Project 31: Making soap

August 20, 2011

I made soap today! And since it is Saturday and my husband was home I was able to get more process photos to share with you.

Lye water

Above you’ll see the list of supplies I started with: A bread pan, plastic wrap, and waxed paper to make the mold; gloves for safety; distilled water and lye (Roebic crystal drain opener from Lowe’s) for the lye water; coconut oil, olive oil, and castor oil for the oils; heatproof glass measuring cups; and a cool infrared laser thermometer (not required, but fun to have). I forgot to include our kitchen scale or the hand mixer in this photo.

The first step was to make the lye water. Lye can hurt you so I tried to be extra careful, even though safety isn’t really my strong suit. Fortunately I had my husband around to remind me to be cautious. We mixed the lye water outside because of the potential for dangerous splashing and fumes.

Something kind of awesome happens when you mix lye and water: it heats up. I’m sure that people who know things about chemistry know why this happens, but I just thought it was cool.


Next we headed inside and I measured out the oils. I used 6 oz coconut oil, 10 oz olive oil, and .5 oz castor oil. I’m told that the castor oil helps the soap be more lathery, but I included it because it was in the recipe.


It was at this point that I realized that I had mixed the ingredients kind of backwards. I wanted the lye water in one vessel and the oils in another. The two would then combine into the bigger of the two measuring cups for the rest of the process. However, for safety’s sake I was supposed to have mixed the lye water in the small cup and the oils in the big cup so that I was adding the water to the oil and not the other way around. Oops. I carefully poured the oil into the water with no disastrous consequences.

The next step was to agitate the mixture so it will trace. My original reference recommended using a stick blender so it will thicken in a matter of minutes (as opposed to a whisk which could take an hour). Our stick blender is kind of broken and I didn’t want it to fall apart into the lye mixture, so I decided to use a hand mixer. Well, after 20 minutes of using the hand mixer we had a hunch that something was wrong. It just wasn’t thickening. That was when my husband found this video: How to get ‘trace’ in soapmaking. It clearly shows trace happening in a matter of minutes with the stick blender. We got ours out and tried it and it worked like a dream. In just a couple of minutes the mixture was nice and thick and pourable.

Pouring soap

I poured it into the prepared mold — in this case a bread pan lined with both plastic wrap and wax paper. It needs to cure in the mold for 2 days. Then I’ll take it out, cut it up, and let the bars cure for 3-4 weeks. When everything is done I will report back and show you how it turned out.

Yay soap!


  1. Glad everything came out all right in the end!

  2. That looks amazing. I’m just started making soap as well. I was posting about my experience with it on my blog.
    I hope everything comes out well for you. I drop back in three weeks to see! Great pictures by the way!

    • Good luck with your projects, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Ooooooh, if I get good and dirty can I be a tester?

    • Aren’t you full up on soap? Mine doesn’t even have fancy botanicals in it.

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