The simple soaps made by Dolores are popular with friends and coworkers. She has sold her soaps at a local boutique.
How to Make Soap
The soap recipe shared below is made with inexpensive ingredients and uses easy-to-find, inexpensive equipment. The addition of various coloring agents, herbs, and scents can make this one simple recipe useful for creating many different kinds of soap. The recipe will come in handy for vegans, as it uses no animal products.
Making your own soap at home is a fun and rewarding skill. Homemade soap is delightful to use on your skin or hair. And handmade soap makes a wonderful gift for Christmas and birthdays. You could also offer it as a hostess gift or a party or shower favor.
The only problem with homemade soap is that once you start using it, you will be hooked forever. I know because I have been using this recipe for years!
What Are Lye and pH?
If it doesn't have lye in it, it's not soap. Some producers of "homemade" soap, understanding peoples' aversion to lye, list sodium hydroxide or caustic soda as an ingredient instead of lye. Sodium hydroxide is lye. Caustic soda is lye.
Many commercial soaps do not list lye or sodium hydroxide as an ingredient. That's because the "cleansing bar" you buy does not contain lye so is not soap—it's detergent. They may add lanolin or other softening agents including glycerin which is a byproduct of soap making. But without lye, it just ain't soap. When you make soap at home, glycerin is created as a byproduct, making the soap wonderfully soothing for the skin.
Lye can be dangerous, yes. But life is fraught with danger. Stoves are dangerous. Crossing the street is dangerous. If you follow the rules and proper handling procedures, you will be fine.
The soap making process creates a chemical reaction called saponification, after which, fat is no longer fat and lye is no longer lye—together, they have become soap!
How to Test pH
Soaps and detergents have a slightly alkaline or base pH. To assure yourself, if still in doubt, purchase some pH test strips. Use the strips to test the pH on various bar soaps and personal cleaning products. Then, test your own soap after it has cured. You'll see that the pH levels are similar. Test soap after it has cured by creating a lather. Levels should fall between 8–10.
Another method of testing pH is the simple tongue test. Touch the tip of your tongue to the cured soap. If you feel a slight buzzing sensation, the soap is not cured. If you don't feel the buzzing, it is soap. Of course, even when the pH is fine, soap is still not going to be tasty.
Lye can be purchased at grocery stores (Red Devil Lye) or at a plumbing store.
Homemade Soap Coloring Agents
Do not use food color. Uncolored bars are white.
Here is a list of some coloring agents:
- Turmeric: Golden, more makes it orange
- French clay: Green (an astringent)
- Sage: Dull green
- Cocoa: Brown to very dark brown
- Coffee: Brown (good for a super-cleaning bar) add as part of the lye solution
- Powdered commercial or liquid pigments: The color of your choice, available at some craft stores or online
- Ground calendula petals: Yellow
- Paprika: Orange (don't use hot paprika)
- Cinnamon: Reddish brown
- Oxides: Inorganic colors, make sure you buy cosmetic grade (they dry darker than when first added)
- Herbs: Produce nice flecks, very pretty - sage, thyme, chamomile flowers, sea kelp granules, dried orange rind, mint leaves, herbal teas (steep three tea bags in water, cool, and use as part of the water/lye solution), oatmeal (an exfoliate that soothes dry skin, use about 1/2 cup)
- Never use aluminum in the soap-making process.
- Do not touch lye—wear gloves and protect your eyes by wearing safety glasses.
- Do not leave the lye solution unattended. Keep away from children and nosey pets.
- Ventilate the area well. Open a door and window or activate an exhaust fan to avoid inhaling dangerous fumes. I do both.
- If you get lye on your skin, rinse immediately with cold water for several minutes. Then rinse with vinegar as it counteracts lye because it is an acid. If you don't have vinegar, you can use orange juice.
- If you spill lye solution on the countertop, wash immediately with vinegar. It is best to cover counter-tops with plastic for safety and to avoid a big mess.
- Always add the lye to the water (otherwise can create a dangerous reaction).
Materials Needed for Homemade Soap
Use only stainless steel, enamelware, glass, Pyrex, or plastic in the soap making process.
- Large enamelware or stainless steel pot
- Large mixing bowl or container made of stainless steel, glass, enamel-ware, or Pyrex for lye solution
- Scale that weighs in ounces
- 2 glass-covered thermometers
- Several large, heavy-duty plastic spoons
- Plastic containers for weighing water, fats, and lye
- Molds for soap (commercial molds, or you can just use plastic food type containers)
- Trash bags to cover counter
- Stick blender
- Apron, safety glasses, rags or paper towels
Ingredients Needed for Homemade Soap
- 42 ounces Crisco
- 5 ounces canola oil
- 5 ounces castor oil
- 5 ounces coconut oil
- 17 ounces water
- 6 1/2 ounces lye
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 ounces or more of essential oil
- Coloring agents
- Herbs (optional)
How to Make Soap
- Dissolve sugar in a small amount of hot water (set aside and use it when you weigh the water).
- Weigh 42 ounces Crisco (or similar product) into a container. Weigh the container first and adjust the scale to zero.
- Place Crisco in large stainless steel or enamel-ware pot on low heat.
- Weigh 17 ounces of water (including the sugar water). Weigh the empty container first and adjust the scale to zero.
- Weigh lye, weighing container first, and pour the lye slowly into the water. Ensure adequate ventilation by opening two windows. Cover your nose and mouth. Stand slightly away from the mixture as fumes will rise. Gently stir until crystals have dissolved.
- Measure canola, castor, and coconut oils separately (again, wight the empty container first). Add to the fats in the pot.
- Use a separate container for the lye, the water, and the fats.
- Allow fats and lye solutions to come to the same temperature - about 110 degrees F. This can be tricky. The lye solution takes some time to cool. If one of the mixtures is still warm and the other is near 110 degrees, place the container of the warmer ingredients in a cool water bath in the sink until the mixture cools.
- When both mixtures have reached 110 F, slowly pour the lye solution into the fats.
- Mix with a stick blender until the mixture reaches the trace stage. That is when you drag a spoon through the mixture, and it leaves a path. It's kind of like pudding.
- Add the coloring agents and herbs.
- Add the essential oils.
- Pour the thickened mixture into a mold that has been greased with olive oil. You can use a large, rectangular Tupperware type container, a long wooden mold, or individual molds.
- Lay plastic wrap over the top.
- Cover with a towel.
- Set aside for three days.
- Remove soap from the container. Slice into bars.
- Store the bars of soap on a rack where they can get good air ventilation. Soap must be cured for 30 days before use. Do not use soap before it is cured.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the purpose of using sugar in soap making?
Answer: Adding a tablespoon of sugar to the water before you add lye gives the finished product a nice lather. Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. The recipe made without the addition of sugar does not create a lot of lather.
© 2009 Dolores Monet
Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on January 27, 2020:
Hi Kelly - there are lots of books about making soap at home. If you want to get into the craft, it's a good idea to read several. That way you will get lots of tips as well as many different recipes using a wide variety of ingredients. I would not make soap by memory alone but keep a list of ingredients as well as the measurements. Also keep a short list of instructions. I check off each ingredient as it is added. That way you won't make a mistake that could ruin the batch.
Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on January 26, 2020:
I'm going to try to remember this article. I was in the middle of collecting items to begin making homemade soap when my life was majorly interrupted once again. Have you read Smart Soapmaking? That was the book I purchased to begin, but it appears I will have to buy it again, too.
Shiiba on November 12, 2018:
Aurora, you look pretty "out of your mind" to me. Lye is not used for "eating away dirt", it is an essential element for the process of saponification with triglycerides. When this process occurs there should not be any sodium or potassium hydroxide left, or you could get some good lye burns. Soap based surfactants should have a pH of 9-10 which isn't in any way harmful for your skin. Anyways, you should probably do some research before you speak. As your level of ignorance worries me.
P.S: I hope you are cleaning yourself with any soap-based surfactant or syndet because you will be having quite a poor hygiene if not.
Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on December 21, 2017:
Hi Aurora - please do not use lye on your body. If lye touches your skin wash right away. In the soap making process, a chemical reaction changes the ingredients. Don't just trust me however. Questioning an online article is a good idea. Read further in order to make sure the information is correct.
Aurora on December 14, 2017:
So lye is used as an corrosive ingredient to eat away at dirt and grime. And to rub it on the largest organ of your body is okay? Y’all out of ya damn mind.