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How to Make Soap with Lye

So, here’s the deal. Making cold process soap is pretty universal. Have oils, mix lye into water (NEVER the other way around), mix lye water into oils, blend until just about pudding, pour into molds, and ta-da! You have soap. There’s plenty of recipes out there, but each person has their own recipe.

There are different oils and butters, how much of each is used if multiple oils are used, that sort of thing. How much water to how much lye to how much oils. Everyone has a different recipe. This is the one we use at Sweet Sisters Vegan.

Safety Measures when Making Soap

I have 100% gotten splattered with freshly blended soap and then managed to wipe it onto my face or under my ear. It stings, then burns, but not right away. It will leave you with a sore patch of red skin for a couple days depending on how long it has been left on there before you raced to the sink to scrub it off.

Now, that’s the diluted stuff. Imagine getting the actual lye water on your skin. It’s probably 100 times worse. I admit I’m lucky in the fact that I take care when it comes to my lye water and mixing the two together. I’ve seen it strip the finishing off a wooden table. Thankfully it was the crappy kitchen table rather than the expensive dining room table, but still. I don’t want any of that on my skin, thank you very much.

So, what should you wear when you start making soap. An apron. Not the most essential thing, I know, but as a girl who constantly wears dresses, it saves a lot of money to keep them looking good without faded patches and holes in them.

You should also wear long sleeves and gloves. It can be a bit messy and you don’t want your arm or hand to suddenly feel like they are on fire. Closed toed shoes are also a great option cause you don’t want to have to try to hop to the bathroom.

Some form of goggles or safety glasses to protect your eyes are essential. It also protects your glasses if you wear them. If it can strip the finish off a wood table, imagine what it would do to your very expensive prescription glasses. Also, a face mask as the fumes are just the worst thing. It will make your lungs burn if you inhale so make sure you’re covering your mouth and are doing this in a well ventilated space.

Why Make it?

If it is so dangerous, then why do it? Have you ever gone to the store and picked up a bar of “soap” and looked at the ingredients? Yeah, that’s not soap. According to the FDA in order for your product to be soap it must meet three basic requirements.

  1. What it is made of.
    1. mainly alkali salts of fatty acids.
      1. Or, the combination of fatty acids with an alkali (ex. oils and lye).
  2. What ingredients make it cleansing.
    1. the alkali salts of fatty acids is the only thing that result’s in the product’s cleansing action.
  3. How it is intended to be used.
    1. It has to be labeled and marketed for use as soap.

This is one of the many reasons why the stuff you see at stores are called “beauty bars” or “cleansing bars”. They don’t meet the very first requirement to be called a soap. They use synthetic detergents to create the cleansing properties in these bars.

Let’s talk glycerin. It’s the leftover oil components in soap. It’s what makes soap moisturizing. Most companies actually take out the glycerin that’s made in these bars and add it to lotions so you have to buy 2 things rather than just one.

Sneaky, huh? Which is why I started making it at home, for myself. I get to reap the rewards of having a single product that I can use and I made it myself.

Do I still use lotion? Yes. We make lotion bars and they work wonders. Especially after stepping out of the shower. I only hit my problem areas where I get super dry skin.

So, What Do You Use in Your Soap?

In a single pound batch of soap we use:

  • 10 oz. olive oil
  • 3 oz. grape seed oil
  • 1 oz. Shea butter
  • 1 oz. cocoa butter
  • 1 oz. mango butter
  • 3-4 oz. distilled water
  • 56-57 g sodium hydroxide (lye)

We wanted a soap that was super hydrating as well as cleansing. This soap does lather, but not as much as other soaps. Since we strive to be as allergen friendly as possible we don’t use any coconut or nut oils or butters.

We prefer to use distilled water so there are as few contaminants in it as possible. The lye is measured in grams to be more exact in our measurements since it is that component that actually makes the soap

Now, let’s talk “superfats”. Superfats are the fats that are left over after the lye has done it is thing. It’s what makes soap so moisturizing. This can be anything from 1% all the way up to 20%. 1-4% are considered to harsh for our skins. I plan to make a 1% olive oil soap which will get turned into detergent for my clothes. 5-8% is the range that is suitable for skin and also creates a hard soap. 9% and up are also suitable for skin, but creates a softer soap since there are a lot of excess oils left over.

Our soap sits between 8 and 9%. So it is hydrating while also making a bar that isn’t really hard, but isn’t falling apart either.

How Do you Make Soap, Then?

Other things you will need before your begin:

  • 1 large bowl for mixing everything together
  • 1 smaller heatproof/resistant bowl for measuring your water and mixing your lye into
  • 1 small, completely dry bowl for measuring your lye
  • 1 whisk/wooden spoon that will only be used for soap
  • 1 silicone spatula that will only be used for soap
  • Something to dump your soap into
    • We use silicone soap molds
    • If that’s not your thing then a heat-resistant glass baking dish with plastic wrap in it will work just fine
  • Some form of thermometer to measure the heat of your lye/oils
  • A hand/stick blender – it should be only used for soap, but I’ve read other people being a-okay with using theirs for soap and then food. I just have never wanted to risk possibly poisoning myself or my loved ones.
  • A kitchen scale

First, make sure you are in a well ventilated space with plenty of working room. If ruining your table or counter isn’t an option either cover them with old tablecloths that you don’t mind ruining, newspaper, or trash can liners.

Second, make sure you have all your stuff out and ready to go. It’s the worst to get into the middle of something and realize that the one thing you need is the one thing you don’t have.

Third, put on all of your protective gear. Make sure you have a sink nearby just in case any accidents occur and I’ve been told that white vinegar helps neutralize the lye, but I’ve never had to do this myself, so you should be good.

Alright now you can make the soap. There are a couple different ways to do this, but the basis is simple. For us, we don’t want to add the lye and oils together if they are both over 110 degrees. We don’t mind tracing them at lower temperatures, and in fact we prefer it.


  1. Measure out the lye – this should be done in a completely dry bowl so it doesn’t activate until we want it to.
  2. Measure the water
  3. Combine the lye into the water and whisk until dissolved
    1. The water should never be combined with the lye as it may set off a chain reaction that could cause the lye to explode and that would be a disaster for yourself no matter how much protective gear you are wearing.
    2. There will be fumes, it will smell, and the lye and water does heat up very rapidly. It can get so hot that it can boil. BE VERY CAREFUL.
  4. Place lye water in freezer for 5-10 minutes to cool. Please extend the cool time if you are making larger batches.
  5. Measure and melt solid butters. This can be done by shoving it in the microwave for 30 second intervals until completely melted, or using a double boiler on the stove.
  6. Measure and add in liquid oils.
  7. Pull the lye out of the freezer and check the temperature.
  8. When under 110 degrees go ahead and add the lye water to the oils.
  9. Blend with a stick blender until trace forms.
    1. Trace is a thickening process in which you can see drops of liquid being held up by the base liquid.
    2. I honestly just pull my stick blender straight up and if I can see the outline of my blender then I’m good to go.
  10. Pour into mold and put in a dark place, preferably a cupboard that doesn’t get opened or the oven if you don’t use plan to use it in the next 24 hours.
  11. Wait roughly 24 hours.
  12. Un-mold your soap and cut into bars
  13. Then wait a very long 4 weeks for the soap to fully cure (we sometimes package at 3 ½ weeks depending on if we are in a time crunch)

At the end of that 4 week wait period you will have soap. Our 1 lb. batch makes about 6 bars of soap, so it will last for quite some time.

After you get that down you can start adding in essential oils for smell or add in color with mica colorants, clay, or even cocoa powder if that’s you thing.

Clean up will be a breeze if you wait until the next day. All the oily residue that was left behind will have turned into soap as well, which makes for an easier time of it. (It makes my mom’s dishwasher smell fantastic! – C)

You’ve done It!

Or maybe you haven’t. It seems like a lot, but after a while it doesn’t take too much time and you can start playing around with additives like pumpkin puree, applesauce, even oatmeal. I swear there are more that aren’t food related, but I can’t think of them right now.

The possibilities are endless and if you don’t want to make it yourself there are crazy people like us who can make it for you. Check out our shop for all the fantastic ideas we’ve come up with. There are more soaps coming out every month so be sure to check back.

Want something that we don’t have in stock? Drop us a line and let us know. We might just be inspired enough to take it in a direction you didn’t want nor did you ask for. Either way, it is sure to be an awesome ride.

 

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Preparing our Vegan Beauty products for a Craft Fair Event.

Preparing for an event can be hard work, stressful and time-consuming, ESPECIALLY if you don’t have a plan.

The reason I say this is we just signed up for out 1st major (to us) event, called Harvest Market, based in my home town in Iowa.  It’s a BIG event in my little town (pop. ~7000). ALL the crafters, hobbyists, and small businesses in the area come together to showcase all their holiday products. It is usually the Monday before Thanksgiving, so this year its November 25th. It’s hosted by Produce in the Park and the Atlantic Area Chamber of Commerce.

As you can imagine, we are both excited and a bit scared, to be attending this event. First things first, what do we currently have for sale? How much do we want to have on hand for sale? Do we have enough time to make, much less package, everything we want to have?

So after a minor panic attack on my part (yeah my brain does that sometimes) and some time breathing, I started a list of what we needed to do. This included small things that we were ready to do anyway (like ordering a larger amount of business cards and stocking up on labels and packaging supplies), to thing we THOUGHT would be farther out in the future, like making a sign and having a pretty table cloth. Even bumping up the finished and packaged inventory became more of a priority.

So the list goes something like this..

  1. Know what we have on hand – not too hard since we already have a rough inventory system in place. Just double-checking for accuracy the next time we spend some time at the workshop. Or I could ask mom to do it since the workshop is at her house …hmm something to think about. Also, we have been having a few sales that I’m not sure got taken out on inventory (oops!)
  2. Decided what kind of “paperwork” we need to have at the booth. I confess I asked a few of my friends who have done events like this in the past. I got some really good advice too! (thanks to David and Aaron for the info and feedback!) 

This included such things as a price list (yeah, knew that), and about us page (hmm) in a stand-up picture frame so it’s more visible (oh!), and an ingredient list comparison for our soaps. Even things such as a basic order form (just in case we run out of specific products. Hey! A girl can dream!) and a receipt form for all our customers.

One of the main things that the guys suggested was that color draws attention. I had never really thought about this that much. So we decided to color coordinate our price list to our items (as much as we are able) as well as to our box sets. All the lip balm products are listed in orange, the body powder in reds, the basic bar soaps (and sample basic bar box sets) are listed in light green, the specialty bar soaps (and the deluxe bar sample box) listed in light blue. And just for fun, our Rose Garden soap is listed in (what else) rose red. 🙂

The ingredient list comparison was interesting, to say the least, not to mention eye-opening. What do we put in our soap vs. what is usually in most store-bought soap? Have you ever really LOOKED at what is in your soap from the store? 

  1. Decide how realistic our desires are vs. what we can actually make in time to sell. “FIND A REASONABLE NUMBER!” – my brain can be quite instant, can you tell? Timelines were a must for this part, we even built in some extra time just in case we had an off week (car troubles, bad weather, other things cropping up for family, etc.) the fun part of deciding how much to make, is we don’t really have a sales history to work off of. We know that we have sold more Oatmeal Breakfast Bar than anything else (except lip balms) but that is only 2-3 bars. 

Will people like it at a craft fair vs. my describing it to a friend and her buying 2 bars to send to a grand baby with really bad eczema? /shrug who knows. 

We DO know we don’t want to run out, so we decided to make at least 12-16 full-size bars of each flavor. This should allow us to have a lot, without running out (we hope!), and still allow us time to make enough that we can get our sample boxes set up for sales too. Otherwise, that’s what the order forms are for!

  1. Next, we had to decide what to make when, to boost our stock levels. The soap has to be done first, as it takes a while to cure. Almost everything else we do takes less than an hour to do, and most of that is time spent cooling or setting stuff up to package. So knowing we had to do soap, we made a list of our current stock from least to most, so we would know what order to make more of them in. We also have a small complication of Michelle not currently having a car. So travel time is different from what we usually do. We have less time together, but more time separate, to make soap. 

So, we decided to divide and conquer! We will do the more intricate soaps (the specialty stuff that takes a bit more effort) together, while I can do some of the basic soaps at the workshop on days when she works. Michelle is also doing a few newer scents/color combos to try to appeal for the holiday season (see the Facebook page, Sweetsistersvegan, for sneak peeks!)

So, we are well on our way (we hope!) to being prepared for our 1st event. I’m pretty sure we have missed some things, but we have time yet. We hope to see you there!

Carrie & Michelle

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Trials of Mica Colorants in Soap Making (a.k.a the creation of our Whoops! category)

Colors are supposed to be simple…

You just pour Mica colorants in the soap when mixing to get the colors you want…. Sounds simple, right? Well, most of the time it is. 

We seem to have issue getting some colors to work correctly, namely orange or anything with orange in it. /sigh

 

1st try – Our sunrise soap. 

Bright orange juice and black coffee, swirled together to make an uplifting, wake me up scent…. The color turned out milk chocolate and cream…><….. (it didn’t really turn out bad, just not what we were trying for. No worries, it got turned into a Whoops! item)

 

OK, what did we do wrong? Were we not using enough color, not enough water? Too much orange juice? And the brown was supposed to be dark chocolate brown!?!?

/throws hands in the air in frustration…..grrr

 

Since we weren’t sure what went wrong we decided to take out all the additives and focus just on the colors. We were also experimenting with fall colors for soaps as well since it was a little ways away. So we went for a brown with red and orange swirls. We even added extra mica just to be sure.

 

Yeah, that didn’t turn out well either. The brown once again lightened while the red and orange blended together, which we should have expected since they’re so close to each other on the color wheel. So now we were really at a loss.

 

Ok deep breath…. Let’s step back and think. We have just been adding mica colorant until it’s pleasing to look at after we mix our other ingredients…but that is rarely what it comes out for the final product. Maybe we need to be a little more scientific…So we went to a mica supplier’s website we plan to use (Nature soap is awesome) and read their info page. This is where we found the color blender! Oh the fun we had for a few days figuring out what colors we wanted to use vs. the colors we ended up ordering. (so much fun!)

 

Back on topic: we decided to get a mica colorant sample pack (10 – 5 oz. “choose your own colors” for $16; SUCH a sweet deal!) so we could get a lot of colors to “play” with, as the hubby would say. The website recommends using “ 1 teaspoon per pound of oils. With lighter colors like orange and yellow, a little bit more can be used to get a bright color. Darker colors like brown may need a bit less.” from their FAQ page about using mica colorants. We decided we DEFINITELY hadn’t been using enough mica for some of the lighter colors. It also explained why our darker soaps tended to turn out well. /shrug Have to get lucky sometimes right?

 

So we decided to do an experiment with said color sample pack we had bought. There are 10 colors, and we have mini silicone soap molds. Can anyone see where this is going? Anyone?

 

We decided to make “samples” to see how each of the colors match up to the color of the powders as we saw them in powder form. “Waste not, want not” We took the recipe for our 1 pound batch of soap and divided it into 10ths. This allowed us to measure out each “batch” and make it separately. The one drawback to this approach, was how we had to bring the soap to trace… we were using smaller containers to mix in, so the stick blender we usually use didn’t fit (by the time we were done, my wrists REALLY hurt from whisking). Also, our mini molds are not all the same size. We actually got 12 samples by the time we were done, all the base colors as well as 2 “swirlys”! BONUS! 

 

Downside, since the silicone molds WERE smaller, we had some trouble getting the samples out of the mold later in the week. We decided to let the samples sit a few extra days to make sure they set properly. Most of them set well, though I did have to throw the neutral gray into the freezer overnight to get it to set. 

Oh, and one little tip if your playing with soap? Don’t set it to cure on cardboard… apparently it leeches the oils and colorants out of the soap >< 

grr, mutter, curse under my breath, sigh

 

We were actually pleasantly surprised with the results. We decided that we liked the golds, needed more colorants in the reds, blues, and greens; and needed LESS is some of the darker colors, like the cider fire. 

 

So of the 2 golds we tried (Sahara and Shimmer gold) the Sahara was more of a TRUE gold compared to Shimmer gold which turned into more of a cream with gold sparkly glitter. It should be nice for the lighter accents we want to do for a “to be named later” soap design… Check out or Facebook page for batch by batch previews!

 

The blue, gray, and green turned out more of a pastel then the true color we were expecting. That’s OK, we can use them as is, or add more mica powder.

 

The red, yellow, and pink all turned out wonderfully, though they faded a bit after a few days. A bit more colorant, maybe just a pinch (dash, whatever) of activated charcoal to darken them for our fall/winter colored soaps….. 

 

So, if things go well in the next batch or two of soap our current mica problems will be cured. If that’s the case, it is probable that what we were using before was a lesser quality item, which has now been rectified. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board to see what else we can do. Either way let the experiments commence!

 

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Our Inspirations – Part 2

Michelle

Inspiration. It’s a word with so much meaning that it would be hard to describe it. It is much like passion which consumes our thoughts and takes over our very lives. Even the definition cannot do it justice. After all, the quality and state of being inspired still has the word in it. Saying what inspiration actually is seems a bit pointless to me, so instead I will tell you where I get my inspiration from, regardless of what the definition says.

I work in a place where inspiration is sometimes hard to come by. I have no windows and the harsh fluorescent lights does this place no favors. The one thing I do currently have is a partly painted wall. It is green, like the green you would find on a ripe lime. It is not quite the correct color to gain inspiration from, but it is all I have during my time at my day job.

So, what about this green wall that gives me passion? It reminds me of the outside. I love the color green. After all, green is life. It is the color of grass, leaves, stems, and all sorts of natural things. Nature at its very essence is my inspiration. Give me a cool autumn afternoon with not a cloud in the sky. The wind is sharp with the scent of winter on the way, but the sun is warm and is the perfect weather for the lightest of cardigans.

Nature lends itself to mystery and to magic. I have stood in the forest next to what looks like ruins and have felt my mind open to so many possibilities. I have taken midnight strolls through a local park and have felt a niggle of promise in every step. Nature is where passion gains its wings like fairies as it flits about whispering into ears that are willing to listen.

Nature also gives us a bountiful harvest. It is where food comes from and even that can draw inspiration and passion. It is my belief that nature is at the center of everything. Without it we would not be here and if we were our imaginations would be dull and lifeless.

“The Breakfast Bar” is one such inspiration that is drawn from food. It’s oat overtones mixed with warm cinnamon is an inspiration taken from a simple breakfast and this video which gave me the idea.

My “Midnight Encounter” soap is also taken directly from food as it is filled with rich, fatty cocoa powder along with the detox effect of activated charcoal.

One scent that I have been trying to recreate from the images of my mind is “Roses in a Midnight Graveyard”. Morbid? Yes. However, it is still fascinating where my mind can go and I do like following it, so please bear with me.

Close your eyes and picture this. The smell of roses hangs fragrant in the air. Their smell is almost overpowering. Trees linger on the edge of a plot of stones, their scent so faint as to be almost non-existent. Cold stones can barely be seen from the light of the stars as the moon turns her face away, shedding no light. Each slow step you take forward brings another smell. Damp earth from an earlier rain shower can now be smelt. The wind plays with your clothes, beckoning you forward while underneath all of that is the scent of something almost foul, or perhaps sickly sweet, maybe even putrefying, so faint you can’t trace it. Can you feel that? Now open your eyes.

That is the kind of scent I aspire to create. Something that takes you somewhere and makes you feel something. It might not be something you want to feel, but it is a visceral reaction to the stimuli of scent.

Nature is the gateway to everything for me. It is my ultimate inspiration and as I grow mentally and even as I travel it will always be with me. I will always be inspired and I am ever so joyful about that. After all, it can change lives, move mountains, and even create miracles. And it all comes back to a partly painted wall which started it all.

If any of what we’ve said has resonated with you, then please reach out and contact us, or buy something from our store. That will be inspiring in and of itself, and even if it isn’t, it will help us to continue making things that we love and have a passion for. Your support will help us change the world, one bar at a time. Thank you.