Home Made Soap Made Easy, with Recipes for Natural Soap
Natural, authentic soap
In defense of making real, natural soap at home
Soap making is an old skill, once essential and now almost a moot point. But our great-grandmothers and grandmothers knew how to do it. For some of us, our mothers knew how to do it. Making your own soap can be a really fun project, whether you’re interested in making a unique product, or you’re looking for an experience with a truly creative craft, or maybe you just want to use real soap rather than store-bought “cleansing bars.” One of the greatest benefits of home made soap, as far as I'm concerned, is knowing that the soap you wash with is devoid of potential skin irritants like artificial fragrances and artificial colors.
Soap making at home does not have to be an expensive hobby, and I think you’ll find that you already own most if not all of the essential ingredients. It doesn’t have to be terribly difficult, either.There are only three ingredients to the soap making process, and once you understand them, you’ll be on your way to making soap that’s unique and natural.
Before we begin, I should mention that there are actually two ways to make soap at home: Cold process and hot process soap-making. In this article, we'll be discussing cold process soap-making.
Three Basic Ingredients of Soap Making
Lye (100% lye)
A liquid to dissolve the lye in (Water, milk, coffee, tea, beer, orange juice, etc.)
Oils and/or fats
Herbs or honey for fragrance or decoration
Essential oils (derived from plants, for fragrance)
Simple ingredients from the kitchen
Soap making ingredients aren't hard to obtain!
You probably have a lot of what you already need to get started making soap today, in your own kitchen. For instance, do you use olive oil, corn oil, vegetable shortening, peanut oil, soybean oil, or lard in any of your cooking? Do you own castor oil? Have any linseed (flax) oil laying around? Well, then you already have the oils that you need to make soap!
Now, for the lye, you may or may not have a 100% lye product in your home already. There are several products sold as drain openers that are 100% lye. But if it doesn’t say so on the label, do not attempt to use it for soap making. The good news is, even if you don’t have a lye drain de-clogger in the cupboard or under your bathroom sink, you can purchase one easily from the grocery store or hardware store. The other good news is that they are fairly cheap, about five dollars per pound.
How Soap is Made - It's no mystery!
The soap making process is a fairly simple chemical reaction in which lye (sodium hydroxide) reacts with water and then with fats and oils, “saponifying” the fats and oils. The end result, if the process is done properly, is soap that contains no lingering lye and almost no oil or fat.
The trick to making soap is using the correct amount of lye for the correct type and amount of oil or fat. It takes a certain amount of lye to turn a certain amount of any given oil or fat into soap. But in reality, you don’t actually want all of the oil or fat to saponify. So we use something called superfatting, or a lye discount (same thing). Typical lye discounts are between 5 and 8%. I usually use 6%. This means that 6% of the lye that it would take to saponify all of the fat in one of my recipes is left out.
And how do I figure out this complicated math? Well, I can tell you that I’m not sitting up all hours of the night studying saponification tables and doing algebra. No. Here in the twenty-first century, makers of home made soap are lucky to have something else that’s really useful: the internet.
Here’s a great website for calculating how much lye you need for your soap recipe - SoapCalc .
There are instructions on SoapCalc that explain how to use the calculator. If you’re still kind of confused, you should input 38% for your “water as percent of oils” and leave the lye to water ratio alone; input somewhere between 5 and 7% for the “superfat”; input 0 for the ounces of fragrance oil, unless you’ve purchased some that you want to use.
It's also important to understand that while we may not want to eat a whole lot of corn oil, or especially partially hydrogenated oils, these are still good for soap making. The saponification process itself changes the oils so that they are no longer in their original form, so you don't need to feel like you will be rubbing shortening or lard into your skin. Lard, in fact, is one of the oldest soap making ingredients we know of.
Whatever recipe you choose, the steps for making soap will be the same.
Respect the lye
Lye is a dangerous, caustic chemical and should be treated with respect. When lye reacts with water or other liquids, the solution gets extremely hot, so you need to be very careful when working with lye. If you get any lye on your skin, you should first flush the area with water, then douse it with vinegar, which will neutralize the lye. In my experience, a lye burn starts as a slightly itchy feeling, and then starts burning. As soon as you feel the itch, take care of it. If you spill lye on your floor or other surfaces, use vinegar to neutralize it, then clean it up. Wear rubber gloves, safety goggles, and long sleeves and pants when making soap
Cold Process Soap Making Step-by-Step
1) Put your oils/fats in a pot on the stove on low heat, and melt. Heat to between 100 and 120 degrees F. Do NOT use aluminum, as this will spoil your soap and could ruin your pot.
2) In a separate container (not aluminum!) add the water, which you have carefully measured.
3) Carefully measure the lye and add it to the water. Never reverse steps two and three. Pouring water over lye can cause a very dangerous, very sudden reaction.
4) Stir lye until it has dissolved.
5) Allow lye to cool.
6) When lye solution and oils/fats are both around 100 to 120 degrees fahrenheit, add the lye solution to the oils.
8) Stir some more, until trace is reached (this describes a pudding-like consistency)
9) Add any additional ingredients, such as herbs or fragrance oils. Stir them in.
10) Pour soap into a mold.
11) Cover the mold and wrap it in a blanket or towel, and let sit overnight.
12) After at least 12 hours have passed, remove soap from the mold. It should have hardened.
13) Cut the soap into bars and spread on paper, wax paper or paper towels.
14) Allow the soap to cure for 2 to 4 weeks, or until a small test patch of skin shows no signs of irritation 24 hours after contact with soap.
So that’s it!
Here are a couple of simple soap recipes that you can make from products that you probably already have in your kitchen, or that you can purchase easily and fairly cheaply from the grocery store.
Soap 1 – 75% vegetable shortening, 25% olive oil
24 ounces (1.5 pounds) vegetable shortening
8 ounces olive oil
11.5 ounces water
4 ounces lye
(Total oil weight = 2 pounds)
Follow the above instructions for cold process soap making, and you’re good to go!
Soap 2 – 70% lard, 25% peanut oil, 5% castor oil (for bubbliness)
22.4 ounces (1.4 pounds) Lard
8 ounces Peanut oil
1.6 ounces Castor oil
12 ounces water
4 ounces lye
(Total oil weight = 2 pounds)
Follow my instructions for cold process soap making, and enjoy your soap!
You can also make soap using only one ingredient. Pure oil olive, pure vegetable shortening, and pure lard soaps make great bases for experimenting with different fragrances, herbs, and other additives such as honey or beeswax.
The most important things to remember when making soap
I offer these final tips for a great home made soap experience – Be careful with the lye, don’t be afraid to experiment with new things, make small batches when trying new recipes that you’re not sure of, run all of your recipes through a lye calculator like the one I mentioned, and most importantly, have fun!