One of the many fascinating soap variations is salt soap. Many people absolutely rave about it. It is said to help the skin retain moisture, gently exfoliate, and firm and protect new skin cells.
Salt soaps also control body odors better and longer than other soaps, and this effect is quite noticeable.
Salt soap contains salt—lots of salt. The amount of salt added may be anywhere from 50% to 100% the combined weight of the oils used.
Salt soap is normally made with about 80% coconut oil. The other 20% of the oils used should be moisturizing oils, such as olive oil, castor oil, almond oil, or shea butter—that sort of thing.
Salt soap is also heavily superfatted (up to 25%)—which is to say that it contains an unusually high amount of fats that are not consumed during saponification (do not become soap), but remain in the soap bar to moisturize the skin. This recipe is 20% superfatted.
Salt soap makes an excellent bar for travel. This is a very hard soap that dries quickly after use.
I like it a lot! Showering with it is both refreshing and invigorating. It makes the skin feel both wonderfully clean and wonderfully conditioned. You sense that your skin feels “tighter.” It can be lovely, and make you feel like you just stepped from the ocean salt spray onto a sunny beach.
I tend to think of Salt Soap as a “summer soap”—one that’s particularly nice to have on hand after vigorous exercise, sweaty and grimy outdoor work, or a swim in the lake.
To make this soap, a fine grade of sea salt must be used. Some people go all out and use Himalayan pink salt, which I have never tried because it is outrageously expensive. Any good sea salt is fine, though I understand you should not use Dead Sea salt.
Here is a basic recipe:
30 ounces coconut oil
4.8 ounces olive oil
2 ounces castor oil
5.12 ounces lye
14 ounces water
18.4 ounces sea salt
½ ounce rosemary essential oil—or 1.5 ounces of another fragrance (Rosemary can be rather strong, so you don’t need as much.)
Color soap as desired
Yields 57 ounces of soap, or about 3 ½ pounds.
Plan on unmolding and cutting this soap after only 4-5 hours.
NOTE: The weight of the total oils in this soap equal 36.8 ounces. I decided to add salt equal to 50% of the weight of the oils, which is where the 18.4 ounces comes from. If you wish, you could add 36.8 ounces of sea salt, as some people prefer.
Follow basic soap-making directions below—except that sea salt is also added at trace, along with color and fragrance.
This soap is likely to come to trace quickly, and it is also likely to harden quickly in the molds. It is customary to warn soapers not to wait too long to cut it, or it could get too hard to cut.
I have found that problems are less likely if the amount of salt added is only 50% of the total weight of the oils, rather than 100%, but you still have to keep a close eye on it.
Experimenting with Salt Soap
Some soapers superfat salt soap up to 25%. Some add salt at 50%, 80%, or 100% of the combined weight of the oils. Some like a recipe that is 100% coconut oil.
While 80% coconut oil is what is usually suggested, the other 20% of oils are your choice. You may prefer almond oil, shea butter, mango butter, or some other oils or butters for the other 20%-ish of the oils.
To create your own recipe, go to soapcalc.com. Decide how much superfatting you want and enter it into that field. Then select oils. Whichever oils in whichever amounts you select, when soapcalc gives you the recipe, the lye amount will be discounted to provide the percentage of superfatting you have selected.
This is ever so much fun! You can begin creating your own recipes with the specific soap qualities you desire.
How to Make Soap
The way you make soap is this:
1. Weigh the oils or fats you have selected and put them in a deep plastic, stainless steel, or ceramic container. (Most people use a crockpot. Do not turn it on, or even plug it in.)
Measurements are by weight. You will need a kitchen scale. You can often find these at thrift stores. A digital scale is nice, but an ordinary kitchen scale works fine.
2. In a separate plastic container, weigh lye
3. In another container, such as a water glass, weigh water.
4. Pour the water into the lye and mix with a stainless steel or plastic spoon until lye is dissolved and the water is clear and has cooled to lukewarm.
5. Now carry your lye and water solution over to your crockpot and add the lye, pretty much a little at a time, while mixing with a stick blender.
6. After a time period ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes, your mixture will begin to take on a pudding-like consistency. If you trail a little of the mixture across the surface of the mixture, you will be able to see a trail. This is called “trace.” Stop mixing—at least with the stick blender—or soap may get too hard.
7. If you are using color and/or fragrance, hand mix these in now. You can still use the stick blender to make sure everything is well blended, but do it sparingly.
8. You can now pour (ladle) the soap into molds. Quart-size milk cartons work well and do not need to be lined with anything. Many people use empty Velveta boxes, Pringles cans, or cardboard boxes, but these must be lined with freezer paper.
9. Once the molds are filled, wrap them in towels or blankets to insulate. This is important. I feel that most soaps should go through the complete gel phase, which can only be accomplished by keeping them warm.
10. When the soap has hardened well, remove from the molds and cut into bars. This usually takes about 12-16 hours, but you never know for sure. Depends on the recipe. Soap will still be caustic when you cut it. Wear rubber or plastic gloves.
11. Once soap is cut into bars, you should be able to use it after only 48 hours (that’s if it heated up well in the molds, was well insulated, and hence completed gelling). But soap should be allowed to cure for 3-4 weeks after cutting, to allow the bars to harden so they last longer.
I usually try out the soap with small bars formed from pot scrapings and from cutting slivers off the ends of the loaves to get rid of marks left by the molds.
Soap-Making Safety Precautions
If you read the label on the lye container, you will see that it is labeled as a “caustic poison.” It will burn your skin, mar some household surfaces, and even eat through glass over time.
The lye, lye and water solution, and the soap mixture (for about 48 hours) will burn your skin if you get any on you. Wear rubber or plastic gloves and eye protection when making soap. Long sleeves are a good idea too. Before you begin making soap, it is a good idea to pour some white vinegar in a bowl and set it somewhere handy. If you happen to splash soap on your skin, splash the spot with vinegar and rinse well.
There is nothing to be scared of here. You are no more likely to hurt yourself making soap than you are to hurt yourself deep-frying. You would not touch heated oils for frying, and some splashed on you, you would handle it. The same with lye and anything it’s mixed into.
A stick blender is normally used to mix soap, partly because it brings soap to trace very quickly, and partly because it does not splash soap around, if used properly.
I have made soap with an electric hand mixer. If you simply can’t wait until you can get to Wal-Mart for a stick blender, this will work—but you should do it outdoors and be suited up Hazmat-style. Electric mixers splash—big time. An electric mixer also takes quite a bit longer to bring soap to trace.
While soap can be mixed by hand, this may take a long time—possibly a very long time, depending on the oils/fats used. I’m talking hours.
Some Tricks for Making Sure You Get Complete Gel
So-called “partial gel” in soap—where the middle portion of the soap is darker and more translucent than the outside portions—is harmless and in no way diminishes the quality of soap, but is a cosmetic issue. But obviously you want to make beautiful soap without any cosmetic defects.
Getting complete gel every time, with every soap recipe, was something I struggled with at first.
Here are some ways to make sure you get complete gel every time:
After the soap is poured into the molds, wrap it up in towels and blankets. Two layers of thick bath towels may not be enough. If you are using quart milk cartons, for example, both the top and the bottom ends may still be too cool to gel completely, and you may notice a thin line of ungelled soap around the outside of the soap, when you remove it from the molds.
You could solve this by adding more coverings.
Another solution is to preheat your oven to the lowest possible setting—about 170 or less—turn off the oven and slide in the soap molds, wrapped in two bath towels. Use old towels. Even if you are careful, they are likely to get scorched. Be sure the towels cover the bottom of the molds completely. With tall molds, like milk cartons and Pringles cans, you will want to set the molds in a pan or bowl with high sides, so they don’t fall over.
This little extra heat boost should get the soap to complete gel phase.
When you finally break down and purchase real soap molds, however, you will have a “situation.” You don’t want towels wrapped around tray molds to touch the top of the soap.
To solve this problem, you need a cardboard box that will fit over the tray, so that towels can be put over the top without touching the soap. Or put the whole tray inside a cardboard box and wrap all around in towels. You might want to set this arrangement on a large cookie sheet, to make it easier to handle, and to protect the toweling on the bottom from scorching. (Good luck with that!)
A still easier approach is to use a heating pad. Put a heating pad covered by a double layer of towels under the soap mold. Cover the mold with a cardboard box and more towels or blankets.
The heating pad, set on a low setting, will produce just enough extra heat to make sure the soap fully gels.