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When I was doing more research at home I learned there was a hot process method, and you can use your slow cooker to make it, and it's easier and faster than the cold process. You can find many comparisons online of the two processes - personally, with my extremely limited experience, I don't notice too many differences except that hot process seems easier to me and I can use the soap sooner. But, like anything, there are enthusiastic supporters in both camps. I've done two hot process batches at home now. One is this recipe and one is a recipe another friend and I made up ourselves using this lye calculator.
Yes, lye is needed to make soap. You can buy melt-and-pour soaps online or at your local hobby shop, and color and scent them yourself, add oatmeal, or whatever. But the company that made them had to mix fat and lye to get soap - that's just how it's made. The fat molecules bond with the lye molecules in a reaction called saponification. So when that reaction is complete, you don't have lye and you don't have fat, you have soap!
Well, like anything, if you make it yourself you can control what's in it. Plus, you can get artisan soaps for a fraction of the cost. And they're really nice! The coconut oil shampoo bars foam up so nice, do really well with my curly hair, and it was great to have on a recent trip we took! No worries of shampoo spilling all over my cosmetic bag. When I go to the hot springs, I can just throw a bar in my bag and go. The oatmeal soap we made yesterday is nice, too! Very luxurious and moisturizing.
Again, there are lots of links online that give fairly detailed instructions. If you watch the video on Mommypotamus' site you should have enough information to go with. I strongly advise watching her video and possibly others, too. Make sure you know what to do BEFORE you get started!
Lots of people use a stick blender (immersion blender) to bring the soap to the trace state. I only have a plastic stick blender and I'm just not crazy about the idea of putting plastic into a hot, caustic mixture (lots of people do, though). A stainless steel stick blender would be awesome, but costs more than I'm willing to spend right now. So it takes 1 to 1½ hours for my soap to come to trace. It helps to have a friend switch out stirring it with you. I've been using a steel whisk, but I think next time I'll try a wooden spoon (later note: that was a bad idea. Stick to stainless steel.). It would take about 20 minutes with the blender, but there you go.
Here are some pointers for you. These are NOT complete instructions, just things I think are important to remember:
So check out the links above, and here is the Oatmeal Soap recipe we made:
Coconut Olive and Jojoba Soap with Oatmealuse an 8 quart slow cooker
15 oz coconut oil
15 oz olive oil
3 oz jojoba oil
4.398 oz lye (Sodium Hydroxide)
8.89 oz water
2 oz aloe vera gel (if you choose not to use aloe vera gel, use 10.89 oz total of water instead of 8.89 oz)
1/2 cup oatmeal, ground (optional)
1/4 cup rolled oats (optional - very optional - they look nice but can be a mess in the sink)
Basically, follow ordinary hot process directions (PLEASE check the directions on Mommypotamus or another soap making site!). Measure all the ingredients and get all the tools ready. Melt the fat in the slow cooker on low, stir the lye into the water and stir until it's clear, pour the lye into the fat while stirring gently, and continue to stir until you reach "trace" state. Then add the aloe vera gel. When I did this, it kind of boiled up a little and lost the trace, so I cooked it longer while stirring until it traced again.
Turn off the heat, mix your ground oatmeal and rolled oats in, then spoon into your mold and let it cool until it's comfortable to your hand. Take it out of the mold, cut your bars, and let them sit on a rack or something to cure and harden for a few days if you can before wrapping them up. You can use it right away, but it will last longer if it has hardened.
And enjoy your handmade soap!