Friday, February 27, 2015

How I Make Soap

Making my own soap, and occasionally lotion, was something I started waaaaaay back when I was still in the suburbs.  I bought the fancy molds, I bought the fancy fragrances, I bought the fancy oils.  And I later realized that I wasn't really into the fancy stuff so the supplies sit in my basement, packed up in boxes probably not opened in over ten years.

My soap making forays now involve as little of the "fancy" stuff as possible and I try to keep it simple.  Although I can appreciate the benefits of some of the fancier (i.e. more expensive) oils and enjoy looking at beautifully crafted bars with swirls of blues and greens, I'm just too lazy (and cheap) to do those kind of things.  When I can splurge and want a beautiful bar of Hippie-Dippie smelling soap, I get mine from Donna at The Midlife Farmwife when she isn't screwing off at frat parties.

Making soap is pretty darned easy, albeit a little time consuming if you're not specifically set up for it.  Contrary to what just about everybody says, I don't use soap-specific utensils and containers for soap making, I use my everyday kitchen stuff.  I'm assuming the "don't use your everyday kitchen items" warning is because the utensils and containers come in contact with lye but honestly I think it just gives my stuff an extra cleaning and has yet to harm any of my spoons or measuring cups.  Either that or there's some soap materials goody store that sells over-priced spoons, cups and containers that are "Soaper Approved".  The only thing I own that is soap-making-specific is the blender, and that is because it's not a really good one.
My soap blender.  Used only for soap. 
So, what does one need to make homemade soap?  The most basic of soaps would contain a mixture of oils or lard, lye (sodium hydroxide) and water, all in specific amounts.  You'll also need a non-aluminum container for heating the oils or melting the lard, non-aluminum stirring utensil, another container for mixing the lye and water, a mold for the soap to set in, and a means of stirring / blending / mixing the concoction until it's ready for pouring into a mold.

I use a plastic half-gallon jug for melting / combining the oils, used yogurt cups for measuring out the lye, my large Pyrex measuring cup for the water / lye mixture, a big spoon from my silverware drawer for mixing the lye or oils, and either my metal brownie pan or bread pan for the mold(s).  Oh, and my handy-dandy electronic 5-lb. scale that reads in increments of 1/8 oz. and in grams.  Which I use for things other than soap making.  

The first thing I do is measure out my oils.  For my brownie pan / loaf pan molds, I use: 16 ounces of Coconut Oil, 8 ounces of Olive Oil, 8 ounces of Soybean Oil.  These oils are put into my 1/2 gallon plastic jug....that I also use for making lemonade and iced tea, albeit not at the same time.
Coconut oil (the solid stuff), Olive and Soybean oils, before heating.
Next I measure 10 ounces of water into my big Pyrex measuring cup....that I also use to measure and mix brownies and cornbread, and put it aside.

NEXT I'LL BE WORKING WITH LYE.  For those of you who aren't familiar with lye, it's basically a dry, white powder that heats up really hot and really fast when exposed to a liquid or moisture.  So you HAVE to be careful.  Dip your still damp hand into the container of lye and you'll be getting some pretty nasty chemical burns on your skin.  And you can't just "wash" it off with water, it may only make it worse.  The only way to negate the lava-hot chemical reaction is to douse it with vinegar.  So when you're working with lye, it would behoove you to have some vinegar within reach.  You should also use rubber gloves and eye protection when working with lye.  Keep kids and pets out of the general area while soap making.  Do as I say, not as I do.  LYE WARNING over.  Don't forget it.

Anyways, I measure just a pinch over 5 ounces of lye into my used yogurt cup (which will be used again and again for some other non-soap project) and carefully pour that into the 10 ounces of water, stirring until it is dissolved (while wearing gloves and eye protection - cough, cough).  The lye / water will be really, really hot.  And BE CAREFUL that you don't inhale the fumes because it will burn.  Or at least give you a good coughing fit and make you realize that yeah, you're working with a seriously caustic material, and yeah, you should probably have locked the cats up in the bedroom.  Once it's stirred up, I usually put it outside (where NObody or NOthing can get to it) to cool it off.

Three batches of water and lye ready to be mixed together.
While the lye water mixture is cooling off, I put my plastic jug of oils into the microwave and heat it up to 110-120 degrees.  There's a lye water / melted oil mixture Temperature Ballet going on here; you want both to be about the same temperature when you mix them together.
Heated oils.  In my Lemonade pitcher and the container I usually
make my chicken salad in.  And I haven't died.
Next the heated oils go into the blender, and then the lye water is carefully poured into the blender.  Lid goes on and I turn the blender on to the fastest setting.  The blending goes on for anywhere from two to five minutes, depending on a crapload of variables that I have yet to comprehend, but probably has something to do with the types of oils used.  You are attempting to blend the gonna-be-soap concoction into what soaping people call "trace".  It's the point where the glop in your blender starts to become, "glop".  Kind'a like cake batter.  But be mindful, because when it happens, it can happen like "BAM!", and I'd be a liar if I said I never blended my soap too long.  It's not fun trying to scoop out a bunch of "this stuff will burn my hand off" goo from your blender that doesn't want to pour out.

Once the soap concoction hits that magical point called "trace", I pour my essential oils in.  For my three-ish pound recipe, I use 1 1/2 ounces Patchouli, 1/2 ounce Lavender and 1/2 ounce Orange essential oils.  Yes, it smells like an old (but clean) Hippie.  The essential oils get mixed in quickly but thoroughly and then the entire hopefully-not-too thick soap concoction gets poured into my plastic-wrap-lined loaf pan.  Technically, I don't need to line the pan with plastic, but my pans tend to occasionally have a bit of rust on them and lining them with the wrap prevents any rust from staining my soap.  But if I don't use the wrap, then no biggie.  And as a bonus, my pans are extra clean afterwards.  To bake my bread in.  Because I'm too cheap to buy a dedicated soap mold.
Brownie and loaf pans.
Soap mold today, onion-dill loaf of bread tomorrow.
Anyways.  Homemade Soap Specialists will tell you that after you pour the soap into your approved soap-making mold, you're supposed to wrap it up in a blanket and keep it someplace warm.  Which I don't.  Because I'm lazy.  And have found that just leaving it on my kitchen counter (and telling my husband that it is NOT some pudding cake so don't for the love of gawd, take a slice and eat it) works just as well.

After the soap sits for about 24 hours, it will solidify and I pop it out of my bread pan and slice it up into whatever sized pieces I want.  I tend to like more of a chunky sized bar vs. your run-of-the-mill bar.  The bars are then placed on a cardboard tray or paper plate, and set up out of the way to cure for the suggested 4 week curing time.  Technically, you can use the soap after a few days, but it will probably still be a bit soft and won't last as long nor lather up as much, so if you can manage to wait the four weeks it's a good idea.  I currently have a bar in the shower that has only cured for ten days and the skin on my face hasn't fallen off.  And I smell like a clean Hippie when I get out.
Bars of soap curing.
So there's how I make soap.  It may not be how you make it, but I'm not you.  And I should probably put in another disclaimer about lye in here, but I'm too lazy to write out an entire "Don't be a Moron" section on the dangers of working with highly caustic chemicals.  So when you're working with lye.....Don't be a Moron, OK?  Good.

Well then.  Are you going to jump into soap making?  It's really not that difficult, and the results can be both satisfying and amazing.  But honestly, do some online research and you'll probably find a better How-To tutorial on soap making than the one I wrote here.  And then you can brag to people that "I made that and it hasn't killed me!"  And maybe give some of it to your family and friends.  Assuming that they believe you that it won't kill them.

And if YOU can believe that it won't kill you, remind me to have a soap giveaway in four weeks and you can find out for yourself!


  1. This is probably the first soap making tutorial that hasn't scared the bejeezus out of me. (I'm not sure if that's good or bad.) But, hey (I says to myself), if Carolyn can do it and not die, then why can't I? How's that for rational reasoning? Thanks for posting this.

  2. Carolyn,

    There are so many soap tutorials on the internet, and every time I watch them I find myself hesitating on making the soap. Your tutorial made it seem easy and not so scary to make soap at home. When I go to try to make my own soap, I'm going to refer back to your instructions and pick your brain......if that's okay with you :-)

  3. Oh ja, I have boxes of the fancy molds, too. Pigments, glitter, fragrance oils, etc, etc. I should try to sell that stuff on Craigs List. Now I just make plain soap with lavender essential oil. We like that the best. My stick blender does double duty, too.

  4. We use lye to make our soap, ha ha! We do use goggles, gloves and other protection, but I'm glad you posted this. Right now, we use goat's milk to make our soap, and we may not have goats next year, so this is very helpful for me.

  5. Hey, I enjoyed this one! Now tell us what changes you make in the routine when you use goat's milk.

  6. This sounds like the way I would make soap because that's they way I think of things. It hasn't killed me yet, so it must be okay. :-)

  7. MamaPea, well, there are things that I SHOULD probably be doing more religiously, like wearing gloves or making sure that the cats are locked up, but really, I think the hype over the horrors of lye is overblown. I mean, do you see anyone make such a fuss over Drain-O? And that crap is worse.

    Sandy, it's really easy, and if you're careful, it's not really scary at all. The "hardest" part of it all is probably trying to get the lye. Shoot me an email when you want to get started, it's GREAT!

    Tewshooz, well, at least I didn't buy glitter :) Yeah, I know what you mean about having to just cragislist the stuff. One day, right?

    Kristina, I've frozen goat milk for soap making, so if you're going to miss it and you still have a supply of milk, get it in the freezer!

    gld, no changes in the goat milk recipe (same amount of liquid). But the lye does tend to turn the milk a light brown instead of staying white. I also don't normally scent my milk soaps, just use some powdered oatmeat (via blender) and about an ounce of honey at trace. One of my favorites.

    Weekend Homesteader, we're not dead....must be doing something right :)

  8. Well, huh. I always wondered about making soap. I'll put that on my list of things to long,long,long list.