Making homemade soap has certain benefits. Among them:
* It’s cheap, especially when compared to the small-batch soaps you find at gift shops and farmers markets.
* You control what goes into it, so if you love one ingredient or hate another, you can find or develop a recipe to suit your preferences. (Teatree essential oil, for instance, is great for treating and preventing skin-level fungal infections, while peppermint and eucalyptus will open your sinuses while you shower.)
* It doesn’t require packaging. For personal use, I keep a Tupperware container full of unwrapped bars in the pantry.
* It makes a nice gift.
Soapmaking has a few drawbacks, the three main ones being that you have to work with lye; you have to be very precise in your measurements, temperatures, times, etc.; and you have to make it six to eight weeks before you plan to use it, lest you end up with chemical burns from insufficiently saponified soap. (Saponification is the chemical process by which lye and oil turn into soap.)
The hot-process method eliminates two of these problems. There is no such thing as soap made without lye, so there’s no workaround for that one, but the heat cooks out most of it, allowing it to saponify fully in two weeks instead of six, and it requires far less precision than the cold-process method, particularly where temperatures are concerned.
My favorite hot-process recipe is one that uses a slow cooker to heat the lye and oil. Rather than plagiarizing it for your convenience, I’m just going to tell you to click here to find it. (Important note: DO NOT use a slow cooker you love dearly or intend to use for anything else. The lye WILL etch the ceramic crock and shorten its lifespan. If you can find a Crock-Pot at a yard sale, that’s probably your best bet.)
Remember what I was saying about hot-process recipes being very forgiving? The bars pictured above are from a batch that turned out OK despite the fact I did basically everything wrong because I hadn’t made soap in a while, forgot some important steps, and had to make adjustments on the fly. It still turned out ugly but usable, which absolutely would not have been the case if I’d been using the cold-process method.
If you read the recipe closely and follow the directions carefully, your finished product should be much prettier than mine, and eminently suitable for using at home or giving as gifts.