So here you are, you have decided to finally make your first soap!
This recipe and tutorial has been prepared especially for you, at your first attempt with soap making.
When I first tried to learn how to make soap I can’t tell you how long I searched the Internet to find a small batch, palm oil free soap recipe I could try as a first test.
Guess what? I couldn’t find any. All I found was a video on Youtube, which explained you how to make a simple soap recipe with only olive oil and coconut oil. The only problem was that, even if this was supposed to be a recipe for beginner soap makers, it was not calibrated to make a small batch.
The result? I ended up with over 50 soaps on my first soap making attempt! Here is a shot of the event:
Fortunately, the soaps turned out fine but the event was quite stressful as I was too afraid of making a mistake. Had I done something wrong, I would have wasted almost 2 KG of soap.
That's why I have created a super simple mini soap recipe you can use to learn how to make soap with a peace of mind!
Preparation is Key
Have you got all the necessary equipment to get started with soap making? Don't worry, there isn't really anything too complex or expensive to buy.
Lye Safety First
This recipe involves handling lye (Sodium Hydroxide), a really caustic material. Just like driving a car, if you adopt the necessary safety measures, you’ll be just fine. Please read my post here and follow the instructions very carefully if you have never made soap before!
Time to Get Started!
A lot of recipes out there are only given in grams/oz. Instead, all my recipes are given in both percentages and grams/oz. Why? Only If you learn to work using percentages, you will also learn how to resize, tweak and change recipes according to your needs. This is because to create a well-balanced soap recipe you will need to use a combination of oils and butters in specific percentages.
Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners
Total grams/oz: 200 grams/7 oz
How many soaps will you get? 2 soaps of about 5x7 cm depending on which mold you use
What mould should you use? To start off, you can buy any silicone reusable mould. For this recipe, I use this muffin mold and this heart shaped mold. Basically, any cookie/chocolate silicone moulds work well. Make sure you don't use anything in plastic/steel or any rigid mould. You need something flexible to get the soap out!
Water and Sodium Hydroxide together form what we call a "lye solution". I always apply a lye discount to my recipe. If a recipe calls for X amount of lye to saponify, I am using 5% less of this lye. Why? This way there is a bit of oil left behind which does not have any more lye to saponify. As a result, the soap will be milder and nourishing to the skin. This process is also called "superfatting".
I also always apply a "water discount" to my recipes. What does this mean? Simply put, I am using less water than the "most common" percentage used in soap making (which is usually 25%) for the lye (which normally comes in sodium hydroxide solid flakes or pearls solid form) to dissolve itself. This will make the lye solution a bit more concentrated, but it will also allow the soap to unmould and cure faster, while saving some water at the same time.
Bear in mind that every bit of water in your soap will need to evaporate for the soap to become mild and usable (this happens during the curing period). Technically there is no maximum amount of water you could use, but the more water you use, the softer the soap and the longer it will need to cure.
Should I use Tap or Distilled/Deionised Water?
One question I had at the beginning of my soap making journey was: can I use tap water to prepare the lye solution for my soap? The answer is yes, but bear in mind that tap water may contain impurities, metals etc. and this may interact with the final result and performance of the soap.
All my soaps are made with distilled water, but if you are just starting out in your kitchen is absolutely fine to use tap water. As an alternative, you could use deionised water which is not as pure as distilled water, but much cheaper. Unfortunately, water can only be found in plastic. The good thing is that once it's finished it's super clean and very easy to recycle.
Which Olive Oil Type Should I Use?
How do I choose the Coconut Oil?
Soap makers normally use refined, 76°coconut oil (this is the melting point in Fahrenheit which equals to 24° Celsius). The refined version has no scent while the virgin, unrefined version carries a wonderful "bounty-like" scent. This is perfectly fine if you are not thinking to play around with specific scents for your recipes! Unrefined Virgin or extra virgin coconut oil is also way more expensive, although more available to purchase from your local supermarket in a simple glass jar, making it the perfect choice if you are making small batch soaps for yourself.
Where do I get the Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)?
Sodium hydroxide is sold in many hardware shops but not all of the grades are suitable for soap making. Make sure you buy this from a reliable soap supplier. Sodium Hydroxide cannot be shipped in any other material than plastic, but 1 bottle will last you a very long time. Plus, since it's a dry material, the bottles are very easy to recycle. If you are based in the UK: you can get pure grade lye from the Soap Kitchen which comes in mini beads form, or from Just a Soap in flakes.
Optional: 2 grams sodium lactate (this will make the soap harden faster, look and feel smoother. Sodium lactate is a salt of natural lactic acid produced by fermentation from vegetable derived sugar. It makes the soap a bit harder and long lasting as well as a bit more bubbly. This also comes in plastic but you only need a teeny tiny bit of it so it will last you a super long time.
Step 1: Work Area Preparation
First of all, prepare your work area. Having a tidy area to work on is crucial in soap making. This is because you will be handling a lot of different ingredients and want to avoid spilling things over (more likely to happen on a crowded table).
Step 2: Weighting and Melting
Weight your olive oil and coconut oil into 2 separate stainless steel or glass containers. If you live in a cold temperature area, your coconut oil will be solid so you would need to melt it on the stove. Simply place the coconut oil at medium heat and add the olive oil to it once fully melted. Mix thoroughly to ensure the two oils are well incorporated.
Step 3: Prepare your Lye Solution
Make sure you are wearing your safety googles and gloves, and you are doing this in a well ventilated area/next to an open window. Once the lye is added to the water, it will create a few fumes. so hold your breath while you are doing this. I usually hold my breath or wear a respirator/mask, stir and then leave the room for a few minutes.
Important! always add the lye to the water, and never the opposite! If you add the water to the lye, the solution’s temperature will rise all at once and might erupt in a lye volcano. Not good! If you add the lye to the water instead, the reaction will be much lighter and the water will overheat gradually.
A good trick to use especially if this is your first time making soap, is to add ice to your water or use very cold water to keep the reaction down. I highly recommend you do this especially if it's your first attempt at soap making.
The lye solution is normally prepared in 2 steps:
1. Weight the water in a stainless steel or Pyrex container and set aside.
2. Weight the lye in a glass container. Once measured, add the lye to the water while stirring. Try to stir quickly or the lye will start to harden and create a "ring" at the bottom of your container. Be extremely careful not to cause any lye to splash out of your container while doing this.
Step 4: Prepare any Additives
While the lye solution is cooling down, it’s time to measure the rest of the additives.
Other additives could be a clay to give your soap detoxifying properties, slip and colour but in this recipe we are not going to add any to keep it simple as a start.
The only thing you would need to measure at this stage are the essential oils. Why now and not earlier? Essential oils are quite expensive and also volatile. Since in this recipe we will use a small amount, if you let them sit for too long at open air some of it could evaporate.
By measuring them half way through the process while you are simply waiting for the other ingredients to be ready you can also avoid over-crowding your work table too early.
Step 6: Mix the lye solution with the oils and watch the magic happen!
Your coconut oil on the stove is now completely melted. Add the olive oil to the sauce pan and mix to incorporate well.
As soon as the oils and the lye water have reached around 110-100 degrees (37-43) and there is no more than 10 degrees difference between the two, it’s time to mix the lye solution with the oils.
Slowly pour the lye solution into the saucepan with the oils. Pour it over the shaft of the stick blender to avoid any air bubbles from creating.
If you see the lye water has some white bits on the surface don’t worry, it’s completely normal. This happens when the sodium hydroxide gets in contact with the air. If this happens, use a colander to catch these bits so they don’t pollute the soap batter. As soon as they lye is in contact with the oils, you will see that the oils will turn cloudy and thick.
You are on the very first step of the saponification reaction: the lye in binding with the oils to turn it into soap! Stir with a spatula to incorporate the solution thoroughly, and then start stick blending first on low and then on a high (if your stick blender gives you the option).
Stick blend for a few second until you have reached a very thin consistency but you the batter is smooth and has an even colour. When you raise the stick blender and let the soap batter drip onto the surface, it should leave a very faint “trace”. Trace is what makes you understand that the mix of oils and lye has turned into soap, basically that the two have bounded together well enough not to separate!
At this stage, you can incorporate the essential oils! Mix well with a spatula, and then keep stick blending for a few more seconds until the soap has reached a slightly thicker consistency. Let the soap batter drip onto the surface and check if it leaves a thicker, pudding like trace. This is called “medium trace” and is telling you it’s time to pour the soap into the mould!
Step 7: Pour the soap in the mold
Make sure your mould is clean and ready to use. Give a final mix to the soap batter with your spatula and start pouring the soap into the mould. Make sure you are still wearing your gloves and you can also keep your goggles on.
Be careful, raw soap is still caustic and might cause some rashes if getting in contact with the skin. This is because the soap reaction is still happening and the lye is still bonding with the soap and is not neutralised completely yet. It is not super dangerous like caustic soda anymore but it can be irritating to the skin. If you get raw soap on your skin simply wash it well with cold water and apply a calming aloe vera cream like this one afterwards. You'll be fine.
If your mould is too flimsy, place it onto a wooden tray so you can lift and move it without it collapsing once it’s full of soap. Tap well to ensure that the soap is sitting evenly in the mould and you don’t end up with air bubbles or empty gaps. Leave the soap to "sleep" in the mould for at least 24 hours.
Step 8: Unmould the soap
After 24 hours have passed, you are ready to unmould your first soap! if the soap looks still slightly wet and sticky, leave it in the mould a little bit longer. Sometimes soap can set after 2-3 days in the mould. This will depend on which mould you are using. For example, a thicker silicon mould will leave less air to enter in the mould cavities and the soap may take longer to set. If you have not added any sodium lactate to the recipe, you may have to leave the soap in the mould for a bit longer.
Step 9: Let it Cure
Now it's the hardest part. You need to wait for the soap to cure. Remember: any liquid that you put in your soap will need to evaporate. The only reason why you put water in your soap is because otherwise the lye cannot dissolve itself. At this stage, there will still be part of the lye solution in the formula that still needs to evaporate. That is why we need to let the soap cure for 4-6 weeks.
I always found confusing the 4-6 weeks at the beginning. This timeframe really depends on how much water you put in your soap, and the environment's humidity in which the soap is curing. For example if you live in a very humid area your soap might have to cure for longer. In general, your soap is fine to use after 4 weeks, but if you wait for 6 weeks it will be even milder. Yep, soap is pretty much like wine: the more it ages, the best it is.
Step 10: Use it!
Use it, love it and look after it! Make sure you use a dedicated soap dish like this reclaimed handmade wood dish. Try to keep it as dry as possible by washing off any water that might get trapped in some angles of your soap dish.
Does soap have an expiry date? Of course. You need to think that this is still a little block of oils and butters, saponified into a soap, so there is always the risk that these will go rancid although this shouldn't happen if you have used fresh oils. What will happen is that normally after roughly 3 months it will start fading its colour, losing its scent (if any) but it will get milder and milder.
Depending on the temperature and conditions how the soap is kept, it will be fine for at least 6 months. I have gifted some soaps that I had made during the summer to friends and family for Christmas and they were the mildest of the soaps I had tried up until that point :)
Do you have any comments or questions? Comment below and I'd be happy to help you in your natural, vegan, palm oil free soap making journey!