Making Soap My Way - A Tutorial Of Sorts

I made soap again.  Just suddenly got the urge and then I thought I should document my process.  I never did a tutorial before.  Mostly because when I started this blog I was a complete beginner in soap making and I was reading other peoples tutorial to learn from them, not ready to teach others.  But now that I have become pretty seasoned in soap making, I thought I should write down my steps.

I have always made soap in the kitchen using my regular pots and kitchen stuff.  I have read a lot of books about making soaps and most of them are very good and thorough, but sometimes I feel that they make it sound so difficult and complicated.  I like things to be easy and simple.  So my favorite book about making soap is by Anne Watson "Smart Soapmaking" (even if the subtitle is a bit more complicated: "The simple guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably, or How to Make Luxurious Handcrafted Soaps for Family, Friends, and Yourself".  I love the humor in that).  She gave me the courage to go ahead and try it.

Over time I have developed my own way to do things and I have gotten pretty set in my ways.  I always use the same equipment: same pot, same glass measuring jugs, same spoons, same everything.   Except the recipes.  I just can't make the same recipes again and again.  I always need to tweak them a little bit, at least.  And now suddenly, I have a need to make soaps.  There are a few that are asking to be made.  I have sometimes wondered what kind of soap I would make first.  Once I started again.  It was Rhubarb oil soap.  A very strange recipe, if I'm honest.  I have no idea how it will turn out.  Might be a total failure, although I thought of it as a luxurious face soap.  But that is another post.  This one is about the process.

My equipment consists of:
  • A pot - I use that for the water/liquid and to dissolve the caustic soda
  • A large pyrex class measuring jug with a handle - That is for the oils
  • A small pyrex class measuring jug with a handle - This one is for the caustic soda
  • ---I do not use the measuring jugs to measure, just as containers---
  • A slotted spoon - to stir the caustic soda solution
  • Two thermometers - one for the soda and one for the oils
  • A digital scale - to measure everything
  • A stick blender - to mix everything
  • Moulds
  • And the most important equipment of all is my computer... and SoapCalc  I use that for every single recipe and save them as pdf.  
  • And then there is the camera, or the phone these days.  (Which I know isn't good because the photos are not nearly as good as on a proper camera.  But I have gotten a bit lazy.  I need to change that.)
I put my recipes straight into SoapCalc as I work.  I usually make either 500g or 700g depending on which mould I'm using.  I put in the total weight and my preferred water ratio (usually about 33% these days) and super fat % (varies from 5-10% usually).  I would recommend that beginners stick to the default setting in the beginning.

I would also recommend goggles and gloves and an apron.  Lye is very caustic and it does burn.  The raw soap is also very caustic and it does burn.  You do not want to splash this stuff on yourself and definitely not get it into your eyes.  Having said that, I have to admit that the hazmat-like outfit that I wore in the beginning has given way to a bit lighter safety gear.

Before I do anything else I get my mould ready.  I like the wooden moulds with freezer paper. But one can use silicone moulds (for baking) and just about anything that has a shape resembling soap.  In the beginning I used milk cartons and yoghurt pots.

Then I start measuring the oils one by one, resetting the scale after each time.

Sometimes I pour a little bit more than I intended and then I go back to SoapCalc and adjust accordingly.

I melt the oils in the microwave.  About a minute at a time and I stir in-between.  

Next I measure the caustic soda.

I prefer not to store it among the foodstuff in the kitchen so
I keep it in the garage.

I take the small pyrex jug and the scale and measure out there and bring it back to the kitchen.

I then measure out the liquid into the pot.  I usually just put the pot on the scale and pour in whatever liquid I'm using.

Then I put the pot on the stove and turn the exhaust on full while I slowly pour the caustic soda into the liquid.

The liquid gets very hot so I let it sit and cool down.

If I need to hasten the cooling I'll simply let some cold water run on the outside of the stainless steel pot.  That cools it pretty quickly.
Once everything is the same temperature I pour the liquid into the oils.

I try not to heat the oils too much and often leave a little bit of the solid oils to melt on their own while the oils cool down to the correct soaping temperature.  Or even have some solid bits still floating like here.  The stick blender takes care of it.

I prefer to soap at about 40°C / 100°F, so I let both oils and water cool to around that temperature.

Here is why I love to make soaps.  The Rhubarb oil is yellow with a strange greenish, almost iridescent cast to it.  But once the lye hits it, it turns red.

I love that.

I use an old Bamix stick blender that I got in a thrift shop.  I really like it.  It's very sold and rather quiet.
Next is the fun bit: Turn on the stick blender and watch the swirls.

I don't really mix for very long.  I'm not too bothered about trace.  The soap mixture will reach trace on it's own if it is properly blended.  At least I have never had any problems with that.

I then pour in my essential oils, which I have already poured into a small bowl.  I do not have a scale that is sensitive enough to measure essential oil blends.

Since my recipes are small, I may use only a few drops of this and a dash of that.  My scale can measure down to +/- 2 g (that's around 0.07 oz) and that isn't enough accuracy to use it for fragrance.  So I just make my fragrance blends on instinct.

I usually try to avoid using the stick blender too much for the essential oils, since they are so volatile.

Once all the ingredients are blended, I pour the soap into moulds.  I have wooden log moulds and I like those.

I'm usually not concerned if they gel or not.  I just let it happen.

But, if I do not want them to gel I'll put the moulds into the fridge or even freezer overnight.

Or sometimes I use smaller mould to avoid gelling, but that doesn't always work. 

I always use a small pin (knitting needle, the end of a thermometer or a chopstick) to make swirls in my soaps to decorate the tops.  I studied the way other peoples soaps look like and I tried to get different looks.  But mine always looked the same.  The funny thing is that when my cousin and I were doing this together and she would use the same implement and the same type of movement we could easily tell our soaps apart.  So I guess this is my look.

I added dried flowers.  That may be too cutesy for some, but when I was looking through my old photos as I uploaded them to Flickr I really loved the look of them.  So even if they get spoiled when they get wet I still like them like that.


  1. Your soap is very beautiful Ambra, especially with the flowers embedded on top. Last year I read one of your posts on using rhubard oil and gave it a try myself. I was able to achieve a lovely light, almost fairy-like pink from it, but your pink is wonderfully deep and rich. Cheers, Deirdre

  2. You make so beautiful and romantic looking soaps. I like them a lot even if they are totally different from the soaps I make. I have always like bright colors and contrasts. I have wanted to make soap with rhubarb oil, but it has to wait until next summer when I get a rhubarb of my own.

  3. Oh my goodness this is soooo pretty! I have been interested in soap making for some time and just recently made my first batch (oatmeal and honey) hot process soap. I am also a rhubarb "nut" and was searching on Google about making rhubarb soap - that's how I found your blog!!! I am a newby and think I found an amazing teacher here..... so much to learn! Question - is the cold process soap milder than the hot process, or what is the main difference? Thank you so much for your tutorial here - I will be following your blog for sure!

  4. This is gorgeous!! I'm a newby soap maker and so happy to have found your blog. This tutorial is excellent. Off I go to read the rest of your sudsy posts!!

  5. Rosella, welcome to the highly addictive world of soap making :). About cold process. The biggest difference it that the cold process soaps need to cure for at least 5 - 6 weeks to bring the ph down to a safe level. They look a bit different. I have only done a few hot process ones myself, but they seemed to similar one you use them. I find that the look is the most noticeable difference.


  6. Hi, I'm new to soapmaking, and your page is a true treasure of knowledge and inspiration :) After reading one of your posts, I realised I had Rumex Longifolius growing in my garden, and rushed out to get some. I made an oil extraction of mashed fresh root and olive oil. I have now learned the hard way that using fresh root might leed to fermenting... If I heat the mix, and thus stop the fermenting, will the extraction still be usable, or is it a lost cause because of potential microbes in the oil? It does still smell good, and I see now other problems such as mold. I have seen from your blog that your life has been turn up-side down the past year, and hope you are retrieving your footing ones again. My best wishes for you!

    1. Hi and thank you for your comments. If you have fermentation and/or mold then you have water in the oil. Bacteria and yeast do not live in oil so you need to separate the oil from the water. This is best done by pouring the liquid through a sive to get out the root pieces and then let the liquid stand. The water and gunk should sink to the bottom. You can also add some more water to the liquid if there is a lot of gunk to get a better separation. Use a turkey baster to siphon the oil of the water/gunk. The reulting oil should be perfectly fine.
      This, by the way, is also how I clean fat from the pork roast and use it in soap making :) Good luck.

    2. Thanks, I see there is really a lot for me to learn. Which i like :) I ended up removing the root pieces and heating the oil. I was told by some others to throw it all away, but keept it to use as medium for testing colours and different combinations of things giving colours. But I have now learned that it's a smart thing drying my roots before using them :D


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