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How to Make Soap With Lard and Lye (Homemade Soap Recipe)

Rachel is a soap-making, wine-brewing homesteader and gardener in Minnesota.

Homemade soap

Homemade soap

Easy Soap Making

For some, making soap is the understanding of a simple chemical process; for others, it’s an art form. I’m not quite an artist at it yet, and maybe I never will be, but I do think it’s a lot of fun, and it’s really not that difficult to do.

Here, I share a simple soap recipe that uses lard (which you can buy from your local butcher), lye (I use a product called “Rooto,” purchased from my hardware store), and water. This will produce good hand and body soap. Some people also benefit from using plain soap like this one to wash their faces.

If you feel a little weird about using fat to make soap, I can tell you that the final product smells really good, so don’t be concerned about what the melting lard itself may smell like. If you use lard (pork fat), it pretty much smells like bacon, but your soap will smell like soap—honest! In fact, the first time I tried this and later smelled the soap, I thought, “So this is what real soap smells like.”

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs lard*
  • 10 oz lye
  • 28 oz water

*When purchasing your lard, make sure it is lard and not tallow. Tallow can be used for soap making too, but different fats can require different ratios of lye. This recipe is specifically for lard, so make sure that’s what you are using. The butcher will know!

How to Use Lye Safely

Lye is a highly caustic substance and can give you a chemical burn. Remember the movie Fight Club? You don’t need to have some sort of “near-life” experience, or a moment of glory, or a nasty-looking scar because you wanted to make soap. So be careful with it!

The lye product you use should be 100% lye or sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Read the label. I’ve been using Rooto, a drain cleaner that I bought from a hardware store, and it works just fine! Red Devil is another drain cleaner product that will work, as long as you buy the one that is 100% lye.

Equipment

  • One large pot for melting the lard
  • One large bowl, crock, or bucket for mixing the raw soap
  • One small heavy-duty plastic cup or small crock (but nothing aluminum) for mixing the lye and water
  • Wooden spoon or stick blender
  • Scale (measure ingredients by weight)
  • Soap mold—this can be anything from a bunch of (empty) Pringle containers, a wooden or plastic shallow box or box lid, a shoe box lined with wax paper or plastic, or a frame mold specifically designed for making soap

For Safety's Sake, Wear

  • Goggles
  • Rubber gloves (latex really won’t do)
  • Long sleeves and long pants

Remember to Ventilate for Safety

I like making soap outdoors, but sometimes that’s not possible. If you’re going to do it indoors, you should know that ventilation is important. The lye in the soap-making process will release vapors that you shouldn’t inhale in great quantities; also, soap doesn’t smell very good until a little way into the process.

Make sure the lye you are going to use is 100% lye.

Make sure the lye you are going to use is 100% lye.

1. Meld the Lard

In a large pot, melt the lard over low or medium heat. Stir frequently. Be careful not to scorch it! The melting, liquified fat shouldn’t even be sizzling or bubbling. It may take a little time to melt it all, but if you burn the lard, you will have to discard it.

2. Mix the Lye With Water

  1. While your fat is melting, you should get ready to mix the lye with the water. Put on your goggles, wear your gloves, and be careful with the lye! Once you’re all suited up with your goggles and gloves and your lard is nearly all melted, you’re ready to mix the lye with the water.
  2. Pour the water into the cup first, then add the lye. The order here is important. If you pour water over the lye, it can cause a small explosion, but we don’t want any explosions, no matter the size; just soap!
  3. When the lye contacts the water, you should see a vapor rise up. The container will also start to get hot. This is a good sign and the beginning of a reaction that will make it possible for the lye to saponify the fats in the lard. Saponification is the key part of soap making!
  4. Stir the water and lye solution until the lye crystals have completely dissolved. This step is also important, and note that the cup or crock containing the water and lye is going to get kind of hot while this reaction is taking place, so be careful about picking it up or holding it.
  5. Set the lye solution aside for now; it needs to cool down a bit.
  6. Check on your lard. When the fat has completely melted and the lye solution has cooled off a little, you will be ready to start mixing the soap!
When trace is achieved, you have the option to add other things to your soap, like essential oils or dried herbs (I used lavender with this batch).

When trace is achieved, you have the option to add other things to your soap, like essential oils or dried herbs (I used lavender with this batch).

3. Create the Soap

Temperature

For best results, your lye solution and fat should be about the same temperature, between 105 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mixing

  1. To start the soap mixing, first pour the melted fat into your large bowl, bucket, or crock. It should be large enough to hold all of the liquid with some room to spare so that during mixing you won’t be splashing the soap out. If you are using a plastic bucket, it should be made of heavy-duty plastic. If using a bowl, it should not be aluminum. I like crocks best!
  2. After you pour the melted fat into the large mixing container, you can add the lye solution. Immediately begin stirring with your wooden spoon. Alternatively, you can use a stick blender.
  3. You lucky stick-blender-users will probably only have to blend for 10 or 15 minutes. Those using wooden spoons will probably have to stir for about 30 minutes.
  4. Continue stirring the soap. The idea is to keep agitating the mixture; this will ensure that the lye will be evenly dispersed. And as we all know, oil (fat) and water do not easily mix, so at this stage, the soap really needs your help to get going. If you’re using a spoon, you can stir for 5 or 10 minutes, take a break for just as long, come back to it for 5 or 10 minutes, etc.
  5. Continue stirring until the soap mixture has reached what’s called “trace.” Trace is the point at which the soap is about the consistency of thin pudding, such that if you move your spoon through it, there will be a line trailing behind the spoon, or if you spoon a little out and drop it on top, it will sit there for a couple of seconds.

    For those of us stirring by hand, this can seem like an unreachable goal. You may even start to wonder if you did something horribly wrong. If you’ve been stirring for more than 30 minutes, you should just walk away from the project for a little while, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, and come back to it. You’ll probably find that the mixture is the desired consistency. The first time I made soap with lard, I didn’t see a trace for an hour.

Molding

Once you have achieved trace, you are ready to pour the soap into a mold. However, if you would like to, this is also the point in the process at which you could add other things to your soap, such as fragrance (essential oils or dried herbs) or other ingredients, like finely-ground oats or flax seed. It’s all up to you!

I like Pringle containers for molds because you get nice, round bars. Actual soap molds are, of course, a very good choice, but you can use anything that is made of a nonreactive substance (or lined well with plastic wrap or parchment).

Let the soap sit in the mold for 24-48 hours. This will give it time to harden up a bit more. Then remove the soap from the mold and cut it into bars however you would like to! Using a fishing line to cut the soap works well for me. Sharp knives are also good.

Although, at this point, what you have should look like soap, it’s not quite ready to be used.

At this point, what you have should look like soap, it’s not quite ready to be used.

At this point, what you have should look like soap, it’s not quite ready to be used.

Step 4: Curing

Place the bars of soap on paper bags or wax paper, and put them all up on a shelf or somewhere else that’s out of the way. At this point, the soap should be allowed to cure for 3 – 5 weeks. You should flip the bars over once a week to ensure even drying.

During the curing process, the bars of soap will continue to harden as excess water evaporates out. Curing isn’t about saponification - that should be all done within 12-24 hours of mixing cold process soap. The important thing about curing soap is that the bars will be harder and last longer.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Rachel Koski Nielsen

Comments

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on July 27, 2014:

craftybegonia - You've got that right! Thanks for reading and commenting :)

craftybegonia from Southwestern, United States on July 26, 2014:

Love homemade soaps they are truly unique, you can never find something like handcrafted soap in regular stores!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on July 18, 2014:

Dolores, Lilleyth, and tinroofsoapworks: Thanks for your comments! My response is late in coming, but I appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a little note :) Take care and happy soap-making!

Melissa Vazquez from Galloway, Ohio on July 13, 2014:

I really enjoyed your Hub! I have tried melt and pour and rebatching soap, but have not yet tried to make truly homemade soap, being overwhelmed by all the various recipes out there. I am definitely giving yours a try! Thank you!

Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on March 09, 2014:

Sharing this recipe with my little sister who is homesteading.

anonymous on July 22, 2013:

Clear soap is hard to make from scratch. You can make ralegur soap (oils like the coconut and crisco) plus lye and then boil it with alcohol to get a clear (ish) soap. But it's no walk in the park, and alcohol is flammable.You can also add stearic acid to harden a soap, but the melting point is pretty darned high. And it'll likely make your soap opaque anyway.Or you can buy transparent melt and pour soap base at the craft store. Easy peasy.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on August 26, 2012:

Hi Rachel - for a time, I tried to be a bit artistic with home made soap, used some fancy-schmantsy molds and purchased coloring agents. But I find that a plain bar attracts me more. I like to look at handcrafted soaps when I go to craft fairs and such, and really prefer the plain, natural colors and a plain bar shape the best.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on August 18, 2012:

Wow...amazing what one can do if you just know how. :) Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Whheeeee...guys, to read and vote, this way please https://pattyinglishms.hubpages.com/hub/HubNuggets...

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on August 17, 2012:

Felicia - Glad you like it! Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope you'll give it a try. After curing, the soap smells just wonderful - just like plain old soap should smell! Of course, you can always add herbs and/or essential oils if you like.

Felicia Vasquez from New Mexico on August 17, 2012:

I absouluty love this idea!! I make soap so i really like this idea!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on July 23, 2012:

Oops! I don't know what I was thinking when I published this recipe, but I just looked it over again and the amount of lye was way off - it's fixed now!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on July 20, 2012:

Homestead - thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you liked it. I know what you mean about the melt and pour stuff. It's just not the same. Kind of sneaky of them to call it hand made and try to sell it as such! I think some people who use it and sell the soap call it "hand milled," (don't know what that even means) but I could be wrong.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on July 20, 2012:

Living Well Now - Glad you liked the article! Thanks for the votes and comment.

This recipe should yield 20 - 30 "average" size bars of soap, assuming we have the same idea of what average is. How you cut the bars is up to you. In my most recent use of this recipe, I used a square mold and cut the bars into squares 3"x3". They are a little more than an inch thick.

Taking your advice and adding some pictures of the bars themselves!

And no, I don't sell soap. Maybe someday, but right now I just enjoy making it.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on July 20, 2012:

Angela - so glad you enjoyed it, thanks for reading and commenting :)

homesteadpatch from Michigan on July 20, 2012:

Homemade soap is almost a lost art. It is somewhat upsetting that people buy bulk soap base and melt it into molds, and then have to nerve to pass it off as homemade! Thanks for sharing the real thing with us.

Living Well Now from Near Indianapolis on July 20, 2012:

Great hub! How many average size bars of soap can you make with your recipe and do you have pictures of the finished product? Are you selling your product? Voted up and interesting!

Angela Blair from Central Texas on July 20, 2012:

Great Hub -- I remember my Granny making lye soap in a huge black pot (outside). This Hub brought back a lot of memories -- thanks! Best/Sis