For the main article, Scented Essentials, click here.
Allow yourself an uninterrupted period of about 11/2 hours to make your first batch of soap. Choose a well-ventilated work area near a sink, and lay newspapers down on the surface. Have all equipment and ingredients at hand.
Handle lye with great care. It is extremely caustic in dry or wet form and will burn skin and blind eyes as well as remove paints and other finishes. It has little effect on enamel, stainless steel, glass, copper, plastic, rubber, or wood, but it can ruin almost anything else. In the event of skin contact, flush with cool running water, then douse with vinegar immediately. In the event of a spill, put on your rubber gloves and mop the spill with towels or rags, which you should then rinse and discard. Keep the lye out of reach of children and pets. Read the label on the lye container carefully and follow all recommended precautions.
When lye is added to water, it will heat the water and release fumes for about 30 seconds. Turn your face away to avoid inhaling the harsh and unpleasant fumes.
• Plastic food-storage container with a lid, shoebox size or a bit larger, to use as a mold
• Rubber gloves
• Safety glasses
• 2 widemouth glass containers, one of at least 2-quart capacity
• 2 slotted wooden spoons (reserved exclusively for soapmaking)
• 1-gallon or larger stainless-steel or enamel kettle (don’t use aluminum)
• 2-cup plastic or glass measuring cup
• Small stainless-steel wire whisk
• Accurate thermometer that measures between 80° and 110°F (Thermometers from photographic supply stores work well, as do the thermometers used to take human body temperatures, available in any drugstore.)
• Towels or rags
• Grease the sides and bottom of your soap mold with shortening and set it aside.
• Wearing rubber gloves and safety glasses, weigh the lye in the smaller container (be sure to account for the weight of the container). Pour the cold water into the larger glass container, then carefully and slowly pour the lye into the container, stirring with a wooden spoon. When all the lye is dissolved, set the mixture aside to cool.
• Pour the coconut oil and vegetable shortening into the kettle and melt over low heat, stirring frequently with the other wooden spoon. Remove the kettle from the heat and add 24 ounces of olive oil.
• Keep your gloves on. Stir both mixtures separately, then measure their temperature with the thermometer. Both mixtures need to be between 95° and 98°F, so prepare cold- or hot-water baths as needed by putting an inch or two of cold or hot water in the sink and placing the containers in the water. When both are within the desired temperature range, pour a steady stream of lye mixture into the oil mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir for about 10 minutes, or until the soap becomes slightly thicker and creamier. Add any dried botanicals or colorants now, working quickly so that the mixture doesn’t become too thick. To do so, pour into another container about 2 cups of the soap mixture and whisk in the dried materials until thoroughly mixed, then promptly return this mixture to the soap kettle and stir. Stir in the scented oils.
• Pour the mixture into the plastic mold and put the lid on it. Set it in a warm, out-of-the-way place and cover it well with many layers of blankets. Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for 18 hours to finish turning to soap.
• Remove the blankets and lid. You should now have a beautiful block of soap—firm, fresh, and fragrant. Allow it to sit uncovered 8 to 12 hours longer, then turn the box upside down and allow the soap to fall onto a towel or clean work surface. If the soap has separated, you will see a thin layer of oil on the top and a crusty, chalky layer on the bottom; these layers can be scraped off and discarded in the garbage or flushed down the toilet.
• When you’re ready, cut your fresh soap into slices, bars, or chunks, or leave it as it is and cut bars out of the large block as needed. If you wish to form or stamp them in any way, do this within a few days, then let the bars air-dry for 2 to 3 weeks.