How to Make Soap

Source: Susan Dahlem,

When an acid (fats, oils) and a base (sodium hydroxide) react and neutralize into salt, the product is called saponification, or, more simply stated—making soap! There are many ways to make soap, but this old-fashioned method is my favorite. The recipe below is a good one to start with as it uses simple ingredients and
provides a good, quick trace, which is the "point of no return" in the
soap-making process—the mixture will not separate back into
the original oils and lye water.

Allow yourself 1-1/2 hours for making a batch of soap.

Equipment Needed
TIP: Gather all of the specified equipment and ingredients ahead of time and read all of the instructions before beginning.

  • Safety glasses
  • A pair of well-fitting, intact rubber gloves
  • An old towel
  • One glass measuring cup with a spout or a wide-mouthed jar
  • 2-quart stainless-steel or enamelware pot
  • At least two stainless-steel or high-heat plastic spoons
  • A plastic, glass, or wood mold suitable for your size batch of soap-making. If you do not have a mold, a shoe-box lined with freezer paper or greased with shortening would be an appropriate substitution for a mold and the right size for this recipe.
  • A good-quality scale that measures in tenths of an ounce. A digital postal scale that measures up to 10 pounds will work fine.
  • Small stainless-steel or glass container for measuring sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • One small stainless-steel wire whisk
  • Quick-read thermometer that registers 80–200 degrees


  • 6 oz. of cold water (distilled or rainwater)
  • 2.7 oz. of sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • 8 oz. palm kernel oil
  • 4 oz. coconut oil
  • 6 oz. olive oil
  • 1 oz. of essential oil
  • Approximately 1/2 cup lavender buds or French green clay if desired

Before Beginning; Notes on Safety
Wear the safety glasses and gloves and keep them on for the entire process—even through cleanup.

Keep the lye, lye water, and raw soap out of reach of children and pets at all times. Lye is caustic in both dry and wet form and will burn your skin, can cause blindness, and it will ruin just about any painted surface or linoleum floor. The art of soap-making is enormously gratifying, but it requires
patience and demands that you pay close attention as powerful
ingredients and careful handling are required throughout the process.

Spread out an old towel and place the mold in the center as you will be wrapping the molded soap after it is poured.

Fill a glass measuring cup or glass wide-mouth jar with 6 oz. of cold water (do not use warm water as it will cause an unfavorable reaction). Stir in the 2.7 oz. lye until it is all dissolved. Do not inhale the fumes.

Set aside the mixture in a safe place for about 1 hour until it cools to about 100 degrees F. Check the temperature often.

In the meantime, melt the solid oils (the palm kernel and coconut) over low heat in a stainless-steel or enamelware pot, keeping the temperature the same as the water mixture, at 100 degrees F. When the solid oils have melted, remove them from the heat and add the olive oil.

At this point, you may need to give the oil mixture or the lye mixture a hot—or cold—water bath to bring them to 100 degrees F. Once each mixture reaches the desired temperature, in a slow, steady stream, pour the lye water into the oils, stirring constantly in a figure-eight pattern with a stainless-steel or high-heat plastic spoon.

Continue to stir for about 30 minutes. The mixture will become slightly thicker and creamier looking. Once it reaches the consistency of thin pudding, add your fragrance and botanical or clay additives, if desired.* If you are making plain soap, pour it into the prepared mold.

Cover the soap with plastic wrap and then wrap the towel over the mold and back again until it is completely covered. This will insulate the soap and allows it to continue saponification at a constant temperature. It will also keep it from cooling too quickly, which may prevent the soap from getting hard enough.

After 18–24 hours, unmold the soap and remove the plastic wrap. Let the soap sit yet another 12–24 hours before cutting it into bars. Stack the bars to allow air to circulate around them and let them cure for 4–6 weeks. You may even leave your soap in a log and cut some off as you need it.

For the holidays—or any other time—wrap the finished bars in decorative fabric and secure with a simple bow for giving. Enjoy!

*If you use botanicals or clay, it is best to put a little mixture into a bowl, mix in the additive, and then pour and stir it back in the batch, mixing well.