Cold Pressed Soap 101

Lye is a lie. Ok, let me explain. Lye is a harmful chemical that provides a heated reaction when it interacts with water. It burns skin and so on. It should not be underestimated. So the information available related to using lye to make soap had me put off, as it seemed extreme and dangerous. Well, I still wouldn’t underestimate it, but the use of lye in soap making is far easier a process than had been communicated to me, hence the lie.

a glass bowl and spatula with XX Lye written on it
Be sure to label each of your tools that will touch the lye as I have done here with my spatula and glass bowl.

After speaking to a colleague about his soap making experience, he convinced me it was relatively easy. His description of ensuring pre-measurements and exact temperatures had me wondering if soap making was for me. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been collecting supplies: heavy glass bowl and stick blender from a thrift store, the lye and a kitchen scale.

Watching you-tube videos helped bring me around to the idea, as some people are very much into the details, others just kind of wing-it when it comes to measurements of oils and temperatures. This was great to find out, because I had yet to buy a candy thermometer, or distilled water when I decided to make a small inaugural batch.

solid oils on the left and melted oils on the rightThe recipe I found called for 5-ounces (oz) coconut oil, 5-oz flax seed oil, 5.2-oz olive oil, 2.3-oz lye, and 6-oz distilled water.

Not being one to stick to recipes, or rushing out to get exactly what was on the list, I made a few alterations with what I had in the cupboard, from other bath/body products. I was missing flax seed oil. To make up the missing 5-oz, I used 3-oz grape seed oil, 0.5-oz mango butter, 0.5-oz extra of olive oil and 1-oz of shea butter. I gather from what I read, that the butters will make the soap harder, but that should be fine. You combine and heat your oils in a separate container to your water and lye mixture and add these when the mixtures appear to be about the same temperature. Ideally this is at 110 degrees Celsius, but as you know I didn’t have a thermometer, so I just went with it when it was convenient to combine.

tea in top picture; brown tea and lye mixtuer in the bottom frameAlso instead of distilled water I used tap water, but wanted to try tea instead of regular water. I thought it might make pretty pink soap if it was pretty pink tea, but as I added the lye to the tea, the lye process turned my pink liquid first to green, then to a terracotta orange colour with constant stirring. When the oils were added, the mixture turned to the creamy yellow colour it ended as. It was lemon herbal tea, so I added ylang-ylang, sweet orange and lemon essential oils in case any of the tea aroma lasted through the cold press process. I also added a few drops of grapefruit seed oil to help keep the ingredients fresh longer.

Once the trace appeared (when you can see the path your spatula/stick blender took) then I poured it into a plastic container I had deemed was the right size. I added orange rind to the top for some interest. We’ll see if that was a good idea or not when it’s ready to cut and use. Sadly you have to cover and place the soap in an out-of-the-way location for 24-hrs before cutting soap and a further week until the lye has dissipated. Then the curing process takes at least 4 weeks, but soaps improve with age (like wine) so you can leave it alone for months and it will still make a perfectly useable soap product or gift.

And the soap is revealed!

yellow cold pressed soap cut into bars in cardboard

Now I just have to wait 4+ weeks until I can use it.


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