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I totally get it: You’ve never made soap before. You’re not sure if this is for you. You just want to dip your toes in without investing a ton in new equipment and ingredients. This is why I’ve compiled only the absolute essential things that you’ll need for your very first batch of soap.
You don't want to make the same mistake as me and buy materials that you don't end up using.Next week I’ll walk you through step-by-step on how to do it. But for now let’s gather up everything we’ll need.
First things first: Safety gear
I don’t kid around when it comes to handling lye. No it doesn’t have to be as scary as some make it out to be, but safety measures are an absolute must. I suggest you read this post on lye safety.
Here’s what you need:
- Gloves (you can use regular kitchen gloves, I like these I find them easier to work in)
- Long sleeve shirt or lab coat
- Dust Mask (optional)
Important: if you’re using any tools from your kitchen you CAN’T use them again for food prep or eating. Whatever got in touch with lye, soap or essential oils has to become your designated soapy tool, you want to avoid any soap residue seeping into your food.
- Scale: It’s super important to have an accurate scale. You have to be able to measure your ingredients precisely otherwise you might end up with soap that has too much lye in it (not good). I prefer to measure my ingredients in grams, because well I’m European 😉 but also because it’s more accurate that way. If you prefer to measure in ounces make sure your scale has the option to measure in 0.01 Oz increments. Personally I have this big ole scale, but something like this would be totally fine
- Mold: you will need something to pour your soap batter in once it’s all mixed up. This could be as simple as a bunch of empty yogurt containers or a small cardboard box lined with freezer paper. We’ll actually use an empty Pringles can when we make soap next week. Single cavity molds like this one are great for beginners too. They can give you a nice design without having to worry about having to cut bars.
- Containers to measure and mix your lye: You can use an empty yoghurt container to measure your lye. And a plastic take out container for your water and for mixing. You want to avoid aluminum since it will react with the lye. Glass is not recommended either since the water lye solution becomes very hot initially and may cause the glass to crack.
- Another container to mix and melt your oils: I like to melt my oils on the stove top, so I “sacrificed” an old saucepan. You can melt oils in the microwave on 20 second bursts, that’s fine too. For that you will need a heat resistant plastic bowl. I use these very cheap measuring containers I bought at IKEA.
- Stick blender: buy a very basic one, like this one.
You can make soap without a stick blender but it will take hours of constant stirring. Nobody has time for that 😉
- Thermometer: You’ll need a thermometer to check the temperature of your oils and lye solution. I splurged on an infrared thermometer which is easy to use and less messy. But you can easily get away with using a very simple one like this.
As a matter of fact you might find that as you have more experience and get a better feel for trace (different levels of saponification) that you don’t even need to use a thermometer anymore.
- Spatula: to scrape the bottom of your soap pot and texture the top. Use one that's made of plastic/silicone
- Lye: comes in beads or flakes, both ore good to use. Most hardware stores sell lye to drain pipes. Check the expiration date, lye can go bad and won’t work. I buy mine here.
- Oils: I use vegetable oils but you can also use tallow (beef), lard or other animal fats. The more common and least expensive ones are coconut oil, palm oil, rice bran oil, pomace (olive oil) and castor oil. Although you can buy them at your local grocery store, I wouldn’t (except for coconut oil maybe). You run the chance of buying oils that are rancid or past their prime. Buy the smallest amount you can get, you don’t want to end up sitting on a tub of castor oil.
- Distilled water: you can’t use tap water for soap making it contains minerals and impurities that will give you ill results. Most supermarkets carry it.
- Essential Oils or Fragrance Oils (optional)
You can leave your soap unscented if you wish, that’s totally lovely too. It’s super important that you buy from a reputable source. Cheap, low quality essential oils often times are adulterated or diluted. Stay clear of well-known network marketing essential oil distributors, your soap will end up costing you a fortune (for a pound of soap you need about 0.7 oz. of essential oils)
- A sharp knife to cut your soap
- Paper towels for spills and clean up
If you’re following me along for next week’s soap tutorial here is exactly what you’ll need:
- Dust Mask (otional)
- Old long sleeve shirt
- One empty yoghurt cup
- One plastic take out container
- Medium sauce pan or plastic bowl for melting oils
- Stick blender
- One Spatula
- One thermometer
- One empty Pringles Chips box
- Freezer Paper to line
- Lemongrass essential oil
- Olive oil (Pomace)
- Shea butter
- Coconut oil
- Castor oil
- Sharp knife
- Paper towels
- Old newspapers or freezer paper to protect your work area
- Plastic spoon for mixing lye
This is sooo exciting. I can’t wait for you to make your first batch of soap 🙂
Until next time. Happy Tinkering!
Is there any all nature products I can use in making the soap .
Hi Deanna, thank you for your question. I hope I'm interpreting it correctly. Do you mean: Can one make soap without Sodium Hydroxide (lye)? Unfortunately, one cannot make real soap with out lye. It's what will turn your natural oils into soap. Without it, it just won't work. In the finished product, however there is no more lye present. It has reacted with the oils and is now soap. I explain a little more about the process in this post. this post.
So happy to have found you!
I have decided to make soap and already have been cautiously collecting items.
I live in Canada, and unless I buy lye online I can’t find any here. When I was in the US shopping I looked all over. I only found lye liquid drain opener. No other additives.
I can’t find this addressed anywhere online.
Do you have advice or direction please? Happy to email in if you prefer.
Adore your articles! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Kimber, thank you soo much for your kind words. What does it say are the ingredients? Is it just lye and water? I personally haven't worked with liquid lye before, but I found this article which can hopefully be helpful for you. Let me know if you have any more questions. I'm always happy to help:)
...continued for Kimber: It seems like it would be ok to use. You will have to add distilled water to it if it's a 50/50 solution. That would be to strong. I would aim for 65% water, 35% lye.
You can buy lye online Amazon
Try home hardware. They carry lye.
In Canada Linda?
Do you know a brand name?
Thanks in advance,
I took a soap making course at Molloys in Cambridge Ontario. You can buy all soap making supplies there. They do have a website.
If you ever come visit out this way maybe you could pop in or call them.
I am currently in Brantford! I will have to make a poiyto go and visit them. Thank you so much!
Home Hardware Sells Lye
I buy mine at Home Hardware. You have to ask for it at the back where there is a service counter. They keep it under the counter, not on the shelf.
Thank you so much for the reply!
I detest to waste. The article was excellent.
I wasn’t successful finding anything on my own where I could be sure of the quality of the information. I trust your judgement.
I was just able to aquire Roebic crystals and the bottle states 100% sodium hydroxide.
This therefore is what all the standard recipes are referring to?
I purchased my cheap stick blender also.
I am excited but terrified to try my first batch!
Much appreciate your time.
Hi Kimber! Yes the lye you have is perfectly fine. If it says 100% sodium hydroxide you’re good to go. I know the feeling of being terrified. Just have fun with it, it’s just soap 😉
Is it ok to say that the calculator is terrifying?
There are so many places to make a mistake!
Love your instructions.
Such a blessing thank you.
Is there a particular area you're struggling with in soapcalc? Marie over at Humblebee & Me has a basic introduction video to soapcalc: I don't find soapcalc all that user friendly. It took me forever to figure out that it only shows the amount of water and lye when you hit "show/print recipe" and then you have to switch to a different tab 😉
One thing to not though is that I never use the "water as % percentage of oil" - It's wildly inaccurate in my opinion. Use "Lye Concentration" and start with 33%. I hope that helps 🙂
So confusing that I am only able to understand recipes that specify all the ingredients specifically. I will go look for that video!
It took me a really long time to be able to create my own recipes. In the beginning I stuck closely to other people's recipes. It wasn't until I took a class specifically for that, that I felt comfortable enough to make up my own. You'll get there!
You are most kind and encouraging. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I will stay the course. Perhaps I will even find a class near where I live! If not, I can make due with instructinoal videos and training. I am excited to learn!
You said to use Distilled water, I have a well, can I use my tap water?
Hi Zandy, many soap makers use well water successfully in their soaps. You want to stay away from hard water as it contains a lot of metal ions. Impurities or metal in the water can lead your soap to go rancid aka develop "dreaded orange spots". Have you ever had the well water tested? I would give it a try - make a small batch and see what happens.
Hi Celine, thank you for the tips, what natural colourant can I use for the cold process soap. I started making the melt and pour glycerine soaps, at what temperature should I melt the soap, I've experienced a film and scum while melting.
You can use a LOT of different things to naturally color your soap: spices, herbs, clays, charcoal... Here are two articles to get you started and give you ideas: https://www.modernsoapmaking.com/join-jo-coloring-soap-naturally/ (its a 4 part series) and https://www.lovinsoap.com/2017/02/natural-soap-colorants-cold-process-soap/
With the Glycerin Soap you can prevent a film from forming by covering your soap with cling or ceran wrap while you're heating it. I've never experienced scum... Are you using a good quality soap base?
Thank you for all the valuable information! I’ve been making soap for almost a year and rely on other peoples recipes. Today I used turmeric to color my soap orange but it ended up looking rather gross! More light brownish. I used vegetable shortening, coconut oil and olive oil in my recipe. Could it be that the original soap was an off white to start with? Is there some other oil that will give me a whiter soap?
Thank you very much.
Olive oil used in big quantities can certainly leave a greenish/yellowish tint in your finished soap. I've never used in soap before, but I've played around with other natural colorants, see my post here. The color shade and intensity also depends on how much tumeric you used and whether you added the tumeric to the lye solution, your oils or if you did an oil infusion. Your soap might also lighten up in the curing process.
Hope this helps!
Happy Tinkering! Celine
Hi Celine, I am thinking of making soap - I have a project that I want to make enough soap for 120 ladies - thinking of 2 or 3 bars each - can you give me an approximate cost per bar once I get my equipment ? I am interested in goats milk soap? don't want to start this project if it is going to cost me $5 per bar - thanks for any guidance you can give me - Merry Christmas Debra
Hi Debra, that's a good question and also a tricky one. It depends on what kind of oils you use, what kind of essential oil or fragrance oil, if you're buying your supplies in bigger quantities etc. But if you're sticking to more cheaper oils (coconut, tallow or palm, canola) and essential oils like lemongrass or peppermint/ spearmint a bar should cost you between 1.50 - 2 $. Again I encourage you to do your own math to figure out your cost and don't forget to factor in your packaging.
Hello! If I use my silicone mold to make soap I cant use it for baking or anything else? Or the knife to cut it? Even if you wash it? Newbie here. Thanks!
I wouldn’t use the mold or knife for anything else but soap. You don’t want your food to be affected by any remainders if fragrance or essential oils. Hope that help.
I was excited to find you. I am thinking about trying the heat and pour goats milk soap mixture that I can add to instead of doing the cold press method, where I can add fragrance and color. What sort of mold do you Suggest?
Hi Glenda, for melt and pour soap I recommend silicone soap molds either with single cavities or in loaf form, that you’ll have to cut into bars. Happy Tinkering!
I making my first ever batch of melt and pour soap tomorrow. Any suggestions? I am thinking of selling them locally.
I have no knowledge in this field as I am from health care. Please help if you can