Thursday, February 9, 2017

For The Newbie Soap Maker: Safety Precautions and Warnings

There is a lot of misinformation out here in the soap world and it has become clear to me that many people will take the advice in a DIY video and just make soap without looking into getting some safety information.  There are a lot of things that are dangerous about cold process soapmaking if certain safety precautions aren't taken.

Making a basic soap is actually easy to do and anyone can do it as long as basic steps are taken and a general knowledge of chemicals being used are clearly understood.  This is not a tutorial on what soap is or what superfatting is or the chemical science behind it all, although all of these things are important to learn before you make soap, but I am simply focusing on safety and ease of this process.

I have listed a link to a cold process tutorial with photos along with some resources and MUST READS at the bottom of this post so you can read some excellent descriptions and words of wisdom from excellent master soapers I believe are trustworthy and will provide you with free, solid information.

Let's look at some simple truths that one must understand before diving into making cold process (CP) soap:

1.  Lye is caustic.  If you use it, know that it can be dangerous if you aren't careful, but it won't bite you and shouldn't scare you off as long as you follow the rules.  Here are basic rules:

  • Wear latex, rubber or nitrile gloves while handling lye, whether it's dry or in your water/lye mixture.  Lye will sting and burn if it touches you. Yes, it hurts.
  • Wear safety goggles over your eyes, even if you already wear glasses.  Eyes are beautiful and they help us navigate this life of ours.  Kind of a big deal, so protect those eyeballs always.  No need to take any chances of blinding yourself.  So wear them.  No excuses!
2.  Use an online soap calculator.  I use SOAP CALC, but there are others and I think all of them are free.  Here is a link:

If you are just starting out you will need to first figure out how much soap you are making and what mold or container you will be putting it in.  Now this is all personal preference.  You can skip purchasing expensive molds at first while you make a number of practice soaps in everyday containers that are pliable, such as Gladware disposable "tupperware".  These can be used several times before they become useless, so choose any size.  They are easy to clean, easy to unmold your soap and are inexpensive and easily accessible.  Also, while you are buying plastic food containers, grab a heavy weight plastic pitcher to make your lye/water mixture or use one from home, that you label "LYE-POISON!" on and never use it for food or drinks again.

You will be using lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, which, in the Soap Calculator is NaOH (the chemical name for lye).

In section #1, choose NaOH.  Then you need to determine your batch size in oils.  I would start with 1 lb of oils.  Making a smaller sized batch than that is more difficult to do without the experience of using your stick blender and you may end up with too many bubbles or splashing.... Remember, this post is designed for the absolute beginner.  Before you get the hang of your tools and how they work on different speeds, the rotation of your stick and air bubbling in melted oils, etc, it is probably easier to stick with this sized batch at first.  

Once you decide on your batch size, enter it in #2 of the calc.

Section #3 will determine the concentration of your lye to oil.  Choose the "Water: Lye Concentration":  Enter 2:1.  This means that you will use twice as much water as lye which is a good place to start.  If your lye in water concentration is more concentrated, your soap may go to trace faster than you may want and right now, you probably just want to make soap without panicking.  

Section #4 is named: Superfat.  Because this may be your first soap, and the batch will be on the small side, I would start at the default 5% or 6%.  I prefer my soaps to be around 8-9% superfat which is more moisturizing than 5%, but the soap may be a bit softer and harder to unmold after 12-24 hours. Trust me when I tell you, that when your soap is cooled off completely, you will want to pop it out of that Gladware and cut it to see the magic you just created way before it gets to the cooling point.  It is very satisfying to have created an actual soap from a dangerous powder, some water and some oils. It is massively addictive once you see what that chemical reaction creates, and that YOU made it.

Now you get to choose your oils.  Again, this is your first soap and will most likely NOT be your last, so don't concern yourself too much about the properties of your oils for a magnificent bar.  You will have plenty of time to learn about the different qualities each oil brings to the table of soap, but this is your test batch. You can use lard, sunflower oil, canola oil, Crisco, olive oil and/or coconut oil or any variation of any of these if you want ...all of these can be purchased at your grocery store.  Enter which oils you will be using and at what percentages.  For instance, Coconut oil: 30%, Olive oil: 40%, Sunflower oil: 30%

"Calculate" your recipe and click on View and Print Recipe which will open up a new tab for you to print out and follow exact measurements for your soap.  It is crucial that you follow the exact measurements that the calculator provides.  I always follow the gram measurements so that my soap is exactly what the recipe calls for so that if I am not happy with my end result, I can tweak my recipe based on the end result.

Thing to always remember:

1.  When mixing your lye and water:  Never add the water to the lye.  Always add the lye to the water.  Please wear a surgical mask or avoid the "steam" that is caused when the two mix together.  Do not breath the steam into your lungs.  It hurts and it isn't good for you.

2.  When letting the lye/water mixture cool to room temperature, always put it out of reach of children or pets and make sure the container is properly labeled as poison in case you leave the room and someone else touches it.  Avoid any mishaps that can end up with permanent damage.

Again, soapmaking is fun, addictive and creates a functional art, but can be dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions.  Don't be scared.  Wear goggles (even if you wear glasses!), gloves and clothes while doing every step and read the following articles and you should have a safe and fun experience.  Who know?!  Your second batch of soap could change your life!  It only took two batches for me and I was hooked.  It seems to be a common feeling among soap makers: that it is an addictive, empowering process.

So read up and have fun!

Once you've made your soap and decide that it is for YOU, then swing by Facebook and join our group called Soaper's Retreat and get involved in the community of other soapers:


1.   Cold Process Soap Tutorial with photographs:

2.    Amanda Gail Aaron's Lovin Soap website is an invaluable resource you will want to use when learning about soapmaking.  A basic cold process soapmaking guide is here:  Read it.  Also, she has an article that lists oils and their properties in soap:

3.    Kenna Cote's Modern Soapmaking article is an explanation of what makes a good, balanced soap bar:

4.    Information on superfatting, read David Fisher's Candle and Soap on explanation here in detail:  

Have fun!