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How to make soap

The earliest record of soap making goes back to the Romans. Other products like soap are seen in historical writings that suggest that at least man always knew that the action of getting clean involved some kind of scrubbing and sloughing off.

Soap making as an industry in America rose to its zenith during the Victorian period and has not tapered off since. Soap making as a regulated craft was refined and celebrated by the French hundreds of years ago. It is to them we owe the major discoveries and practices that led to soap making as a huge step in the civilization of mankind and the formation of craft guilds to regulate the industry. This kind of soap making survived to modern times as hot process soap making.

There are different ways to craft soap - but ultimately, only one way to create natural soap. Soap making is the process of combining fatty acids (oil/butters/fats) with an alkali (base) such as NaOH (sodium hydroxide) or KOH (potassium hydroxide)to make solid or liquid soap.

In the larger world of cleansing products, the term soap encompasses both cleansers that are the traditional type also called 'natural' soap and synthetic detergents that are called soap. Soapmakers take great pride in their handmade craft and are quick to make the distinction between their environmentally friendly natural soap and soap that are detergents and filled with chemical additives. As a result the craft of soapmaking has taken on cult like proportions and just like any movement/craft developed a whole different set of terminology.

  1. Cold Process soap making - When Crafters speak of hand crafted soap, this is the type of soap they are mainly referring to. Cold process means that the soap is processed without added heat such as that used in hot process soap making. Fats are melted and combined with sodium hydroxide and left to saponify to form soap. The finished soap is then cut into bars and left to cure for several weeks. During this time, the soap dries and the saponification process completes as all fatty acid molecules bind to base molecules and is converted to soap.

    Pros: This method of soap making produces soap that is hard and is easy to cut.
    Cons: This method tends to destroy low flashpoint fragrances and essential oils and fragile organic ingredients.

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  2. Hot Process Soapmaking - Hot process soap making is making soap with some portion of the process heated. Hot process soap making has several variations depending on how the mixture is heated. If the combined mixture of fats and oils are heated in a mold in the oven, it is called Oven Hot Process. If the soap is cooked on top of the stove in a pot with direct heat, it is called Direct Heat Method. This method means that the mixture needs to be closely monitored so that the soap does not burn or boil over in the pot.

    Pros: Hot process soap making produces soap that is ready to use because essentially you are speeding up the saponification process by cooking the mixture
    Cons: Oftentimes, hard soap that is made this way tends to be softer than cold process soap. At times it may be tricky trying to add organic additives and volatile essential oils to the hot cooked mixture. One way around this is to buffer your ingredients or find a way to cool the mixture and add the ingredients so that they are not destroyed by the heat.

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  3. 1. Melt and pour soap making is not actual true soap making but rather soap crafting. Melt and pour soap is created from a base that is easy to use. The only thing needed to produce ‘soap’ is to melt, color, fragrance and mold to produce striking soap. The soap is melted in a double boiler/ in a pot or in the microwave and then colored and left to set in a mold.

    Pros: Very easy to craft. Great project for kids with adult supervision. Great medium for low flash point essential oils and fragile organic ingredients.
    Cons: Is not really 'true' soapmaking but rather soap crafting. For many folks who love the creative potential of melt and pour soap this is a moot point and they believe that though this is not from scratch soap making it is of immense value because melt and pour bases allows one to create soap from ingredients that would not survive the alkali solution of lye soap.
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This content was written by Winsome Tapper. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Winsome Tapper for details.



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