The Soapmaking Process

A few friends have asked about the process of making soap. Here is as picture guide to making cold process, oven process soap. What this means is we do not “cook” the soap after it reaches “trace”. We take the soap, pour it into a mold and then stick it in a warm oven for a couple of hours to be sure it reaches gel. Once that is done, usually within a couple of hours, depending on the oven temperature, we turn the oven off and leave the soap in it, usually overnight. There are many ways of making soap. We have chosen this method as it produces a smoother bar and we can achieve our swirls much easier with this process than with hot process.Here are pictures of the process of soapmaking. Since Barbara both took the photos as well as was making soap, there will not be tons of pictures nor much more of her than her hands.

Here is the lye, cooling in my window above my sink. As I well know, this is not always enough to prevent accidents. I now make sure each and every person in the home knows I have prepared my lye so they know what might be sitting around! Even though it is cold outside, I have the window open as this helps to cool the lye water down. Using room temperature water, once the lye (sodium hydroxide) is added, the temps can get upwards of 200 degrees. I always mix *in* the sink in case there are overflows.

Here is a picture of the hard oil in the pan. I first melt the hard oils over very low heat. I do not want the oils to get very hot as they, too, have to cool down before I can add the lye mixture. It should be cooled to less than 120. I usually get them cooled to between 100-110 degrees fahrenheit. I have found that the cooler they both are, the longer it takes to get to “trace”. This is a good thing … it allows me to be sure the lye mixture is mixed well into the oils to allow for saponification. If it traces too quickly, I can have a globby mess! I will have to spoon the mixture into the mold and not have a smooth pour.

While my solid oils are melting, I get my mold ready. I have pre-cut quilting mylar already to line the mold. Since I use a wooden mold, this serves two purposes. Since mylar is a heavy plastic, it keeps the mold (mostly) clean from spilled raw soap. As you can see on the top, there is some discoloration from the oils that have gotten on them. There is more discoloration on the insides. It is from fragrance oils and colorants I have used in the soaps. I use a plastic scraper to get off pieces of soap that leak out. The mylar also allows for the soap to easily slide out of the mold once it has gelled.

I have just added the liquid oils to the pot. You can see my scale on the left and it has the fragrance sitting on it, waiting for trace to happen so I can add it! On the right, you can see the colors I attempted to use with this batch.

The soap has passed the thin trace stage and moving onto medium/thick trace. Trace is when the mixture is starting to have the consistency of thin, cooked pudding. Thin trace is usually when you add things like fragrances, coloring and other additives. If you let it get too thick, you could have it seize on you and then you have to work very quickly if you want any hope of saving the batch. I speak from experience!

Here, I have added three colorings. My first attempt at more than one color. I added yellow, red and blue. As you can see, it didn’t really work the way I wanted it to. I wanted it to be bright and be able to see all the colors separately. I will try again! The thing with swirls and colors, you never really know what it is going to look like until you unmold and cut it. It can be a LONG wait.

Here is what the soap looks like in the mold, before being insulated. The way I insulate is to put the whole shebang into the oven on a low temp. This keeps the mixture warm and ensures that the soap mixture goes through gel. As you can see, this soap was a bit thick when I poured it. I have had worse so I was not too worried about this batch as far as that went. I was not happy with my colors, though.

I forgot to take a picture of it sitting on my cooling rack after I pulled it from the oven the following day. I leave the oven on for about 2 hours then turn it off and leave the soap in overnight. Here I am getting ready to cut a piece of soap. I use a cutter that allows me keep the size of my bars fairly consistent. Since they are hand cut, there will be slight variations between each piece.

After I cut the first piece, I weigh it to see how much it weighs. The soap will cure over time and some water weight will be lost. The water evaporates out of the soap over time which will help harden a bar of soap as well. As you can see, this is a pretty dense bar of soap at 6.9 ounces. After cutting off the top and beveling it, it will weigh less. The final product, after curing, should still be well above 5 ounces, depending on how much of the top I need to trim off.

Here is Michael beveling my soap. He earns money for this chore! Beveling the soap creates a smoother edge to the soap and a nicer feel during the first few uses. This tool has a piece of wire on the bottom that cuts off the corners and smoothes them out. Michael loves to do this job!

Here is Michael holding up a finished bar of soap. He has beveled all 8 sides and the four corners. As you can see, we catch the scraps of soap. Not sure what we will be using them for but we do not throw them away! They are all sitting in baggies on top of my shelving unit waiting for me to figure that one out!

Here is the almost finished product (before being beveled). As you can see, blue is quite visible in some of the soaps. Others don’t have much of a blue swirl. Like I mentioned above, you just never know what you will get when you cut your soap. While this is not what I was aiming for (not very psychedelic, is it?), it is not as bad as I was afraid it would be. And, I love the scent. This is “Summer Fling” … a nice blend of fruits and floral. Not overpowering in the least.


  1. I have a very sensitive skin condition and I would like to know if you can use anythingelse beside lye to make the soap, I am looking for an all natural product.


  2. What a great question!

    No matter what anyone else tries to say … all soap must be made with lye. No lye, No Soap, No Lie! as a popular soaping website says.

    That said, handmade soap that is properly made no longer contains lye. Soap is “superfatted” which means I use less lye than is necessary to saponify the oils (turn the oils into soap).

    If you are sensitive to fragrances, may I suggest my Essential Oil line? If you are worried about them as well …. I do have a few unscented soaps, including a castile soap which is over 90% olive oil … there is a bit of castor to boost lather. I also have one that is castile with some goatsmilk.

    Thank you for asking such a great question!


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