Monday, 11 November 2013

Natural Soapmaking for Beginners - Basic Recipes and Formulating Your Own

So far in this series the topics have been fairly straightforward. This post will get a bit more complicated so what I'll first share are some very simple natural soapmaking recipes. If you're just looking for a few recipes to get yourself going then by all means take them and get started. But if you'd like to start formulating your own then keep reading below and I'll take you through some of the finer points of what you need to know to get started. Please also be aware that the recipes below are very basic and the step-by-step procedure will be covered in the next and final post in this series.

Natural Calendula Soap Recipe
Makes a 454g/1 lb batch - approx. 4-5 bars. 5% Superfatted

120g (4.23oz*) boiling Water
64g (2.25oz) Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
1 tsp (1g / 0.04oz) Calendula petals, dried
112g (3.9oz) Coconut oil
164g (5.78oz) Olive oil
82g (2.9oz) Tallow OR Palm oil
78g (2.75oz) Sunflower oil
19g (0.67oz) Shea Butter
6 drops Antioxidant - Vitamin E or Grapefruit Seed Extract
*Please note that all measurements are in mass (so oz in liquids is not fluid oz)

Method: Infuse Calendula flowers in the boiling water and allow to cool to room temperature before following the basic soapmaking steps.

Herbal Soap Recipe
Makes a 454g/1 lb batch - approx. 4-5 bars. 5% Superfatted

120g (4.23oz*) boiling Water
62g (2.19oz) Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
136g (4.8oz) Coconut oil
204g (7.2oz) Olive oil
91g (3.2oz) Sunflower oil
23g (0.8oz) Shea Butter
10g (0.4oz) Essential oil (approx. 1 tsp) - Match to your selected herb
1 tsp (1g / 0.04oz) dried herb of your choice - Peppermint, Melissa Balm, and Rosemary are all great options.
6 drops Antioxidant - Vitamin E or Grapefruit Seed Extract
*Please note that all measurements are in mass (so oz in liquids is not fluid oz)
Method: Infuse the herbs in the boiling water and allow to cool to room temperature before following the basic soapmaking steps. Add essential oil at medium trace. 

Natural Lavender Soap Recipe
Makes a 454g/1 lb batch - approx. 4-5 bars. 5% Superfatted

120g (4.23oz*) Water
64g (2.25oz) Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
112g (3.9oz) Coconut oil
164g (5.78oz) Olive oil
82g  (2.9oz) Tallow OR Palm oil
78g (2.75oz) Sunflower oil
19g (0.67oz) Shea Butter
10g  (0.4oz) Lavender essential oil (approx. 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp (0.8g/ 0.003oz) Ultramarine Violet (mineral colour)
1/2 tsp (0.5g / 0.02oz) dried Lavender buds, chopped (optional)
6 drops Antioxidant - Vitamin E or Grapefruit Seed Extract
*Please note that all measurements are in mass (so oz in liquids is not fluid oz)
Method: Disperse the mineral colour in your liquid oils with a small milk frother before following the basic soapmaking steps. Add essential oil and dried flowers at medium trace. 

Honey & Oats Soap Recipe
Makes a 454g/1 lb batch - approx. 4-5 bars. 5% Superfatted

120g (4.23oz) Water
63g (2.22oz) Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
136g (4.8 oz) Coconut oil
195g (6.9oz) Olive oil
68g (2.4oz) Castor oil
45g (1.6oz) Palm oil OR Tallow
9g (0.32oz) Beeswax
1 tsp (7g / 0.25oz) Honey
1 tsp (2g / 0.07oz) Rolled Oats
6 drops Antioxidant - Vitamin E or Grapefruit Seed Extract
*Please note that all measurements are in mass (so oz in liquids is not fluid oz)
Method: Add Honey at light trace and whisk in well. Add oats at medium trace.

Pre-Formulation Brainstorm

The above recipes are great for getting started but what if you'd like to use different ingredients, batch size, or superfat percentage? The sections below will help you to get started in creating your own unique soapy creations.

 First things first - before you start formulating your own recipes you need to have a goal. Will you be making soap for yourself and your loved ones or are you trying to make a business out of it? If you're making soap for personal use and presents then think about your family's needs and likes. If your husband can't stand the smell of Lavender essential oil then it's probably a bad idea to make lavender soap. Also, consider if anyone has allergies to things like fragrance and nuts and make sure to avoid ingredients out that might aggravate them.

If you plan to sell to the public you should first think about who your target market is. Do you want to make pretty soaps to sell to young women, natural soap for people who have skin and allergy sensitivities, or high-end soap for the luxury market? No matter what direction you take, you need a clear idea of who you're creating the soap for before jumping into making your products. Thinking in this way leads to good choices about your business and marketing but will also help steer you in a good direction when creating recipes. It might seem like a no-brainer to avoid expensive ingredients if you want to create affordable soaps, or anything artificial if you want to go natural, but it's all too easy to make mistakes in ingredient choice.

Another factor to consider is ingredient availability. If you're on a farm and have a ready supply of goat milk or tallow then take advantage of your resource and use it as a marketing point while you're at it. If you're a beekeeper, or know one in your area, then consider using local beeswax and honey. For ingredients that you have to purchase, such as oils, hunt around for local suppliers so that you can cut down on the shipping costs for bulk oils. Olive oil can easily be found at most cash-and-carry and wholesale food shops (think Costco, Sams Club, etc) and if you're lucky you might find an Asian food shop that could sell you bulk coconut oil.

Ethics is also another thing to keep in mind when creating soap recipes. Everyone has their own set of values so first consider your own. For example, if you're Vegan, it's unlikely that you'll use tallow in your recipes. Take it a step further and think about your customers and their values. If you're creating soap for Vegans then you absolutely cannot use animal products in your soaps at all. That means no honey, no beeswax, no lard, no Cochineal, etc. If you're unsure of what your target market might not find acceptable then do the research.

Choosing Your Oils

Soap is the end product of a natural chemical reaction between oils (acids) and lye (a base). You cannot make soap without either of these two types of ingredients. The types and amounts of oil you use in your soap will influence how much lye (Sodium Hydroxide) you'll need in your recipe so let's start with them.

Think about the best bar of soap you've ever used. Did it have fluffy lather? Was it sensitive? How hard was the bar? How did your skin feel afterwards? The oils you choose in your recipe will have a huge impact on what your final soap will be like. Below are examples of types of oils that will contribute to different factors including hardness, cleansing, lather, and conditioning. A great bar of soap will have a good balance of all of them so it's recommend to choose between three and five oils initially. The best three oils to create a basic soap recipe will be a combination of Coconut oil, Olive oil, and Palm oil/Tallow. They're inexpensive and used on their own will create a good balanced bar.

Oils that create a hard bar 
Beeswax (use as 3% or less of your total oil amount), Coconut, Lanolin, Lard, Palm oil, Shea Butter, Tallow

Oils that cleanse
Coconut, Palm Kernal oil, Sunflower oil

Oils that contribute to lather
Fluffy Lather: Castor oil, Coconut, Palm Kernal oil
Creamy Lather: Canola oil, Cocoa Butter*, Hempseed oil, Jojoba*

Oils that condition 
Apricot Kernal oil*, Avocado oil*, Castor oil, Cocoa Butter, Corn oil, Grapeseed oil, Hempseed oil, Jojoba, Mango Butter*, Olive oil, Rice Bran oil, Shea Butter*, Sweet Almond oil

*denotes oils that should be used to 'Superfat'. Superfatting oils are meant to be in your soap not to become soap itself but  to add moisturising and conditioning properties to your bars.

Using Palm oil in Soap Making

A huge controversy in soap making centres around the use of Palm oil. Also known as vegetable-tallow, it has the same soap making properties as animal fat and is also very inexpensive. Being also extremely versatile, you'll find Palm oil used in everything from Crisco, to chocolate, to cookies to the oil used to deep fry foods. If you look on the ingredients list of a food item and see 'vegetable fat' or 'vegetable oil' it's very likely that the item contains Palm oil. Because of its low cost and versatility, Palm oil has now become the most used oil worldwide and it's now estimated that 33% of all edible oil used is Palm. Due to the high demand, supply has had to increase and Rainforests across Indonesia are being slashed and burned to create more land to farm it. This has led to devastating loss of habitat for animals such as Orangutans and so many producers and consumers now avoid Palm oil and products made using it.

If you're a fan of Palm oil, there are alternatives to using the standard variety. Tallow (beef fat) has nearly the same saponification (soap creation) values as Palm oil. If you'd like to make Vegan or Vegetarian products then consider using Sustainably Sourced Palm oil. Just a little more expensive than the more common Palm, it should clearly have a logo on the box from the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) which means that this third party has certified that the palm oil comes from plantations that meet their sustainability and ethical guidelines. Palm oil is not a requirement for soap making though and there are plenty of great recipes that don't use it at all.

Soap Recipe Calculators

Every type of oil has what is called a saponification value - a number used to calculate how much lye you'll need to turn it into soap. You can calculate this by hand but it's far easier and in many cases more accurate (think human error) to use an online soap calculator. There are two that I know of online: Brambleberry's Lye Calculator, which is fairly simple to use, and the SoapCalc, which is the one I use and recommend. It's not particularly pretty to look at and has a lot of information that you won't know or understand at first but will work for even the most novice soap maker in telling you how balanced your formula is and how much lye (NaOH) you'll need.

After entering in the presets that I've listed for fields 1-4 in the below image, the most important information to add  is the list of oils you're using and the percentages you'd like to use. Field 5 shows the soap qualities for each oil in the list and is not something you enter anything into manually. 

Once you've finished, click the 'Calculate Recipe' button and then 'View or Print Recipe' to see the full recipe including the required water and lye amounts. If you're just playing around with oil percentages at this point look at the bottom of the second screen that pops up for a list of Soap Bar Qualities. It shows both the suggested range and where your recipe falls in the range and is very helpful in telling you if that particular formula will be any good. The FAQ section for the SoapCalc can be found at this link.

You'll be looking at these screens seeing all kinds of information about various fatty acids, Iodine, INS, Lye Concentration, etc. but to be honest you don't really need to know much about them to create your first soap recipes. Just make sure that your recipe's range fits in with the suggested range and that you measure everything accurately on a kitchen scale. If you'd like to learn more about these more advanced topics then the SoapCalc includes FAQs and further information.

Scenting Soap Naturally with Essential Oils

The most obvious way to naturally scent your handmade soap is by using essential oils. Essential oils are natural compounds extracted from flowers, fruit, and foliage and come in a range of beautiful scents and therapeutic properties. Don't get essential oils confused with 'Fragrance oils' though. I personally don't use Fragrance oils in skincare products because I'm not completely won over by the assurances of safety issued by the manufacturers and self-governing regulators of these products, especially since they won't release information on what ingredients they use to make them. Rules are a little better in Europe and if any of the twenty-six known allergens are present in any fragrance oil then they must be declared, but otherwise the ingredients are a trade secret. Unfortunately, those of you in the USA aren't protected by legislation regarding skin allergens so you'll never know what's in the perfume and if it could cause a reaction.

When formulating a soap recipe I always use the guidelines given to me by my cosmetic chemist. In case you're wondering what that's all about, producers in the EU are required by law to have their recipes certified by a qualified chemist in order to manufacture and sell soap, or any other bath and beauty products, to the public. This is also a requirement of anyone outside the EU who wants to sell their products within Europe.

The main guideline on using essential oils is that the total weight should not exceed 3% of your total recipe. If you've ever smelled my soaps, the rich and flowery scents of the essential oils come through strongly and I don't even use the maximum permitted percentage in any of my recipes. If you look at the SoapCalc presets I have in the above images you'll see that I've recommended 2%. How and when you add essential oils is important in keeping a strong scent so watch for the next part of this series for more guidelines.

Some essential oils are more sensitising than others so please visit this essential oils link to see the maximum percentage of any particular essential oil you can use in your recipes.

Coloring and Decorating Soap Naturally

There are various herbs, flowers, minerals, spices, and extracts you can use to naturally colour your soap. With a little patience and know-how you can achieve virtually every colour in the rainbow, though natural colours will always be softer and more 'natural' than dyes or artificial colourants. The rule of thumb when using mineral colours and micas in your soap is that they should be no more than 3% of your total recipe. When using plant and flower material the amount is 5% with notable exceptions.

For more information on specific natural colours and usage please visit this natural colours link.

Using Botanicals in your Soap

Using herbs, flowers, and fruit in your soap is something you may want to try out. Pumpkin puree gives a silky feeling and a pretty orange colour and peppermint leaves leave brown specks peppered throughout your bars. Some botanicals that can be used in soap can be found at this link but do experiment with some of your own ideas and see what you come up with. The rule of thumb here is that if the material is edible then its generally safe to use in soap - though suitability is another matter. For example, red cabbage might give a pretty red-violet colour to your batch but it can also make your soap smell like cabbage. As mentioned above, when using plant material in your soap make sure that you use it at 5% or less of your total soap recipe's weight. If you try using more than that then it's possible that you'll have issues with your soap.

Decorating the tops of your soap with dried flowers and fruit is also another wonderful way to personalise your product naturally. Lavender buds on lavender soap and rose petals on rose soap sound wonderful don't they? Unfortunately most flowers will turn brown and unattractive when sprinkled on freshly poured soap so it's recommended to stick with botanicals that are known for keeping their colour. These include Calendula petals, dried orange and lemon slices, spices and cocoa powder. 

Where to purchase your Soapmaking Supplies

In addition to the below sources I encourage you to pop into your local supermarket and wholesale food suppliers since they'll have some amazing deals on oils such as olive oil. One other point that I'd like to emphasise is that it's easy to spend a small fortune when starting out making soap. You don't need much to get started so try to resist purchasing expensive oils and equipment until you've made a few batches and have decided that soap making is for you.

Suppliers in the United Kingdom
The Soap Kitchen
Just a Soap

Suppliers in the United States
Mountain Rose Herbs

Suppliers in Canada
Saffire Blue

This is part three of a four-part series:

Natural Soapmaking for Beginners Series 
1. Ingredients
2. Equipment & Safety
3. Basic Recipes and Formulating Your Own
4. The Soap Making Process: Make, Mould, and Cure

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  1. Can I sub caster oil instead of Palm oil?

  2. I have bookmarked it, I have some fat stored and some that needs rendering as well. I am not going to attempt the wonderful bar that you sent me but just want to do something simple at first. I will start getting stuff together.

  3. This is so great Tanya. Are you do soap making gift sets in your shop?? Would make wonderful presents with just the right amount of everything for people to have a first try and making soap.

  4. This is fascinating Tanya! Looking forward to exploring the rest of your blog. Particularly liked the blue Burmese (??) enjoying the radiator on the last post - although it made me a little guilty because I didn't buy beds like that for my three when I saw them for sale recently! Looking forward to more...

  5. I just started to gather supplies in the last few weeks. No one working here so the majority of the stuff will be Christmas presents. :)
    Thanks for the tutorial and can't wait for the rest.
    Susie in northern NY

  6. Forgot to click the NOTIFY button. LOL.

  7. You are doing such an amazing job with this series!! So thought out and so fantastically written. Such a great resource!

  8. WOW- so much great information. This is just what I needed to dive into soap making. I would love to link to this post if you didn't mind.

  9. Tanay - What does it mean Coconut oil 76 degrees / 92 degrees and fractionated? I just order a tub of coconut oil - and have no idea what it is?

  10. Tanya,
    May I ask a question about the soap calculator on how do you figure out step 2, the weight of the oils? I tried to use this two weeks ago and botched it. I don't get it.
    Thank you

  11. Another great supplier in Canada is Candora Soap and Soap Supplies.

    1. And thank you for all this great information on your site!