Natural Soap Making Guide

At Cranberry Lane our mission is to pioneer a standard of excellence in education, service and products that support the earth and body with integrity and vision. We hope that you enjoy the art of soap making as much as we do, one batch or many. If you enjoy making your own natural beauty care products, you’ll love our line of make-it-yourself body care kits. With Cranberry Lane’s tried and true formulas and quality ingredients, you can make all-natural products as individual as you are—and at a fraction of the cost. We are always interested in customer feedback and questions, so please email or call us with any inquiries you may have.

The following instructions are designed for both our kits and soap making from scratch. We also offer free, printable cold process soap making recipes. Click here for a copy. 

Soap : Then & Now

Natural handmade soap is not difficult to make, once you understand the basics. You can make a batch of soap in as little as one hour, depending on the formula.

The following is the basic formula for making all soap:

Fatty acid (oil) + Base (lye) = “A Salt” (soap)

The oil or fat is heated gently. Lye and water are combined separately. When both ingredients reach the required temperature, they are combined. When the mixture becomes the desired consistency, it is poured into a mould. The bars are then removed from the mould after setting up (approximately 24 to 48 hours). They are restacked and allowed to “cure” or dry until hard. This can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks depending on the formula.

There are 3 keys to successful soap making:

1. Accurately weighed ingredients

2. A good formula

3. Proper technique

Cold Process Method

This process is widely used by home-based soap makers. The neutralization stage takes place during the moulding stage. Our kits follow this method.

Semi-boiled Method

After the soap mixture traces, heat is added using a double boiler to cause the soap to neutralize before being moulded. Full-boiled Method: This method is where all ingredients are prepared in one large container. Heat is added causing neutralization. Large commercial manufacturers use this method to achieve the by-product called glycerin.

Transparent Soap

This soap is made clear by adding solvents such as alcohol to prevent crystals from forming as the soap cools. Transparent soap is often referred to as Glycerin Soap. However, this is a fallacy, as glycerin is not needed to produce a clear or transparent soap. This soap can be drying to the skin.

Melt and Pour Soap

Or also known a solid Glycerin blocks. Pure glycerin, animal or vegetable derived, is always liquid and can only be solidified by the addition of plasticizer chemicals. To produce foam, detergents are added. This method is simply making soap from soap and is more expensive than starting from scratch. Melt and pour soaps may have natural ingredients added to them but they are synthetically based.

Required Equipment

  • One large stainless steel mixing bowl (the larger the better). This greatly reduces the amount of splatter leaving the bowl during the mixing process.

  • One heat-resistant container that hold 2 cups (glass Pyrex works well) to mix Lye and water. Note: Using a large container may result in rapid heat loss and prevent temperatures from reaching their goals.

  • A container to heat oils. If using the stove, a stainless steel pot will do. If using the microwave, use a microwave-safe container.

  • Candy or meat thermometer made of glass and stainless steel (having two works best, one for the lye and one for the oil).

  • Protective wear: long sleeved shirt, pants, shoes (no bare feet), glasses and rubber gloves. Keep a bottle of vinegar nearby to neutralize lye spills.

  • Plastic, cardboard, or wood soap moulds (use wax paper to line, see “Soap Moulds”).

  • Measuring spoons, potholders or oven mitts, and plastic spatulas.

  • Digital scale, accurate to at least two grams (if not using our kits).

Soap Moulds

Generally, you can use just about any type of plastic, wood, or cardboard as a soap mould. Do not use tin, aluminum, Teflon, or copper as they react with the lye. Candy and candle moulds may work well, too. If you want something simple, choose a square or rectangular container and cut the bars to size after your soap has set. Cardboard milk or juice containers work well as they are coated with wax.

To make round soaps try recycling a plastic bottle. Using an empty, clean, plastic pop or round shampoo bottle, carefully slice the sides of the bottle lengthwise. Tape sides using plastic packing tape to prevent leakage. Pour the soap mixture and let set for required amount of time. Peel tape back and release your soap, then cut the bars to a desired size. Set to cure as usual.

If you are having trouble getting your soap to release from the mould, try placing it in the freezer for two hours. This will cause the soap mixture to shrink from the sides and make removal easier.

To help with release, use vegetable shortening to grease your moulds. Cardboard or wooden moulds require a combination of waxed paper or freezer paper and vegetable shortening.

Tip: Line your moulds with brown freezer or butcher’s paper. Apply some vegetable shortening to the inside surfaces of your mould, place on some freezer paper, shiny side up, and trim to fit. After removal, simply peel off the paper from your soap block the next day.

Re-Batching Into Fancy Moulds

Hand milling or re-batching soap after unmoulding is done to achieve greater medicinal benefits from ingredients like herbs and essential oils, to increase colour intensity, and to change the shape and texture of the soap.

Re-batching can be done after unmoulding by grating or chopping a soap bar and using water to melt it.

  • Combine one cup of grated soap to 1/4 cup of water or herbal infusion.

  • Heat in a double boiler or use a glass Pyrex container to microwave.

  • Heat gently, stirring constantly to help break down soap pieces and evaporate the water.

  • Continue until all water has evaporated.

  • Remove from heat and add optional ingredients i.e.: herbs, spices, grains, essential oils, creams or lotions, or carrier oils such as jojoba or shea butter.

Soap Making Warnings

Soap making is not recommended for children because of the potential danger that lye poses. Lye can be fatal if swallowed. Please read this information to ensure you are informed before you start making soap.

  • Carefully read the warning label on the lye bottle. Lye is also known as caustic soda (sodium hydroxide)

  • Use only pure lye granules — do not make the mistake of substituting drain cleaner. It contains other ingredients that you would not want in your soap.

  • Be sure to keep the lid tight on the bottle of lye. Moisture in the air will weaken its strength and cause it to form lumps.

  • Always wear rubber gloves and protective clothing, such as a long sleeved shirt and shielding eyewear when working with lye.

  • Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. Vapours released from the lye when it is first mixed with water are quite noxious, and can greatly irritate the lungs.

  • Always have a bottle of vinegar close at hand. Vinegar will help neutralize the lye/water mixture if it happens to splatter on your skin.

  • Lye can remove paint, so be careful not to let it come in contact with any painted surfaces. If lye, lye/water or even freshly made soap splatters on any painted surface, wash the area quickly with water and detergent. Rinse with clear water and wipe dry.

  • Freshly made soap can burn and irritate the skin, therefore it’s best not to handle soap with bare hands for at least 48 hours. If your skin does come into contact with fresh soap, rinse your skin with vinegar immediately, then rinse with running water.

  • Do not use any containers made of tin, zinc or aluminum. Lye will react with them.

  • Recommended containers for mixing your soap include glass, plastic, stainless steel, enamel, and heatproof stoneware.

Testing Your Soap for Proper PH Level

You can test your soap for excess lye by applying a few drops of Phenolphthalein, a colourless, clear liquid. This chemical will turn pink or fuchsia in the presence of an alkali or an excess of lye. Soap that is to be used on the skin should be in the range of 7 to 9.5. It’s the degree of pink that determines how alkaline your soap is. If a drop applied to the middle of soap cutting turns deep pink or fuchsia then the soap should not be used on the skin. This soap however is great for the house and or laundry. If the drop stays clear or turns just the lightest shade of transparent pink then your soap should be fine.

If your soap was left uncovered while in the mould then the white chalk-like substance on the surface (soda ash) will also test alkaline. This can be trimmed off or avoided by applying plastic wrap to the surface right after pouring your soap into the mould.

Soap Making : Cold Process Method

**Carefully read sections Soap Making Warnings and Soap Making before you begin.

One of the most common mistakes soap makers make is not weighing the ingredients carefully. This is a crucial step. Make sure you use an accurate digital scale to weigh your oils and your lye.

Each premixed bottle of oil makes approximately 700g of soap. You can combine several bottles together to make a larger batch, however, it is a good idea when making soap for the first time to make small batches in order to learn as you go.

If making soap from one of our kits, set one of Cranberry Lane’s pre-mixed oil bottles in a hot water bath to liquefy contents (do not microwave these bottles). When the oil in the bottle becomes clear, pour into a 2-cup measuring cup. Be sure to get all the oil out of the bottle. If making soap from the “Soap Formulas” guide, accurately measure all oils required for your soap recipe using a digital scale.

The Oil Phase

Gently heat oils using one of these two methods:

Stove Method: Use a stainless steel pot on the stove. Be careful not to burn oils.

Microwave Method: Use a microwave-safe container for your oils. Heat for 1 minute on high, and then use 20-second intervals thereafter, until the required temperature is reached. (150°F, 65°C for our Basic or Deluxe Soap Making Kit).

General Instructions

  • Heat oil to 10°C past the required temperature per formula. This will allow time for the lye to cool to its correct temperature. Always heat oils before mixing lye and water. The lye/water phase.

  • Pour room temperature distilled water (amount specified by formula) into a clean glass 2-cup size-measuring cup. (If using our Basic, Refill, or Deluxe Soap Making Kit use 3/4 cup) While stirring, slowly add one bottle of lye. This mixture will quickly become very hot. Continue stirring until the water turns clear. Do not inhale the fumes.

  • Place a candy thermometer in the cup, do not rest it on the bottom as it will give you a false reading — keep it somewhere in the middle.

  • Let this mixture cool to the required temperature (refer to “Soap Formulas” for temperatures or use 150°F, 65°C for our Basic or Deluxe Soap Making Kit).

  • Pour the hot oil into a large mixing bowl. Use a plastic spatula to get all the oil out of the measuring cup. When both oil phase and lye/water phase have reached their required temperatures, slowly pour the lye/water mixture into the oil mixture while stirring in rapid, small circles. Note: Always add lye/water to oil, not the other way around.

  • Continue to stir this mixture even after you have finished combining the two parts. Use a rapid, figure 8 pattern for stirring—being careful to incorporate the sides as well.

  • Stir the soap mixture until it “traces”. This is a term to describe the consistency or thickness, and the stage where the soap mixture is ready to pour into moulds. Tracing is easily recognized.

  • Using a plastic spatula, drizzle a small amount across the top of the soap mixture. If a mark or trail remains for a few seconds before disappearing again, your soap has traced. The mixture should be the consistency of liquid honey or pudding before it’s poured. If your soap takes a little longer than normal, don’t worry — just keep stirring and it will eventually trace. Tracing time for formulas can vary greatly based on room temperatures, humidity levels, and the speed of stirring. The tracing time for our formulas are based on normal room temperatures 20° to 23°C and average humidity levels.

  • After the soap traces, you can add your own herbs and essential oils (see pages 12-13 for some great ideas). Do not use perfume, synthetic fragrances, or extracts of any kind as the alcohol content may interfere with the soap making process.

  • After adding any additional ingredients, pour your soap mixture into the mould. Place a piece of clear plastic wrap on top to create an air barrier. Cover your mould with a blanket or towel and place in a warm location away from drafts and children’s reach.

  • Let set undisturbed for the specified moulding time as stated in the formula for your oil blend. Moulding tip: Grease your mould with vegetable shortening for ease of release later.

  • Wear gloves during clean up and use hot water and dish soap to remove all residues from equipment. When removing soap from the mould, wear gloves to protect your hands. The soap may be slightly caustic at this stage and can irritate your skin.

  • When your soap is set, gently press the back of the mould. You may find twisting the mould slightly works as well—the same technique as removing ice from ice cube trays. If your soap will not release easily, try placing the mould in the freezer for one hour. Freezing causes moisture loss and the soap will contract and pull away from the edges.

  • Use a large knife to cut your soap into desired size bars. (Note: colour may fade in soap placed in the freezer) After soap has been cut into bars, place them on a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap in a cool, dry, dark place to cure or age as specified in each formula. This time is necessary for the moisture to evaporate. Using the soap prematurely will lead to a spongy bar that may not lather or last very long. Wait for at least three weeks before finishing your bars (see section on “Finishing”.) After your bars have had a chance to dry or cure they will be able to withstand some rough handling. All good things take time! Write down the date of unmoulding and keep it with the curing soap as a reference.

  • Within 1/2 hour of pouring your soap into the mould you should notice it becoming hotter and turning dark in the middle. It can become quite dark and somewhat transparent. Bubbles may also come to the surface. This is a sign that your soap is properly neutralizing. It should stay hot like this for several hours before cooling and becoming light in colour again. Soap that is not properly insulated, cooled too much during tracing, poured into too small a mould, or with initial temperatures too low may not completely neutralize.

Signs of Trouble in Soap

Trouble in Mixing Bowl

  • Your mixture does not trace after the time listed in the formula passes. You may have one of the following problems: incorrect temperatures, stirring too slowly, or too much water. Make sure you get all the oil blend and lye out of their containers. Measure water accurately to ensure the correct amount is used. Stir mixture smoothly and consistently. The Perfect Blend™ kit should trace within 45 minutes.
  • Your mixture suddenly begins to streak. Your temperatures may have been too cold. If your soap still traces then quickly pour into moulds.
  • Your mixture begins to curdle in the bowl. Synthetic fragrances may cause this.
  • Small chunks form in the bowl while mixing. Your oils, lye, or both may have been poured too hot, or you are stirring inconsistently or too slowly. Soap mixture may still trace, but this mixture is unsuitable, leading to poor soap quality. Test soap after un-moulding.
  • Your mixture becomes, or is slightly grainy. Temperatures were either too high or too low, or your stirring wasn’t brisk and consistent. Maintaining temperature is very important for soap making. If your soap batch is split up and poured into small moulds after tracing, it may lose temperature to quickly and not completely neutralize.

Trouble Signs in Finished Soap

  • Your soap cracks or breaks when un-moulded or when being cut. You may have added too much dry ingredients, or traced your soap batch too long. See “Scents & Herbs to Try.”
  • Your soap has a thin layer of white on the surface. Your soap mixture has reacted to the oxygen in the air. This is only an aesthetic problem, refer to Step #7 in the “Soap Making, the cold process method” section to avoid this next time.
  • Your soap has hard, shiny chunks of solid lye—the rest of your soap is soft with a slippery liquid on the bottom. Your soap may have been poured into the mould before it had traced, or you stirred too slowly or inconsistently. Do not use these bars they will irritate the skin.
  • You see air bubbles in your soap. You may have stirred too quickly, or for too long.
  • Your soap has an excessive amount of white powder on top of the bars, is caked, or crumbly. Hard water may have been used to dissolve the lye. You should not use these bars, as they may irritate your skin. Be sure to use only distilled water in the future.

Adding Your Favourite Ingredients

Remember to add all optional ingredients after your soap has traced. Note One batch refers to one bottle of any of our blended oils, which make approximately 10 bars. If you are blending oils yourself, for the purposes of these instructions, one batch makes 700 grams of soap.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are defined as: “Highly concentrated essences extracted from portions of the plant.” They have been valued and used throughout history for their therapeutic and scent qualities. You can add a wide variety of essential oils to your soap as long as they are considered safe. Essential oils are highly concentrated and are extremely powerful. Some are beneficial while others can be harmful. It is best to research an oil before using it so you can determine the safety of the oil, and ensure that the oil(s) are compatible with your body type. For the soap maker, the only oils that have a habit of causing some problems (if added in high volume) are the citrus oils. They can disrupt the soap making process causing the soap to curdle. Limit these oils to no more than 2 tablespoons (30ml) per 700g batch.

Blending For Scent Qualities

Many scents today are the direct result of scent characteristics present in nature. When it comes to blending a scent there are three main scent classifications or “notes”: top, middle, and base. The top note is the odour that is immediately perceived, generally uplifting and stimulating; i.e. orange. The middle note, or modifier, provides full, solid character to the scent. Clary Sage and Marjoram are often selected as middle notes. The base note, or endnote, adds depth to a blend. It becomes apparent when the top and middle notes have faded and the last volatile components remain. Clove and Sandalwood are common base notes. A general guideline for scenting your soap using top, middle, and base notes is: Top notes require 15 to 20 ml of essential oil per batch, for middle notes use 5 to 10ml of essential oil per batch and for base notes use 2.5 to 5ml per batch. Scenting your soaps is a personal choice and individual tastes will vary. We recommend adding a fixative to your soap if you are adding essential oils. A common fixative such as Orris Root powder acts as a “glue” for the scent. We suggest adding 1/2 tsp. of Orris Root powder per 700g batch.

Top Notes

Mandarin Tea, Tree Clove, Bergamot Clary

Middle Notes

Sage, Cinnamon, Grapefruit, Anise, Oakmoss, Lemon/Lime, Orange Rosewood/Rosemary Cedarwood

Base Notes

Peppermint, Geranium, Sandalwood, Spearmint, Lavender, Patchouli, Rose, Jasmine, Black Pepper

Colouring Your Soaps

Using ingredients like clays you can achieve shades of pink and terracotta red. For earth purple use Ratanjot, for yellows use Annatto seeds, for greens use Chlorophyll, Stevia, Spirulina and Alfalfa powder, for peach and orange tones try Paprika. Try adding 1/2 tsp. at a time until you have achieved the desired shade.

Herbs, Flowers And Other Additives

Most herbs and flowers lose their colour when added to first run soaps. It is always best to hand mill or re-batch your soap for such results. You can add other ingredients like grains and seeds either in a whole or ground state, be sure to limit their use to a maximum volume of 2 tbsp. per batch of soap.

Super Fatting

You can add an extra carrier oil to increase the moisturizing capabilities of your soap. Do not exceed 2 tablespoons per batch. Oils such as Jojoba, Shea Butter, Castor, Avocado and Hemp are excellent choices for super fatting.

What to avoid: The following ingredients are not safe to add to your soap: Food colouring, fabric dyes, candle dyes, paints, or melted Crayons (even the non-toxic type)

Finishing Tips

When it comes to finishing and packaging your soap, the only limit is your imagination. Have fun with different techniques. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Note: Allow your bars to cure at least 3 weeks.

  • Remove the rough outer surface of your soap, by buffing your bars with an abrasive cloth or piece of pure wool. You may have some bumps and lumps that can be removed easily with a knife. For a simple and quick design, take a small, serrated paring knife and shave off a thin layer of soap on one side. This will leave a wavy line, symbolizing water.

  • A simple way to decorate and wrap your soap is to use a piece of paper or cloth as a band around the soap. Allow approximately 1/2” of soap exposure on either side. It’s nice to see and smell your handmade soap. Try paper bags, cloth remnants, postcards, or old greeting cards.

  • Personalize your bars with the person’s name on the label. “Suds for Bud”, “Barbara’s Beauty Bar”. Make guest soaps for a wedding with the bride and groom’s names and date. Make great stocking stuffers or basket fillers. How about candy cane (peppermint essential oil) scented liquid soap?

  • For an elaborate monogram, use a separate, smaller mould in the shape of a letter or design — choose a dark shade of soap for this technique. When your letter or design soap is set, remove it from its mould and place it upside down at the bottom of a larger mould. Then pour white or light coloured soap over the object and let it set. When the two have set together, carefully remove from the mould and polish.

Description of Ingredients

  • Avocado Oil: Pressed from dried and fresh avocado. A stable oil with a built in antioxidant system. High in Vitamins A, B, and D, and rich in lecithin. Has a beneficial effect on dry skin and wrinkles.
  • Beeswax: Excreted by worker bees to construct the honeycomb. Has excellent skin protective qualities and increases hardness of soap.
  • Castor Oil: Expressed from the Castor Bean. Soothing to the skin, it is used widely in lipsticks, solid perfumes and bath oils. As a soap making oil it acts as a humectant.
  • Coconut Oil: Pressed from the dried meat of the coconut. Adds lather and moisturizing properties.
  • Cocoa Butter: Expressed from the roasted seeds of the Cocoa plant. Softens and lubricates the skin.
  • Distilled Water: The collected and condensed steam of boiling water.
  • Jojoba Oil: A natural liquid from the kernels of the Jojoba desert plant. Has a chemical composition resembling the skin’s sebum. Antibacterial characteristics. Excellent for dry skin conditions.
  • Lye: The solution of Sodium Hydroxide and water. Sodium Hydroxide or Caustic Soda is the strong alkaline base component of soap making.
  • Olive Oil (Pomace grade): Made from the pressing of the olive fruit and pits. An inferior food grade olive oil but good for soap making.
  • Palm Oil: Extracted from the fruit of the palm tree. This oil is rich and viscous. Soothes and moisturizes dry skin.
  • Palm Kernel Oil: Extracted from the nut of the palm tree. Used in small proportions it adds hardness to soap and provides lather.
  • Shea Butter: From the nuts of the Bassia Parkii tree in Africa. It is high in unsaponifiables and adds moisturizing properties to soap.
  • Vegetable Shortening: Hydrogenated Canola Oil. An inexpensive soft oil to balance the hard oils of coconut and palm.