I have been curious about making soap at home for a long time, but until this year, I had not gotten up the courage to try. The main part that had been holding me back was working with lye. As an organic gardener, I my initial instinct is to avoid strong dangerous chemicals. And to make REAL soap, there is no getting around using Lye in the processing. Lye is caustic and is a basic ingredient in most drain cleaners. Eeeek!
The other roadblock to me trying was the cost of the natural ingredients, especially organic ones. Anyone who knows me well, knows I am generally frugal. It is much cheaper to buy ready made soap in the store now a days, than make it from scratch at home. If I messed up the process, it would be a big waste of money. Therefore, I had to do it right the first time.
I repeatedly watched a few youtube videos on soap making. My favorite video, and the one the recipe below is adapted from, is of a gracious Mennonite lady, Marsha, making her soap outdoors near a beautiful natural spring on her property in Tennessee. Marsha claims the soap is so gentle, it is the kind she uses on her grand-babies.
Okay, I guess I could try this…..Here is my finished product with labels (for giving as gifts) and tied with rafia:
Almond Oatmeal Soap
3 c. water
17 oz lye (100% sodium hydroxide / caustic soda)*
6 lb oil (do not substitute animal fat lard in this recipe) Below are the oils I used in this batch:
- 2 lbs coconut oil
- 2 lbs. soybean shortening
- 2 lbs canola oil
2 c. lemon juice
1 oz powdered goat milk
2 oz stearic acid
5 oz almond oil
2 oz oatmeal (ground in a stick blender)
This video was the most helpful of all the ones I watched: “Homemade Soap at Marsha’s”
This is a cold process soap that takes about 3 + weeks to cure.
The hardest part of making it, for me, was actually getting all the ingredients and materials together. I wasted a lot of gas because it took me a few days to shop around for everything at reasonable prices, plus I wanted as many of the ingredients as possible to be organic. No single store had all the ingredients; my ingredients mainly came from Stater Bros., Sprouts, and Trader Joes. From what I read on the internet, 100% lye is the hardest ingredient for homemade soap makers to come by, and for a few reasons: meth makers buy it all up, stores would rather stock name brand liquid drain cleaners instead of old fashion pure lye, USPS prohibits shipping lye in the mail, and UPS charges a premium “hazmat” fee to ship lye via their service. I found it at a local Ace Hardware. I had to order the Stearic acid from an online candle and soap making supply store. That meant waiting for days again before I could get started. Stearic Acid is used as a hardener and an emulsifier in the recipe and since I have never made soap, I didn’t want to alter the ingredients list much. Since I was unable to buy anything wholesale or in bulk, over all, the ingredients cost me approximately $40. I didn’t make or buy a mold, instead repurposing a plastic bin lined with press and seal plastic wrap. It came out okay, but I had to do a lot of trimming to make it look nice. Next time I will use a box or make a mold.
We have been using the soap now for a few weeks, and I must say, I really do like it and plan to make it again in the near future. I gave the majority of the bars away for Christmas to love ones, so I only have a few left. The one thing I will do different in the next batch is make the bars a little larger. The bars started out bigger, but since I had never trimmed down soap before, I made a lot of opps before I got the hang of it and how to make a nice shape that I liked. These ended up around 2 1/2 -3 oz. I think I want a 4 oz size next time. I also plan to use olive oil in the next batch instead of canola, now that I am comfortable with what I am doing.
*Making soap is an exact science and lye is very caustic. Always follow safety procedures with lye and all soap making methods, including wearing protective eye gear and gloves.
Here is a link to a good source for lots of recipes, methods, trouble shooting, and more. I would recommend starting there if you have never made soap before, and even if you have there are lots of great resources. And for anyone wanting to come up with their own homemade soap recipe, here is an excellent soap making calculator that calculates the correct amount needed of Lye and Water to different oils.