Category: Soapmaking

Cold Whipped Shea Butter

We’ve evidently had a problem with our thermostat not properly reporting humidity, so our HVAC was not maintaining the desired humidity level. The installer replaced the thermostat last week, and we’ve gone from 60% to 49% relative humidity downstairs. We’re intentionally keeping the lower level cooler than the upper — there’s a lot of solar heating even with curtains drawn. And, well, relative humidity is relative to temperature. So our 60% was more like 50% upstairs … still high. Our 49%, though, is 39% upstairs. And for the first time since I started making my own soap, my skin is a little dry. So is Anya’s. We can just slather on some coconut oil — it melts in your hand and absorbs fairly well — but I wanted to try something a little fancier. And I happened across a good deal on shea butter a few weeks back, so whipping a combination of shea butter and coconut oil seems like a winner.

1 cup unrefined shea butter
1 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons vegetable glycerin

  • Mash the room-temperature shea butter in the mixing bowl. Add essential oils if desired (or melt coconut oil and infuse with herbs).
  • Stir in the coconut oil. If the whole thing is a little melty, stick it in the refrigerator to solidify a bit
  • Whip with a stand mixer until it’s fluffed like whipped cream. Fin. Scoop it into jars (we have a bunch of wide mouth canning jars, so I’ll be using a few of those) and store in a cool room or the refrigerator.

Soap Fluff Explosion

I made our saboun al ghar inspired soap today. First attempt at hot processing soap, and I had a massive soap explosion. I’d read that your container should be at least three times the volume of soap you are processing. I went with five times in an attempt to stave off a big mess. Blended my pomace olive oil and lye/water/salt mixture to a light trace, and set it over medium heat. It thickened, just like it supposed to. It turned into a gloopy oily mess, just like it supposed to. For future reference — the gloopy oily mess stage is where you want to keep a close eye on it and don’t look away for a minute. I turned back around and saw odd foamy soap stuff pouring out of the pot. Oops!

I scooped the soap fluff off the side of the pot and back into the pot and stirred it down. The fluff quickly turned into a slick substance that did look exactly like petroleum jelly. I added the laurel berry oil, stirred well to incorporate, and let cook for a few more minutes until it looked like petroleum jelly again.

The whole mess was glopped into my large silicon lined wooden soap mold. Now it just needs to set for a while and harden.

Making Soap Molds – Material Research

Before trying to print my own soap molds, I need to identify what characteristics I like in a mold. I find flexible molds easier to work with than rigid ones – I’ve snapped a number of molds trying to remove the soap.

So I am trying to find a material that will withstand heat generated by saponification. It looks like saponification can yield temperatures up to 88° C. I don’t want to buy pounds of different filaments to test them out, but GlobalFSD offers “sample” size filament cuttings that are perfect for experimentation or small niche products (e.g. printing glow in the dark mailbox numbers).

One material included information about temps for printed objects, so I’ve contacted the other manufacturers to see if they provide any sort of guidance.

Material Max C Min C Notes URL
NinjaFlex 65.5 -30
CrystalFlex  – Food safe
FlexFill 230 -40
F41 Flex 75 -20

Saboun Al Ghar Inspired Soap

Most old civilizations have traditional artisan production processes that are hard to sustain in the modern world. Some cheeses in Southern France were sustained through government grants until EU regulations considered such support unsporting. Su filindeu pasta now only made by three people in Italy. As war ravages a country, even well sustained traditional methods become endangered. The civil/proxy war in Syria has displaced most if not all producers of صابون الغار (‘Aleppo soap’). While we may not be able to faithfully reproduce the exact process to create what may be the world’s oldest hard soap, I think it is important to preserve the knowledge of the process. The ingredients and proportions. The time and temperature of processing, how the soap is poured onto floors to cool and set whilst being walked on with wooden boards to flatten it out. How it is cut and stacked to cure.

In addition to documenting and preserving the process, derivative processes are developed to preserve some facet of the original product. Fact is, a lot of products are not protected by AOC, PDO, or any of the other “X has to be made in Y using the historic technique Z” regulations. Like the unfortunate not-Cheddar cheese that I find in many American grocery stores, Aleppo soap could be made with coconut oil and dye. And maybe that’s where the objection to cultural appropriation comes from — not an objection to someone respectfully trying to reproduce a cultural artifact but of someone bastardizing the artifact for profit or fashion. Reproducing sacred items for frivolity.

After reading about the displaced soap masters, I want to make a soap inspired by the Aleppo process. I need more experience with hot processing soap to follow the traditional long cook method, but I want to hot process the soap to control which oils comprise the superfat. Fully saponify the olive oil, then add the laurel berry oil and saponify some of it.

Then comes the actual recipe – the challenge with traditional soap recipes is that the saponification factor of ash varies. Buying sodium hydroxide yields a consistent product useful in recipes with precise measurements. Ghar soap recipes have percentages of olive oil to laurel berry oil, but more or less call for enough ash. I’m debating between five and ten percent superfat. Five percent seems fairly standard for soap recipes, so I’m leaning in that direction. But I wanted to continue researching authentic recipes before finalizing my ingredients.

Making Soap Molds

I want to design and print my own soap molds – special holiday bars or pre-stamped bars. We’re still working on setting up the 3d printer, so haven’t tried anything yet. I have a few downloadable soap mold forms bookmarked ( happens to be up in another tab now, but search thingverse for ‘soap mold’ and you will find quite a few).

The trick will be finding an appropriate filament — one that won’t melt at soaping temps (something I need to better understand) but can still be extruded at my printer temp (190-250C). Preferably a not-too-rigid filament with a little bit of flex. That’s trial and error – expensive, too, when buying whole rolls of filament. I found (there’s both a US and European site) that sells small quantities of many filiments, and I’ve purchased a bunch that *seem* like they might work.

What I planned to do until I can identify a perfect filament for non-melting and easy to remove soaps is create positive forms on the 3d printer (essentially print what you want a bar of soap to look like) and then google up a procedure for making a silicon mold (uneducated guess is glop some silicon ‘stuff’ onto the positive form to create the negative silicon mold).

For anyone wanting to play with a 3d printer without dropping a couple hundred bucks on it: check your local library. Ones around here are building “maker spaces” with 3d printers, embroidery machines, engraving machines, large format printers, etc. You pay for consumables (i.e. filament in this cae) but gain familiarity with the machines before deciding to invest in one.

Soap Swirls!

I have tried many times to get swirls in soap. What I’ve actually gotten is halfway seized blobs of colour. Still works, still smells nice … but it doesn’t look like the pretty soaps I see online.

Everything I’ve read says to mix the components to a light trace so it won’t seize before you get it poured and swirled. Many attempts later, I have swirls! Two tricks — I mixed the essential oil into the oil before adding lye. Adding the EO after the oil:lye is mixed was just too much mixing. I also used more water than the normal 2:1 water to lye ratio.

Added the lye water to the oil/EO mixture and used the stick blender until it was just combined. There were no longer oil spots floating on top, the entire mixture was a homogeneous colour. I split the soap into two pots and stirred in the clay with a tiny whisk. At this point, I still had REALLY runny soap.

I used a modified column pour technique — a rounded cup in the middle of a large mold. This made concentric rings of colour. I then used a very thin wooden dowel / gigantic toothpick that was used in a sandwich at a local restaurant and dragged lines from the perimeter of the mold into the center. The shape held! Popped the whole thing in the oven with the light on and let it sit for 24 hours. Removed it from the mold and it was really soft compared to my normal recipe. That’s the extra water – it needs to cure longer. Bonus, though – it was soft enough to cut easily with a knife.



When cut into bars, there are actual swirls!

New Soaps

We’ve made a bunch of new soaps this past week — mostly using the same 20% super-fat all coconut oil recipe, although I made a 0% super-fat coconut oil soap to use as laundry detergent. We just have to visit some store that actually stocks washing soda (WalMart – not somewhere I frequent, but according to their web site … it’s stocked at every local store here).

We made a rainbow swirl soap with orange essential oil — important thing about making rainbow swirl soap? Don’t try to smooth out the top! The whole top is a consistent lavender colour … cool, though, because the rainbow bits appear as you use the soap. Totally not what I was going for, though.

Another swirled soap using activated charcoal and green zeolite clay with tea tree essential oil. Again the swirl didn’t turn out the way I wanted … I think you’ve got to have really fluid soap batter to get these swirl techniques to succeed. This batch was less thick than the rainbow above … but it still got gloppy as I poured it. Also – there’s a reason the ‘column pour’ technique has a square in the middle. If you use a round object (say, a glass that you happen to have and know won’t be harmed by soap) , you get concentric circles. Not a design with scallops to it.

And I’ve found a few new recipes that I’d like to try — one is using pureed cucumber in place of water in the soap. And one that’s got to wait for next year — using daffodils as the colourant!

New Soap Recipes

For a few years, I’ve been using this coconut oil recipe almost exclusively. I’ve added clay to color holiday soaps, but beyond that we’ve got the same basic pure white soap. I get 35 pound pails of coconut oil from a local distributor, Bulk Apothecary, and avoid shipping fees. You can make a lot of soap with 35 pounds of coconut oil (a year supply for us, plus a bunch to give away).

I’ve wanted to make a pumice soap with orange essential oil for cleaning greasy hands (like Fast Orange) for some time. Decided to make a couple other ‘special’ batches of soap too.

A skincare soap with tea tree oil using:

33 oz coconut oil
4.8 oz lye
9.6 oz water
2 oz tea tree oil


A colorful lavender scented soap with the same coconut oil recipe:

33 oz coconut oil
4.8 oz lye
9.6 oz water
1.3 oz lavender essential oil
.6 oz bergamot essential oil
2 t purple Brazilian clay


A ‘mechanic’ soap with pumice and orange essential oil for cleaning greasy hands. The soap will be 5% superfat instead of the normal 30% to aid in cutting greases:

33 oz coconut oil
5.74 oz lye
12.5 oz water
2 oz bitter orange essential oil
8 T pumice


Homemade Soap

I’ve been making my own soap for about three years now. I’ve used several different recipes, but my default is a 100% coconut oil soap recipe. I double the recipe to make a six pound batch of soap (66 oz coconut oil, 9.6 oz lye, 19.2 oz water, and 3-6 oz of essential oil if I add any).

The process is quite easy — put the oils (or oil, in this case) in a pot and heat until melted.

In a safe container (heat resistant plastic like polypropylene 5), combine the water and lye slowly — it gets HOT. I use a graduated pitcher from a science supply center. Soap recipes have a weight of water and not volume, so the markings aren’t useful for this particular application.

I turn the oven light on – it’s an incandescent bulb and heat the oven to about 110 degrees F. I then put the lye container and warm oil in the oven and let them set for an hour or so to reach thermodynamic equilibrium.

When the hour is about up, get everything ready. Always a stick blender. If essential oil, colorant, herbs, or abrasives are going to be added, I weigh them out and have them waiting. Remove the pot of oil and set it somewhere (Not a hot burner! This was the one thing that absolutely stumped me on my first batch.). Set the stick blender in the pot. Get the container of lye water. Turn on the stick blender and get the oil moving. Slowly add the lye mixture.

Keep the stick blender going until you reach ‘trace’ — kind of like making whipped cream or egg whites where there’s a soft peak and a firm peak state. You’re looking for it to thicken up enough that lines will form or a little bit dropped back into the pot stay in a little mound. You are NOT looking for something that holds peaks (it would be difficult to get into molds at that point).

If you are adding ‘stuff’ you want to do that at the first sign of trace. Some add-ins will accelerate trace (basically harden your soap quicker), and adding them into a medium trace can get you a big block of solid soap pretty quickly.

Once the soap mixture reaches trace, put into the soap molds. Tap the molds on a solid surface a few times to remove air bubbles. I place these molds on a cutting board (hard surface) and then place them back into the warm oven. Proper instructions tell you to wrap it up in towels to retain the heat. After about 12 hours in the warm oven, I turn off the oven light. Let it sit a few more hours to cool, then set on the counter overnight. If the soap is hard to get out a mold, pop the whole thing in the freezer – frozen soap pops right out.

Voila, you’ve got soap. Let it sit for a few weeks to cure (dry out).