This isn't the soapmaking that your grandmother or great grandmother did. In the good old days, a day of the month was reserved for making soap.
It started early in the morning with the woman rendering (heating and straining) all the fat and grease drippings she'd been saving. Then she would put all the fat into a large pot over an open fire and slowly add the lye.
The pot would be stirred constantly and remain heated all day until she felt that the chemical reaction between the fat and lye had completed.
This method of making soap is called the hot process. The soap mixture was then poured into a wood mold and the mold was wrapped in an old blanket and stored (cured) for several weeks.
As soap was needed, it was chipped off the block of soap. This soap was used to clean everything from hands to hair to floors to clothes.
Today, most from-scratch soapmakers use the cold process, which means that fat/oils are heated to around 115 degrees while lye made from water and lye powder is allowed to cool to 115 degrees.
Note that when you mix lye powder into water the chemical reaction causes a rush of heat. The lye is then added to the fats/oils and stirred (off heating element) until the mixture traces.
The trace happens when you can draw a line in the mixture with a stirring spoon and the line softly holds. The mixture is then poured into molds that are insulated for 24 hours. The soap is then popped out of the molds and allowed to cure for at least 3-6 weeks.
The hot and cold process of soapmaking is really a chemistry assignment with chemical reactions happening the whole time. And time it does take from several hours to a whole day, plus the curing time.
It's a serious process that demands careful handling. Color was rarely added since the harsh lye would destroy most colorants. Scents added had to be very potent to hold up to the lye. Thus if any scent was added it would be the heavy low notes of lavender or patchouli.
Soap crafting, on the other hand, is quick and easy. Soap crafting is done with either a coconut oil soap base (white opaque) or a glycerin soap base (transparent).
The actual soapmaking has already been done for you so there is no need to cure the soap. You simply cut up the soap base and melt it in a double boiler or microwave oven.
Once the soap has melted you can stir in colorant and scent. Then you pour the soap into a mold and wait an hour or two for the soap to set before popping it out of the mold.
Scrub Me Clean Loofah Soap
By combining soap and a loofah sponge, you get a soap that can clean even the dirtiest of hands.
Soap base: Comes in small to large blocks, usually a pound to 10 pounds.
Knife or vegetable cutter: To cut the soap into smaller pieces and to cut the loofah sponge into smaller sections.
Large glass measuring cup: You'll place the pieces of soap base into this for easy pouring into a mold.
Colorant: Variety of choices including slivers of crayon, slivers of wax colorant for candles, powdered micas or soap colorant available in craft stores. Do not use clothing dye, powdered kid's drinks or basket dyes. All are too harsh for skin or will stain skin.
Scent: Variety of choices from essential oils, fragrance oils and soap scents available at craft stores. Do not use perfumes or potpourri oils. Do not use any scent that isn't labeled skin safe.
Long handled spoons: To stir the melted soap base when adding colorant and scent.
Molds: Variety of choices, but keep in mind that you will have to pop the soap out of the mold, so glass or hard plastics don't make good molds. Detailed molds should be prepared by spraying a light coat of cooking spray over the surface. This project uses a loofah sponge as the mold. Some loofahs come compressed or flat. You'll need to soap this type of loofah in water and dry it completely before pouring in the melted soap.
Microwave oven: Best to use an oven where you can control the heat setting. Melt soap base on a medium heat setting.
Another option for melting, mock double boiler: Place large glass measuring cup into a large pan filled with water. Add enough water so that about 1/3 of the measuring cup will be in the water. Simmer over low heat until soap base is melted and then remove from heat with oven mitt.
Plus: A sturdy plastic bag, plastic wrap, tape and a plastic drinking glass to hold the loofah until soap is set.
1. Wrap the loofah several times with plastic wrap. You want the top of the loofah open or even with the top of the plastic wrap. Fold excess plastic wrap at bottom of the sponge back up and around the sponge. Secure into place with tape.
Place loofah sponge into the sturdy plastic bag. You want the bottom of the sponge to be at the bottom of the bag. Fold any excess plastic bag (except around the top) around the sponge and tape into place. Make sure the plastic bag is very secure around the sponge.
Cut away any excess plastic from the top area of the sponge if you think it will interfere with pouring the soap into the sponge (mold).
2. Cut soap base into smaller pieces. Place in large glass measuring cup and melt. The coconut oil soap base tends to melt much faster than the clear glycerin soap base.
Place measuring glass into microwave and heat on medium for 30 seconds. Continue to heat in 15-second increments until all the soap base has melted. You do not want the soap base to boil or smoke. If this happens you are using too high a heat setting, so lower the heat. Keep this in mind if you are heating the soap base on a stove element. Remove glass measuring cup from microwave or stove element.
3. Stir melted soap base and then wait until the soap base has a thin film covering the top of it. This happens faster with the coconut oil soap base. Remove the film with your spoon.
Now the soap base has cooled enough to add colorant and scent. Colorant is added in small amounts. Keep stirring until well mixed.
4. Add scent and stir until well mixed. You'll need to add several drops of scent. Most scent packaging will give you exact amounts of scent to add.
Scents are divided into three categories: high, medium and low notes. High notes fade quickly (like lemon) while low notes remain strong over time (like lavender or lime). Stir until scent is well mixed into the soap base.
5. Place loofah mold into a drinking glass that can hold the mold's weight and hold the filled loofah's weight. Pour soap into the loofah.
Tip: You can fill the loofah to the top with the melted soap, but the loofah is going to absorb some of that soap. So, check back in a few minutes to see if you need to pour in more melted soap.
6. Allow the soap in the loofah to cool for about 1-2 hours (depending on the loofah sponge size, which does vary). Remove all the plastic bag and wrap. Cut the loofah every 1-2 inches to make individual soaps.
Maria Nerius has been designing and writing craft projects for 15 years and is the craft expert at CreateForLess.com. If you have questions, comments, have craft ideas of your own, or would like to see a particular craft in an upcoming issue, e-mail Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org.