Making Soap – Part 1

A couple years ago, I became interested in making homemade soap. So I began to do some research. But I ran into a hitch – homemade soap contains lye, or sodium hydroxide. . Isn’t that dangerous stuff? Well, yes, it is. It’s very caustic, and can burn if it gets on your skin. But I continued to research and found that soap cannot be made without lye. Every bar of soap contains fats or oils, water and lye. When combined together and allowed to cure, these basic ingredients turn into soap. It is no longer oil or lye, but something else altogether: soap. Look at the ingredients on a bar of soap.

This one contains sodium tallowate (beef fat and lye) and sodium cocoate (coconut oil and lye). Soap manufactures don’t want to scare off their customers by putting the word lye on the packaging, but it’s in there, even your most delicate skin soaps. So don’t be scared of lye.  You just have to give it respect in it’s raw form, and wear the proper gear when using it, ie, gloves, goggles, and long sleeves.  So far Harland and I have made 6 batches of soap, never had any problems, and have used our own homemade soap for washing and bathing ever since.

So, here’s how we made a batch of soap last weekend.

Soap Ingredients

  • 28 ounces of coconut oil
  • 24 ounces of olive oil (lightest in color)
  • 30 ounces of vegetable shortening
  • 12 ounces of lye
  • 32 ounces cold water (4 cups)

Yield: 7 pounds or 28 4 ounce bars soap

First, measure out the oils. The measurements have to be exact, so the oils are weighed. I do this using a postal scale. First I weigh the container I’ll use to hold the oils, in this case it was 5.5 oz, and then add that number to the ounces called for each oil.  The recipe calls for 28 ounces of coconut oil, so I kept adding the oil to the container until the scale read 33.5 ounces.

I emptied the oil into a large pot, making sure to scrape all of it out.

Next I weighed and then added vegetable shortening to the pot,

and then did the same with the olive oil.

Then I put the pot on the stove, and melted it down into a liquid over medium heat.

When melted, remove pot from heat, insert a candy thermometer, and allow to cool to about 105 degrees F.

While it is cooling, measure out the lye into a clean container. But before we open the lye container, now is the time that children and pets should leave the room.

Kitty is not happy about this, but we have her best interest at heart. She was sent upstairs and the door closed behind her.

When handling lye, I always wear a long sleeve shirt, gloves, and goggles. To measure out the lye, I use a plastic cup. Weigh it empty first, and then add that weight to the number of ounces of lye called for in the recipe.

Then measure out the water. As the recipe calls for cups, I just use a measuring cup and don’t weigh the water.

Note that the container says 100% lye. While most drain cleaners contain lye, they also have other ingredients. For soapmaking, it has to be 100 % lye, with nothing else added. I get ours at our local farm and home store.

Now it’s time to add the lye to the water. I usually do this outdoors or in a well ventilated area. Because it was dark outside and for the sake of taking pics, we stayed inside and used the chore sink in the mud room. The water has been poured into a plastic pitcher. Using a plastic spoon, stir the water as you SLOWLY pour the lye into the water.

I threw the plastic cup away, and continued to stir until all the lye was dizzolved. Insert a candy thermometer into the water/lye solution, and allow to cool to 100 degrees F.  To hasten the cooling of both the oil and the water/lye solution, we placed both containers outside where it was about 30 degrees F. Just make sure that no pets or children will have access to them.

We use the time waiting for everything to cool by lining the soap mold with freezer paper, which will allow easy removal of the soap from the mold.

Harland made this mold from the directions on this soapmaking website, Miller’s Homemade Soap pages. All the soap recipes on that site fit perfectly into this mold.  We plugged in our stick blender, and had our stainless steel large mixing bowl ready along with a plastic spatula. We kept an eye on the oil and lye water, and when they reached the desired temperatures, we brought them in.

Pour the oil into the mixing bowl,

and then carefully stir in the lye water.

Insert the blender into the mixture, and turn on.

Blend while stirring for about 20 seconds, then turn off and continue to stir. Then turn it back on and stir for another 20 seconds. Continue to do this until the soap begins to trace. “Trace” is when the soap has been mixed enough. It will get a satin look to the surface, and if some of the soap is dripped onto the surface it stays there leaving a trace, hence the term. This batch of soap took about 15 minutes to trace. Sometimes it takes even less time.

When our soap traced, we poured it into the mold.

Then we inverted a cardboard box over the top and covered it with a couple large towels to keep it warm.

Leave it this way undisturbed for 24 hours. During this time the soap will increase in temperature as it begins to cure, and then slowly cool back down again. After 24 hours, the soap will be ready for cutting.

NOTE: If you are interested in making soap, please don’t use this post as your sole information. I did a lot of reasearch, and so should you. There’s a lot to learn about soapmaking before you make your first batch. Miller’s Homemade Soap is a great place to learn everything you need to know about making soap. Kathy Miller has been making soap for over 30 years, and so she knows her stuff.  I did a lot of reading, I then looked for videos about soapmaking online and found quite a few of them out there.


——–> UP NEXT:  Come back for the rest of the the soapmaking, part 2. We unmold the soap and cut it into bars.

—–> And Later This Week:  A winter sunrise.

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