soap proper

I make soap, good old-fashioned all natural lye soap, yes LYE! Eat your skin off, clear your drains out 100% sodium hydroxide NaOH. Actually all soap uses lye it’s what changes the oils/fats to actual soap in a crazy chemical reaction called saponification! I started making soap out of curiosity and necessity. Some of the products I loved were expensive & still had some questionable ingredients that I didn’t really want to rub all over my body. Facts are most commercial soaps are skin wrecking detergents masked in a chemical fragrance. eew

Could I really just make my own natural good for me & my family soap? YEAH, you can make your own soap, loads & loads of LUSHIOUS soap!

I’ve made everything from a plain jane unscented soap to “can I eat this?” cinnamon pumpkin soap, scrubby oatmeal to creamy milk. I’ve used snow, ice, rosewater, rainwater, tea, even flat beer & soda. 

My favorite is just a simple spearmint soap.

Most of the soaps I make are plant-based for two reasons, #1 a vegan daughter and #2 because vegetable oils are abundant, relatively cheap, ready straight from the bottle & at every grocer around.  If I need something extra special like shea or cocoa butter, most co-ops carry bulk bins of these luxury butters, they will also stock other not so common oils like hemp & jojoba. You don’t need to have unusual oils to make soap, you could just make a pure olive oil soap (castile) or a vegetable oil soap (yes like the kind you cook with) sunflower, coconut, soybean or canola, really ANY OIL.

I could go on and on with how I make my cold process (cp) soap, but for now let’s get visual…

On the left is my (bought at the goodwill) enamel soap pot filled with a warm mix of olive oil & coconut oil and about 3% castor oil for extra BUBBLES! In soap making oils are always measured by weight not by volume. (I only heated it to melt the coconut oil)

On the right is my LYE container, notice the bright orange color, for me bright orange = DANGER!! It’s filled with a lovely toxic mix of lye, frozen coconut milk & rainwater. Always pour the lye into the liquid, not the liquid into the lye (this could erupt!) and always do it in a well ventilated area! When I am making a milk soap I always freeze all or part of my liquid, because the lye mixture heats up to 200º+ which can cause the milk with all its natural sugars to scorch and turn brown, it also really stinks! (I made a goats milk soap once that turned a lovely tan :) 

I keep a candy thermometer in my lye, so I know when it’s cool enough to mix in with my oils. I like to soap around 85-95º. When the temps of the oils and of the lye mixture are around this range I pour them together. Hand stirring at first, just incase the mix traces (thickens) fast. I will also hand stir when I add my scent and once I’m pretty sure the scent isn’t going to freak out my soap, I will get out my stick blender and give it a whiz. This is also the time to stir in your additives, such as ground oatmeal, french clays, shredded loofah, coffee grounds, anything that won’t rot or clog a drain, dried flowers & herbs are nice too!

As soon as it thickens up I pour it into (butcher paper) lined wooden molds, I had my dad make me. I took the back of my stirring spoon & swirled the tops before it totally set up, popped on the mold tops & tucked them in (put a blanket over them) insulating them will force them to gel which quickens saponification, I like the translucency it gives the soap and the reassurance that the chemical reaction is throughly complete in a shorter period of time. I don’t always let my soaps gel or insulate them, sometimes I just let it do whatever, sometimes if my ingredients had a sugary base like milk, honey or beer/soda I will skip the insulating as these can get plenty hot all on their own (really hot soap can crack). To gel or not to gel is a personal thing, either way you still end up with soap.

Usually in 24 to 48 hrs you can unmold (some high percent olive oil soaps will take longer to set up). That one unswirled loaf is for me I like the simple rustic square shape:)

I cut my soap with a stainless steel dough scraper, I only pour my soap to a 2½” to 3″ depth in the mold (nice hand size) so it works perfectly, you could use a knife too. It cuts like a cheddar cheese or maybe a cojack, soft but still firm. If everything went according to plan you will have lovely HARD soap in 6 to 8 weeks! You can use it sooner, within a week or two because the chemical reaction is finished by then, it just wont last as long or be as hard as there is still quite a bit if water left in the bar. You can shorten that by discounting the liquid used for the lye mixture or trying your hand at oven process or hot process soap making. Soap will just get better and better the longer it cures. I haven’t ran into a shelf life yet.

If I’ve gotten you curious and you really want to make soap. I cannot say enough about this book – Basic Soap Making: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started by Elizabeth Letcavage. It’s jammed full of pictures of every single step of the entire process, the tools to use, working safely with lye, additives such as colors, scents and milks, how to layer and swirl soap, it has instructions on how to make a wooden soap cutter and soap mold (this is awesome), with instructions on how to perfectly line it, to get professional looking soap. It also has a template for a soap box, so you can package your soap up for gifting. The recipes are all oils you can easily acquire, most are plant-based, some have lard and none use palm, it’s spiral-bound so it lays nice and flat, so you can work from it. (check your library)

Smart soapmaking & milk soapmaking by Ann Watson are also amazing resources, she debunks some of the soaping myths, her humor & experience are invaluable.

There are also loads & loads of online resources, here are a few of my favorites:
wholesale supplies plus
bramble berry they have a lye calculator & soap queen blog too!
Miller’s Soap
The Soap Kitchen soaps, bath bombs, body butters & loads more
The MMS (Majestic Mountain Sage) lye calculator

I don’t just make soap, I also make solid shampoo bars, balms & my own household soap for cleaning & milling into laundry soap.

Once you start, be prepared for shelves full of delicious smelling soap! Well, I have a soap closet and maybe you will too. I always have the perfect gift to go with that a handmade washcloth and nobody minds getting a luxurious bar of handmade soap ..EVER!

6 thoughts on “soap proper

    1. Working with the lye made me a little nervous at first too, but that’s good, it keeps you safe! I will tell you I looked like I was walking into a radiation filled bomb laden room when I first made soap…some kind terrified housewife hodge podge of goggles, rubber gloves, fume mask, shoes( I never wear shoes indoors!) covered every inch head to toe (sweating my ass off) soapmaker, it actually made me cranky & uncomfortable & more clumsy than usual.

      Now after years of working with lye I am a bit more relaxed, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be overprotective with a flesh dissolving chemicals, right!?! Nowadays I soap barefoot in shorts & t-shirts & I still have all my skin. I do however wear safety glasses (I would be so pissy if I blinded myself!) I take other precautions as well, it’s best to be over cautious & safe & not injure yourself or others.

      If your serious about the soap making, reading the books I recommended will ease your mind, they are sensible & NOT over the top “you will maim yourself & injure your family, remove everything & everyone from the accident waiting to happen area, oh and a big P.S you most likely will die making your first batch” books :)


      1. Haha! You certainly draw a most vivid picture! I told my husband if he can do the Lye step, I’ll do the rest! I agree, one has to be a little paranoid with flesh eating chemicals and that’s good for safety reasons! Have you heard of “soap noodles”? That’s supposed to be easier, skipping the Lye step because it’s already been done. Maybe I should go that route and see how I do.


      2. I haven’t, but what a perfectly amusing name “soap noodles” love it! If you do go that route let me know how it all goes, I am very curious!


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