Monday, November 21, 2011

Making Soap is much easier than making bread!

Between Saturday and today, I've made 5 batches, from 5 different recipes, of hand made, all natural soap. If you have never made soap, and would like to learn, please don't be worried. Making soap has become very easy, since the advent of the World Wide Web. There is so much information available, literally at our fingertips!

First, decide what kind of soap you would like to make. I would suggest, to begin, just make what I call "every day" soap. It is a simple combination of lard, coconut oil, soft water and lye. After you experience success (and you will,) then you can experiment with other "fancier" recipes. I started making soap about 34 years ago ~ our little children would often leave a bar of soap in the bath water and it would get ruined. Store bought soap was relatively expensive, and so I decided to learn to make our soap. I made the "every day" soap, exclusively, until just a few years ago.

The first time, my husband was in the bathroom washing his hands, and he called out, "Do you know what I like about this soap?".... "It works!"

In the last few years, I have learned to make a shampoo bar, Castile (olive oil) soap, French milled soap, goat's milk soap, shaving soap and soap from recycled oils and fats.

Do not be impressed. The basic procedure is the same for all of the soaps I make. Only the amounts and ingredients differ.

If you are ready, first, go here and watch this:

The video will give you a basic idea of how soap is made. I must mention that I never added any scents or colorants to my soap for many years. Also, I have used many different things for a soap mold, including glass baking pans and cardboard boxes. I always line mine with a damp cotton cloth to make it easy to remove the hardened soap. I've never had a mitre box and fancy cutting thing, either. I just lightly mark off my cutting lines and use a big sharp knife. Here is a link to a nice video showing a great way to make a soap mold from a cardboard box:

I stack the bars in a cardboard box, with air around each one to let the soap cure. I've never used a metal rack like the man in the video.

So, here is what you will need to make basic soap.

Lard (available at the grocery store or from a place where they process hogs)
Coconut oil (Get the inexpensive LouAnn brand if you can at the grocery store)
Soft water (it need not be distilled, but it is important for it to at least be soft.)
Lye (sodium hydroxide)

Large stainless steel kettle (alternately, you can use a granite-ware pan that isn't rusty)
Long handled wooden spoon (or a nice smooth sturdy stick)
Plastic container for the water (a plastic pitcher would be best)
Plastic container to measure the lye into
Digital scale
Candy thermometer
Something to use for a mold (see what I mentioned above)
Cotton cloth big enough to fit the mold all the way to the top and over a bit, dampened
A warm blanket or a couple of big towels to keep the soap warm while it is hardening
A protected surface to turn the soap onto (not your wood dining room table - don't ask me how I know)
A stick blender (This is very nice, and makes it all faster, but I made soap for many years
without this luxury. I just used a stick or wooden spoon.)

To work out the proportions in your recipe, go to the MMS Lye Calculator . Look carefully and you will see where you will choose a unit of measure (ounce, gram or pounds), the kind of lye (choose sodium hydroxide), you can ask it to include basic instructions in the print-out. Then scroll down on the page and you will enter the amounts of the fats you want to use.

I would suggest you start with 32 ounces (2 pounds) of lard and 4 ounces (1/4 pound) of coconut oil. Coconut oil will make your soap nice and bubbly, but you don't want too much or it can be drying to the skin.

When you are ready (and the pets and children have been sequestered elsewhere), gather up all of your equipment and ingredients.

FIRST I will talk about SAFETY. You are going to be using lye, which is extremely caustic and can BURN you. ALWAYS keep an open container of vinegar close by when you are working with lye. If something splashes on you, immediately pour vinegar on the area and it will neutralize the lye. ALWAYS wear safety goggles. The man in the video doesn't, but that is silly. AND downright dangerous. ALWAYS add the lye TO the water. If you do it the other way, it could explode and burn you!

Another thing.... the pan, containers and any utensils you use in making soap should be used ONLY for making soap. So, keep them safely tucked away somewhere when not in use.

I personally do not use gloves. They would tend to make me a bit more clumsy and I'd be more likely to have an accident. I just work very carefully and slowly and keep that vinegar handy. I also do not wear long sleeves. If the lye splashes on a sleeve, it will take longer to get it off of your skin. These things are MY opinion, but so far, I've never been injured.

Ok, on to the actual soap making. By now, you have worked out your recipe on the MMS lye calculator and printed it out and studied it. It will tell you how much lye to use and how much water to use. For the recipe I suggested above, the calculator says:

36 ounces lard
4 ounces coconut oil
10 - 15 ounces water (I generally pick a number in the middle of this value)
5.27 - 5.44 ounces of lye (I would opt for 5.39 - nicely and safely in the middle)

Ok... You are wearing goggles, and all the children and pets are far away and will stay there. Prepare your mold(s) by lining it with a damp cloth or parchment paper.

1. Measure fats into the stainless steel kettle (using your digital scale) .

2. Measure the soft water into the plastic pitcher.

3. Measure the lye into the other plastic container.

4. Get your vinegar and take it outside on the porch (if you do not have a porch and nowhere to
work outside, work next to an open window and try not to breathe the fumes that mixing
the lye into the water will create. The fumes will make you cough.)

5. Put the wooden spoon in your water container and take it outside.

6. Take the container of measured lye outside.

7. Very carefully, pour the lye INTO the water, and stir the water. Be gentle. Don't knock your
container over. Stir until the lye is dissolved. It will be VERY hot!

8. Take everything back inside. Don't try to carry it all at once. Be careful.

9. Set the lye/water solution someplace safe to cool.

10. Melt your fats together. The goal is to have the lye/water solution and the fats roughly the
same temperature when you combine them. That is where your candy thermometer
comes in. I only use ONE and don't worry about transferring it between the two things.
It's not a big deal. The temperatures should be about 100 - 125 degrees F, both about the

11. When both things are about the right temperature, use your wooden spoon while you slowly
add the lye water to the melted fats, stirring round and round gently.

12. When they are combined, you can start using your stick blender, if you have one. If not, just
keep stirring with your spoon. If you are using the stick blender, keep it below the top of the mixture, so it won't splash out. Do it like this... Blend for 10 seconds, stir with it off
for 10 seconds. (This way, you won't burn up the motor in your stick blender.)

13. You want to keep doing this until you see it "trace". That means if you dribble some of the soap on top of the batch, there will be a nice little trail that stays up for a few moments
before sinking in.

14. When you reach "trace" you are ready to pour the warm soap into your prepared mold(s). Pour all of the soap into your mold and then put it in a safe place, covered with a warm
blanket. You will want to put something on top of the mold container first, so the
blanket doesn't dip into the wet soap.

15. Keep the soap warmly covered up for 24 hours. Check it and see if it is firm enough to cut
into bars. If not, re-cover and give it more time.

16. When it is ready, turn the soap out onto a surface that the lye will not damage. Then, cut it
into bars however you wish.

17. Set the bars, with air between them, into cardboard boxes or on a rack to cure and dry.
The soap should be ready to use in about 2 weeks. If you are brave, you can check
it with your tongue (gasp!) Just lightly touch the end of your tongue to a bar of soap.
If it "bites", it needs more curing time.

That's it! And WHY did I say it is much easier than making bread? Because it is. Once you learn the process and make it your own, it is something you can easily do. I made 4 different kinds of soap today. Once the equipment was out, it was a breeze to go from one to the other.

I hope you will do a little research, carefully read what I have written several times (maybe even print it out so you can refer to it easily), and go ahead and make your soap. It is very nice, and easy on the skin. It contains the naturally occurring glycerin, which is a by-product of the saponification (chemical reaction that makes soap), and glycerin is an emollient. It softens the skin.

Years ago, you could buy Red Devil Lye at the grocery store, and the amount that was in the container was perfect for making a batch of soap from 5# of fat (10 cups.) Then, later, they increased the amount in the container of lye. Very annoying, because without a scale, there was no way to measure the lye. THEN it became a "hazardous material" and you can't buy it at a grocery store anymore. You might try a hardware store or online (i.e.

If you are making soap, and you've been stirring it for at least 15 minutes and it just isn't cooperating, don't worry. Leave it, and come back from time to time and give it a good stir. It will set up eventually. That happens sometimes if your temperatures are not right when you combine the lye water with the fats.

One last suggestion ~ It can seem a bit tricky to get both solutions to the same temperature. As the lye is cooling, melt the fats. If the lye water is cooled enough ( 100 - 125 degrees F.) and the fat is too hot, set it in a sink of very cold water and stir it and it will cool down quickly.

After my soaps have cured and I have them all cut up, I'll post some more pictures. The one at the top of this post is of part of a batch of Goat's Milk Soap. It will whiten, somewhat, as it cures.


  1. I like to make soap. I think I am the only one that likes to use it in my house though. They all want that newfangled soft soap or body washes... :-(

  2. got the wooden spoons today, now to find lye....

  3. Exciting! Let me know how it goes, please.

  4. Excellent post. When I make soap I set the water a sink of cold water, it helps cool the lye faster.

  5. Nice post, but I would definitely recommend wearing gloves. Vinegar may neutralize the lye, but in so doing will actually generate additional heat and make the burn WORSE


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