This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Bam Bam
It is really easy to make soap at home. And the homemade product is by far superior to anything you could buy in the box stores. It is better for your skin and gives you something with which to barter. Everyone loves a nicely scented homemade bar of soap.
In this post, I want to walk you through the cold process method of making homemade soap. It’s easier than you might think. Soap is made from three basic ingredients: lye, water and fat (oil). Adding lye water to fat results in a chemical reaction called saponification, the end result of which is soap.
About the ingredients: make sure your lye is 100 percent sodium hydroxide. (You don’t want any additives.) Next use either rainwater or bottled water. There are all kinds of oils that are used to make soap, and some of them are very expensive. The ones that I have used so far include olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, caster oil, vegetable shortening and lard. It’s good to use a combination of oils because different oils add different characteristics to the fished soap. For instance, caster oil is added for lather and olive oil is added to make a nice hard bar of soap. (More on this later.)
Here is the quick and dirty explanation of soap making. Measure out the water and the lye, and then add the lye to the water. Cool until lye mixture reaches 100 degrees. Then heat the oils to 100 degrees. When the lye water and the oils are both 100 degrees, add the lye water to the oils. Stir until the mixture reaches “trace”. Then pour into your mold and leave unmolested overnight. Remove the soap from the mold and cut into bars. Let cure for six to eight weeks. (I will give a detailed explanation later.)
Equipment and Supplies
Now that you have a basic understanding of the ingredients and the process of soap making, let’s get into the details. There are a few items that you will need. Let’s start with safety first.
- Latex gloves
- N95 mask
- Safety goggles
Keep in mind that lye is a chemical and it has some dangerous properties. It can burn your skin and its fumes can irritate your nose and throat. If lye water is splashed into your eyes, it can cause blindness. This is why it is advisable to wear gloves, a mask and safety goggles. If handled properly, lye is no different than any of the other chemicals you handled in high school chemistry class. Do not fear lye; just be careful.
- Digital scale
- Stick blender
- 2 cup (liquid) measuring cup
- 1 cup (liquid) measuring cup
- Half gallon pitcher with secure lid
- Dish pan (not pictured)
- Enamel or stainless steel pan
- Wooden spoon
Note: Once these kitchen items have come into contact with lye, they cannot be used for food preparation. Lye is a poison.
When making soap, ingredients are measured by weight and not by volume. Therefore you will need a good scale. I ordered this one from amazon.com for $18.95.
Whatever scale you purchase, make sure it has a tare function. You want to be able to put the (empty) pitcher on the scale, hit the tare button and return the scale to zero. That will allow you to weigh the water without having to subtract the weight of the pitcher.
You will use the one-cup liquid measuring cup to weigh the lye. A liquid measuring cup has a lip to help pour out the liquid or in our case, the excess lye. The pour spout on the liquid measure will come in handy when you have poured too much lye into the measuring cup and need to put some back into the bottle.
You will use the two-cup liquid measuring cup to weigh the oils. Again, put the empty measuring cup on the scale and hit the tare button to return the scale to zero. Then measure each oil one at a time. Measure out one oil and then pour it into the pan. Measure the next oil and pour it into the pan. And so forth. You don’t want to measure all the oils together because if you pour too much, you will have to pour oil back into the jar.
You will need a thermometer that reads between 80 degrees and 120. Both the oil mixture and the lye water need to be 100 degrees when you pour the lye mixture into the oil. You will use the dishpan filled with ice water as a water bath to cool down the pitcher containing the lye water. You may also need it to cool down the oil mixture.
Although not essential for soap making, a stick blender makes things a lot easier After you add the lye water to the oil, you need to stir the mixture until it reaches “trace”. (The notion of trace will be explained below.) You can stir for a few minutes with a stick blender or 25 minutes by hand. A stick blender is a good idea.
There are many oils suitable for making soap. Your budget and what you want from your soap will help determine which oils you use. Here is a list of common oils.
Lard is rendered pig fat. The good thing about lard is that it is cheap. One pound of lard is just over $2. Lard makes a reasonably hard, mild soap. The problem is that soap made exclusively from lard does not lather well and it tends to be brittle. (That is why you want a mixture of oils—because no one oil will have every quality you are bound to want in your soap.)
Palm oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm. It comes in a number of colors including white, orange and red. Palm oil tends to make a soft soap. So if you use palm oil, you will want to use oil (such as olive) that makes a very hard bar of soap.
Coconut oil is oil derived from the flesh of the coconut. Coconut oil makes a fairly hard bar of soap that lathers well. The problem with coconut oil is that it dries out the skin.
Olive oil is the fat obtained from the olive. To make soap, get the cheapest olive oil you can find. There is no need to use extra virgin olive oil. There are many good features of soap made from olive oil (castile soap). Soap made from olive oil is very hard and mild on the skin. The soap lathers very well and is long-lasting. If you were going to make soap from a single oil, the best choice would be olive oil. But it’s good we don’t have to limit ourselves to one type of oil, as the one drawback of castile soap is that it tends to be brittle.
Caster oil is derived from the caster bean, which really isn’t a bean; it’s a seed. Caster oil makes soap with a very fine lather. Caster oil is added in very small amounts.
Jojoba oil is not really an oil; it is a wax found in the seed of the jojoba plant. Jojoba oil is the most expensive oil on this list. It is used sparingly in soap making, not just because of the expense but also because using more than 10 percent in a recipe makes for a very soft soap. Jojoba oil is used because it is an exceptional moisturizer. Jojoba oil is added in very small amounts.
Soap Making Recipes
There are all kinds of soap making recipes floating around the Internet. Before using them, I recommend that you run them through a lye calculator such as the one that can be found at Bramble Berry. Even if you find a recipe in a book that you want to try, run it through a lye calculator just to double check the figures.
A lye calculator will let you tweak a recipe or even invent your own recipe. You just enter how many ounces of each oil you wish to use and press “calculate” and the calculator spits back the amount of lye and the amount of water you will need. It will also calculate the total yield of the batch.
My soap molds hold 40 ounces of soap. So the recipes I have made all make approximately 40 ounces.
Here are the recipes I have made so far.
Lye Water Solution
- 3.81 oz. Lye
- 8.91 oz. Water
- 11 oz. Olive oil
- 6 oz. Coconut oil
- 6 oz. Palm oil
- 2 oz. Jojoba oil
- 2 oz. Caster oil
- .5 oz. Lavender essential oil
To make the ylang-ylang soap, use ylang-ylang essential oil instead of lavender oil.
Lye Water Solution
- 4.02 oz. Lye
- 9.24 oz. Rosewater
- 16 oz. Olive oil
- 5 oz. Palm oil
- 5 oz. Coconut oil
- 2 oz. Caster 0il
- .5 oz. Rose Essential Oil
Old Fashioned Peppermint Soap
Lye Water Solution
- 3.86 oz. Lye
- 8.91 oz. Water
- 16 oz. Lard
- 6 oz. Olive oil
- 1 oz. Caster oil
- .5 oz. Peppermint essential oil
Now that I’ve introduced you to the recipes, let me walk you through soap making step-by-step. We will make the Old Fashioned Peppermint Soap.
Step 1: Set Up
You will want to get out all your equipment and ingredients. Make sure you have enough of each ingredient on hand. If you are short even one ingredient and want to use another, make sure you run the recipe through the lye calculator.
- Fill up your sink with soapy dishwater.
- Cover your work area with newspaper.
- Set out a dishpan with cold water and lots of ice cubes. You will use this as a water bath to cool down the lye water.
- Line your soap mold with either saran wrap or freezer paper.
- Put on goggles, safety mask and gloves.
Step 2: Lye Water
Grab the half-gallon pitcher and measure out 8.91 oz. bottled water. Set aside. Take the one-cup measuring cup and measure out 3.86 oz. of lye. Slowly pour the lye into the water. Stir with wooden spoon until lye is dissolved. A minute is plenty of time. Put top on pitcher. Place pitcher in water bath and let it cool. Put the measuring cup that contained the lye and the wooden spoon in the soapy water.
Step 3: Mix the Oils
Measure out 16 oz. of lard. Cut into smaller chunks and put into pan. Measure out 6 oz. olive oil and 1 oz. caster oil. Pour into pan. Turn on burner and heat on low until lard has melted. Turn off burner.
Step 4: Temperature Regulation
- Check the temperature of the lye water. You want the temperature of the lye water to go down to 100 degrees. When the lye water reaches 105 degrees take it out of the water bath. Clean thermometer.
- Next, check the temperature of the oil mixture. Place pot in water bath until oil mixture reaches approximately 100 degrees. Then take pot out of water bath. Clean thermometer.
- Double check to make sure lye mixture and oil mixture are within five degrees of each other, cleaning thermometer after each use.
Step 5: Combine Lye Water and Oil
Insert your stick blender into oil mixture. Slowly pour the lye water into the oil. Be careful not to splash the lye water. Blend with stick blender until soap traces. Soap reaches trace when it thickens sufficiently that you can turn off the blender and see ripples across the top of the soap, that is, if you drizzle some of the soap on the surface of the mixture, you can notice a “trace” or a ripple effect.
Step 6: Essential Oil
Add the peppermint essential oil. Pour the soap into the mold you have selected, using the spatula to get all the soap off the sides of the pot. Cover with towels or old blankets and set aside where it will be undisturbed until the following day.
Step 7: Cut and Dry Soap
The following morning take your soap out of the molds. The soap will shrink slightly overnight so it’s really easy to plop the soap log out of the mold. Remove saran wrap or freezer paper. Cut into one-inch bars of soap. Let cure in a cool, dry place for six to eight weeks before using. You will need to flip over your bars of soap every few days so they can dry evenly. Store them on white freezer paper. If you store them on a colored surface, they may pick up the color of that surface.
Just about anything can work as a soap mold. If you just want to make one batch to see if soap making is for you, use an old shoebox. I bartered to have a friend build soap molds from wood. I knew that I wanted a standard bar of soap, which is 2.5 x 3.5 x 1 inch. I knew that I wanted to make relatively small batches. So I opted to make 10 bars at a time. I then calculated the interior dimensions of the molds: 2.5 x 3.5 x 10 inches. I gave this figure to my friend and just had him add on the thickness of the wood.
If you use a wood mold make sure you line the mold with either saran wrap or freezer paper. You could also use plastic containers. If you use plastic containers, make sure you spray the containers with cooking spray.
That’s it. Easy peasy.
Let me list one more recipe. This recipe is for plain soap—no essential oils added. For a mold I used the box from a dozen pint Ball Jars lined with freezer paper.
Unscented Soap (Large Batch)
Lye Water Solution
- 12.18 oz. Lye
- 27.39 oz. Water
- 30 oz. Olive oil
- 20 oz. Coconut oil
- 15 oz. Crisco
- 14 oz. Palm Oil
- 4 oz. Caster Oil
I made this plain batch so I can hand-mill it in a couple of weeks. I want to experiment with adding things like rose petals from my garden, oatmeal, and fragrance oils. To hand-mill the soap, grate it with a cheese grater and put it in a double boiler with some water. Let it melt. Then add the additional ingredients. Such ingredients cannot be added until the lye has set. So I plan to let my unscented soap dry for two weeks, grate it with a cheese grater, melt it and then add interesting stuff. I want to try a concoction of canned coconut milk, honey and vanilla. I need to do more research here. I don’t know if I should add vanilla fragrance oil or vanilla extract.
This has been my adventure into soap making. I have had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I am hoping some of the more experienced soap makers will share some of their recipes below.
- To learn more about soap making or to order soap making supplies at a very reasonable price, see www.brambleberry.com/About-Us-
- For the soap calculator, see www.brambleberry.com/Pages/
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
Second Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner.com A total prize value of over $600.
Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company. A total prize value of $107.
Contest ends on June 5 2012.