Puddle Jumpers

Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel

Homemade Soap: Trials and Tribulations

Over the last couple of days I’ve been making soap. I’ve been making soap off and on since 1999, and I make a batch of soap about once a year which I usually use for household cleaning, hand soap and homemade laundry soap.

A couple of years ago I posted about how I make it. If you’re interested, please feel free to read it here: Liquid all-purpose soap.

Wanting to share my soap making experiences this time, its trials and tribulations and hopefully inspire others, I posted pictures of the process for my friends on Facebook. A friend of mine was interested in the process, asked me some questions, and thus the reason for this blog entry.

I planned to make two batches of scented soap out of one recipe. A batch of lavender with ground lavender flowers and essential oil (also known as EO), and a batch with champa EO.

It all started out so nicely: Put the lye into the water, add the oils, stir until trace is reached and pour into the moulds. I bought a couple of cardboard boxes at the dollar store and lined them with plastic held on with my mother’s clothes pins, an inheritance. 🙂


It all sounds so innocent and nice, doesn’t it?

Then the moulds were set aside until the next day, all cozy and warm, tucked in with towels.

Nighty-night, soap…


But the next morning, it happened. An epic fail! After removing the soap cakes from the moulds, I began cutting them into bars, slicing through big holes containing oil that oozed everywhere.


The lavender batch was the worse of the two. I consulted my favourite soap book, one of three I own and the one I’ve used the most often. I highly recommend it. It’s called The Complete Soapmaker: Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps by Norma Coney. There are excellent instructions, warnings, tips, ideas and recipes with very good instructional photographs.

So I consulted chapter nine, Troubleshooting and Adjustments.

Salvation leapt from the pages! There was hope yet! The answer: Remelt the soap and repour.

OK. I can do that.

With my most excellent HazMat gloves on, with the undetectable hole in the left index finger that allows liquid to seep in, I cut the soft, liquidy, still caustic soap into chunks and threw it into a stainless steel pot. The instructions said to put the soap into a double boiler. I ignored this piece of wisdom because I don’t have a double boiler big enough. Actually, I don’t even own a double boiler, period, but sometimes I put a small pot into a bigger pot, like when I make hollandaise sauce. But I’m not making hollandaise sauce. I’m melting about 3 lbs (approx. 1400g) of soap.

So I throw the chunks into a pot and put the element on low and wait for the magic to happen.

Besides, I think, who needs to follow instructions? (!!)


Eventually, the soap melts, I stir and stir trying to melt all the chucks. This results in a thick, soft paste. I wisely {said sarcastically} skip the rule of lining the mould because I don’t feel like it, besides, I’m using a plastic one this time (not a guarantee that it won’t stick), and pour the melted soap into the mould.

Feeling quite smug about all this early success at salvaging this failed batch, I decide to do the same with the champa batch, only now I’m feeling extra experimental and dig out the crock pot.

Internet has a lot of suggestions. I like Internet. You can consult Internet about anything. You can find YouTube videos by people who have very generously posted instructions and their experiences in making and doing things. That’s how I found the recipe that I followed to make this failed batch of soap. I watched a video made by a soap maker named Marsha.

I honestly don’t think it was the fault of the recipe or the person who posted the video that the soap failed. It was clearly my own fault. (See above comments about skipping steps and ignoring instructions… in elementary school that was a consistent comment on my report card, “fails to follow directions properly” – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. If you don’t know what that means, ask Internet. It will give you the answer.)

The video is excellent. Very clear. I copied the recipe and bought the ingredients I didn’t have. What intrigued me with Marsha’s technique was that she did it differently from the usual way of making soap. She skipped a few steps and I liked that…

But it made sense! And it was probably the way our great-grandmothers and grandmothers (depending on your age) would have made soap back in the day before precision scales and thermometers, etc. Then again, back in the day people might have had a few layers of epidermis missing too.

In the video, Marsha generously shares her easy technique. She looks like she might be Mennonite, Hutterite or Amish. I’m sorry to have to admit that I don’t know the difference. But I love how her spirit comes across in the video, and she is so relaxed and charming and takes it nice and easy and makes a lovely batch of soap.

The usual way is to pour the lye into the water, which causes an exothermic reaction and the lye-water gets really hot. You let the lye-water cool somewhat while at the same time heating the oils up until the lye-water and oils are roughly the same temperature within a few degrees. Then you slowly pour the lye-water into the oils and start stirring.

What she does is pour the lye in to the water, mixes it up to dilute the lye crystals completely and then slowly adds the solid fats and then the soft oils to the lye water without heating them up first.

The temperature outside (where she’s doing this) must have been cool enough to keep the coconut oil solid, which melts around 24°C (75°F). It’s usually recommended that the oils and lye-water both be around 35°C-43°C (95°F-110°F) at time of mixing. Here, Marsha eliminates this step and still comes out with a beautiful batch of soap.

I was sold!

Here’s a link to her video: Homemade Soap at Marsha’s.

Except…. I just had to tinker. I wasn’t sure if the lye to oil mixture was right, so I did some hunting around and looked SAP values (which I don’t fully understand, btw) and after some unsophisticated ‘kal-kyou-lay-shuns’ I concluded that I would lower the amount of lye called for in her recipe.

“Fascinating, Captain.”

And… I dumped the lemon juice into the batch very quickly, not slowly as instructed.

And… I used a stick blender which is supposed to be awesome, but I’ve used it twice now and in both cases it’s yeilded questionable results.

And… I might have added the scent too soon.

So the result was poor, to say the least.

But not to worry, Internet had another solution besides the one in the book: Hot process soap method in a crock pot!


So I dig out the crock pot and turn it on and dump the champa batch into it.


As I wait for it to melt, I watch a few videos on the hot process method and expect the soap to go through all the phases it’s supposed to go through (which in the cold process method it goes through in the dark, in a box, under blankets. It’s very discreet, cold processed soap is.

So I wait, the soap melts, I mash it with a potato masher.


I wait for all the stages and the gelling and all that. Nothing. It just stays melted.

Then I have that Homer Simpson moment. The *facepalm* moment. The “Doh!”

The soap already went through those phases overnight! It’s not going to do it now.

So instead, I keep on stirring to “neutralize” it and check the pH levels using phenolphthalein. When the drops stay clear, I have a “neutralized” soap.

So I pour it into the mould and set it aside overnight with the other batch.

This time I use the cardboard box lined with plastic bag because I have to. I don’t have another plastic tub big enough for this batch. I don’t know what happened to the plastic box I usually use for soap. Maybe it was sacrificed to the Organizing Goddesses and is now the happy home of old cards and stuff.


(Update: I just looked in our “garage” also known as “the second bedroom” or “office” or “studio” depending on the context, and Lo! and Behold! there’s the box on a shelf. With old cards n’ stuff in it. I even labeled it. The Organizing Goddesses are smiling.)

This is becoming a much longer post than I intended… Hang in there, we’re almost done…

This morning I removed the soaps cakes from their moulds. As you can probably imagine the one lined with plastic slid right out. No fuss, no muss.

The one in the unlined plastic container took a lot of work. After much bashing and banging of the container upside down on the counter, pressing down on the bottom trying to deform the plastic and running a dull knife around the edges, it finally, reluctantly, slipped out. Or more descriptively, plopped out. It would have been effortless if I had taken the few minutes needed to line it. My Mom used to call this “the lazy man’s burden.”

Now I’ve sliced the cakes into bars and they’ll be set aside to air dry for a few weeks, in the “garage” somewhere.


The champa smells odd. I might rebatch it again and add more EO. If that doesn’t work, it will become laundry soap.

The lavender batch smells just okay. It’s not super awesome, but it’s better than the champa. I’m not sure why the entire batch has an odd underlying smell. Maybe it’s the combination of the goat’s milk with the lemon. It doesn’t smell like sour milk, but there’s an odd smell to both batches that I can’t identify.

But, the lather is excellent! Really nice and creamy.

If you made it to the end of this post, CONGRATULATIONS! And if you feel inspired by it, you have my deep admiration! This post is sounding a bit more like a horror story than something motivational, inspiring and feel-good. Please do not despair! My experiences with soap making have never been this bad. In fact, they’ve been very rewarding and it’s quite easy. You just need to, eh-hem, *follow directions.*

Now, the reason I started this post in the first place was to answer a question that a friend asked, namely, how much did I spend on the supplies for this batch of soap, and is it worth making a batch for Christmas gifts.

As this post is quite long now, I’ll make another entry with answers to that tomorrow, as well as links and book titles. I have thoughts on making soap for the first time and giving them away as gifts. It might not be as inexpensive as you think it would be. At least not initially. And you should measure the acidity of the soap before you give it away. If it’s still too alkaline, it can be made into household cleaners instead.

But if you want to try, by all means, experiment and have fun! Hopefully you’ll inspire others.

Paddling in a puddle of tiny bubbles.


One comment on “Homemade Soap: Trials and Tribulations

  1. Pingback: The Economics of Homemade Soap; or, Christmas is Around the Corner and I’m Broke | Puddle Jumpers

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2013 by in Homemade Soap and tagged , .

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