Beyond Castile: A Soothing Soap


As a soap maker, I regularly create bar soap.  In the basement I have a collection of oils, butters, containers, and tools for making soap.  But lately, I have been in a rut and found myself making batch after batch of castile soap.  Now there is nothing wrong with castile soap (in fact, I am quite fond of it), but as someone who likes to create… it was time to break out of the rut and reach for other oils.

newly poured soap in wood mold

newly poured soap in wood mold

In order to create a new recipe, I used the lye soap calculator on Bramble Berry’s website.  The calculator takes out the guess-work and it makes it easy to create different size batches and to scale a recipe to meet your needs.  To create a recipe, enter the type of soap, solid or liquid; the unit of measure, ounces or grams; and the weight of each oil you will use.   Once you are satisfied with the proportions, click on the calculate button for the recipe.  The recipe will also calculate the amount of lye to be used.

Urban Overalls Soothing Soap

  • 5.5 oz castor oil
  • 14.5 oz cocoa butter
  • 39 oz coconut oil
  • 28 oz olive oil
  • 11.25 oz palm oil
  • 13.5 oz shea butter
  • 17.2 oz lye
  • 36.9 oz water

NOTE: use a digital scale for accurate weight measurements rather than using measuring cups.  Also, when adding lye to water, use safety equipment: eye protection and gloves.

In a well ventilated area (such as outdoors or under a vented range hood), pour water into a large container (I use a plastic bowl).   Next, slowly add the lye to the water, stirring constantly.  Do not lean directly over the container as the lye/water mixture will release fumes for approximately 30 seconds.  Stir until the lye is completely dissolved.  The lye will react with the water and the mixture will become hot.  Handle the container carefully.

As the lye/water mixture cools, you can now move onto the oils.  Melt the solid oils in a large container.  You can either use the microwave or the stovetop.  Remove from heat and add remaining oils and stir to combine.  Examples of soap ingredients that need to be melted include: cocoa butter, coconut oil, and shea butter.

melting cocoa butter

melting cocoa butter

Measure the temperature of oils as well as the lye/water mixture.  The goal is for both mixtures to be in the 100 – 110 degree range.  If the lye mixture is still quite warm, you can place the container in a sink of ice water.

Once both mixtures are in the same temperature range, it is now time to combine them.   Slowly pour the lye mixture into the oil mixture while stirring.  (Use tools and containers that are designated just for soap making.  Now is not the time to use your brand new bread bowl.  Instead, consider buying items from thrift stores for soap making.)

weighing shea butter

weighing shea butter

The goal now is to stir the mixture until trace is reached.  This is the magical moment when the mixture begins to take on a consistency of thin pudding.  To speed up this process, I reach for a stick blender (again… this one is used just for soap making).  With a stick blender, this soap reached trace in less than five minutes.

With a mold at the ready (wood lined with plastic wrap or a silicon container work well), pour the soap in.  Once all of the soap is in the mold, place a cover over the top.  Do not let the top sag and make contact with the soap surface.  A large plastic lid or a thin piece of wood that is larger than the mold works well.  Cover the container with an old blanket or place in an insulated container.  This action will help the soap reach the gel stage.

Check on the soap after a day.  It should feel firm.  If not, allow to set for another day (or two) before cutting into bars.  Soft soap is difficult to cut cleanly.  Once the soap is cut, lay out on a rack or mesh tray and allow to cure for four to six weeks before using.

Homemade soap is wonderful.  Get out of your rut and make something new.  Perhaps this will be your new soothing bar?


16 responses »

    • Oh… making soap is fun. I love to experiment with different types of oils and butters. If you have the chance, give it a try. Ever since I took a soap making class (cold process), I have been making soap ever since.

  1. I keep reading soap making posts, and I really want to try it… You make it sound so easy! My husband is convinced playing with chemicals in our apt is a bad idea. But maybe over the Christmas holiday I’ll sneak out on the patio…….

    • Just handle the lye carefully… add it to water, not the other way around, keep stirring as you add it slowly. The fumes will dissipate in about 30 seconds (I generally do this step out on the patio). The rest of the soap making it pretty straight forward. I hope you get the chance to make soap!

    • Yes it is. I used to have a chart with the SAP values and would do the calculations by hand. The lye soap calculators that are online are so handy… and it is easier (and quicker) to come up with new recipes.

    • Soap making is such fun and we love knowing what exactly is in the final product. It may sound like a complicated process, but once you begin making soap, you will learn the steps and they can become second nature. Though I always make sure to handle the lye carefully. 🙂

  2. Lovely 🙂 I have recently begun using the Cold process / oven process method. Once you have poured it into the mold (not plastic) you put into a preheated oven at 60 – 70 deg C for one hour then you turn off and leave there for 12 hours. When you take out it is really firm and the knife cuts through like butter. It also cuts time off the curing of it. When I was making soap for myself it didn’t matter so much what it looked like but the finished look of the soap frustrated me when I wanted to give it away for gifts, or start selling.

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