In order to make cold-process soap from scratch you need three essential ingredients: a fat (oils such as olive or coconut and/or butters such as shea or mango) and a strong alkali (sodium hydroxide, aka lye) with distilled water. By mixing these three ingredients a chemical reaction occurs known as "saponification". This word comes from the Latin word saponificare - "sapon" means soap and "ificare" means to make or do. Once the ingredients "saponify" you've got soap!
You can get very creative when it comes to making soap because you get to choose which fats (oils/butters) to use in order to get the desired result. For instance, olive oil creates a lovely moisturizing bar while coconut oil will contribute a cleansing bubbly lather. The trick is to combine a few oils together because each oil will impart its benefits to the soap. A soap made only from coconut oil may become so hard that it will be brittle. Being a soap maker, you also get to choose how you'd like it to look and smell by adding herbs or clays for color and essential oils for the aroma. These ingredients, like the fats, can create an aesthetically pleasing looking bar but they also impart their beneficial properties to the finished soap. Adding clays to soap is a wonderful way to color your soap naturally. However, they add more than color to the soap. We add Bentonite Clay to our shave soaps because it adds the wonderful silky slip to the soap which is what you want during shaving. Choosing to scent with essential oils will add their therapeutic properties to the soap. Adding lavender or chamomile essential oils for instance, will create a very soothing and calming effect on the user. This is ideal when making soaps for babies.
Here is a short video that gives you a peak into the process of making soap from scratch. Details such as measuring all the ingredients are left out to save time. Depending on the size of your batch, you can expect it to take 2 - 3 hours to measure ingredients, prepare your molds, wait for the temperatures of the fats and water/lye solution to come down to the appropriate temperature, mix all ingredients together and pour the soap into the molds. After which, they will sit in the molds for at least 2 days. Once the soap has been removed from the molds, they will sit on a wire rack to cure for 6 weeks. Patience is something that every soap maker needs but the wait is well worth it! There is nothing like using a handcrafted bar of soap where the ingredients are of the highest quality. Ingredients that the maker chose because s/he has a full understanding of the beneficial properties they will impart in the soap and on the user. Anything handmade with love is always going to be leaps and bounds better than its mass-produced counterpart.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you tried making soap? If so, tell me about your experiences. Or if you haven't, what's been stopping you from trying.