Making soap

DISCLAIMER: This post is a documentation of my initial soap making experience with a friend. It is not to be used as a soap making tutorial or a “how to” document. Making soap involves using dangerous chemicals, so read up on the process and make sure you know what you are doing before you embark on a journey to make your own soap!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am jobless as of Tuesday, May 31 – which is a good thing. I needed a break and I’m already enjoying myself. I’m taking the time to do things that I always wished I had time to do when I was working full time. One of those is to learn to make soap – from my fabulous friend, Rena.

Rena and I initially met at a sewing conference about 7 years ago and we quickly became friends. She became interested in soap making a few years ago and loved it so much that she made so much soap that she had to open her own online store. I hear soap making can become like an addiction and I must say my first experience making soap was quite fun.

The recipe we were making is Rena’s beer shampoo. I won’t share the super secret details of each ingredient and measurement as I don’t want to give away her super secret recipe. I can attest that I personally LOVE her beer shampoo and use it every day, so I was so glad to be able to learn how she makes it.

Beer - a necessary ingredient in beer shampoo

First, we started off with a bottle of beer – you have to let the beer sit out overnight so that it becomes flat. We added lye to the beer and this causes bubbling, smoke and heat. If you had a fizzy beer on top of all of those chemical reactions, you’d have a heck of a mess on your hands, so let the beer sit out and become flat before incorporating it into the soap mixture. Rena’s husband didn’t like this particular beer as it was extremely foamy, so that’s what we used for our recipe.

We topped off the beer with water to get just the right measurement for our recipe. Then we slowly stirred the necessary amount of lye into the beer + water mixture. That was fun as the mixture began to bubble, smoke and heat up. It did smell awfully toxic, though.

Video: Adding the lye

A big container of coconut oil - it's solid at room temperature

Once we had the lye, water & beer mixed up, we started measuring out the oils for our soap. We melted the solid oils in a pot on the stove on low heat and finished measuring out the liquid oils.

Melting the solid oils on the stove top

Measuring out the liquid oils

This is where the process seemed to drag on FOREVER. The solid oils took their sweet time melting and I learned that you don’t want to just crank up the heat as we have to wait for the oil mixture and the lye mixture to both cool down to less than 120 degrees F before we can combine them. We used the time while we waited for the oils to melt and for the mixtures to cool down to peruse Rena’s latest sewing projects, fabric finds and set up our soap mold, which her husband built for her.

Lining the mold with parchment paper

She lines the mold with parchment paper so that the soap is easy to remove from the mold after it sets up. Then she cuts it into bars and allows it to cure for 21 days before she can sell the soap or use it. The longer the soap cures, the harder the bar and the milder the soap becomes.

Once oil and lye mixtures were done cooling, we combined them by pouring the oil into the lye and stirring vigorously. Rena even has a hand blender that she uses to pulse the mixture ensure it is adequately combined. When she makes beer shampoo, the mixture reaches “trace” very quickly, which means it’s time to pour it into the mold – and you have to move quickly or it will turn into a giant brick in your mixing bowl. Rena says that the beer shampoo mixture reaches trace very quickly – more quickly than her other soap recipes. I was surprised at how quickly we had to move to get that soap in the mold – literally a few pulses with the hand blender and it was done.

The soap in the the mold, in the oven - to finish processing

We were able to get it into the mold in time and then put it into the oven to finish processing. She follows a method known as “hot process” soap making in which she heats up the oven just a bit and then turns it off – the soap then sits in the oven overnight and finishes the saponification process. Then it can be taken from the mold, cut and cured.

After the soap was put into the mold and went into the oven, we were done for the day. The next day, she removed the soap from the mold, cut it and began the curing process. All in all, it was a fun morning and it wasn’t nearly as complex as I feared soap-making would be. There is a LOT to learn about this process and it can be very dangerous.

My gloves & goggles for soap making. An important safety precaution. Lye will burn your skin!

We both wore eye protection and gloves when working with the lye or lye mixture. I will also add that Rena has specific equipment set aside for soap making – the pots, utensils, bowls and measuring cups that she uses are specifically designated for soap making and are NOT used in the preparation or cooking of foods.  All in all, soap making was a lot of fun. Many times, I felt as though I were back in high school Chemistry class – working with strange experiments and chemicals. It was an interesting process and I look forward to making soap with Rena again soon.

View all pictures from our soap making expedition

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One Response to Making soap

  1. Marge says:

    Hmm..interesting! In Germany you want the beer to foam. If you don’t manage to have a nice, three finger wide foam topping on your beer when pouring it in the glass, people will think you suck at handling the beer. Beer with no/little foam is seen as being flat or bad beer.
    So, you used “Red Brick blonde” beer, aren’t you a brunette and shouldn’t you use a dark ale instead? ;P

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