There are few things that say “DIY lifestyle” more than making your own soap. Why then, is soap making so intimidating? If you can follow a recipe, you can make your very own soap. Follow these simple tips to avoid common soapmaking mistakes, and you can make the perfect batch of soap the on your very first try.
The following is a guest post from Shannon at Natural Soap Mom. Shannon writes about creating your own natural cleaning products with pure and simple ingredients.
7 Common Soap Making Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)
When you’re a newbie at soap making, it all seems so complicated. Maybe even a little scary if you’re working with lye. The good news is that common soap making mistakes are easy to prevent.
When I made my first batch of soap, lots of emotions rushed through my body. Excitement, nervousness, and doubt. I felt like a kid on the first day of school all over again. So many possibilities for what I could create! And how cool would it be to make my very own soap!?
I bet you feel the same way.
Doubt and fear may creep in. What if something goes wrong? Burn yourself or someone gets hurt? Or what if the batch failed and you’re left with a sloppy mess to clean up?
You can do this!! If you can follow a recipe, you can make soap!
It may be scary for your first couple of batches of soap, but before you know it you’ll be a seasoned soap making pro!!
Let’s go through some of the most common soap making mistakes so you know what to look out for.
Ditch the fear. Let’s make some soap!
Mistake #1 – Not Using Safety Equipment
Safety equipment is often overlooked and a common soap making mistake. We get excited and jump right in! Hold up – wait a second. Make sure you have what you need to stay safe.
You should be wearing:
- Gloves – I use chemical resistant gloves but regular kitchen gloves will suffice
- Long sleeves
- Shoes or slippers (cover those feet)
- Breathing Mask – painters mask will suffice
- Safety Glasses
You may think some of this is overkill but I assure you it’s not. Especially for someone new to soap making.
On a recent batch of soap, the lye water splashed. A tiny splash. But one drop got onto my cheek without me noticing. I didn’t notice it until it started to bug me and the damage was already done. I got a small burn. If you clean off your skin right away you can avoid a burn.
Now imagine that small burn on my cheek 2 inches to the left. Right into the eye. BAD NEWS! Wear your safety glasses, please to avoid this common soap making mistake.
The only time I use the breathing mask is when I pour the lye into the water. You don’t need to look like a deep-sea diver with a full face mask to make soap. Put the kitchen fan on full blast and open the window to help with the smell.
The fumes can be a little strong at first, but they quickly dissipate within a few minutes. Once they do, lose the mask, close the window, and turn off the fan.
Mistake #2 – Measuring Ingredients Incorrectly
Measure your ingredients in grams. You’ll need a good kitchen scale. This is the kitchen scale I use.
You can measure in ounces, but I MUCH prefer grams as it gives you a more accurate measurement. As a result, one of the most common soap making mistakes is inaccurate measuring.
Measuring in cups or teaspoons is a big no-no! You may end up with a lye heavy batch of soap or a soap fail. Do yourself a favor, get a scale and measure in grams.
Take time to measure slowly without distractions.
You should ALWAYS run your recipe through a soap calculator before starting. ALWAYS! Even when it’s printed in a book or on a recipe online. Typos happen and it could be at your expense.
You should use distilled water in your soap recipe instead of plain tap water. The hardness of your tap water and impurities in the water could cause unexpected results in your soap. It’s a precautionary step that’s worth its weight and then some – only $1 for a gallon of distilled water.
When you’re more experienced, feel free to try using filtered or softened tap water. In the beginning stick to distilled water.
Mistake #3 – Unsafe or Distracting Work Environment
Another related mistake is missing an ingredient altogether. Often because we get distracted. Make sure to check off each ingredient in your recipe as you add them. Double check yourself.
The area should have access to running water and be free of pets, children, and distractions.
Distractions are a sure way to make a mistake.
Make sure to use an area with adequate ventilation when mixing lye into water.
I make soap in my kitchen after all my children are asleep.
Mistake #4 – Stop Overcomplicating Things
Your first batch of soap should be an easy recipe. I discourage you to use colorants or any fragrance or essential oils. Most soap making mistakes result from the unknown effects of these additives.
Until you understand how your recipe works, they are a variable you should skip for now. Some fragrance oils and essential oils speed up trace or cause your batch to seize up. When soap seizes it means suddenly the soap it turns into a hard blob of soap before you can pour it into a mold.
Until you’re a more seasoned soaper, skip the additives and stick with oils, lye, and water.
Milk soap making is also a little more complicated. Wait until you are more comfortable with the process. You should have several successful batches of soap under your belt first.
Mistake #5 – Obsessing About Your Ingredients Temperature
My first batch took me 4 hours. I read 2 books about soap making before I took the dive to make my first batch of soap. I read that the lye water and oils needed to both be the same EXACT temperature before combining. NOT TRUE!
I was heating or cooling the lye water and oils constantly. Keeping a close eye on the temperatures.
It was so stressful! Back and forth, up and down.Not enjoyable at all!! It was like a rollercoaster of emotions and temperatures! I think back to all the dangers in handling the lye water over and over again.
Fast forward to today, I soap at room temperature. Meaning I melt and stick blend my oils ahead of time until emulsified. Then when it’s time to make my soap I only have to mix my lye into my water.
Then I immediately pour my lye water into my oils and begin stick blending.
And you know what – it works every time! Our Grandma didn’t have fancy thermometers when they made soap. Aim for a safe range of 90 to 120 degrees for the oils and lye water.
Mistake #6 – Using the Wrong Tools
You cannot use any metal with lye. The results could be explosive. Literally! Huge soap making mistake and a ticking time bomb.
All metals are a no go with the exception of stainless steel.
I use mostly heavy duty plastic and glass. Don’t use a wooden spoon, the lye will eat away at it.
I ruined a good wooden spoon this way.
You can pick up most items you need at the thrift store. That’s how I started.
Here’s what you need:
- 2 – 3 Heavy duty plastic containers (or you can use glass)
- 2 Plastic or rubber spatulas (I like to use one for my oils and one for my lye water)
- Stick Blender
Spatulas work great for getting all the batter out of your bowl. I label the handles with “Soap Only” with a sharpie. Dedicate all soap making tools to soap making (and not cooking or eating).
A stick blender is an initial investment but very worthwhile. I found mine at the thrift store and it’s been going strong for years. Again I only use it for soap making and recommend you do the same. Mixing by hand takes way too long.
Mistake #7 – Handling Lye Incorrectly
Lye is a caustic substance. Handle it with respect and care. You should always treat it that way. I store my lye in a locked cabinet.
ALWAYS pour your lye into your water. That way you can control how much you add and slow down as needed. Pour slowly.
Lye water will initially be a little hazy. Make sure all the lye granules or flakes have been fully dissolved. No crunchies should be sitting at the bottom of your bowl. I use a glass bowl so it’s easy to spot them. Otherwise, you’ll risk a lye heavy soap.
Then pour your lye water slowly into your oils to make your soap batter.
Pour anything containing lye into the other substances (water or oils), not the other way around.
Get Making Some Soap!
Now that you’ve uncovered the common soap making mistakes, you need to make some soap!
Just like riding a bike, something new is always a little nerve-racking at first. After a few batches of soap, you’ll be a seasoned pro.
After all that, if you’re still not quite ready to take the plunge into making your own soap, how about starting with baby steps? Start by making your own DIY Foaming Hand Soap or try out some handmade soap for yourself to see the difference.
For more inspiration on DIY natural soaps, cleaning and beauty products for your home, check out the blog at Natural Soap Mom. You can also find Shannon on social media on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.