Learning to Make Soap: Part 1

Mar 25, 2021

Is this something I want to spend my time doing?

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If you have read my first blog (here) you will know that I have decided to start an eco-friendly, minimal waste soap business. The only small, teeny tiny problem with this otherwise inspired plan, is I have no idea how to actually make soap! But when has that stopped anyone?

Where to start? Thankfully there are lots of resources online dedicated to soap making and after a bit of a google I came across the Lovely Greens. This is a fantastic resource for newbie soapmakers like me and reading through her excellent beginner’s soap making course gave me the confidence that I really might be able to do this.

Also my lovely friend sent me two great books on soap making too: Pure soapmaking: how to create nourishing natural skin care soaps by Anne-Marie Faiola (founder of Brambleberry) and The big book of handmade products for your skin, health and home by Jan Berry, both of which really inspired me and allowed me to see what was possible (Thanks Ellie).

I decided that before I went too far down the path of setting up a business selling soap I had better find out if I actually enjoyed making soap – otherwise this was going to be a really bad career choice. I thought that the most sensible thing to do was to try a soap recipe that was already available, tried and tested. I decided to make the Eco Friendly Cold Process soap recipe by Lovely Greens as my first ever soap. This is a palm oil free recipe that includes coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil and shea butter and uses an old Tetrapak as the mould. All of this is very in keeping with the Small Kindness ethos, so it seemed like the perfect first soap.

Thankfully I really enjoyed the process – it was a happy mix of bench science and crafting. I mean... I was all over the place and the whole process definitely needs some streamlining. And I really need to find my soaping legs (a lot more practise), but I could do it! And it was super fun!

Lovely Greens recommends leaving the soap for 48 hours before unmoulding and cutting it. I was so excited- I just kept looking at the soap and showing it to any family member I could find. When it finally came to unmoulding and cutting the soap I didn’t really have a suitable knife and just hacked at the poor loaf of soap with a dinner knife! Pretty it was not– but nothing could detract from the pride that I had made my own soap!! Now I just had to wait 4 weeks before I could try it! What kind of purgatory is this??

To take my mind off the waiting and as my process was definitely not slick, I decided to try another recipe from Lovely Greens– this time I went for the Simple Flower Soap recipe.

It was fairly similar to the Eco friendly recipe (Palm oil free), but had sunflower oil alongside the olive oil. This time the process was a bit better and I felt much more confident that I knew what I was doing and that I was in control of the process... as much as you can be.

This time I even added a scent- I mean it was only a teaspoon of lavender essential oil, but scent nonetheless. I know that for the amount of soap oils I was using (1Lb/454g) I could have used up to 3 tsp of lavender, but I was keen to see how strong it would be.
I mentioned previously that I suffer with chronic migraines and one of the side effects is I have an extremely sensitive sense of smell. I am not always keen on really strong smelling products. Strong smells can sometimes be a migraine trigger and once I have a migraine strong smells really increase my feeling of seemingly unending nausea. Just walking past a "LUSH" store on the High Street is a complete nightmare for me! And it is a worry that my soaps will be a little less strongly scented than others – but hopefully there is a place for a more gently scented bar. Only time will tell!

Again I followed the instructions to wait 48 hours before unmoulding and this time I stole the cheese knife to cut the soap... and again my cutting was poor. I think that once I am up and running I will need a proper wire soap cutter otherwise it won’t matter how good the soap is, with my cutting skills the bars are going to look like I let my 12 year old stepdaughter cut them! (If you saw her wielding a knife and fork you would understand how catastrophic that could be!).

After 4 weeks the wait was finally over and I could finally use the Eco soap – and it was great! I was so pleased with the first bar of soap I have ever made. It lathered really nicely and felt nourishing. Delighted just doesn't seem to cover it- I actually took a video and put it on my family Whatsapp group to show them my first ever bar (see video below).

If you are new to soapmaking like me and want to try a recipe with minimal ingredients I could not recommend this Lovely Greens recipe higher. And then a few days later the flower soap was ready too. The lavender scent was gentle and not overpowering (no migraine) and the soap itself was great – different to the Eco soap as it produced a creamier lather. By complete chance I had run out of our hand soap just as the Eco soap had cured, and our shower soap as the floral soap was ready and I think they both suit their uses perfectly!

Right this is all well and good- it appears I am able to follow a soap recipe. But now I need to develop my own Small Kindness soap recipes…

I'll see you on the next blog in this series- see how that goes and the next challenges I face in my soapmaking escapade.

. . .

I am Kelly Townsend and this is the Small Kindness Blog. I am a scientist, a bee lover, a rewilding obsessive, and I want to spread Small Kindnesses through the medium of soap. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for your daily dose of kindness (as well as to see how the soap making is going!)