[This section is dedicated to home soap making, a thoroughly enjoyable, useful, and environmentally sound activity. Whether you buy the fats and oils or collect waste fat, it is very easy to make a unique and pleasing product. There are a lot of soap making books in print and most of them are rather good, but none is complete. The typical enthusiast will accumulate a book and recipe library. We will, from time to time on this website, publish data to help that small number of enthusiasts and inform other, interested persons about this hobby. Some people have made the hobby into a small, home-based business. And, of course, we expect to stick in our two-cents worth of reviews. - hcl]
Soapmaking for Fun & Profit by Maria Given Nerius (1999), Prima Home, Rocklin, CA, 323 pp., 24 cm/.9.5 in., paperback, $19.99 "A well organized and clearly written work, which is broken into two parts: "For Fun" and "For Profit", and appendices. The Index is good plus an excellent "Resources" section covering "Recommended Books", "Aromatherapy, Soapmaking and Essential Oils", "Recommended magazines" [see your local library], and suppliers of all the materials required, and the e-mail addresses of the sources! 3.5#" - hcl
The Natural Soap Book - Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps by Susan Miller Cavitch (1995), Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, VT, 182 pp., 24 cm./9.5 in., paperback, $14.95. "A well written piece, which concentrates on vegetable fats and aromas and makes pleasant reading. It is a useful book. While the appendix is limited, the index is OK. 3.2#" - hcl
The Chemistry of Soap by A. Harris Stone and Bertram M. Siegel (1968) 64 pp. "The title is misleading since the book does not cover, in any way, the chemistry of soap. The book is pitched to children at the 3rd through 7th grade levels and covers a few simple, but safe experiments with soap. There is nothing on the effects of soap on sanitation or the killing of germs ... a lost opportunity. As far as soap making goes, this book isn't worth owning. One can only hope that some retired soap chemist will write the definitive book on the chemistry of soap and soap making. 1.0#" - hcl
Soap Recipes - Seventy Tried-and-True Ways to Make Modern Soap with herbs, beeswax and vegetable oils by Elaine C. White (1995),Valley Hills Press, Starkville, MS, 15 cm./6 in., paperback, $23.95 "A book that's long on recipes and brief on explanation. Useful but pricey, relative to the competition. The glossary is good and the index is fair. 2.9#" - hcl
The Complete Soapmaker - Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps by Norma Coney, (1996), Sterling Publ. Co., NYC, 128 pp., 26 cm./10.4 in., paperback, $14.95 "If you want to get someone interested in making soap at home, this is the book to give that person. It has 119 full-color photographic illustrations (mostly large) and every one is beautifully photographed. It is a delight to browse through. Of the several abrasive additives, that the author cites in her recipes, this reviewer takes issue with using sand. Some sands are very hard (Mohs scale of hardness) and this reviewer suggests some of the other abrasive materials mentioned in the text, e.g. finely ground coffee, almond nuts, pumice, etc. That is a very minor fault. Overall, the book is very good and the illustrations are inspirational. A weakness is that it lacks a more comprehensive description of the process and materials. 3.2#" - hcl
Notes on Additives [abridged, a work in progress]
Additive: a substance added to the basic soap recipe as a preservative, coloring agent, perfume or scent, water conditioner, or as a washing agent promoter.
This group of dyes is found in any grocery store and are fairly costly to use in coloring soap. But, they are absolutely safe.
These dyes may not provide the color that you want since they often react with the chemistry of the soap and change color. Some experimentation is required to find which food dyes work to give the kind of color to the soap that is desired.
Fabric dyes come in three categories:
(1) natural dyes, mainly derived from plants and trees;
(2) Synthetic dyes;
(3) pigmented colorants that are mineral materials usually used for marking fabrics rather than providing overall coloring.
Natural dyes come from the leaves, blossoms, roots and stems, bark, and fruit of plants. The safety of the natural dyes must be determined since not all natural, organic compounds are non-toxic. Tannins are a group of astringent compounds found in the bark of trees and in the hulls of certain nuts e.g., oak bark and black walnut hulls. These tannins have been used, historically, in processing leather and in dyeing cloth. Commercially, tannins are obsolete in dyeing cloth. They are, however, widespread and cheap, fairly safe, and produce brown and red colors. There are many natural dyes available and if you are able to track these down in their natural surroundings, can be economical ... and in the process, offer physical exercise.
Synthetic dyes include common cloth-dyeing products such as "RIT". The advantage of using this class of colorants is the wide range of colors available. This is useful where part of the soap production is used in making "art objects".
Pigmented colorants are solid materials that are used for making paints and inks. Obviously, this class of additives must be non-toxic. The disadvantage of using pigments is that a residue may remain on clothing if excess soap is used for clothes washing.
[Author's note: I often use bits and pieces of extra soap or soap batches that didn't turn out quite right. Much of this soap has been colored with a synthetic dye, e.g. "RIT". I make sure that the colored soap is used, only, for washing non-white clothing. I often grind up fragments of colored soap as an additive to new soap, for a colorful effect.]
The ideal coloring additive will wash away, completely, with the soap.
Where hard water is present, any number of water conditioners may be added to soap. This is a old technique.
Soda ash (anhydrous sodium carbonate) is useful but normally not found on consumer store shelves. The hydrated product (sodium carbonate with 10 molecules of water) is very common and is call "washing soda". These forms are not handy for home soap making, but borax is.
Borax, is the hydrated crystalline form of sodium tetraborate, and can be found on most grocery store shelves as "Twenty Mule Team Borax". Small additions (1 to 5%) tend to lighten the color of the soap, especially when using mixed or waste fats, and improve washing action in the presence of hard water.
When you want a heavy-duty soap for scrubbing hands after dirty and greasy operations, an abrasive additive is required. The abrasive should be bulky and hard and not softened by its inclusion into the soap. The additive should be, however, sturdy enough to provide "grinding" action. While the abrasive additive should be hard enough to abrade the dirt particles, it should be soft enough to prevent excessive wearing of the skin.
The most well-known of the mineral abrasive additives is pumice, a porous, frothlike, volcanic glass which is light (it has gas entrapped) and has a good combination of characteristics, for this purpose. The low density of pumice promotes the floating away of the material within waste systems. Pumice is also a fairly soft mineral.
Sand has abrasive qualities but since the range of hardness of sand is very wide, select a beach sand or one derived from a relatively soft rock. Silica sand is very hard (we use it for sand blasting) is heavy, relative to pumice. This density may cause problems in transport within waste systems. The sharpness and high hardness of silica sand may cause excessive wearing-away of the (human) skin.
Spent coffee grounds can be used, if graded (sorted through a fine sieve) to eliminate the most coarse particles. The large coffee particles tend to remain imbedded in the soap and the surface is rough and remains so. Coffee grounds impart a rich brown color.
Fresh coffee grounds add a definite aroma to the soap (if that's what you like). But, again, use only the fine particles for best results.
Ground cornmeal provides good bulk and is not too abrasive. Cornmeal imparts a yellow-white look.