Making Soap from Scratch


This blog is simply to give you some instruction on how to make soap, just in case you run out and can’t buy any. It’s not that hard to make, and the raw ingredients are not difficult to find. I’m going to give you the instructions for a natural method that some of our ancestors used. After you know the basics, you can experiment and add some scents, colors, herbs, etc..

Old natural methods used hardwood, ash, and lard. Today we use lye, which is a strong alkali chemical. In earlier days, people would collect hardwood ash and pass rainwater through the ash and let the water sit for several days. This would effectively make a strong alkali lye solution. Using hot water would make a stronger solution. To test to see if the solution was strong enough to make soap, they would place a bird feather into the solution. If the feather dissolved, then the solution was good to use. If not, they could boil it down to make it stronger.

The oil they used was made from heating lard or animal fat and collecting the clear oil. The clear oil would be poured into the hot boiling lye solution, and then completing the process (see below).

Using modern commercially available lye and processed oils simply make it easier and will give you a purer soap. To make soap, it can take a little practice to get it down right. Making small batches will make the learning process even easier.


A Word of Caution

Working with lye can be dangerous if you don’t take a few precautions. Lye will burn the skin and eyes and can cause serious injury if you don’t protect yourself. It will also eat holes in fabrics and damage some surfaces. Just because it can be dangerous, if you use common sense and use protective items like goggles, gloves, and an apron, you will be fine.

It is extremely important to use pure crystal lye or pure sodium hydroxide. DO NOT substitute these for something different. Also, when mixing lye with water, ALWAYS slowly add the lye to the water; DO NOT add water to the lye. When the lye is added to the water, it will heat up and “fume” for about 30-50 seconds. This method helps ensure the lye thoroughly dissolves. Adding water to lye could lead to an explosion (if a clump of undissolved lye overheats), or could lead to an impure soap.


Equipment/Tools Needed

Note — Keep these items just for your soap making. Do not use them for other things because of the lye involved. It’s just safer to designate them for soap making.

  • Enamel or steel mixing bowls (The best choice when working with lye. Some plastics will melt with lye). Glass also will work fine with lye.
  • Enamel or steel cookpot to heat the oil and blend the soap mixture.
  • 2 or more mixing spoons made from silicone or styrene plastic.
  • Wood spatula.
  • Molds — plastic storage containers work well, or you can use other ones of your preference. Silicone lined containers make soap removal easier.
  • Stainless steel thermometer (minimum 200 degree).
  • Quart-sized mason jar (optional to make your water/lye solution).
  • Rags, newspapers, or old towels.
  • Weighing scale (electric type works best for accuracy) — items are measured by weight, not volume.
  • Measuring cups.

Raw Ingredients
  • 15.5 oz Water (by weight, not volume)
  • 48 oz Olive Oil (by weight, not volume)
  • 6.1 oz Pure 100% Lye (by weight, not volume) — you can buy Lye at some hardware stores and online.
  • Optional — colors & fragrances (see comments at end of blog)

Procedure

Note—It can be safer to mix the lye solution outside so that you have good ventilation for the vapors that are generated when it “fumes”.

  1. Remember to wear your protective gear.
  2. Cover your work area with plastic, newspaper, or similar so that it doesn’t get damaged.
  3. Measure the water and pour it into ceramic/steel/glass mixing container. These will not react with the lye.
  4. Use your mixing spoons to stir the solution of water and lye.
  5. Very slowly start to pour the measured lye into the water, stirring as you add the lye. As the water/lye starts to “fume” (vapors) you should step away so that you don’t inhale anything. Once it is all mixed, set it aside to settle and clear. Remember, NEVER pour the water into the lye.
  6. Weigh the Olive Oil and pour it into your cook pot so that it can be heated.
  7. Heat the oil to a bit over 110 degrees (use your thermometer). The best temperature for mixing the lye is about 110 degrees.
  8. Using your wooden spatula, slowly pour the lye solution into the heated oil and stir as you pour. Keep stirring the mixture (this might take 30 minutes) until it thickens.
  9. You want to stir the mixture until it is thick enough to trace swirls in the surface with the mixing spatula.

OPTIONAL

If you want to add color and/or scents to the soap, this is the point where these ingredients would be added by stirring them into the soap mixture.


Pouring the Molds

The blended soap mixture needs to be poured into your molds pretty quickly before it sets up.

Silicone molds will allow the soap to release easily. If using plastic tubs, you can put a plastic wrap liner into the tub first to help remove the cooled soap.

  1. Pour the mixture into your molds, but don’t fill them to the top.
  2. You can put a top loosely over the molds, or cover them with a towel or similar to keep stuff from getting into the soap as it sets up, and still let the heat escape.
  3. Leave the molds to cool and setup for a day or so.
  4. Once setup, the soap can be removed. Turn the molds upside down and tap the soap out. Some molds might have to be loosened before the soap will come free.
  5. The soap can be cut into smaller pieces with a sharp knife. After cut, it is a good idea to let it dry for a couple weeks to get harder.

The soap is ready for use. Enjoy!!


Colorant & Scents

There are a lot of options that can be bought on the Internet, found in a grocery store, or even grown in your own garden. Some are inexpensive, others are more costly. You can also search the Internet to get cool ideas.

  • Natural colorants include: Turmeric power = yellow; Chlorophyll powder or Wheat grass juice = green; Beetroot = squash yellow; Paprika = orange; Cinnamon or Cocoa powder = brown.
  • Using herbs in soaps is common. Make sure any herbs used are thoroughly dry. Two commonly used herbs are Lavender and Chamomile.
  • Scents are easy to add. There are commercial scents of many types available, but using essential oils can be a far better choice if you want to keep the soap as natural as possible. Most essential oils also have health benefits, but make sure you read about any precautions that should be followed.
  • Other things people add include oatmeal, aloe vera, salt, ground walnut, coffee, colored cornmeal, clay, mica and more.

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