Beginner’s Guide to Cold Process Soap: Mastering the Basics

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Delving into the world of soap-making can be an exciting and rewarding venture, especially when you’re trying your hand at the cold process technique. This method allows you to customize your soap down to the very last ingredient, choosing the oils, scents, and colorants that best suit your preferences or needs. By mastering this technique, you’ll be able to create unique, handmade bars of soap that are perfect for yourself, gifting, or even selling.

As a beginner in cold process soap-making, it’s important to understand the basic steps involved to ensure a successful batch. The process begins with mixing sodium hydroxide (lye) and water, a crucial step that initiates the chemical reaction called saponification. Meanwhile, the oils you’ve selected will be gently melted and combined with the lye solution, ultimately transforming into the soap we all know and love.

With numerous resources available to help guide you through the cold process soap-making journey, it’s never been easier to get started. Whether you’re seeking step-by-step tutorials, expert advice, or inspiration for designs, there’s a wealth of information to be found online, allowing you to hone your craft and create exceptional soaps every time. Happy soaping!

Safety Precautions

It’s essential when making cold process soap to handle lye with care, wearing goggles, long sleeves, and gloves to ensure safety during the process.

Lye Safety

When working with cold process soap, it is crucial to be cautious with sodium hydroxide (lye). Sodium hydroxide is a caustic substance and can cause burns or irritation if it comes into contact with skin. Always handle lye with care, and make sure to store it in a safe location away from children and pets.

Safety Goggles

Protecting your eyes is of utmost importance while working with sodium hydroxide lye. Wear safety goggles to shield your eyes from any splashes or spills that may occur during the soap-making process.

Rubber Gloves

In addition to safety goggles, wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from potential burns or irritation caused by the lye. Gloves will also help prevent any accidental exposure to the caustic material on your skin.

Long Sleeves

Wearing long sleeves while making cold process soap is recommended as a way to protect your arms from potential contact with lye. Choose clothes that you don’t mind getting stained or damaged, and wear an apron to protect yourself further during the process.

Well-Ventilated Area

When working with lye, ensure that the room is well-ventilated. The chemical reaction between lye and water can produce toxic fumes, and proper ventilation will help dissipate those fumes, keeping you safe. Consider working in a room with an open window or an exhaust fan.

Equipment and Materials

Weighing and Measuring

To begin making cold process soap, you’ll need to accurately weigh and measure your ingredients. This is crucial for a successful soap-making process. Obtain a digital scale that can measure in grams, as well as a digital thermometer. Your scale should be able to handleweights up to at least 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) for larger batches of soap. The digital thermometer is essential for ensuring that your oils and lye water are at the correct temperature before mixing.

  • Digital scale
  • Digital thermometer

Mixing Items

Safety is a top priority when working with lye. Always wear safety goggles and gloves to protect your skin and eyes. You’ll need a heat-safe glass container, like a glass pitcher or mason jar with a lid, to mix your lye solution in. Additionally, you’ll need a separate plastic pitcher with a lid for mixing your oils. A stick blender (also known as an immersion blender) is essential for quickly and efficiently blending the lye solution into the oils, which helps to achieve proper trace during saponification.

  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves
  • Heat-safe glass container
  • Plastic pitcher with lid
  • Stick blender


Molds play a significant role in shaping your soap. Silicone molds are a popular choice, as they’re flexible, easy to clean, and produce a smooth finish. You can also use other materials like wood or plastic, but be sure to line them with parchment paper or plastic to ensure easy removal of the soap after curing. The size and style of your molds will depend on your personal preference and the design of your soap.

  • Silicone molds
  • Parchment paper or plastic liner (for non-silicone molds)

By gathering all your equipment and materials, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on your cold process soap-making journey. Remember to prioritize safety and accuracy in your measurements, and allow yourself to experiment with different molds and designs to create beautiful, handcrafted soap.

Cold Process Soap Ingredients

In this section, we will discuss the main ingredients required for making cold process soap. We’ll break down these ingredients into sub-sections, which include Oils and Butters, Lye and Water, and Colorants and Fragrances. Keep in mind that the ingredients you choose will determine the final look and feel of your soap.

Oils and Butters

Oils and butters are the foundation of your cold process soap. They are responsible for its moisturizing and cleansing properties. Some commonly used oils and butters in soap making include:

  • Olive oil: Provides a gentle, moisturizing lather
  • Coconut oil: Creates a hard bar with rich lather
  • Palm oil: Adds hardness and helps the soap last longer
  • Castor oil: Boosts lather and acts as a humectant
  • Sunflower oil: Contributes to a creamy lather
  • Cocoa butter: Offers a luxurious, skin-conditioning feel

In addition, you may also consider using unique oils like argan oil, babassu oil, or beeswax, depending on your desired soap characteristics.

Lye and Water

Lye (sodium hydroxide) and water are essential in the cold process soap making method. They trigger a chemical reaction called saponification, transforming oils and lye into soap.

When handling lye, always work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gear like gloves and goggles. Also, make sure to use a lye calculator to determine the precise amount of lye and water needed for your recipe.

Colorants and Fragrances

Colorants and fragrances add visual appeal and pleasant scents to your cold process soap. There are various options to choose from, such as:

  • Micas: These are finely ground, shimmery minerals that come in a variety of hues.
  • Oxides and pigments: They offer stable, matte colors, but avoid using aluminum-based pigments as they can react negatively with lye.
  • Natural colorants: These include herbs, spices, or clays for more earthy tones.

For fragrances, you can use essential oils or fragrance oils. Essential oils are natural and derived from plants, while fragrance oils are synthetic and can mimic a broader range of scents.

Knowing the ingredients and their roles in cold process soap making will help you create a customized recipe tailored to your preferences. Experimenting with different oils, butters, colorants, and fragrances can lead to unique and beautiful soaps that are perfect for you or as thoughtful gifts.

Creating Your Soap Recipe

Choosing Oils

When creating your cold process soap recipe, the first thing to consider is the type of oils you want to use. Each oil has its own properties and will affect the soap’s final qualities, such as hardness, cleansing, and moisturizing abilities. You can experiment with different combinations of oils to create a unique and personalized soap mixture. Some popular oils for soap making include olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and canola oil. Keep in mind that using sustainable and eco-friendly oils is beneficial for the environment as well.

Designing the Aesthetics

The aesthetics of your soap can be just as important as the ingredients. With cold process soap, there are countless designs and features you can incorporate to make your bar of soap stand out. Consider adding natural colorants like clays or herbs, and experiment with various swirling techniques to create beautiful patterns. You can also use different molds to shape your soap into interesting forms. For texture, consider incorporating natural exfoliants like coffee grounds or oatmeal, which can serve as gentle scrubs in your soap.

Calculating Lye and Water Amounts

In order to create a successful cold process soap, it is crucial to accurately calculate the amounts of lye and water necessary for your soap recipe. A lye calculator can be a helpful tool in determining these amounts based on the weight of the oils you’ve chosen for your soap mixture. The lye calculator will provide you with the proper ratio of lye to water, ensuring a safe and effective chemical reaction during the soapmaking process. There are several beginner-friendly lye calculators to make this step easier, my favorite is

Keep these considerations in mind while crafting your perfect cold process soap recipe, and experiment with different combinations of oils, designs, and features to create a truly unique and enjoyable bar of soap. Happy soap making!

Mixing and Tracing

Combining Ingredients

When making cold process soap, start by mixing your lye solution with water. Always ensure you’re wearing goggles and gloves, and work in a well-ventilated area. Next, weigh your oils or solid butters and melt them using a double boiler until they reach around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (source). Now you’re ready to combine the lye solution with the melted oils.

Reaching Trace

Stir the mixture until it reaches trace. Trace is the point when the oils and lye solution have emulsified (source). It’s a crucial stage in soap-making, where the soap batter has thickened to the consistency of pudding. To achieve this, you can use a stick blender for a faster process or a rubber spatula for a slower, more controlled method.

Adding Fragrances and Colorants

Now that you’ve reached trace, it’s time to add your desired scents and colors. To add color, ladle a small amount of soap batter into a measuring cup and mix in the colorant. Pour the colored soap batter back into the main pot gradually, then swirl it with a rubber spatula. For fragrance, measure the correct amount and stir it into the soap batter.

Pouring Into Molds

The final step in cold process soap-making is pouring the soap batter into molds. There are a variety of mold options available, from silicone to wood. Make sure the molds are clean and prepped before pouring the soap. Once poured, tap the molds gently on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles. Finally, cover the molds with a lid or cling wrap to insulate the soap and let it set for at least 24 hours before unmolding.

Remember, practice makes perfect! Cold process soap-making allows for endless creativity and customization, so keep experimenting to find your perfect recipe and design.

Curing and Storing

Gel Phase and Unmolding

When making cold process soap, the soap mixture goes through a stage called gel phase, which can be prevented by placing the soap in the freezer for 24 hours right after pouring it into the mold. Once your soap has set in the mold, it’s time to unmold it. To do this, carefully remove the soap from the silicone mold or other containers you used. This process should be gentle to avoid damaging the soap.

Curing Process

The curing process is an essential step in creating high-quality handmade soap. Although cold process soap is technically safe to use after a few days, it’s best to let it cure for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dry place with good airflow for optimal results. During this time, excess water evaporates, creating harder and milder soap bars that last longer in the shower and saponification is completed.

To cure your soap, follow these steps:

  1. Place your unmolded soap bars on a tray or shelf where they can receive good airflow. Ensure each piece has space around it for proper air circulation.
  2. Flip the soap bars every week to ensure even curing on all sides.
  3. Monitor the soap’s hardness and mildness throughout the curing process.

By following these steps, your cold process soap will become a high-quality product that is enjoyable and long-lasting.

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