Soap making is the art or hobby of creating soap, which is basically a substance that acts as a cleaning agent. We use soap to clean ourselves, our clothes and even our utensils and surfaces, which makes it an essential part of our everyday work and life. The variety of soaps that are available in stores is just massive and, in fact, it is so simple and easy to make soap that you can practice soap making in your own home, with a few basic ingredients.
Soaps are nothing but the salt that comes out of a fatty acid. Fats are made of triglycerides or three molecules of fatty acids attached to one molecule of glycerol. When these fatty acid molecules are separated from the glycerol molecule, you create what is, basically, the crudest form of soap. Glycerol or glycerine, left behind, is also used to make soap and other useful products. Soap or glycerine is also used in oils to increase their viscosity and their cleaning properties, when combined with water, are the main reason why they are used when bathing or washing, to remove dust and dirt.
At home, if you are planning to make your own soap, it will follow the same steps as an industrial soap-making plant would, although the difference would mainly lie in the kind of equipment you use as well as the quantity of the ingredients you need. There are three basic processes involved in making soap on your own and if you are planning to get into the hobby, then you need to understand the chemistry behind these three processes to make good soap.
The idea of the cold process is to begin the process of separating the fatty acid from the glycerol at room temperature. The cold process is generally considered enough to produce soap that is usable and most hobbyists tend to use this as their means of creating their own hand-crafted soap. However, soap making goes a lot beyond this little process and, though it is complete in itself, it is also a great starting point to move onto more complex and tedious processes that follow.
The cold process begins by applying some heat to the fat, to ensure that it melts completely. The batch is kept warm and not hot, which is the lowest temperature in the whole making process and, therefore, it gets the name "cold". Kept, usually, for a period of 12 to 48 hours, this heated mixture is allowed to stand and cool down, separating the glycerol from the fat. The alkali keeps getting used up, in this situation, and once it has been consumed by the mixture, the soap is safe to use. Lye, or the alkali, is added to the fat to help separate it from the glycerol, but any left-over lye can be harmful to humans.
As a result, the reaction needs to be allowed to rest for the reaction to complete and this will only happen if you have the correct ratios of lye to fat, which is found in saponification charts that are available quite freely over the Internet. Too much lye and you can cause irritation or a burning sensation on the skin - too little lye and the soap will be quite greasy to touch. Once the lye has done its job, you leave the glycerol in and pour your warm or liquid "soap" into moulds. Cover them with towels or blankets and you will find that the soap might even turn transparent for a bit, before becoming opaque once again.
Normally, the cold process will require you to keep the soaps aside, for drying or hardening, for about 6 to 8 weeks.
Hot process is all about adding more heat to enable the saponification reaction, between the lye and the fat, to go through at a quicker rate. Heat is a catalyst that brings ensures that the oil is completely converted into soap by the end of the heating process, which is something that happens at the end of the resting phase, in the cold process. The lye and fat are mixed together at about 80 to 100 degrees centigrade, and then using machines to determine when the saponification is complete.
Earlier, this completion test was done either by tasting or, in the case of experienced soap makers, by looking at the mixture. However, if you are making your own soap at home, it is recommended that you don't go about tasting your mixture because if it's not done, then you might be in trouble.
The third step is very similar to the hot process and, is in fact, an extension where you heat the mixture more and make something more out of it. This basically involves boiling the mixture instead of just heating it to the above-mentioned temperatures, thereby enabling the process to go through even faster.
Soap making is quite an interesting way of spending your free time at home, especially considering that at the end of things, you get something that you can use. If you are planning on starting a small business, this is a fantastic idea that can be expanded into a massive division, without too much investment. Just a basic setup in your garage, a few materials to begin with and a place to heat everything you have, is all you need to get the soap making process underway!