down to earth: Soap making

Showing posts with label Soap making. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Soap making. Show all posts

How to make soap - new recipe

28 July 2014
This is the soap made last week using calendula-infused oil.

I love making soap. It's another piece of the self-reliance puzzle and it makes sense to me to put time into this very old craft. Hanno and I both have dry, sensitive skin so we make sure we use soap that nourishes our skin. The soap I usually make has four ingredients, commercial soap contains many more than that. Shower gel is no better. The trouble with most commercial soaps is that they use man-made ingredients instead of natural ones and they remove most of the glycerin from the soap. Glycerin is the moisturising part of soap but it's removed in the commercial soap making process and then added back in much smaller amounts. Glycerin is more expensive than soap is so it's often sold as a separate product to make a greater profit. What's in your soap?  A list of soaps and their ingredients. This list is from the USA but it would be very similar in Australia and Europe.

Your skin is your body's largest organ. What you put on your skin has the potential to heal or harm. I want to use products that at the very least, don't hurt me, and at their best, provide nourishing care for my skin and make me feel clean and cared for.

I hope I can encourage you to make your first batch of soap. But I have to start off with a warning. It can be dangerous because the caustic soda/lye you use will burn if you spill it. If you make soap when you're alone, with no children or animals around, you'll be able to focus all your attention on it and if you have the capabilities and intelligence of the hundreds of thousands of people who made soap before you did, you'll be fine. The danger point is mixing water with the caustic soda - the combination of those two elements will cause the mixture to heat up, even though it's not on the stove. Fumes will come off the mix so you must carry out that stage with doors and windows open. When the caustic soda/lye is mixed with the oils, the danger period is over, although the soap mix will still be slightly caustic.  It sounds like something to be wary of but if we were together in your kitchen making soap, I'd simply say to you to be careful and I'd watch to make sure you were. Before and after that mixing of the caustic soda/lye, it's simply a matter of measuring and mixing.

Those who know me well know that once I happen upon something that works well for me, I almost never change it. Well, I'm not exactly changing my tried and tested soap recipe, but I am adding one ingredient to it. It's something I grow in my back yard - organic calendula petals. I add them in the forum of calendula infused olive oil. I am making a couple of batches of it because I like to use the fresh petals. I'll store that oil in the fridge to be used when I make soap again. I have no doubt that I'll dry some petals too, probably when it gets closer to the end of their season, so I'll have my own petals on hand and don't have to buy them.

Making calendula infused oil is quite simple. Early in the morning, after the dew has dried on the petals and after the bees have visited, but before the sun is high, pick the flower heads. This is when the oils in the flowers are at their best. Picking calendula flowers stimulates the plant to produce more so you can repeat the picking process every week until you have enough petals. Healing properties of calendula.

This is my new soap recipe:
450 mls/15.2 liquid oz of rain water, spring water or distilled water * 
172 grams/6.06 oz caustic soda/lye 
750 grams/26.5 oz olive oil
250 grams/8.8 oz calendula infused olive oil
250 grams/8.8oz copha or coconut oil

* If you don't have rain, spring or distilled water, collect enough tap water the day before you make the soap and leave it on the bench to sit. That will allow the chlorine in the water to evaporate off.

All the instructions and equipment you'll need to make soap is listed in this post. Please read the entire post before going ahead, then come back here for the new recipe. Or if you have no infused oil, use the old recipe until you have time to make infused oil.

When the soap mixture progresses from being liquid to a thicker consistency which holds a shape on the surface, the soap is ready to go into the moulds. This stage is called trace.

When the soap is made and poured into moulds, it needs to be kept warm for as long as possible. This (above) is how I do that. I place the moulds on a large board and cover the tops with plastic wrap, then cover that with a towel and wrap the entire thing in a woollen blanket. It sits on top of my freezer until the following day when I take the soap out of the moulds.

This soap can also be used for washing your hair and you don't need to use hair conditioner with it. I've used it for years and it's always made my hair shiny and healthy. Homemade soap is also a great gift. A bar of soap and two hand knitted face cloths is a beautiful gift that most people would love to receive. But I think the biggest benefits to making your own soap is knowing how few ingredients go into is and experiencing the nourishing qualities of the soap on a daily basis. And if you doubt that is a benefit, have a look at the list of ingredients on any supermarket soap.

I hope you take some time to learn the skill of soap making. Buying commercial supermarket soap will give you a lot more chemicals than it should and buying natural soap is expensive. Making your own from scratch is a natural progression in your simple life journey, so when you're ready to take that next step, I encourage you to dive right in. Here is a thread on the forum about this new recipe. If you have any questions, go there and I, or one of the other soap makers, will be sure to help you.

Cleaning the laundry

16 June 2014

I've been trying to find the time to clean out my laundry and finally got to it yesterday. I scrubbed the sink and bench, cleaned the floor and went through all my products to make sure they were necessary and usable. I went through the rag bag and it was getting low so I found an old towel, cut it up and added the rags to the bag. I threw out some old soap I had in a container. I didn't know it was there; it was rancid. Note to self: don't hide soap, it doesn't last, you silly girl. 

It's not pretty but it's a working laundry so I just need it to be serviceable and productive. I do a fair bit of work in the laundry. As well as storing all my cleaning ingredients, I also use it to store my cheese fridge and to dry out and then store homemade soap. There is a 15 litre bucket in the sink that I use for soaking, which I do a lot of, and on the floor are two buckets and mops. And for Madeleine who emailed asking about mops, I use a cotton mop and bucket most of the time but also a more modern sponge/squeegee mop that I use with a handmade terry cover over the squeegee head. It gets into the corners better than the cotton mop does, although the cotton mop is much easier to use. I don't know what it is about the modern squeegee-type mops. I find they're difficult to move around on the floating floor we have. Do you have that problem?

The main thing though is that the room where all my cleaning is based, is now clean and ordered. There have been few changes in that room over the years and one thing will always remain the same: the work we do in our simple lives is easier if our work spaces and supplies are organised. I'm still making laundry liquid in preference to laundry powder because I can use it for so many other cleaning jobs. Still using oxy-bleach to soak whites and stubborn stains. Still using vinegar and bicarb for general cleaning. I never dry clothes in a dryer, always on the line outside, I'm still washing exclusively in cold water in a front loader. I still hate ironing. I will never go back to commercial cleaners. When the homemade cleaners cost so little to make and they do a better job, using less chemicals, why would I change? I find that as I age, my asthma is getting worse. I think that going back to high chemical cleaners might do me in.

My next task during the coming week is to move all the shopping bags I have in the laundry. The long term task is to remove the old dryer. Even though it still works, it's now 33 years old and I haven't used it for a long, long time. We bought it to dry our new babies' nappies. I hope they'll accept it at the rubbish dump's recycle shop. It's either there or the museum. ;- )


Do you know what's in the cosmetics, cleaners and skin products you use?

19 March 2014
Making gifts - homemade soap with organic cotton face cloths.

Recent research by the American organisation Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has shown that women in the US use an average of nine personal care products every day. In those products are over 100 different chemcials.  I'm sure it would be a similar figure for women in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Click here to see more information about that study. 

In another piece of interesting news, Johnson and Johnson have started removing cancer-causing hormones from some of their products and other companies, namely Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Procter and Gamble and Unilever have been asked to do the same.

The FDA in America require an assurance from cosmetic companies before they go on sale that the product is safe to use but they aren't allowed to pre-test to confirm that assurance. They rely on the integrity of these companies to sell safe products.  Fragrance is another cause for concern. Fragrance used in room fresheners, cleaning products and cosmetics has been linked to breast cancer. The US Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act allows fragrance ingredients to remain a trade secret and because of that, no one really knows what's in these products.

Making laundry liquid in the kitchen.

 Set up with about six months supply of homemade soap and laundry liquid.

One of the things I wanted to do when I gave up work and started working in my home was to make this place as safe as it could be. I want my entire family, and yours, to be safe and now that we have grandchildren, that decision is even more urgent. I want to live a long and healthy life and I will not jeopardise that by using any of these products now. Skin is the largest organ in our bodies, what you put on it, what touches it and what it absorbs has the potential to harm you. Please be careful. I don't want any of you to become sick or die; I want you to live a long and healthy life too.

I encourage you to check the products you're using. Many companies put their ingredients lists online now. For example, here is the ingredients list for Cold Power with Cuddly, made by Colgate:

Cold Power with Cuddly - Front Loader

Ingredients (INCI Name)Purpose
Sodium carbonateAlkalinity agent and cleaning aid
Sodium sulfateProcessing aid
Sodium tridecyl benzene sulfonateCleaning agent
Pentasodium triphosphateWater softener and anti-redeposition agent
Sodium aluminosilicateAnti-redeposition agent
Bentonite clayNatural softening agent
Sodium silicateAgglomerating agent
C12-15 Alcohol 8 EOCleaning agent
Sodium anionic terpolymerProcessing aid
Lauryl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorideCleaning agent
Antifoam compoundFoam regulating agent
CI Flourescent brightenerWhitening agent
EnzymesCleaning agent for enzymatic stains
FragrancePleasant scent

Notice the last on the list? Fragrance. Phhhhht. 

If you're doing your washing with that product, or any of the others that are similar, you're sleeping on sheets and then wearing clothes that have been washed in all those chemicals. The laundry liquid I use has got four ingredients: water, soap, washing soda and borax. It works as well, if not better than the commercial brands and it's much much cheaper. Here is my laundry liquid recipe and soap recipe. Laundry liquid will take you about 15 mintues to make up and will last a couple of months. Soap will take about 45 minutes of work, spread out over a few hours - it's a weekend job. My recipe for sun infused calendula salve is here.

Calendula salve made with organic calendula petals grown in the backyard.

I tried to find ingredients lists for various bar soap and shower gels but they're not showing them. Hmmmm, I wonder why. Here is one I did find, however, it's Imperial Leather bar soap. My soap recipe has four ingredients, one of them is rain water.







Palm kernel acid

Tetrasodium EDTA

Benzyl Benzoate





Alpha-isomethyl ionone






CI 77891


This is important. Even if you think you're bullet-proof, this is worth some of your time to check the soap, shower gel, washing powder or liquid, sun screen, insect repellant and cosmetics you're using. Do some research online into those products. If you can't find anything, email the company and ask.

I would love to leave you with good news but instead I'll leave you with this to read - it's an article about the FDA's rejection of the cosmetic industry's draft legislation. It is dated 6 March 2014.

Part of it: Writing that "the draft industry bill could put Americans at greater risk from cosmetic-related illness and injury than they are today," Taylor expressed he no longer saw common ground with the industry in a 14-page memo that detailed how industry’s proposed changes would weaken the FDA’s already very limited regulatory authority over the safety of cosmetics and personal care products.

Do you think that profits are more important than customers?


Rose is leading a very interesting set of organising challenges over at the forum this month. The current one is: Today is Stop Driving Ourselves Crazy Day. Today we face up to one thing we are doing which is driving us mad and we do something about it. If you have trouble organising yourself or doing what you want to do, have a look at the challenge. It may help get you on track. Just click on the link to go there, if you're not a  member, you can join up free here.

Truth in advertising and ingredient lists

14 November 2012
When I first decided that I'd had enough of my rampant spending and the insidious system that encouraged it, I realised that a lot of the products I bought were advertised under a veil of misinformation. I knew that if I was to go on to develop a better life based on my values, I'd either have to disregard advertising altogether or at the very least, read and understand ingredient lists, examine products carefully and look beyond face value.

My path from then on was to think about everything I bought, particularly the ordinary and mundane things that fill up our fridge and pantry as well as clothing, shoes, makeup, appliances and most of the other "must haves" that make up modern life. Over the course of about a year, I cut many things from our grocery list by asking myself this simple questions: What is the truth of this? I realised that for many of our common items, I could make them better, healthier, cheaper and in a way that didn't impact on the already overstretched planet.

Making spring rolls at home.

Beetroot grown in the backyard for baking and pickling. Two small crops of beetroot will see us through our warm months when we have it pickled, with salads.

The "What is the truth of this?" question works well on food and groceries. The truth is that generally these products have been based on a simple recipe and then various preservatives, colourings and flavour enhancers are added because nothing tastes as good as home made and these commercial products have to sit on a shelf until someone buys them. I used to be one of those buyers but not now; now I make everything I can.

If you're not making you're own laundry and cleaning products at home, you're paying too much. Forget about your favourite brands and cut down on the number of chemicals you have in your home.

Cleaning and laundry products are the shining stars of what can be done better and cheaper at home. You don't need wood cleaner, bench cleaner, wall cleaner, glass cleaner, floor cleaner, bath cleaner, or any of the one-job products stinking up the cleaning aisles of most supermarkets. Most things can be cleaned effectively using vinegar, soap, bicarb, citric acid or just water and a stiff brush, or a recycled, soft, cotton cloth. You can make your own soap. The soap I make has four ingredients - caustic soda, olive oil, coconut oil and rain water. Regular bar soap contains a list like this: Tallow (this is animal fat), water, sodium cocoate, glycerine, fragrance, sodium chloride, titanium dioxide, ethidronic acid, tetrasodium edta, CI73915, CI74160. Your skin is your body's largest organ, you should trust what you wash yourself and your clothes with. The story's the same with laundry products. They can be easily made MUCH more cheaply than commercial products and they work really well. I make laundry liquid using four ingredients - soap, borax, washing soda and water. Have a look on the packet of commercial liquid and you'll find the story is completely different.  And it doesn't have to be. The recipe for making laundry liquid using four ingredients is in my side bar.

Calendula oil, made by infusing calendula petals in olive oil and just sitting the jar in the sun for a week or so. This can be used for itchy and inflamed skin, nappy rash, eczema, stings and bruises and also as a base for lip balm and ointment. If you make your own soap, you can also use it to make a soothing soap.

When it came to products not purchased as frequently, I still asked that question. "What is the truth of this?" The answer could be anything. It could be, in the case of clothing or shoes, that it was made in a sweat shop. In the case of makeup, it could contain harmful ingredients or that the ingredients hadn't even been tested for safety. For appliances, the answer may be that it was made to break and be unusable in a short amount of time - generally just outside the time the warranty expired. So I started teaching myself to make clothes and while I'm not making everything, I do make some things and I'm happy that I do. I can't make shoes but I'm still wearing the shoes I wore when I was working for a living. I have certainly stopped wanting new outfits and matching shoes  every year. I never look fashionable but at least my clothes are clean and tidy. And when I'm shopping for appliances, I look for those that can be fixed, have a low need for electricity and, hopefully, made in Australia; although that is now becoming a rare find indeed.

Cheap and easy biscuits - recipe is here  and to make the condensed milk you need in the recipe, that is here.

There are some good products out there but you have to know what they are and if they suit you and your budget. Do your research. Don't buy something because you always do, be mindful of your family's health when you shop and if the price is an issue, see if you can make that product at home. Most food and cleaning products can be made at home, just like our great-grandmothers and all her antecedents did. Most of the products we use regularly arrived in our supermarkets in the 1950s and 60s. It wasn't always like this.

We've been spun a line, a line that contains mostly a commercial core and I've stopped believing that our products have been tested and are safe. I no longer believe that our government protects us. They're more concerned with keeping big business profitable. I want all our countries to continue to prosper but not at our expense. So at every opportunity and small step by small step, I look at something I need and continue to ask the question. What is the truth of this?

Are you a mindful shopper? Do you check ingredients lists and country of origin?

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.


Be careful with air fresheners and "fragrance"

25 October 2011
I read a disturbing report the other day about how hazardous chemicals are being emitted when clothing and household linens are dried in dryers. This is from the University of Washington, it's important and I want you to read it by clicking on the link above.

I love the smell of pure soap and freshly laundered sheets and towels that have been washed in homemade laundry liquid and dried in the sun.

This is from MSN Today: "Fragrance may be the most common type of chemical in your house. Used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies and disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles, fragrances are a class of chemicals that may take you extra time and effort to avoid. But it’s worth it. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on personal care product labels can be a cover for hundreds of harmful chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels."

And this is from Wikipedia: "Studies show that exposure to polycyclic musks may break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures, and these chemicals are linked to increased risk of breast cancer and hormone disruption. Many of these musks were used in large quantities to scent laundry detergents. Levels of these musks in human bodies appear to be associated with the frequency of use of fragranced products, meaning that the more individuals use fragrance, the higher the levels of chemicals like galaxolide and tonalide."

We have to make sure the air inside our homes is healthy and while that's difficult to do, not spraying anything in the air or using synthetic fragrance at home can be a step in the right direction. If you're working in your home most days, it's important that you look after your health and not expose yourself or your children to polluted air. Don't use those plug in air fresheners, or any air fresheners, keep windows open when possible, and if you have to use a dryer, make sure the laundry products you use contain no fragrances.

Fragrance adds nothing to the effectiveness of the products you use. If you want to have added fragrance, make or buy plain laundry products and soap and add essential oils to them. Essential oils are natural compounds. Fragrant oils are a different matter. If you're using fragrant oils, I encourage you to find out what's in the bottle.

Not all of these products contain hazardous chemicals, but many do. If you have of them in your home, please find out what's in them before you use them again. You may find what you're using is safe, you may find it isn't, either way, it is best to know.


How to make cold processed soap - V 2

2 August 2011
I have tried to make this process and the explanation of it as simple as I can, but you must be aware that soap making is not cooking, it is chemistry. Rules apply and when they're not followed, that is when you have failures. I have never had a failed batch of soap and I'm sure that's because I researched, read AND UNDERSTOOD what I read and what I had to do. If you are going to make soap, research and read and make sure you understand what you're doing. Hopefully this post will help with that understanding.

There are two things I want to highlight:
  1. No matter what you read or what people tell you, there is no way to make soap without caustic soda/lye.
  2. You HAVE to weigh your oils - you will notice that the oil measurements are in grams and the water is in millilitres. This is because water has a specific gravity of 1 and therefore a weighed litre/quart of water will be the same as a measured litre/quart of water. Oil is not the same. Oil is lighter and therefore a measured litre/quart of oil is different to a weighed litre/quart of oil. If you don't understand that, maybe soap making is not for you.
Water and oil do not weight the same - oil is lighter, which is why oil floats on water. If you pour one litre of water into a jug and one litre of oil into a similar jug, the oil would weigh less than the water. Therefore if you pour one litre of oil into a one litre jug and think it's the same as 1000 grams, it's not. You must weigh your oil to get exactly the 1000 grams needed in this recipe.

I use silicon moulds that were probably made for small cakes. I can't tell you what moulds to use because I have only used these and you probably wouldn't be able to buy them where you are. Suffice to say you'll need either a large mould - and cut the soap when it's set, or you can use smaller shapes similar to mine. The pink ones I use are from Kmart but I don't think they stock them anymore.

I have found that the silicon moulds don't need greasing. If you do need to grease your moulds, use a cooking oil spray.

Coconut oil is getting to be quite expensive and sometimes it's hard to find. If that is the case and you're in Australia, you can use copha, which is available at the supermarket in the butter section. Enough copha to make this soap recipe will currently cost you around $2.66. Coconut oil solidifies when the temperature is 24c/76F. It's fine to use it either way; if it has solidified, just melt it with the other oil.

Each oil used is soap is used for a certain quality it has. For instance, coconut oil help soap lather well; olive oil is a good oil to base the soap on as it will nourish the skin and make a beautiful mild soap.  Low grade olive oil is the best olive oil to use, not extra virgin. Take the time to learn a bit about the different qualities of soap oils here. Once you know what you want and the oils that will give it to you, find out what's available in your neighbourhood and go from there. When you decide on the oils you would like to use, and know they're available to you, go to this soap calculator, put in your oils and the calculator will tell you how much water and caustic soda/lye to use.

I never use these so I can't advise you about their use.

The recipe may change every time you make soap but the method of making it remains the same.

You can use your kitchen equipment for soap making. Make sure you clean it thoroughly when you finished.
  • Stainless steel saucepan
  • Spatula
  • Scales - oils and caustic soda/lye are measured by weight, not volume
  • Jug - for holding oils
  • Measuring jug - for measuring water. It's ok to measure the water by volume
  • Thermometer - you can use either a milk or candy thermometer
  • Stick blender, optional but it's the easiest way to stir
  • Newspaper to cover your work area
  • Moulds
DON'T use aluminium pots, bowls or spoons. 

My new recipe for a good cold pressed soap is:
  1. 450 mls * rain water, spring water or distilled water
  2. 172 grams caustic soda/lye 
  3. 1000 grams olive oil 
  4. 250 grams copha or coconut oil 
* If you don't have rain, spring or distilled water, collect enough tap water the day before you make the soap and leave it on the bench to sit. That will allow the chlorine in the water to evaporate off.

If you don't operate in mls and grams, there is an online conversion calculator for liquid here and for weight here.

If you are new to soap making, be warned, it should never be attempted when children or animals are around. The lye (caustic soda) you will use, burns, and if you spill it on skin you need to wash it off immediately under running water or vinegar. If you drop it on the floor or bench top, wipe it up straight away as it will burn a hole. When you mix the lye with water, even though it's not on the stove, it will heat up considerably and burn if you drop any on yourself or splash it in your eyes. There are also fumes. When you mix the lye with the water, fumes will come off it. Make sure you mix your lye in a well ventilated room. If you're asthmatic, be very careful.

Many soap makers wear latex gloves, goggles and a mask. Please use these safeguards while you're learning to make soap. When you're experienced, you might be able to dispense with them.

Are you still with me after that warning? Soap making is a simple process that is made difficult by using lye (caustic soda). There is absolutely NO WAY to make soap from scratch without using caustic soda/ lye. If you make sure you're alone when making soap, if you have all your ingredients measured out and have a clean and clear work area, you shouldn't have any problems. The entire process should take about 30 minutes. BTW, the process of soapmaking - saponification - neutralises the lye and by the time the soap is cured, no lye remains in the soap.

Basically when you make soap, you mix the water and caustic soda/lye together and they will heat up without you doing anything to them. That is the first chemical reaction.  Then you combine the oils and heat them on the stove. Now you wait till the lye and water solution cools to around 50c and the oils heat up to 50c. You need them to both be at the same temperature and when they are you mix them together and start stirring. When you reach "trace" and that is explained below, you pour the soap into moulds and wait for it to set.


  • Lay out the newspaper over your work area.
  • Grease your moulds.
  • Put on your safety gear.
  • Open the windows for good ventilation.
  • Measure out the water into your measuring jug.
  • Measure out the caustic soda/lye into a small bowl.
  • Carefully pour the caustic soda/lye into the measured water.
  • Stir the water with a spoon until the caustic soda/lye is completely dissolved - about one minute.
Caustic soda/lye and water - mixed together.
  • Weigh your oils and place them in a saucepan.
  • Clip the thermometer onto the side of the saucepan and place on low heat on the stove. Slowly heat the oils to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F).
Copha and oils heating up.
  • Wait until you have the oil heated to 50C and the caustic soda/lye cooled down to 50C (122F). When they're the same temperature, carefully pour the lye water into the oils and avoid splashing it.
  • Start mixing. You can either use a spoon and stir for about 20 minutes or use a stick blender and mix for about 5 minutes, making sure your blender doesn't overheat. Don't use a hand beater and it splashes too much and the soap is still caustic at this stage.
Trace is the sign you look for that the soap has become stable and is ready to be poured into a mould. Before you reach trace, the surface of the mixture will be smooth, like pouring cream. When you reach trace, slight ripples will form on the surface and remain there, like thick custard. The mix should be thick, but pourable.

This is what the mix looks like when you've reached trace. Notice how there are ripple staying on the surface.
  • Once the soap is in the moulds, lay a sheet of parchment or grease-proof paper over the top and cover with a two towels so it cools down slowly.
  • The next morning, or about 15 hours later, release the soap from the mould. If it's a large mould, cut it into whatever shape you desire.
  • Place the cakes of soap on a drying rack in an area they can stay in for a couple of weeks. Turn the soap over every day to allow it to dry out evenly. I cure my soaps for about six weeks before using them. The drier they are when you use them, the longer they last. You could use your soap after a week or so, but when it gets wet it will go soft and won't last long. It's better to cure them for a few weeks. This batch made 12 hefty blocks of soap.
You will have trouble with your soap: 
  • if you don't weigh your oils
  • if you don't measure your water
  • if you don't weigh your caustic soda/lye
  • if you don't have both mixtures at the same temperature
  • if you don't stir long enough
Remember, soap isn't just a solid bar. It must lather well, clean and nourish your skin. 

Phew! That is the last post about soap I'll do for a while. I do want you to make your own soap but if you're not prepared to read, understand and follow the process to the exactly, then maybe this simple living task is not for you. If you get past the first soap making session and it results in good soap, I'm sure you'll go on to make it many more times. This is good soap, it's worth a bit of time, planning and effort.  Good luck!


Simple soap - four ingredients

27 July 2011
I have been very busy lately making soap, while Hanno has been wrapping it and packaging it up to post all over Australia, the US and UK.  Thanks to everyone who placed an order for soap or something I made. It is helping us with our finances and makes us feel good to be earning money selling what we've made with our own hands. I was very pleased to receive the first re-order from someone who bought the soap and wanted more. It makes me feel good knowing that something that helps us live well here can help others too.

One of the things I needed to do when I started selling the soap was to simplify the process. I needed it to be simpler and quicker without losing the quality I expect and want to pass on to you. I also wanted a recipe that would use a full packet of *copha. I didn't want little pieces of copha floating around in our fridge. So I came up with a new recipe. It has only four ingredients - olive oil, coconut oil, rain water and caustic soda/lye. It took a while to get the mix right because I had to test all of them on myself, so although the simplifying process took a long time, it's easier now to make the soap. I'm trying to make a batch every couple of days.

*copha is solidified coconut oil which works well if you can't find liquid coconut oil, or if it's too expensive. You can buy copha in most Australian supermarkets in the butter section. It's currently $2.66 for the amount you'll need for this recipe.

I am happy to share the new recipe with you. Please be guided by all the warnings I've written about here and the use the same method for making the soap. Click on the link to go to the warnings and the post on how to make soap.

The new recipe is:
  1. 450 mls * rain water 
  2. 172 grams caustic soda/lye 
  3. 1000 grams olive oil 
  4. 250 grams copha or coconut oil 
* If you don't have rain water, collect enough tap water the day before you make the soap and leave it on the bench to sit. That will allow the chlorine in the water to evaporate off.

If you don't operate in mls and grams, there is an online conversion calculator here.

If you've never made soap before, it's a great skill to have and it will give you and your family excellent soap that you can use on everyone from baby to grandpa, including everyone with sensitive skin. I use it to wash my hair too. I've used it for a few years now and my hair is healthy and shiny. No more expensive plastic shampoos for me.  It's either my hand made soap or bicarb from now on.

Put simply, to make soap, you mix ingredients 1 and 2 together, give it a good mix and it will heat up without you putting it on the stove. You have to wait for it to cool down.  While it is doing that, you add ingredients 3 and 4 to a saucepan and heat it up. You wait for 1 and 2 to cool to 50C/112F and you wait for 3 and 4 to heat up to 50c/112F. When both mixtures are at the same temperature, you combine them and mix. I use a stab blender and it comes together nicely. You can also use a mixer or hand stir it. What ever you use has to be able to mix without it splashing everywhere. When you reach "trace", and that is explained in the above link, with a photo, it's done. You pour it into your shapes, cover it so it cools slowly, and leave it. The next day you can take the soap out of the moulds and let them sit to cure and harden. But please, if you intend to make soap, do it when the children are in bed and there are no dogs and cats under foot, and make sure you read the guidelines in the link.

If you've been meaning to give soapmaking a go, if you've been wanting to add another simple string to your bow, this might interest you. If you want feedback on how you're going or if you just want someone to see your soap, take photos and start a thread about it at the forum. I'll make sure I look out for any of those threads and help as much as I can. I'm sure the other soap makers there will as well. 

I wonder if this simplified recipe will encourage some new soap makers.  :- )

PS: I spent yesterday at the neighbourhood centre doing a fermentation workshop. We made up sourdough starter, vinegar and ginger beer and everyone went home fired up and enthusiastic about future fermenting. It was great to see. Oh, and one of the ladies from the last workshop arrived with a huge bag of Seville oranges for me! Sevilles are the traditional orange for marmalade but you can't buy them in the shops here now because people aren't making enough marmalade. That's on my list now.

As usual, I'm running behind a bit so if you're expecting an email from me, or some soap, I'll be back on them again today. Please be patient with me.