Introduction: Sunshine Soap With Calendula and Honey

About: Science fiction and fantasy author. Once-archaeologist. Foodie. Mom. Occasional woodworker and beginning gardener.

This hot-process soap is packed with sunflower oil, cheery calendula petals, and finished with a drizzle of honey. I go over the steps of soap making in some detail, but if you haven't made soap before, spend some extra time to research proper safety precautions before trying this, and make sure you know how to keep yourself and others safe. Lye is highly caustic and can cause serious damage to eyes and skin. You want safety goggles, rubber gloves, long sleeves, and a kitchen that's free of trip hazards or anyone and anything that might bump into you or get into what you're doing -- including small children and pets.

Step 1: Ingredients & Equipment


7.92 ounces distilled water

3.56 ounces lye

10.8 ounces sunflower oil

12 ounces coconut oil

1.2 ounces castor Oil

A quarter ounce, or roughly a cup and a half of dried calendula petals

2 tablespoons honey


A digital food scale

An immersion blender

A crockpot

Some kind of non-reactive mold (I have a silicon mold now; when I started, I used the bottom half of a cereal box carefully lined with parchment paper)

Safety goggles

Rubber gloves

And now more about those ingredients...

Distilled water: You can use tap water if you like, but sometimes tap water has strange stuff in it that might mess up your soap. Distilled water is consistent and cheap, so I go ahead and use it.

Lye: I got mine online from This lye is intended for making soap, so there's no weird additives intended for cleaning drains -- just the good stuff! The good stuff, as mention earlier, is HIGHLY caustic. I only make soap when little children are in bed, I'm wearing my rubber gloves and eye protection, and I can give it 100% of my attention. I also like to have vinegar on hand, and a big, clean empty sink to put used equipment. Vinegar is acidic, and lye is basic on the pH scale, so the two react and help neutralize each other. Everything that touches raw lye when I make soap gets cleaned really well afterward -- including a swishing of vinegar.

Sunflower Oil: This is sold on the bottom shelf of my local Wal-mart. Sunflower oil is high in vitamin E and good for your skin. I took calendula plants from my garden, dried them (leaves, stems, and all), and let my oil infuse their goodness for a month before straining. If you don't have a ton of home-grown calendula, save your petals for the end of this soap and just use regular sunflower oil -- it will still turn out great.

Coconut Oil: Regular old coconut oil. This gives the soap hardness and great cleaning power.

Castor Oil: This one is sold in the pharmacy aisle. Castor oil adds lots of lather and bubbles.

Dried Calendula Petals: Calendula has been used for centuries to treat burns, rashes, and irritated skin. They aren't necessary for the alchemy that is turning lye and oil into soap, so the measurement here doesn't need to be 100% precise -- if you want a little more, or a bit less, feel free. Calendula petals can be bought online, if you don't have the space or desire to grow them.

Honey. It's also good for your skin! This also doesn't have to be perfectly precise -- if you go over by a teaspoon, the soap will still be soap.

Step 2: Measure the Ingredients

Using the food scale, measure out the sunflower, castor, and coconut oil and put them in your crockpot. This is the time to channel your inner mad scientist and be meticulous. Being careless with measurements could leave you with too much lye, producing produce soap that burns and stings. Once the oils are in the pot, go ahead and set the crockpot to low to melt the coconut oil. You want the oils to end up warmer than body temperature, but not burning.

Meanwhile, measure the distilled water into a quart-sized glass mason jar, or something similarly non-reactive, large, and heat resistant. Just in case something foams or goes wrong, I like using this extra-large container to prevent spills.

Then measure the lye into a non-reactive container. I like to use another glass mason jar.

Step 3: Add the Lye to the Water

Add the lye into the water. Not the water into the lye. Mix gently until dissolved with something non-reactive; I use a metal chopstick. This is the fun part...well, the first really fun part. The water and the lye are going to react, and the jar is going to get hot. Chemisty is magic.

Set the jar aside in a place where no one will accidentally drink it, spill it, or dump it down the sink.

Step 4: Mixing the Lye and Oils

Once the lye mixture has cooled to warm, and the oils are melted and warm, pour the lye-water mixture into the crockpot. Gently stir it in -- don't turn on the immersion blender yet. Now's probably a good time to mention that this lye is still raw, and your safety goggles should definitely be on.

After you've given it a stir or two, go ahead and turn on the immersion blender. Keep blending until it really thickens up. We're looking to reach "trace", that point in time when the primordial soap holds thick ripples on its surface. You can see this in the third picture. If you've made pudding, or mayo or lemon curd, it's that same coat-the-back-of-the-spoon idea. We're emulsifying the water and the fats together. It'll take a few minutes of blending to get there.

Step 5: Cook the Soap

Now all of our main ingredients are combined, but the lye and the oils still need to complete their chemical reaction. Keep the crockpot on low, stick a lid on, but come back and stir the soap every five to ten minutes. Especially the first five to ten minutes -- mine bubbled up to nearly the top of the crockpot at the beginning. Don't leave it alone, or you may end up with a horrible proto-soap mess.

As you can see in the second photo, parts of the soap will get a gelled/translucent look it as it cooks. After about thirty-five to forty-five minutes (well, in my crockpot), all the soap will gel. When it looks done, grab a spoon, get a bit of soap, and lick it. Yes, that really is the time-honored way of testing soap for doneness. You could get pH strips if you want to, but that's fussy and most/all of the lye is gone now. As long as you don't burn your tongue on the hot soap, everything should be fine. If it tastes like you just licked a battery, the soap isn't done. If it tastes like soap, congratulations! Rinse your mouth out -- we're almost done.

Step 6: Mix-Ins and Molding

Stir in the calendula petals and the honey, working quickly. Then, scoop the soap into your prepared mold. Press it in with your spoon as you go, smoothing the top when you're done. If you like, you can use a piece of parchment paper to help get the top even.

Step 7: Cut the Soap & Enjoy!

Let the whole thing cool down overnight, until the soap isn't warm at all. Gently unmold the soap. Now you can cut it into however many bars you'd like. Right now, the soap is still fairly soft -- sort of like cheddar cheese -- but it will harden over time, so don't wait a month to cut it.

There's no raw lye in here anymore, so the soap is safe to use, but it will last longer if you let it cure/dry for a month or so first. Curing soap is easy -- put the bars in a dry location where they're not touching each other, and flip them over once or twice so all sides get exposed to air.

And then enjoy your beautiful homemade soap!

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