I swear I am two steps away from like retiring into the mountains of North Carolina and setting up my own apothecary shop. I just love making my own things that I put on my body from organic hair moisturizer spraysto now all natural soap! A small disclaimer - soap is no joke! The fact that it requires lye (a highly caustic substance if not used correctly) can make it scary! But then again bleach is scary, petroleum jelly can be scary and ammonia can be scary if not used correctly.
The make up of soap is quite simple (although the process can get complicated). Soap is basically water, lye, and fats/butters. The bells and whistles which are called essentials oils (for fragrance), pigment (for color) and textural items (oatmeal, etc) can be added as well.
Soap Composition: For my first batch I kept it simple - the makeup of my soap was 20% Coconut oil, 28% Shea Butter, 50% olive oil, 2% castor oil. I also added around .5 oz of organic Rosemary extract - has a great fragrance and works well as an anti-oxidant for soap (kinda of like a preservative but not as strong and not synthetic).
Saponification is an exothermic (gives off heat) chemical reaction that occurs when fats or oils (fatty acids) come into contact with lye (a base.) Saponification literally means "turning into soap" from the root word, "sapo", which is Latin for soap. The by-products of the saponification reaction are glycerin and soap.
Soap Calculations: Soap requires a lot of chemistry and calculations to the point where you gotta put on the goofy lab glasses and dish washing gloves (to protect yourself when you are doing the lye pouring). But don't worry, as long as you have a calculator and know how to take a percentage of a certain certain number you are in the clear. I highly highly HIGHLY recommend you buy a book or at least take one class on how to make cold processed soap because they will give you clear step by step instructions and information on how to do the grade school math calculations. I took a class and bought the book Soapmaking 101: Beginning Cold Process Soapmaking by Kerri Mixon. Beware of those lye calculators too because they don't consider the saponification values of the materials you are using - that is why I recommend doing all your calculations by hand.
Soap Materials: I have to say, I took the soap making class all the way back in November but it wasn't until last week I was able to actually make soap! Partly because I am an OCD budgeter and I took my time gathering all the materials I needed to make soap and believe me, you need a lot of materials. Over the course of three months, I purchased an Ozeri Pronto Digital Scale, a 6 qt pot from Target, a tub of organic Coconut Oil, Shea Butter and Olive oil from Mountain Rose Herbs, Lye from Certified-Lye.com, Organic Rosemary Extract (by far the most expensive thing I bought - in the process of making my own for now on), Hand Blender, and a Mold (to save money and to be a re-purposing-nerd I used an Orange Juice carton).
Soap Making:The process of making cold processed soap is quite fast actually. Literally you weigh everything, pour in a pot and let it melt, pour lye into the water then pour that into the pot and mix and blend until it creates trace (thick enough where you can dribble soap on the surface and see it). Done - ta-da you have soap that you pour into your mold, let it sit, then let it be cut and have the water evaporate (all these cutting and drying times depend on which soap making process you use). You also can learn how to superfat your soap or lye discount your soaps to avoid any .01 mis-measurements you took when weighing the fats/butters.
I plan to keep experimenting with cold processed soaps, free of colors and fragrances mostly because I justlike some unadulterated unscented soap to bathe my body with. I plan to learn how to do hot process soap making and/or liquid soap making in the near future too.