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The Making of Homemade Soap Making

February 25, 2008

This past weekend, N and I (having finally acquired all the necessary ingredients) underwent our first soup making attempt. It was not as difficult or time intensive as I have always assumed soap making to be.  Fortunately, we’ve been cooking a lot and since the soap was prepared largely in the kitchen (and most are edible), we approached this project much like we would any meal. 

”A question from the back of the class,’ J. says to the young blog reader waving their hand emphatically.

‘But Mr. J., what ingredients did you use?’  Says the blog reader inquisitively.  ‘Did you use lye?  Isn’t lye what Brad Pitt’s character used on Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club”?

”Technically, young blog reader Edward Norton’s character was using it on himself; but yes, lye is caustic and potentially very, very dangerous,’ Mr. J. answers as he dusts the chalk dust from his tweed jacket. ‘But we’ll get back to that.’ 

Like so many projects N. and I have recently undertaken, this one comes from a confluence of book-bound, blogged, and internet cached information.  The impetus for this project of course being less-toxic living through better home basics.  Fortunately, N. recently read Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living (available at libraries everywhere).  N. reads the most interesting books at the most convenient times, doesn’t she?

What did we use?

For the most part, we did follow the list of ingredients as list on page 118 of the aforementioned book.

16 Ounces Olive Oil8 ounces coconut oil
17 1/2 ounces hydrogenated oil (we used crisco)
16 ounces distilled water 
6 ounces lye (Let me take yet another opportunity to say that this stuff is caustic, and can be dangerous- follow directions on the lye container as directed for all emergencies related to this material)
1/8 to 1/2 ounce fragrant essential oils (optional)
1 Cup rolled oats (optional)(we didn’t have essential oils) – for this, put some rolled oats in a food processor, and create for yourself a meal finer than what you started with, but not powder.

If you read this book (and I hope you do), just below the list of ingredients, is a well-placed, hard to ignore sentence that reads “Follow the soap-making directions on page 34.”  You may want to execute your soap making scheme of maneuver as the book says.  We had to return the book to the library, and were only able to scan page 118 before beginning. I (J.) did not read this sentence when I scanned the book, and it made for a few minutes of soap making Greek Tragedy at N. and J.’s apartment.

You will also need:
Thermometer (we used our candy thermometer)
Two large stock-type pots.  If a carrot can fit in it standing up, that’s a good pot (not a baby carrot, that’s a sauce pan).  We were able to find some at a secondhand store.
Hand mixer (are you really afraid of the paddles getting too clean?) 
A well-vented indoors, and an entirely vented outdoors. 
Molds for the soap to cure in.  We used those ziplock containers that are technically disposable, but have been around longer than some members of the family.  

PPE (personal protective equipment): we were fortunate enough NOT to have had any caustic sodium (lye) related episodes, but there’s not reason that you should go tugging on Superman’s cape.  Wear this stuff or some equivalent to it!!!
Goggles (or in our case, ballistic sunglasses)
Rubber gloves (the kind your mother used when she washed dishes by hand) that almost go to your elbow.

Lye solution:
Now that you almost look as you may have in 10th grade chemistry, its time to make the lye-solution.  
Go to your outside with a pot, lye, water, gloves and goggles.  
Leave the kids, pets, clumsy spouse inside.
Put on PPE.   
Place 16 ounces water in one of your large pots.  Put the water in first.  Put the water in first.  Put the water in first. There I’ve said it three times now.
Slowly pour 6 ounces of lye into the water.  Through chemical reaction, the lye will heat the water to 175 degrees F.  We looked.  It really does.
Now, leave that pot alone and wait for the lye water to cool to 90 degrees F. 

Everything else:Heat it to 90 degrees F.  You’ll notice that all of your other ingredients and the lye water need to be at 90 degrees.  Don’t know why?  Me neither.
The coconut oil did not want to play nice with everything else and melt quickly like I thought it would.  If you’re going to use coconut oil, I would heat it to a liquid prior to the rest of the ingredients (including the lye water).  This will save you from having to do something silly like putting the lye back on the stove (Bad Human!). 
When everything is at 90 degrees, put this lye water into the oil mixture.  Not the other way around.  
Add oats, if using.
Stir with a hand mixer until the (I guess we’re calling it soap now) mixture develops ripples that don’t go away.  This is called trace.  

Be forewarned, it takes about 15-20 minutes for trace to develop using a hand mixer.  

God bless you if you’re using a hand-powered hand mixer.  

Grease your molds.  

Pour the soap into your molds, and let it cool overnight, or about 15 hours.

In the morning, gently pop the soap out of the molds, use the extra serrated chef’s knife that you’ve had since college, and carefully cut the soap into manageable bars.  

Or you can make soap-brickle like we did:) Let it sit for three weeks.  

Hope you didn’t need a bath today:) Happy washing! 

A whole lotta soap!2288971143_e89faf40e7_m.jpg  2288973233_7d4953b9a4_m.jpg    

FAQs about Lye:

Q: Is it available over the counter?
A: The best know, OTC brand of lye was Red Devil. Notice how I said was. Some genius decided to ruin it for the rest of us, and use it to make methamphetamines, and the company pulled the product.

Q: Where can I get some?
A: We bought ours on Ebay:)

Q: What will happen it I put the lye in the pot before the water?
A: One blog we read says that there is a risk of explosion if you put the lye in first. Ergo, we recommend doing it the other way around.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2008 2:41 am

    very cool. Thanks for posting this. I might just try it myself again – did it once
    years ago, but I bought some kind of kit, if I recall. Ummmm… to ask the obvious,
    why did you DIY instead of just buying home-made soap (I’m assuming it’s as
    ubiquitous in colorado as it is here in b.c.?)? Was it to do a fun project? save
    money? have confidence in the project?
    and also to ask the obvious…. does the soap work? I mean, are you clean and everything
    (sorry, just being goofy. long day. But would like to know if you like the finished

  2. February 26, 2008 3:48 am

    I haven’t read Better Basics for the Home, but I did just finish Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing. Basically, everything in the book is made using a combination of five ingredients: vinegar, baking soda, borax, lemon, and salt. After reading it my wife and I are planning to give the recipes a shot, cleaning the kitchen with baking soda and vinegar instead of the infamous scrubbing bubbles. We haven’t really had the chance to use many of the recipes yet, but I have a feeling they’re all going to have one main ingredient: elbow grease.

  3. February 26, 2008 1:18 pm

    Looks like you did a good job! Something for next time that will speed the process up: don’t bother waiting for the lye to cool down. Pour the hot, dissolved lye (it will start to go clear from cloudy) over your solid fats. The lye will melt them for you. Then add your liquid oil, and blend. You will get to trace in under 5 minutes. Ask me how I know! 🙂

  4. February 26, 2008 11:40 pm

    Very cool! Sounds like a good project for me and the hubbie to undertake next weekend. About how long did it take you so we can set aside the necessary time?

    • Kymberly LaNear permalink
      April 29, 2009 9:47 pm

      Hi, I have made my own soap several times to much success. my daughter and I love it for our face and body, i love it as a shampoo (i have short hair) I bought a book “Clean Naturally” by Sandy Maine. I buy my lye at a “local” Ace hardware store in the plumbing section but have purchased it on line from Brambleberry. coconut oil can be found at walmart in the cooking oil section. the hardest part is getting the essential oil, which you can get online (much cheaper) or at your local health food store. the recipe calls for 4 oz but this is toooo much 1-2 oz is enough for a mild scent, most husbands prefer this. also it if rains soon collect this in a bucket,it works nicely.

  5. badhuman permalink*
    February 27, 2008 12:03 am

    We decided to make homemade soap because we are both interested in trying new/old things out and seeing what it is like. We can find organic soap with no packaging at our local Whole Foods but it is spendy or we could have bought homemade soap online and then had to pay shipping plus factor in the carbon emissions etc etc. Making it ourselves is easier on the environment and cheaper. We plan on using it to wash our hands, bodies, and hair. We haven’t had the chance to try it yet because you have to let it cure for three weeks but we will definitely update everyone when we do!

    J. and I have found that all of the natural homemade products require more elbow grease but if you turn off the TV and focus on the task it can also be a great time to hang out with your loved ones.

    Well let’s see it took a couple hours because you have to melt all the fats together and then add the lye and water then both have to get to the same temperature before you can combine (at least those were the instructions we followed). What happened to us is one was getting too cool and the other one was staying hot so we ended up having to put the fat mixture in the freezer to cool it down! The other time intensive part was the mixing in order to get “trace” which no lie took about 25 minutes of J. standing there with our handheld mixer.

  6. March 1, 2008 8:25 am

    This is a good post. Thanks for participating in next week’s MIFS.

  7. March 4, 2008 12:13 am

    Great information!

  8. March 14, 2008 3:28 pm

    I love how-tos with pictures. I’ve thought about making soap…but never gotten around to it. And the fact that lye is caustic makes me nervous…I’m clumsy enough already. I’ll think about this a bit more.

    I currently use ivory soap to make laundry detergent and wonder if I can use this hand made soap as a substitute to ivory.

  9. March 18, 2008 5:20 pm

    This looks like a lot of fun! I love making soap too. I can’t find Red Devil around here either. 😦

    It seems like when “THEY” pull things like that off the market it only hurts honest people. Drugs are still being sold even tho, we can’t get our Red Devil anymore..

    Oh, well…

    Great site!

    Dora Renee’ Wilkerson

  10. Grace permalink
    April 23, 2008 11:11 am

    Thanks so much for this simple an d thorough guide! I was warned about working with lye, but am feeling like hey! I can do this, after reading your blog.

    Many thanks and blessings!

  11. January 29, 2009 7:50 am

    Good piece.


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