Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making Soap

As promised, here's the how-to of soap making.  Please keep in mind, I'm not a professional.  Neither have I even yet used what I've made.  Just posting what I do know right now because I spent many nights reading about this stuff!

1) I wanted to start with what they would have used in the good ole days- FAT!  A call to the butcher at Winn Dixie and Publix provided me with all the beef and pork fat I could want.  Winn Dixie seems to have more to supply than Publix, but they also charged me $.50/lb for the stuff where Publix gives it for free.  Not a lot of money, but seriously, they're going to promptly throw it away.  Charging is just poor form in my book.  I digress.  We came home with large packages of fat.
Then we ran the beef fat through our new handy dandy meat grinder.  This isn't a necessity, but it definitely expedites the rendering process on the order of days.  Then I put it all in the crock pot.  I started it that evening and by morning it was done.  I ran it all through some cheese cloth then poured the golden liquid into jars and let them cool until it was white and a soft solid.  Then I put them in the freezer.  The dog thoroughly enjoyed the cracklings.  The next bit was the pork fat.  By this time I had read more and it said grinding was not necessary, but it was necessary to cover the fat in water.  Now that I've done it, I totally disagree.  That pork fat sat in the crock pot for days.  And I kept adding water.  By the time I was done (note I was the one done, not the lard), it was a pain to try to separate the lard from the water.  I ended up having water in each jar of lard and had to be careful when spooning it out for soap.  And while you can buy lard fairly cheaply in the grocery store, you can't get tallow and they both have different properties in soap.  I'll probably still render my own tallow.  We'll see about the lard.

2)Then I got figuring recipes.  I realized that using only tallow, lard, olive oil and coconut oil really would not give me a very nice, conditioning soap, I started looking into other oils.  A friend found and  They had the best deals we could find on bulk oils and essential oils (for scents).  Essential Depot also had the best price on lye.  We ordered coconut oil (virgin, but not as pure as food grade and thus a fraction of the cost), palm oil and Castor oil.  Castor oil is available in small quantities in any pharmacy, but its considerably cheaper to order through a soap supplier.  I've since learned the quest for palm oil is ravaging rain forests so once what I have is gone, I won't be using it again.

3) Once I figured what other oils were in my price range, I went back to figuring recipes.  I learned from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Natural Soaps about  This is a fabulous website that allows you to create your own recipe using the ingredients you want.  You determine what fats and oils you want to use, the percentage of each and hit "calculate" and not only will it spit out the recipe, but it will give you a numerical factor of various soap qualities, like hardness, conditioning, or cleansing.  And it gives you the desired range of each property too.  Then you can tinker with your recipe to make it just as you want. 

4) Then find a mold.  I happened to have 2 shallow, rectangular tubs 10x9x2 (don't ask me where I got them).  I had to figure out how much soap, by weight, I needed to fill that mold.  Follow closely, math coming.  Find the volume of the container in cubic inches, but leave room in the height.  For example, I calculated 10x9x1.5= 135 cubic inches.  Then multiply that number by .58.  That gave me 78.3oz of soap for this mold.  You need 11 ounces of oils for every 16 ounces of soap so then I took the weight of my soap times 11 divided by 16.  In my case, 78.3x11/16=53.8oz of oils.  I rounded that to 54 and that's what I plugged into  I then got my recipe based on weights of oils, water (or goat milk or tea) and lye.

5) Then its time to start weighing.  If you use goat milk, its good to freeze the milk so I weighed out my amount in the scale you see pictured.  This was a very handy and very reasonably priced purchase.  You must have something that can measure by weight to the fraction of an ounce for decent soap making.  I weighed out my goat milk then poured it in a ziplock and stuck it in the freezer.  Then I weighed out some strong chamomile tea and poured it into a jar to cool for later.  It wasn't until the next day that I started weighing out fats and oils according to my recipes.  My goat milk body soap has beef tallow, coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil and palm oil.  My chamomile shampoo bar has castor oil, coconut oil, olive oil, lard, and beef tallow.  My laundry soap bar has coconut oil and lard (with water).  Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing amounts.

6) I did each soap one at a time.  I started with the goat milk soap.  I'd read it must be kept cool to prevent darkening.  Darkening doesn't hurt the soap, just makes it not as pretty.  That's why you start with frozen milk.  Adding lye to a liquid (never liquid to the lye), causes an exothermic reaction... meaning it gets hot.  I melted the milk merely by slowly sprinkling the lye on it.  And please wear gloves and goggles and do it in a ventilated area.  I mixed it on the stove with the exhaust fan going and all the kids firmly instructed to not come near me.  Once the lye is dissolved, add in the oils.  Weigh out everything prior to mixing anything.  Also have your mold greased and ready to roll.  Once things are moving, they're moving and you really can't stop.  Its not necessary for all the oils to be in liquid form.  The heat from the lye solution will soften things.  Also, please invest in a stick blender.  Apparently you can make soap without one but you must take great pains on the temperatures that everything is at or you'll be stirring the stuff for 5 hours or more.  A stick blender will ease the troubles considerably.  So I poured in my fats and oils, taking care to not splash as the lye solution will burn.  Its suggested to have a spray bottle of white vinegar handy if spills do happen.  The acid in the vinegar will neutralize the caustic nature of the lye.  Then start blending with the stick blender.  When the mixture starts to "trace", its time to add scents, dyes and pour into the mold.  Tracing is when its thick enough that if you dribble some from the blender (when the blender is NOT on) onto the rest of the mixture, you can see where it dribbled. It doesn't quickly mix into the bulk of the solution.  And on a side note, please use a stainless steel spoon.  Or at least not wood.  A nice wooden spoon is really unpleasant looking (and toxic?) now that its been stirring lye.  Learn from my mistakes.

7) Once you got the trace thing happening, add the essential oils for scents or any dyes.  I added lavender oil to the goat milk soap, but everything else is totally bare this round.  One thing at a time for me.  Ok, well, at least in this case.  Then pour into the mold.  Lots of sources stressed the need to line the mold.  One source (a DVD available from the library) merely suggested greasing.  So I just greased my plastic mold and figured if worse came to worst, I'd pop it in the freezer to get it out.  I also used a cheep metal rectangular cake pan as a mold in addition to my plastic pans.  Not sure what kind of metal it is.  Probably aluminum.  Greased that too and I had no problems getting soap out of any of them.  What you do then is confusing.  With the goat milk soap, some said its important to keep it cold so to put it in the fridge.  I did for a couple hours... then I felt the need to get the 25lb bag of carrots that it displaced off my counter top.  With other soaps, some sources say to insulate it so it doesn't cool too quickly.  Like throw a blanket over it.  I don't see why.  Especially if with goat milk you're supposed to stick it in the fridge. 

 Well, things definitely changed color.  Everything was creamy at first, then they got dark in the middle.  The one on the bottom is the goat milk soap.  The left is the laundry soap and the right is the chamomile shampoo.  I cut them into bars after a few hours, while they were still soft, but firm enough to hold the cut.
You can see the colors changed further.  The next day I popped everything out of the molds and set them on cooling racks in the bathroom.  Pictured here is the laundry soap on the bottom and the shampoo on the top.  The laundry soap will need to cure for about 2 weeks.  The shampoo and body soap will need about 4 weeks on account of the castor oil in it.  Its not caustic after only a day, but it will not have the nice conditioning properties so soon.
 And here's the goat milk soap.  The next round I try, I'll leave it in the fridge over night and see if that keeps it any whiter.  I don't mind the color at all, just trying to learn the tricks.  If I were to color it, I think I'd want it lighter so the color would be brighter.
And in reading about shampoo bars and their benefits, I stumbled upon a homemade deodorant recipe.  And if you don't know me well, you're about to.  I'm a sweater to say the least.  As a teacher I kept a stick of antiperspirant in my desk drawer to use mid-day.  Cold, hot, doesn't matter... gallons pour forth from my pits daily.  As I like to say, I have a very efficient cooling system.  I will NEVER get heat stroke, now will I?  I'm bred for workhorse character, not for the show ring.  So the dilemma is that I know how horrible antiperspirants are for you.  They're linked to all kinds of terrible diseases.  And they plug the source that God intended to use to rid you of toxins... meaning you're still holding onto all those toxins!  Really not cool.  But the state of me without this 20th century invention is really beyond what's socially acceptable.  I tried using all natural deodorant (no antiperspirants) when I'm just going to be home all day.  My husband would hold his breath while hugging me.  But I'm hopeful of this concoction. 

Homemade deodorant:
1/4 Cup coconut oil
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup corn starch
30 drops tea tree oil

This is my own concoction, but it involves the same ingredients others posted on the web do.  And as for today, after a full afternoon (albeit a coolish afternoon and I wasn't doing much manual labor), Husbandman said he could only smell me in 1 pit.  I suspect if I'm able to keep this up without offending people, even that will decrease as toxins are actually allowed to escape from my body.  Pictured is homemade deodorant, homemade toothpaste (equal parts sea salt, baking soda and xylitol) sitting atop shampoo soap and laundry soap.

So, you think you wanna try making some soap???

*ps- those jars of dark red liquid pictured in the fat grinding picture... just beet and carrot juices we were drinking.  Absolutely nothing to do with animal fats or soap in any way.


  1. excellent... i'm no professional soapmaker, but you should REALLY try the walmart brand shortening, which is a mix of beef tallow and palm oil. perfect soap ingredients, very very cheap. yes yes walmart=evil and all that, but i'll make an exception sometimes. i also buy my coconut oil online, via amazon--great prices there for bulk quantities. the whiteness of soap has far more to do with ingredients than temperatures. beef tallow produces the whitest soap.

  2. Really??? I noticed walmart brand shortening listed in the choices on soapcalc, but I didn't know why. I think I'll have to make that exception too. Thanks for the tips! I really appreciate it!

  3. I don't think I want to try soap with this vicious toxic Lye in it. Do you have to have Lye?

  4. how do you use the laundry soap?

  5. Judy, lye is "vicious" when its in concentrate. Every soap has to have something caustic in it or it will have absolutely no cleaning power. Back in the good old days, they would pour water through wood ashes to get lye, but it wasn't nearly so concentrated, but it was still definitely lye. These soaps were very soft as there was no way to get all that extra water out. So while lye seems to be a nasty chemical, its quite natural. We just can use it in its more concentrated form to make a nicer bar.

    Dauvy, the laundry soap is still in the experimental stage. I'm going to try to make a dry powder with it by grating it (like a fels naptha soap bar) and then mixing it with borax, washing soda and an oxygen powder like oxyclean. The liquid laundry detergents I was making just didn't wash into our washer well and would separate if it got too cold. And my kids were forever climbing on the bucket and either getting into things they weren't supposed to, falling off the bucket or knocking it over and dumping out its entire contents. This way I can easily store it in smaller containers up high and out of reach. I plan to make my first batch this week. I have a bar of my grandmothers last batch of soap (not a natural recipe, mind you) that I use for stains. Not sure if this will work as well as that does, and given that my grandma's soap has lasted me almost a decade and is still a big old chunk, I don't think I'll have to replace it for a while. Even with the girl child's clothes staining expertise.

  6. And its little miss FLhomesteader herself publishing as "anonymous"... gotta love blogger and its quirks, right?

  7. I, too, am a sweater! This method has kept me amazingly stink-free. I used to live in FL and now am in SoCal where it's plenty hot. It's just baking soda and water. Super simple. The only key I've found is to make sure you rub it in until it's completely dissolved. Hope you find it helpful too.

  8. good work! My friend and I coop on EOs. I can check in w/ you next time. They are from the perfumery. It's good good stuff.