How to Make Herbal Soap

What you'll need

We recommend using kitchen equipment that will not be used for cooking afterwards

Stainless steel, tempered glass or enamel mixing bowls or measuring jugs
Gloves, apron and other protective wear
Plastic spoons
Soap moulds or you can use a silicone baking tray
A stainless steel kitchen thermometer
An old towel
Parchment paper
150ml of coconut oil – to produce good lather (buy it in bulk here for soap making here)
150ml of olive oil – which makes a hard and mild bar
150ml of other liquid oil such as almond oil or sunflower oil
60ml caustic soda (aka sodium hydroxide)
180ml cold water (ideally distilled or purified to avoid having impurities in your mixture)

Making your own herbal soaps can be done very simply and once you’ve mastered the basics you can add your own flavours, scents and ingredients to make it however you want.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can’t make soap without using sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as Caustic Soda but it is just that, caustic. It can burn holes in fabric and on your skin. Always open the windows and take neccessary precautions when handling caustic soda such as using gloves (even use eye protection and a mask if you need to). However, once the caustic soda has reacted with the oils in your soap, through a process called saponification, there will no longer be any traces of it in the final soap. Remember to always add the caustic soda to water (not the other way round), and start stirring right away otherwise a it can coagulate and heat up quickly, possibly causeing an explosion. When you add the caustic soda to the water, it will heat up and fume for about 30 seconds to a minute.

Before you begin, cover your work area with newspaper. Put on your gloves and other protective wear. Measure your water into measuring jug and with you spoon measure out your caustic soda, making sure you have exactly 60ml. Slowly pour the caustic soda into the water, stirring as you go. Stand back a bit while you stir to avoid inhaling fumes. When the water starts to clear, you can allow it to sit while you move to the next step.

In another measuring jug or bowl, add your three oils together. Heat the mixture in a microwave for one minute, or you can put the jug/ bowl of oils in a pan of water to heat. Check the temperature of the oil mixture. It should be about 120 degress. At the same time your caustic soda mixture should have come down to about 120 degrees as well by then. Now wait for both to cool somewhere between 95 and 105 degrees. It’s important to get this right because if either are too low and the soap will come together quickly, but it will be coarse and crumbly.

When both mixtures are at the right temperature, pour the oils into a mixing bowl. Now, slowly add the caustic soda mixture, stirring with the spoon until it’s all mixed together. Keep stirring by hand for about a further five minutes, until the soap mixture lightens in colour and become thicker, with the consistency of a creme brulee. Now it’s at “trace” and it’s time to add your herbs or other flavourings. Stir in dried herbs, oils or whatever other additions you want at this point. Pour the mixture into your moulds or tray and cover them with cling film. Now wrap it all up in an old towel to keep the residual heat in and set it aside at room temperature. Saponification (the process of the base ingredients becoming soap) has now started.

Check on your soap after 24 hours and if it’s still warm or soft, leave it for another 24 hours. When it’s finally cold and firm, it’s time to empty the soap out onto parchment paper. If you’ve used a large ‘bread loaf’ mould, this is the point to cut it into bars. The soaps then need to be left for about four weeks for ‘curing’ but it’s a good idea to turn them once a week to expose every side to air.

After four weeks, when your soap is finally cured, it can be wrapped or packaged however you like but it’s best to use wax paper or at least store it in an airtight container because it it’s left open to the air it can pull in moisture and attract dust.

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