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July 2016 Soap of the Month


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Nettle & Comfrey Hot Process Swirl Soap




Hot Processed soap is a new/old technique of soap making.  Our Great-Grandmothers most likely made soap in the old open kettle style of rendering hog fat and adding leached caustic soda to make a thick batter and through experience they knew to test the mixture on their lower lip to check for the distinctive “zap” of a hot soap or with no zap it was time to add handfuls of salt to allow the mixture to form hard bars that were cut and tucked away for one to five years before use.


Well.  Great Grandma didn’t have the luxury that we have today of the internet networking thousands of soap makers across the globe.  Learning from each other’s’ mistakes and successes through Facebook groups, forums and videos as well as printed books and ebooks.


The hot process soap we make today is a new technique, based on that old technique that Grandma used.  Making use of an old crock pot allows soap to slowly gel and complete the saponification right before our eyes without the need to wrap wooden soap molds in towels and hope the gel process is complete…without overheating.  Using commercially produced sodium hydroxide we are able to have reliable recipes, and with digital scales we can be pretty darn sure that our soaps are formulated and scaled correctly without having to burn our lips and tongues to test boiling hot soap.  Yes, many people still “zap test” their soaps, but it is something that in my 16 years of soap making (most of that being hot processed soap), I have never felt the need to perform on my tongue. 


I began making soap in the usual way, cold process.  A simple recipe that was handed down to me from my Aunt and the use of a shipping box and a beat up kitchen whisk was my first soap.  I added some tea tree oil because hey…I could actually find it in the health food store and I had a block of soap.  My first introduction to hot process soap was several years later when I happened upon a book called “Handcrafted Soap” by Delores Boone.  I was instantly mesmerized by being able to make the soap and use it immediately in a crock pot!!  Within a few days my simple way of making soap fell by the way of a new and improved way of hot process!!  I quickly made the family favorite tea tree soap and after scraping the lumpy mashed potatoes out of my crock pot and then scraping the bits left over and running to the sink with a little squished ball of soap to watch the bubbles appear in front of me.  From that point on…I was a Hot Process Soap Maker.


However…. 13-ish years of making hot process soap has taught me some valuable lessons.  Hot process soap might be SAFE to use immediately…but it isn’t quality.  My first soaps were put to use within two days and I couldn’t figure out why they just seemed to melt away in the shower.  I kept them on a well drained wire rack and they never lasted very long.  Especially in comparison to my cold processed soaps.  The fresh soap often had a strange tacky quality as if it was catching a sticky spot on your skin, but older soap didn’t do this.  After a year or two of making exclusively hot processed soaps I learned something very valuable.  My older soaps were better than my fresh soaps.  The ones that had been put up in the cupboard to make way to new and exciting batches were pulled out to give as gifts or just to pass out to family to make room for more soap were wobbly, warped and odd shaped….but they were BETTER than the fresh soaps I was always using.  Soap bars that didn’t have great lather (I used to assume it was my well water) had mountains of lather, soaps that melted fast actually lasted in the shower.  Yes, many still warped or became odd shaped, but they were quality bars of soap.


You will read online that hot process soaping is a way to “speed up cure”, a way to produce soap “faster”…in my opinion from years of making hot process soap this is not true.  Yes, hot process is safe to use quickly, but like wine is drinkable grape juice when it goes into a cask or bottle, it isn’t quality wine until it’s had its time to sit and become all it can be.  Soap is the same way.  I’m not a scientist, I can’t tell you what happens in that block of saponified oils and fats, but as an observer and a user of many many soaps over the years…even hot process soap needs that time to become all it can be.  4 weeks is a minimum…I put up all of my soaps for 8 weeks, and my personal batches of soaps that I make for my own use are made a full 6 months in advance. 


Hot Process soap making is now a full fledged technique made by thousands of crafters across the globe.  It has many different techniques to make the batter more fluid and some are hard to differentiate between hot and cold process.  Today I’m going to give my version of hot process and a few tips I have along the way.  There is a lot more out there, but this is a good beginning recipe and technique to get you started!!


Not all recipes are great recipes for hot process.  Some will make a lovely batter, and a looser batter can be made just with the addition of sodium lactate.  Some recipes by their own nature will make a thicker batter resembling dry mashed potatoes…even using the tips to have a more moist batter after cooking.  Adding the heat to soap that has been brought to trace simply forces the gel stage, so that once it is fully gelled, it is fully soap.  One of the main reasons many soapers choose the hot process way is because you can actually control the superfat that is in your bar of soap.


In cold process, you put all oils and fats together and it’s a roll of the dice.  You have no idea what 5% or 10% of unsaponifiable oils are left after the saponification has taken place.  With hot process, you add your additives after the soap has cooked, instead of before.  In this recipe I have formulated it with 0% superfat.  In reality it is going to have 9%-ish superfat because I’m going to add Shea Butter and full fat buttermilk after the cook.  I will be positive that the superfat on my skin when I use this soap is a combo of shea butter and buttermilk fat because those items are held until after the soap has finished it’s saponification. 


Turning again to my tried and true Tallow based soap formula I am swapping out the avocado oil from my previous tutorial and using sunflower oil instead.  I love having bases like this that are complete in their main components with a bit of wiggle room for different oils and butters, and also using the more expensive shea butter as the superfat to bring it front and center with this soap.


You will need the usual soap making equipment for soap and safety.  Adding to that is a crock pot that is a minimum of 4 quarts capacity for a recipe using 32 ounces of oil.  You will also need plastic wrap to stretch over the top of the ceramic crock to aid in keeping the moisture inside during the cook time.


Tallow Sunflower OMH with Nettle and Comfrey


318 grams Walmart tallow shortening

136 grams coconut oil

318 grams olive oil

91 grams sunflower oil (I am using the high oleic)

45 grams castor oil



272 grams distilled water

131 grams sodium hydroxide



Additives to the whole batch of soap:

23 grams sodium lactate

85 grams (3 ounces) shea butter

57- 70 grams (2 to 2 ½ ounces) fragrance oil (Today I am using

              Peak’s Eucalyptus and Spearmint fragrance oil)

85 grams (3 ounces) full fat buttermilk

2 Tbsp honey



Additives to divided parts of the batter:

2 Tbsp finely ground oatmeal

1 ½ tsp ground comfrey powder

1 ½ tsp ground nettle powder


Soap Recipe.jpg




The only difference with a cold process version of this recipe is the use of a crock pot (I’m using Big Red, my 8 quart crock) and plastic wrap to seal the top.  The powders can be purchased at many suppliers online, or you can grow your own herbs.  Mine came from Nature’s Garden.


Collage 1.jpg


I personally do not heat my hard fats in the crock pot, but I prefer to heat them on the stove in a saucepan.  The liquid oils get scaled into the crock pot.


For smaller batches I love the containers from my local Chinese Take Away. J

Always remember that the lye beads get poured into the water in a well ventilated area.  I always take mine outside, and I like to stir with a chop stick.  It immediately turns yellow to show me the solution is working and is disposable and easy to use.


I line up my additives as they are needed for each stage of the process.  I allow the lye to set and cool, but in hot process soaping you do not have to hover around the temperatures of oils and lye.  My oils are around 110-120degrees F (43-49C) after I add my melted hard fats to the liquid oils and my lye is noticeably warm to the touch, but not hot.


My sodium lactate is measured out and added to the oils just before the lye water so I don’t forget it.

Then...lye into the oils...




After my lye is in my oils, I turn my crock pot to the Low setting.  I never use the high setting because I think it overheats the mixture, I prefer a low and slow cook and have never had a volcano result during the cook period.  If you only have two settings use the lowest setting first, you will then turn the crock pot off for the final coasting time until it has fully gelled.




I bring my mixture to a light trace.  It’s not necessary to make it too thick.  Since I’m using a larger than needed crock pot I have to lightly tilt it so my stick blender is completely covered by batter.




My crock pot lid doesn’t even come close to fitting tight.  As a result a lot of moisture is lost during the cook time, making a thick dry batter.  Sure, it’s still soap, but it has a very rustic and lumpy appearance.  Several years ago I read online that people would stretch plastic wrap over the crock and it helped keep the mixture moist and made molding much easier and smoother.  




The basic size plastic wrap just barely fits my crock pot, but very often I have to use two pieces and seal the center.  After the soap has traced, the crock is plugged in….and set to low and the plastic wrap is tight and sealed over the top.  I set the timer for 35 minutes and walk away. 




After 35 minutes I return and the soap has turned firm and white in the center and the edges (where this crock gets hottest, fastest) is beginning to gel.  Unlike cold process where the soap heats from the center outward, it heats from the outside in…  I do nothing but turn the temp to the warm setting and reset my timer for another 30 minutes then prepare my after cook additions.  If you only have two settings on your crock, cook on low for about 45 minutes and then turn it off to finish gelling.  Practice with your individual recipes will let you know how long to time the various stages, it does vary with different formulations.




I will add buttermilk, honey and fragrance to the whole batch of batter before separating it to add the shea butter mixtures.  I’m adding a total of 3 ounces of shea butter, split in two.  The 1 ounce of shea butter gets the comfrey and nettle powder and is melted together.  The 2 ounces of shea butter gets the ground oatmeal and melted to combine. I also like to warm the buttermilk to about 100degrees (38C)  I use stainless steel bowls because I can hold them over the burner on my stove to melt the butter.  And they clean up very easily!




Everything is ready to go…just waiting on the soap batter.





After the additional 30 minutes (total time cooking is now 65 minutes) I still have a white spot in the center, so the soap is not fully gelled.  At this point I turn off the crock pot and keep a close eye on it to finish. 




The residual heat took 15 more minutes to gel fully through.  (80 minutes total) I have a hot spot on this crock and so the white streak is where the soap heated more that the whole batch and it is a dry streak.  I will try to not scrape this area too hard when stirring the soap.




Before stirring the soap or even removing the plastic wrap I reheated my shea butter mixtures because they had become solid while waiting.




Now I get to work.  Plastic wrap comes off and I stir the mixture.  You can see it has the look of Vaseline, sort of translucent and is thick like mashed potatoes.





To the whole batch I add my honey, my milk and my fragrance in no real particular order.


If I used cold from the refrigerator milk, my mixture would get very cold in spots and chunky.  To keep this from happening I warm my milk.





After adding the milk, honey and fragrance I have a looser batter, but it is still moist and flows from the spatula.





To add the shea butter, I first remove about 1/3 of the batter, 15 ounces (425 grams) from the crock pot into a bowl and add the 1 ounce of melted shea butter with the comfrey and nettle powder.  I quickly stir because it will begin to cool and form hard spots.






To the remaining 2/3 of the batter I add the 2 ounces of shea butter combined with the ground oatmeal and stir that together.




Now for the molding.  It is basically a plop motion as both portions have a consistency similar to thick brownie batter.  I start by plopping some of the light batter and some of the green batter


Keep layering the two colors opposite each other.  Once the mold is overfilled I grab a long handled spoon for the swirling part




The swirling is pushing the spoon down into the batter and just wiggling it back and forth, then up and back down again.  Moving from corner to corner and the length of the mold. Using my baking experience, it’s a lot like when you make marble cake.  You want to swirl the colors, not combine them.

A spoon is best for this kind of swirling, it is thicker batter and something like a dowel or skewer is just too skinny to get the batter to swirl.




When I’m done I still have a little batter left.  I scrape the green into the light color and just stir it together.


Then using my spatula and spoon I push it into small silicone molds that I always have on hand for overflow.  After this I just set the molds on the counter and work on cleaning up.


…..fast forward 10 hours….




My little sample sizes have very bumpy tops and I just run my knife along the top to even them out.  ALL trim bits are saved and used in my confetti soaps.




As the soap has cooled, the translucent look has changed to a solid opaque soap.




I like even edges on my soap, so I take my knife and run it along the top of the mold for a smooth cut.  Again…all bits are saved.




This kind of mold does not need to be lined for hot process soap and it comes apart pretty easily.  I like the fact that I remove the mold from the soap and not trying to remove the soap out of a mold.


Obviously in my swirling I didn’t hit my edges too well…but you never know with swirled soaps until you cut…




This photo brought to you by Mr. Bud Haffner and his beautifully crafted Soap Loaf Cutter. His shop can be found on etsy.com




And the cut!!  The white bits that stand out are simply from that hot spot in my crock.  I try to not scrape them into the soap batter, but some do make their way in.  I think it adds to the charm of the crafted soap and has never bothered me.  One of my loves of hot process soap is the strata and life that is inside of the bar as it’s used, they are rarely solid in color or dimension.




This soap has the visual appeal of a swirled soap, and is easy enough for a beginner to hot process soap making, but it is crafted to be a very quality soap for your skin.  After the 8 week cure time it will hold up very well in your shower, the high stearic of tallow makes a dense lather and the additions of buttermilk (yes, just 3 ounces can make a distinct difference) and shea butter give it an lovely emollient and luxurious feel.  Oatmeal and Honey lend their traditional use in gentle to your skin conditioning properties. Comfrey and nettle powder not only give it a natural color but are powerful herbs for healing.  For very sensitive skin I would leave out the fragrance oil or maybe use a light amount of skin loving essential oils like a blend of rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree.


Edited by Chefmom
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  • 2 weeks later...

What an absolutely beautiful tutorial Chef Mom!   You spent a lot of time putting this together!  Very well done.  I enjoyed reading how to make soap.  I've never done it before, only bought soaps from chandlers here and after seeing this I think I will continue just buying! lol....Maybe one day a melt and pour, I will try.  Your pictures are beautiful as are your soapsl....you should teach classes....Thankyou for sharing.



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  • Vicky_CO unfeatured this topic
  • 2 years later...

I know this is an older thread but I just wanted to add that if you plan to use nettle powder in your soapmaking a recipe like this one is a good one for it. I tried making regular CP and once I added the nettle my soap excelerated so fast it became soap on a stick within seconds. So lesson learned here use a crockpot to HP your soap and add the nettle powder after the cook and after the saponification. I now HP my soap when using nettle powder.

Edited by Candybee
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