My grandmother made her own soap, using rendered fats. I don’t remember much about it other than it didn’t smell all that good and it was cut into odd shapes. I’m not sure what prompted me to make my first batch of soap, but I don’t think it was the memory of those yellow bricks!
That said, making your own soap is fun. It can be a little fussy but the finished product can be well worth the effort. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment.
I use what’s known as the cold process method, which involves oils, water and lye. I’ve used the recipe below many times. I hope it works for you as well as it has for me! Before you begin, read and understand each step and make sure to wear eye and hand protection. Never leave your oils on the stove unattended or leave your lye solution where children or pets might find it.
Equipment needed: kitchen scale, large cooking pot used only for soap (I use a retired pressure cooker), 2 candy thermometers, molds (I use cheap plastic containers), large wooden or metal spoon used only for soap, 1-quart or larger pitcher used only for soap, stick blender, gloves, glasses or safety goggles.
4 ounces lye
12 ounces distilled water
16 ounces vegetable shortening
7 ounces white coconut oil
1 ounce cocoa butter
7 ounces olive oil (the cheaper the better)
Essential oils, and/or color, if desired
Herbs and spices, if desired
The first step is to make your lye solution. Put your pitcher on the scale and zero out the weight. Add in the distilled water. Using the same process, weigh your lye in a plastic or glass container. SLOWLY add the LYE to the WATER. Do not add the water to the lye. Gently stir the mixture until the lye is completely dissolved. It’s going to heat up fast and emit some strong fumes, so keep your face away from the pitcher. When you remove the spoon, use care – the liquid on it can burn you. Set the lye in a safe place to cool. I set up a glass candy thermometer on the edge of the pitcher and put it out on the front porch, where it’s cold. You want it to cool down.
While your lye is cooling off, weigh your oils and get them melting on the stove in your pot. Use your second candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. It’s better if the oils don’t get too hot as they cool slowly.
You want both the lye mixture and the oils to be within 5 degrees of each other, with both coming as close to 110 F as possible. Juggling temperatures is tricky, but you’ll get better at it with experience. You can warm the oils back up on the stove, or cool them off using an ice bath in your kitchen sink, depending on how the lye is doing. When you have them both right around 110 F, add the lye mixture slowly to the oils. Use your stick blender in short bursts. Be very careful not to splatter. Use the blender as a stirrer in between bursts of blending. Do this for 3 to 4 minutes.
If you want to add any herbs, colorants or essential oils, now is the time.
Be careful not to add too much in the way of essential oils as it may mess up your saponification process (what forms the soap) if you add too much. Also make sure any oils you use are safe for contact with skin. I like lilac or lavender oil, but I don’t use any preservatives so the scents generally don’t last too long.
Time for your molds – I use plastic containers, but you can use just about anything you like. Pour the soap into the mold. Cover it (a good reason to use plastic containers), and wrap the molds carefully with a blanket.
Set in a warm place. Do not touch or disturb for 24 to 48 hours.
Once you can’t wait anymore to get in there and look at it, unwrap your molds and try to get the soap out. I’ve found that stubborn batches benefit from a few hours in the freezer; once they are cold enough they usually pop right out.
Slice up the soap into bars and set on a baking rack or other area with air flow to cure. It needs about 4 weeks before you can use it.
Good luck and happy bathing!