A couple of years ago I started making my own laundry soap. Then I stumbled across a video at GNOWFGLINS on how to make your own bar soap and it started my internet research (about the only kind of research I do) on exactly why it would be better for me to play Dr. Soap in the kitchen rather than pick up a 12 pack of Dove soap from Sam's Club.
I found that historically, soap was made from lard, lye and water but now we buy soap that has many synthetic ingredients. Some of these synthetic ingredients are there for a good reason, such as making the bar last longer but many of them actually remove the moisture in our skin instead of providing moisture for our skin. Plus, I think just as it is in many other areas of our health, we can do without most synthetic ingredients.
So, now I will show you how to make your own "cure everything lye soap" that sells for $4 a bar or more at those fancy historical theme parks.
Here are the basics:
You take lye (sodium hydroxide) and mix it with water to dissolve it, then you mix your fats/oils in a separate bowl and once you mix the two mixtures together it creates a chemical reaction where the lye bonds to all the fats/oils and creates soap; this is called saponification. It is no longer lye or fats; it is soap. Although, the qualities of the fats you used will still benefit your skin.
Pretty cool, right? It makes you want to strap on your safety goggles, rubber gloves, old apron and say "Let's get started!" Right?
Is it cheaper?
At first, no. I spent about $40 to buy the initial supplies to make our own soap, but I've only had to replenish my coconut oil and palm oil since my first order last summer and I've made 6 batches of soap (about 18-24 bars each). Even the cheapest bar soap at the store will eventually be more expensive than making your own because the $40 in supplies makes more than 40 bars of soap. It just takes more than one batch to see your savings but your skin will see the difference immediately.
I purchased my first supplies from the The Soap Dish (no affiliation, no money, mkay FTC?) They are like most other online companies trying to combat methamphetamine abuse; as they will only ship lye (sodium hydroxide) if you purchase it with other oils or supplies.
(Side note: After making this purchase I did find drain cleaner at Lowe's that is straight sodium hydroxide. Before the time of online stores, most people purchased their lye from a local hardware store in the form of drain cleaner. Very few stores carry straight sodium hydroxide now due to the methamphetamine movement, so if you decide to look for it locally be sure to check the ingredient label. The only thing listed should be sodium hydroxide (lye); there shouldn't be any fillers. If you do find it you can come home and make soap with simple oils in your kitchen- using only olive oil would make a pure castile soap.)
I have made another purchase to replenish my supplies from Oils By Nature (again, no affliation, no money). They had a bit better price on bigger quantities and when I had a mess up with the order they were very friendly and fixed it right away, at no cost to me.
My original order from The Soap Dish included:
Coconut oil 76 degree
Stearic Acid (has acid in the name but it is actually a fat, it hardens the bar)
I used these fats along with olive oil that I had purchased locally for our first several batches.
To calculate any recipe I use SoapCalc. You can research all the different qualities of fats and then decide what kind of bar you want to make by adding the individual fats; it will then calculate how much water and lye you need to use.
Example: I choose our bath soap to be heavy on the conditioning oils and lighter on cleansing but I make our laundry bars heavy on the cleansing oils and lighter on the conditioning because I need it to clean the dirt out of our clothes; not nourish our skin.
When cooking, I am the type to throw some of this and that into a pan and not measure anything. You CANNOT do that with soap making. Lye and the water/lye mixture is extremely caustic and you must have the correct ration of fats:lye in order for your mixture to make soap and not a harmful bar of caustics. To make sure all the lye will be saponified you "superfat" your recipe by 5-6%. That means you have 5-6% more fat than you scientifically need, just to err on the side of caution and ensure that there isn't any unreacted lye in your soap. SoapCalc's lye calculator defaults to a 5% superfat recipe but you can change it to a higher percentage if you want.
OK, so I put my fats into the lye calculator at SoapCalc and then told it I wanted to make 2 lbs of soap and divided out the percentages of each oil. It then gave me the weight of each oil, the amount of water to use and the amount of lye needed to produce a 5% superfat. It also gave me the chemical make up of the final soap so I can see how hard, creamy, bubbly, conditioning, etc. the soap will be.
This batch has the following fats and measurements. The information in the parenthesis is what that particular fat contributes to the final bar of soap. Don't use these measurements for your own batch though; please put your fats into the lye calculator and print our your own; just to be safe.
12 oz. distilled water
4.4 oz. lye
8.1 oz. coconut oil (hardness, cleansing, creamy lather)
8.1 oz. olive oil (hardness, creamy lather, conditioning)
7 oz. canola oil (conditioning)
6.4 oz palm oil (hardness, creamy lather, conditioning)
.9 oz. sunflower oil (conditioning)
.6 oz. shea butter (conditioning, creamy lather)
.3 oz. castor oil (extremely nourishing to skin, bubbly lather)
.3 oz. beeswax (hardness)
Gather safety equipment: white vinegar, gloves, safety glasses, old apron, long sleeves, long pants and wear shoes. Fill a gallon pitcher full of water and a cup or so of white vinegar; use this to clean up anything that touches lye. The vinegar will nuetralize the lye; I pour the vinegar solution on the bowl, thermometer, spatula, etc. a couple of times and then wash with dish soap before I take off my gloves because the idea of washing things only once really freaks out my husband who avoids the
Weigh water in a glass bowl.
Weigh lye in a separate bowl then slowly add to water while stirring.
(Always add LYE to WATER and never water to lye.) This will create some fumes so if it's nice outside, I do it outside (with the kids nowhere near!) but if it's cold I do on the stove top with the exhaust fan running. If you add the lye very slowly the fumes won't be so bad.
Adding lye to the water will create a chemical reaction and it will get very hot; don't try and pick up the glass bowl for awhile. Place a thermometer in the bowl and wait for it to get to 110 degrees; this usually takes at least 20 minutes for me.
Measure your solid fats by weight into a bowl, then place them in the microwave for 30 second intervals until they are melted. Measure your liquid oils and combine with your melted oils. I usually measure the liquid oils directly into the big bowl I will be mixing the final soap in.
Wait for your oils to reach 110 degrees.
Once the lye mixture and fat/oil mixture both reach 110 degrees, carefully pour the lye mixture into the fats/oil mixture.
Use an immersion blender (I found an old one at the thrift store for $2!) to mix the mixture; be careful not to spray it everywhere. It will turn creamy as the saponification takes place. You are looking for the mixture to "trace" which looks like pudding or custard. When you move the blender around and the trail stays then you have reached trace.
After trace you can add anything you want to, such as oatmeal, honey, lavender flowers, fragrance, etc.
Time to mold! I use $2 drawer organizers found at Wal-Mart to mold our soap but you can buy official soap molds or just use a dish from your kitchen. Sometimes I line my mold with parchment paper, sometimes I just rub some coconut oil on it to help release it. This particular batch was extremely hard to remove from the mold, so don't do what I did; line your mold with parchment or freezer paper for easier removal.
Smooth your soap out, lightly tap it on the counter to settle it and then put it somewhere safe, out of direct light for 24 hours. After 24 hours you can unmold the soap and cut it into bars. Most of the saponification has taken place so it will not hurt you anymore; in fact my soap is already producing a bubbly lather after 24 hours! Once you cut the bars, stand them on their sides on a tray and place in an area out of direct light to finish the curing time(I put ours in a bathroom closet.)
Some say one month is a long enough cure time, others say 6 weeks. The longer it cures, the harder and more creamy the bar will be. I cure our soap for 6 weeks just to be safe that all saponification has taken place; plus, the bars are harder and will last longer.
Now you have this somewhat soap, somewhat-not mess left to clean up. If you clean it now it will be more like cleaning oil. If you wait 24 hours it will be like washing off soap. I usually clean it up right away and just deal with the oily residue but this time I waited 24 hours and it was so much easier. I just stashed the bowl inside the closet so I wouldn't have to look at it for a day.
So, there you have it; a tray of 14 bars of soap that is so much better for your skin than the bars purchased at the store. If you were to package these and sell them as "old fashioned lye soap" just like the fancy historical theme parks you could rake in around $56 for that tray.
I hope you'll don your safety glasses, gloves and apron and play Dr. Soap in your