As a self-proclaimed do-it-yourselfer, I look for the next item to make rather than buy. My goal of self sufficiency is mostly driving this desire, but also knowing what is in health and beauty products is another reason. And given that our skin is our largest organ, protecting the rest of our body, it deserves to be treated gently, rather than scoured with harsh chemicals.
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to take a class on how to make soap. From the very moment the instructor set out the ingredients, I was hooked. As I looked through the handouts, it dawned on me that this was indeed something I could do at home and it didn’t require an advanced degree or highly specialized equipment.
Since it is not advisable to use the same containers or utensils that you currently use for food preparation, a trip to my local thrift store was in order. Items on my shopping list included: three plastic containers (the largest should hold at least four quarts, the second container should hold at least three quarts, and the third should hold at least one quart), two long-handled plastic spoons, and a long-handled spatula. One plastic container was for the water/lye mixture and the second container was for fats/oils, and the third and smallest container is to measure out the lye into prior to adding it to water. One spoon is designated for the lye/water container and the other for the fats/oil container, while the spatula would be used to scrap out soap into a mold. For the smallest container, I selected one that would hold at least two quarts. My total cost was just over $7.
Another necessary item is a thermometer. I have an infrared thermometer so it never comes in contact with any of the materials as opposed to a traditional kitchen thermometer which must be placed into items for an accurate temperature reading.
My next list of items are not required, but highly recommended: goggles and gloves. They are for protection when you work with lye. (It is also recommended that you wear a long sleeved shirt, long pants, and close-toed shoes to protect you for any errant lye splatters.) These items were purchased at a local discount store at a total cost of $13. NOTE: I settled on chemical gloves, but you could use latex or nitrile. The key point is that the material is not absorbent.
Another tool that is quite helpful is a scale that is capable of displaying weights in ounces and/or grams. (I had a scale already in my kitchen, but they can be purchased starting at approximately $20). A very handy feature for your scale is the ‘tare’ feature. This means that when you turn on the scale and set a container on it, you can select the tare button and it will zero out the weight of the container, making it easy to weigh just the ingredients.
My husband is handy and built a wooden frame, but you can purchase frames online or buy a silicone loaf mold. NOTE: if you use a wooden or plastic mold, you will need to line it with something such as plastic wrap otherwise it is very hard to get the soap out of the mold. Silicone does not need a liner.
Here is a basic soap recipe, though there are many recipes available in books, pamphlets, or online sources. You can also create your own soap recipe, but this is not recommended until you have become experienced and know how to use a lye calculator.
- 2 oz. castor oil
- 12 oz. coconut oil
- 52 oz. olive oil
- 10 oz. water
- 10 oz. goat milk*
- 8.8 oz. lye (use pure lye, no additives)
* if you do not have goat milk, you can use 20 oz. of water instead
Heat the coconut oil as coconut oil is a solid at room temperature. You can either heat it in a pan or use a microwave. Heat the coconut oil until it is melted. Measure out oils and place in your largest container. Add water to the medium-sized container. Measure out lye into the smallest container.
As a precaution, take your water container and lye container outside along with a spoon. Set the water container on a flat surface such as a concrete patio or even a tree stump. Carefully pour the lye SLOWLY into the water, stirring as you add lye. (If you add the lye too quickly, the lye could bubble up creating a volcano effect… hence the reason to combine the lye and water outside. NEVER add water to the lye. This will certainly create the volcano effect.) As you stir the lye into the water, a chemical reaction will take place and the mixture will heat up quickly. The mixture will emit a vapor as you add lye to the water, so do not lean directly over the container. (If there is a slight breeze, make sure you position yourself so the vapor blows away from you.) After you have combined the lye and water, the vapor should dissipate after about 30 seconds. After you no longer see vapor, you can take the mixture back into the house. Please be sure to stir enough so that there are no granules of lye remaining in the mixture.
Check the temperature (it may be in the 145 – 180F range) of the lye/water mixture.
The next step is to drop the temperature of the lye/water mixture. You can either fill a sink with ice water or place the container in a cool/cold location. Periodically measure the temperature.
Check the temperature of the oil mixture. The goal is to get the lye/water and oil mixtures to within 10F degrees of each other. If you are using all water and no goat milk, cool the mixtures to the 100 – 110F range. If you are using goat milk, the range is 75 – 80F.
One the desired range is reached, add the goat milk to the oil mixture. Stir to combine. NOTE: since lye can scorch goat milk (resulting in an orange color), the temperature range is lowered to help reduce the likelihood of this happening. Scorched milk may also take on a funky aroma. Since we do not want scorched milk, be patient and wait for the lower temperature range.
Meanwhile, line your mold with plastic wrap (if not using a silicon mold). Make sure to completely cover the inside surfaces of the mold (bottom and sides). Drape the excess plastic wrap over the outside of the mold.
With both the lye/water and goat milk/oil mixtures in the desired temperature range, you can now combine them. Carefully and SLOWLY add the lye/water mixture to the goat milk/oil mixture. Stir with a spoon as you add the lye/water mixture. The mixture will begin to turn color… a slightly greenish-yellow color.
You can continue to stirring with a spoon until you reach the ‘trace’ stage… at which point the mixture begins to thicken. If you stir with a spoon, it make take 15 – 20 minutes to reach trace. (To test for trace, take your spoon and place it in the mixture. Lift it up and let the liquid dribble onto the surface of the developing soap mixture. If it leaves a trail, you have reached trace.
If you don’t have the patience to stir by hand and wait for trace, you can use an immersion blender. (My husband had one that he bought for non-food projects for about$20.) With an immersion blender, trace can be reached in about 5 minutes.
Slowly pour the mixture into the mold. Use a spatula to scrape out any remaining soap into the mold.
Place a rigid cover over the mold (to prevent anything from getting into the soap). Place in a location where it will not be disturbed. Some folks place inside a large, insulated container. I use several wool blankets and place those over the top and sides of the mold.
The developing soap will begin to harden over the next several days. Begin checking on the soap after it has been in the mold for two days. If still very soft to the touch… yes, you can lightly touch it, let it stay in the mold for at least another day. (Depending on external factors such as humidity and temperature, I let the soap sit in the mold anywhere from 3 – 7 days. The key is that the soap is firm enough that you can slice it)
Once the soap is firm, remove from the mold and place on a flat surface. You can now slice into bars. After you have sliced it into bars, place on a drying rack and allow the soap to cure for 4 – 6 weeks. During this curing period, the soap will continue to harden and the lye will become neutralized (no longer caustic).
If you want more information on soap making, check out your local library. There are many good books on the topic. There are also several great websites to check out with more detailed information. Such sites include: Soap Queen and Bramble Berry. If you are still nervous about attempting soap making at home, check your local community recreation department for classes.
Do-it-yourseflers… yes you can. You can make soap at home!