Soaping ins and outs

1 February 2012
I've noticed quite a few new soap makers at the forum lately, and have had emails from some of you with soap questions, so I thought it would be timely to give a few thoughts, not so much about how to make soap but about those things that are associated with it. Please remember I'm not an expert soaper. I make my own soap - one that is plain, unscented and not coloured. So I don't know much about essential oils or colourings but I know about what I do and am happy to share what works for me.

Some soap drying in the open air, and a new batch under covers in the middle.

You don't need the best oil for soap making, in fact courser oils are better.

If you can't find coconut oil and you live in Australia, use copha instead. You'll find it in the dairy aisle at the supermarket. It's solidified coconut oil.

You have to be careful with palm oil. That's often found in the dairy aisle too but many palm trees are being cut down to supply palm oil and that is not sustainable. Palm oil itself is not a problem but it becomes a problem depending on where it is harvested and how it is processed. Go here to download a very good file (and click on the Panda) that shows what various countries and companies are doing. If you don't know the source of your palm oil, buy a different oil, like coconut or sunflower.

Don't make too much soap. The oils can go rancid and additives like oatmeal can go mouldy, so if you make about three months supply at a time, you'll be able to get through your batch and have a new one waiting while only making soap once every 10 weeks or so.

When you finish making a batch of soap, store it on an open shelf on a rack that allows air circulation all around. Turn the soaps every day or so to facilitate the drying. You could keep the soap on this rack for six weeks if you wanted too but if you need to use the shelf, you could put the soap in a box for long term storage. Don't store your soap in plastic because it will make it sweat. Find an old shoe box, or a few of them, or a larger cardboard box and punch some air holes in the side walls for air circulation. Line the box with some brown paper and place a layer of brown paper or paper towel in between the layer of soaps. Don't add too much soap to the box, you need to have air circulating around it, maybe two layers would do nicely. If you're in a humid climate store the box in a cool space in your home.

If saponification takes place correctly, your soap could be used a couple of days after it's made. Generally though, we store our soap on wire racks to dry out for 4- 6 weeks. This allows the water in the soap to dry out. The drier the soap is when you start using it, the longer it will last.

If you want to test that your soap is okay to use, buy litmus paper from the chemist to test it. A reading of pH 7 is neutral but your soap will be slightly alkaline. You're looking for a reading somewhere between 7 and 9 and you'll be on the right track. Don't use any soap over pH 10. To test with litmus, wet the soap and lather it in your hands. Then wet the litmus paper with the lather and compare the strip of litmus paper with the little chart that comes with it. If your soap is too alkaline, let it sit for another week and re-test it. If your soap stays over 10 over the course of a few weeks, you could re-batch it or use it as laundry soap.

This is my tray in the bathroom. The soaps at the front at those kindly sent to me by readers of the blog.

I usually make about 20 bars in one batch. I let them dry out for a month or so and then I usually store them soap in an open tray in the bathroom. If this humidity goes on too much longer, I will store these in a paper lined box.

I hope you're having fun with your soap making. When you "get it" soap making could take you on to many wonderful types of soap or even a little business you could run from home.

I forgot to tell you but yesterday I was on NSW ABC radio on the afternoon program. Apparently it aired state-wide except Sydney and Newcastle. I'll be on next week too. Tomorrow I'll be interviewed on Radio National's Life Matters - 8.45am Queensland time and 9.45am AEDT. That should be available on podcast later in the day too.


  1. Thank you for those clever tips! Do you or could you grate up this soap for making laundry detergent? (i.e. does the pH need to be over 10 for that, or could you use some from a regular batch for this purpose?)

  2. Jaime, you can grate up your regular soap for laundry liquid.

  3. I would never have thought of soap making if it hadn't been for this blog, so thankyou Rhonda! I've made a couple of batches now, - one using your three-oil recipe and the other using the simplified recipe. I'm looking forward to making another batch soon.
    Rgds, Anna
    England, UK

  4. I look forward to the day that I make the my start into soap making.

  5. Thanks for those tips Rhonda! I finally found some caustic soda in Woolworths - it even says "perfect for making soap" on the container! When I laughed at this and said that's what I wanted it for the young male shop assistant commented that there's been a few customers looking for it for that reason and it's been disappearing off the shelf as soon as it's restocked.
    Lol, wondering if you've started a minor revolution for a simpler life with your magazine contributions :).

  6. Hi Rhonda,

    I never even thought of using copha instead of coconut oil. Thanks for the great tip.

    Good luck with your interview tomorrow, I'll look for the podcast so I have something good to listen to while I work on the ironing.

  7. I made your recipe where you used olive oil and coconut oil Rhonda BUT I substituted the olive oil with canola oil and the soap is beautiful. Makes my hands so soft and lathers well.
    BUT this is the bonus>>>>>>> I had 2 tops-- 1 I spilled beetroot juice on and the other had a stain on it that I just could not get out for months. I rubbed both of the tops with my homemade soap and there are no more stains :-)
    Karen NZ

  8. Thanks Rhonda, a timely reminder i should give this a go!

  9. Homemade soap.. it's something on my wishlist. I think I don't have the peace now to try this at home ;o)

    Love from Holland

  10. I would love to try your recipe for soap, I've been admiring it for years now. My excuse was that I had a little one running around the house but now she's in school during the day. I'll have to get on that now! :)

    Have a wonderful day, Rhonda!

  11. I think people also need to know if making a soap using mainly "soft oils" olive, rice bran, coconut etc, the soap can take a while to get a good hard cake. Palm oil as a harder oil will make a harder bar, as will cocoa butter but this is more expensive. A castile soap (100% olive oil) some soap makers perfer to eave a good few months before using.

    If someone uses a soap using mainly soft oils and uses the same way as store bought soap (leave wet) they may be dishearted when their soap becomes soggy ane melts away.

  12. Hello Rhonda

    I only discovered your wonderful website about two month’s ago. Already I’ve learned so much about the old fashion natural ways of making things at home. Thank you so much.

    Question for you:

    How can I un-shrink my shrunken woollen jacket? It's made out of natural wool which had lanolin in it and the lining is polyester.

    I left it soaking in warm water with soap powder. After washing then hanging it for drying, it shrunk by at least 25% of its original size. Now I cannot wear it.

    If possible, can you please tell me how to un-shrink it back to its original size?

    Thank you

  13. Just a correction on the palm oil issue, its not that to many palm trees are being cut down. Primary virgin rainforest has been cleared to make way for palm oil monocultures. Many of the land management techniques have had an impact on biodiversity and is endangering species such as the orangutan. A palm product which you may be interested in is Prep. Prep is covered with the RSPO supply chain option GreenPalm, this directly supports RSPO certified producers.

  14. Hi Rhonda,
    I got some homemade soap as a promotional gift about 2 years ago. Unfortunately it got squirreled away and found its way to the back of a cupboard. I have only just rediscovered it. It was packaged in a brown-cotton drawstring bag. It is mouldy now.
    Is there anyway I can resurrect it or make some use of it still?

    Trinidad & Tobago

  15. Vicki, cut into the soap and see how deep the mould is. If it's just surface mould, cut or scrape it all off and wash the soap. Leave it to dry. When you come back to it, check it out, smell it, and if it smells okay and you're happy to use it, go ahead. If not, you might grate it up for your laundry liquid.

  16. Thanks for this post , rhonda. i am wholeheartedly enjoying making soap , thanks to your info on the blog. I didn't know that it could go rancid though ...this will be a good thing to tell people if I give it as gifts (often people think it looks so nice , they don't use it and sit in the bathroom!)

  17. My last batch (made using your tute back in August I think it was?) had copha in it and turned out well. I would like to learn how to put a nice oil in it at some stage but for now it's great! Thanks again Rhonda for sharing the skills you've acquired!
    Lusi x

  18. Hi Rhonda, like you I buy my linen in the January sales or when I see an excellent buy that definitely fits my budget and quality required. If possible,I also buy two sheet sets the same colour as often the fitted sheet wears out before the top sheet. When this happens, I then get longer out of the sheets by using the two flat sheets (marking the tag so I can rotate it evenly for 'top' and 'botton' wear).

  19. Reflective waters, that's a good tip for buying sheets. Thank you.

  20. I haven't got to making my own soap as yet, but I have replaced all the plastic liquid soap dispensers with good old fashioned natural soaps. We also buy Shampoo soap bars from a Tasmanian company, which also reduces our collection of wasted plastic containers. It's a good start.


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