Honestly? The whole dang shop should be in your first order. Remember? I’ve got an entire room, eating area, TV room and the only place actually safe these days from this hobby is my bedroom. And it’s been stolen by boxes and moving stuff. So really. I’m the worst person to ask. And don’t ask any of my DIY buddies as we are the worst enablers of all time. But I am going to try to put my insatiable need for more more more- oh look! New ingredients!- and give you only the ingredients I think work the best in soap. I’ve been soaping for almost nine or ten years now, and have used these ingredients for the past three. The people who knew me way back when that I gifted soap to always said my soap was amazing. And it was. Compared to commercial soap. But. Those old bars hold no candle to the soap I currently make. Those same people when they see me ask for gifts of soap as their own presents from China. Yeah. I’m one of those people who travel to visit their families across a friggen ocean and half my suitcase is soaps.
Hey you! Random foreigner walking down the street. Are you going to American or Canada anytime soon? Can you take some of my stash with you? My friends and family are requesting product!
We’re going to Ireland in a few weeks so we are sitting down placing some orders from various shops around the EU and I’m worse than a kid at Costco, “Holy sweet mother of coffee beans! They have Crothix!” “Dear Spatula Goddess, you sent me a shop that has polyquats! Now I can finally make that hair recipe Marie’s gone on about!” And everything is in English. It is amazing! And so easy! The hard part, is figuring out the amounts to buy of each product. Lowest amounts. Low. Low. Low amounts. But we’ll discuss that later. Today is all about soaping!
In this post, we will already assume you have read and have all your equipment you need. We won’t be talking about recipes… yet. That really does come later once you’ve figured out some stuff. This post is just your shopping list to be able to make some simple (but awesome!!) soaps somewhat cost effectively so you can get a feel for the process and how it all works. Soaping can be somewhat dangerous if you don’t respect your ingredients, and if you are playing with various pours and swirls, you want to know a little of what is in store for you. In terms of what your soap may or may not do. Blend too much? It gets too thick. Don’t blend enough? Your soap separates and is ruined. Add the wrong ingredient at the wrong time in the wrong way, and your soap accelerates to the point where you can’t do anything by pray to the soap gods that it will turn out.
But by taking it slow, making a practice batch or ten, playing with your ratios, your liquids and their amounts, you are ahead of the game. But by jove listen to me when I say this…. KEEP IT SMALL SILLY! The DIY’er version of the other KISS.
The soaping community is a fun loving, soap porn/picture sharing community. A word of advice? Every soaper out there will tell you the same thing. And when everyone tells you the same thing, listen. And I’m serious about this. Listen. And if you don’t, very soon you’ll end up thinking the way we do; eventually. I mean you can do what almost all of us have done when we started, totally ignore seasoned soapers and decide that you will be learning from your own mistakes. It’s the much more expensive route, and much more fun…. and exactly what I did when I began soaping, but I have a fantastic excuse. I had no access to YouTube and most of the internet as I was trapped behind The Great Firewall of China. And some of my bulk ingredients were ridiculously cheap.
And that is part of the reason I created this post for you. It’s simple, pretty easy and you can get everything I’ve listed pretty cheaply, from one supplier too! You need not worry about messing up a recipe, because the ingredients were not expensive. And even when you cut your soap, you may or may not get the most beautiful bar, it might look like a hunk of fudge, but it will still be an amazing bar of soap.
You’ll notice that each fat, oil or butter will list a range. And that is because, that’s the fun in soaping. Creating and learning to create a soap that you like. I could sit here and give you the hundreds of soap recipes I’ve tried over the years, but you may or may not find them good. Everyone’s skin is different, everyone has a different kind of bathing water, some people want soap as hard as bricks whilst others want one that is a little softer. Some want their soaps with cocoa butter, whilst others want it with lard. Some want it with olive oil and others refuse to use anything with olive oil. It is all about finding out which soap recipe works best for you. What is important to know about these, is that it these are general guidelines. These guidelines are meant to be observed while you are starting out to get an idea of how to do things. But once you are a comfortable soaper? GO CRAZY!
New Soapers Buying Rules to Follow:
- Don’t use or buy any expensive, exotic or luxury oils until you’ve made a few batches and have allowed them to cure and have used them so you know what to expect from soaping. Once you’ve used your soap after a suitable cure/age time (I suggest six weeks), that will help you to figure out what your soap needs more of, or less of.
- Drool over those luxury and exotic oils and their descriptions all you want while you get comfortable soaping.
And that is about it. Fragrance oils all will act differently in your soap. I made soap with vanilla fragrance oil the other week for the first time in my life, the website I bought it from said will heavily accelerate trace. I’m standing there blending and blending waiting for trace to happen and it is just not happening. It took so long to get that batch of soap to even thicken slightly! If I were a new soaper, I’d be wicked worried I did something wrong as it wasn’t thickening up. And then there is the salt bar soap fiasco. I can give you hundreds of stories where someone out there said that this or this would happen whilst making a specific type of soap, and the exact opposite happens. Everything will play a part in how your soap sets up. Climate, temperature, even your ingredients and where your supplier gets them from.
So take everything, including what I say about soaping with a grain of salt. Learn from your experience and write it all down. What works for one, won’t work for another. And may or may not work for you. And that is the crazy part of soaping. And the joy.
If you take nothing else but this paragraph away with you when you begin your soaping journey, start small.
And never ever ever put lavender buds in your soap. They really do look like mouse turds!
So what should be in your first cart? As I mentioned above, we are assuming that you already have all your equipment to make soap. So let’s begin our list:
- SAFETY gear. I like my surgical gloves as they are a pretty colour. And they protect my hands from the soap and lye. I like to look down and say oh la la I have purpley blue hands! Or pink. Or purple. Or black. I really want green ones. Don’t forget about eye protection too. And an apron to protect your clothes. And closed toe shoes. Ask me how I know about closed toe shoes and soaping!
- Lye: Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH)
- Refined Coconut Oil
- Pomace Olive Oil
- Shea Butter
- A hard butter or animal fats
- Castor Oil
- Distilled water
And that is honestly about it. From these ingredients, you can make a fantastic bar of soap and alter your recipe in many ways to find a great base recipe. Let’s go through each one, where we will talk about what it does in soap, and how much I would suggest buying your first time around.
Lye: Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) 500g
You cannot make cold processed soap without this one very important ingredient. Without this ingredient you are going to get mush. And mould. And a gross smelling pile of mess. And a large waste of money. It is the ingredient that converts oils into soap. Without this ingredient, cold process soap is impossible. Let me say that again, it is impossible to make cold process or hot process soap without lye. Yes, it is a dangerous and it is found in many drain cleaners, or you’ll read about it being used as an industrial cleanser, but it is the chemical that saponifies out fats, oils and butters to make what we know and love: soap.
The soaping process begins immediately once your mix your lye solution with your fats/oils. You’ll find your soap begin to thicken up after some mixing, and that is the magic. You pour, leave your soap in a mould for a day or two, unmould and cut. Your stash is now soap. You’re first few batches you will be there feeling up your bars of soap enjoying the look, and admiring and patting yourself on the back. You’ll find each time you touch them, they get harder and harder. And after about two to seven days, there is no longer any lye left in your soap. It has evaporated with the water. And all that is left behind, is salt. Oh yeah! Salt.
One more time;
You cannot make soap without lye
If you hear about people making soap without lye, it is a joke. They are making MP (melt and pour) soap.
Coconut Oil (refined): 1kg
Use: 1-100% Generally 20-30%
Purpose: produces a hard bar, large fluffy bubbles
Property in soap: has the potential to be an overly energetic cleanser when used in high amounts, white soap, I use it as a filler and for it’s hardening properties. And that’s all I use it for. To help give me a harder bar of soap which means longer lasting.
Yup. I am actually saying buy refined coconut oil here. And use it ONLY in soap. Refined coconut oil still possesses some of the amazing qualities as virgin coconut oil in soap. You’ll still get the hardening factor, you’ll still get your lovely bar. Used usually at 20-30% to impart a nice hard bar of bubbly soap. There is no reason to use virgin coconut oil in your soap. The smell does not survive the saponification process (the soap making process). So you’d just be watching those extra dollars go down the drain every day. Refined. It’s all you need.
Pomace Olive Oil: 1kg
Use: 1-100% Generally, 20-30%
Purpose: When I use olive oil, it is mostly as a liquid filler to be honest and for marketing appeal. It will help to create a wicked hard bar of soap, in time. Which means a longer lasting bar.
Property: I’ve not really noticed any truly distinctive properties to be honest with you other than creating a hard bar of soap.
Ah. Pure olive oil soap, Castile soap. How disappointed I am in you. I do feel you suck as a soap, no matter how long I’ve cured you for. You are overly drying and you produce a snot like lather, which is why I call you the “Snot Soap”. But, you do serve your purpose in soap. You allow my soap to be pourable even with all the hard oils and butter I add into you. You help to produce a nice hard bar of soap even when I use you at 20%. But, other than these two worthwhile mentions, there are much better alternatives for moisturising, and skin loving oils than olive oil.
As I mentioned, I use olive oil simply as a filler in my recipes. I don’t rely on the “amazing” properties of olive oil in my soaps. As I find pure olive oil soap kind of sucks. Which leads me to tell you that the next few fats are pretty dang important.
Shea Butter 500g
Purpose: to provide marketing appeal, highly moisturising
Property: VERY easy to work with, helps to create a hard bar of soap if left to cure properly, purely awesome moisturising abilities.
Shea butter is an awesome ingredient in soap. It will help harden your bar over time, but a soap with a higher amount of shea butter will take longer to cure (I’ve found a 30% bar needs about 6-8 months to really cure up well, while 15% is about 6-10 weeks; again, depends on the whole recipe though). Shea butter is one of those magical ingredients that will help moisturise your skin and leave it feeling awesome. There is only one other ingredient I would feel comfortable swapping shea for and that is lard.
Animal Fats 1kg (or cocoa butter, palm oil)
Use: 1- 100%
Purpose: provides a highly moisturising bar of soap, and makes for a very hard bar of soap
Property: HARDNESS FACTOR, lard and tallow make for a very hard bar of soap, highly moisturising. Even more than shea butter.
This is where some people get queasy thinking of fats on their skin. But did you know? Olive oil is a fat. Shea butter is a fat. Coconut oil is a fat. And yup. Yeah, I was once there too getting all grossed out thinking of tallow and lard on my skin. But after doing the research and the experimentation (go on and do a quick google search of, “tallow and skin”, you’re eyes are going to go huge at those results) there is no way I want to go back and use a soap for personal use that does not contain tallow or lard.
I think of it like this, most of us eat animal meat. We wear animal skins. And we are ok with that. We slaughter animals for various reasons, I love my beef and chicken soups and my nice Australian steaks. But all that fat doesn’t get used. It gets tossed into the rubbish bin… so why not actually respect the animal and use all that we can instead of throwing it out? Wasting a part of any slaughtered animal for our use is just plain wrong. Most people are not going to become vegetarians or vegans for meat is a part of their way of life, so there will always be these fats going to waste. Why not render them, and use them so the less likely used parts of the animal does not go to waste? The fatty acids found in tallow are also pretty similar to those found in human skin. Tallow is also full of fat soluble vitamins… what is not to like? Soaps made with these fats generally will be ready to be used after about a three to a six week cure time.
Other options: If you are averse to using animal fats in your soap, that’s ok too. There is palm oil (which presents a whole host of issues when it comes to the process of making the oil: deforestation and the orangutan’s natural habitat being destroyed, so please be sure to look into where your palm oil is from). There is also cocoa butter but like shea butter it can take a wee while to really get the nice hard bar of soap from the cure time. I do like lots of cocoa butter in some bars of soap as I find the cocoa butter I buy at the moment, the scent of chocolate does actually come through in the final soap!
Castor Oil 250mL
Use: 5-10% NO MORE!
A high percentage of castor oil in your recipe will make for a very tacky, almost rubbery bar of soap. Castor oil helps to stabilise the lather and I add it to almost every batch of soap I make at 5%.
This one is a little on the iffy side. I personally cannot get access to distilled water as it is not sold where I am. I use filtered water as that is the best I can do. Tap water is most certainly a no no. You want your water to be clean, otherwise it may react negatively with the lye causing you a ton of grief.
Be sure to pick up some colours! Once you’ve got one batch of soap under your belt, you are going to want to start making some pretty pretty soaps and that means playing with some swirls and colours. I like using micas over oxides as micas seem to be able to get more intense colours with and you get more control over them. But, you have oodles of choices here; micas, LabColours, oxides, clays, spices and herbs, and others. Be wary of using various extracts or powdered fruits and vegetables as they might look glorious on the computer screen, but in actuality, they’ll probably turn some brown colour (hibiscus powder anyone? Yup! Brown soap!).
I’d also suggest picking up some fragrance oils or oodles of essential oils in your first order, you are going to want to try using them after your first batch or two. They are a little on the pricey side, so you don’t want to waste them. Be sure to look at the reviews and the suggestions. The reviews will be your biggest helper in picking various essential oils and fragrances.
Personally, I don’t use essential oils in soap or that much in general for my personal products as they are ridiculously expensive. And in soap? They are only on you for maybe a few seconds before they are washed off. So are they really there to benefit you if your soap is made with lavender essential oil or lemon essential oil? I don’t feel there is a reason to put them in. Just kind of a waste in my opinion.
So! Ready to place your order? Ready to soap???? Huzzah! It’s addictive. It’s calorie free baking at its best!