap
(copyright 2002 Muller's Lane Farm)
  • 24.0 oz Olive oil
  • 19.2 oz Lard
  • 4.8 oz Pine Tar
  • 14.6 oz liquid (I like frozen milk)
  • 5.8 ounces lye crystals
  • Oils and water/lye temperatures between 90 to 130 degrees




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