Nothing gets you clean and fresh like soap. While commercial soap works just fine, some people just want to feel all pioneer-y and Martha Stewart-ish...so we make our own.
Other than the feeling of superiority sopamaking brings, there are real reasons for making your own. Many people have sensitive skin, and can't find a commercial soap that doesn't irritate. Some have moral objections to such and such a company. And still others want to know exactly what is in that gunk they're spreading over their skin. What the crap is triclocarban?
Most soaps contain lye, a powerful alkaline, which is one reason soap is so slippery. This also explains the searing pain of bathing. (Thank you, Roy)
This is what most people have reactions to. Dyes and scents can also cause rashes and headaches. Fortunately, we have an alternative!
Glycerine melt-and-pour soap is by far the easiest choice. You just melt and pour, hence the name. But since glycerine has an unpleasant odor, most people add a scent to make it palateable. Essential oils are my choice, since you get the added benifit of the plant. For more information on essential oils, please go here.
You can buy manufactured fragrance oils for soap, but for those with objections to the plastic smell of commercial soap, this is virtually useless. It may be cheaper, but your soap will likely not turn out as you hoped it would.
As long as you're scenting your soap, why not make it an interesting color? You can combine colour therapy with aromatherapy, and get clean! Soap dyes are sold in most hobby stores, and 1 oz can give a rich, dark colour to nearly 25 lbs of glycerine. Of course, if you have problems with commercial soap dyes...this is useless. I have not used anything other than these dyes, so I have no real idea of how anything else works. Sorry! But if someone out there has tried food colouring, or cake frosting colouring, or anything else, please let me know how it works.
Unless you have your heart set on something really fancy, you don't need a manufactured soap mold. I use aluminum foil cake pans as my molds, and cut the finished product into 1 inch wide sections. Those itty-bitty aluminum foil potato pans are great for tiny individual soaps, too. They're cheap, easily washed, and you can use them for something other than soap molds if you get tired of making soap. (Shame on you if you do!)
The type of glycerine I'm talking about is the large solid block, not the bottled liquid. You can find the solid glycerine at most hobby stores, although it can get expensive. I bought 5 lbs at Hobby Lobby for $20 US. If you look long enough, you can find it for a better price, I'm sure. Try Wal-Mart first, if you can. As a side note, I have a recipie for conditioner using the liquid glycerine, and as soon as I've tested it, I'll tell you how well it works.
Most glycerine packages proclaim that you can melt it in the microwave. I don't recommend it. The glycerine never melts completely, there's a skin on the top, and by the time you add your scent or dye...it's a wrinkled mess. I double-boil my glycerine, so a gentle heat is consistently applied, and my mix is liquid for as long as I need it to be. Since I can't afford a real double boiler, I use a stainless steel mixing bowl suspended over a quart saucepan with paper towels. Just tear the paper into three sections, fold it into a small square, and place it between the pan and the bowl at the rim.
You'll need to cut your block of glycerine into small chunks, the smaller the better. If you buy a 5 lb block and use bread pans as your mold, like I did, then roughly 1/3 of your glycerine block is all you need to fill your mold. I cut my glycerine into chunks about 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch, and on a medium heat, it takes ten minutes to completely melt. It's best to wait until your glycerine is fully liquid before you add anything.
Now, it doesn't take much dye to colour your soap deeply, but it does take quite a bit of scent to erase that medicinal smell. If you're using essential oils, do not mix with a carrier! The glycerine is enough. For one bread pan mold, expect to use 50 drops of essential oil.
While you're mixing, try not to inhale the fumes. It's nasty, and you'll taste soap for days. Eugh.
When everything is mixed to your taste, grab a pot holder and pour into your mold. Preferably, your pre-greased mold. Rubbing a bit of vegetable oil around the pan makes a smoother soap, and makes it easier to get the finished stuff out.
No matter how carefully you pour, you're going to have a bit of foam on the top. Just blow gently to coax the bubbles to one side, and when your soap has set, you can scrape it off.
Once you have your mix in the mold, let it sit on the counter until a thick skin has formed. Then, if you're impatient to use your soap, stick the mold in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
To release the soap from the mold, just turn it upside down and gently press in the middle. It should fall right out. You can then scrape off foam, unsightly bits, round the edges, and cut into manageable pieces.
To keep your soap fresh and clean, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in a cool, dry place away from pets, small children and dirty people.
The Real Thing...
I have to be honest. I never made a batch of lye soap that worked. I've tried twice, and both times I had pockets of lye in my finished product. *Sob* I'm a failure!
When I have the time and money, I'll try again, but until then I'm a failure. So I'll just direct you to a few websites that tell you how to properly make lye soap.
How To Make Soap
How to Make Soap From Scratch
A Lesson in Soap Making
My first book on soap making was Soap; Making it, Enjoying it by Ann Bramson (ISBN 0-911104-57-7, Workman Publishing Company, New York). It was not Ms. Bramson's fault that I failed...I must have missed an instruction somewhere.
Ms. Bramson goes into wonderful detail on the subject of soap. She gives history, ancedotes, even tells you how to properly render beef fat into lard. That's something we all should learn.
Enjoy the heady rush soapmaking brings!