How to Make Basic Soap

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Make Basic SoapIf you have some extra time on your hands today, try this project. Make basic soap.

Making your own soap is not only fun, it also gives you complete control over what goes on your body. Instead of using harsh detergent soaps, nurture your skin’s unique elements by carefully selecting and blending oils, herbs, and essential oils. I also take a little pleasure in knowing I am not supporting a multi-billion dollar industry that makes money by telling their customers they are not good looking enough and then selling them on their beauty products…but I digress.

When I first decided to make my own soap, I read every book about making soap I could find. There are several good books, but my all time favorite is Soap Maker’s Workshop: The Art and Craft of Natural Homemade Soap by Dr. Robert McDaniel and Katherine McDaniel. This book gives step-by-step instructions for no-lye soap making, cold process soap making, and hot process soap making. It also includes more advanced soap making techniques to assist someone who wants to start experimenting with personalizing the ingredients.

My favorite part of the book is that it actually explains how to make lye from scratch – something no other book I’ve found does. If I ever find myself in a situation where I cannot purchase lye, I now have all the information I need to make it.

So enough chit chat, let’s get on with it!

Tools you need every time

  • A pair of safety glasses
  • A set of rubber gloves
  • One plastic water jug that will now only ever be used for mixing lye
  • One stainless steel pot (I have one for soap making only)
  • Two wooden spoons that will now only ever be used for soap making
  • Small kitchen scale
  • A candy thermometer
  • Soap molds (Silicone muffin pans work well)
  • (OPTIONAL) An electric mixer that will now only ever be used for soap making

I highly recommend purchasing at least one good soap making book for details regarding safety and other soap making techniques. My personal recommendation is Soap Maker’s Workshop, mentioned above. The recipe below is from that book as well.

Basic Four-Oil Soap

Ingredients to make basic soap

  • 725 grams (25.57 ounces) coconut oil
  • 150 grams (5.29 ounces) olive oil
  • 650 grams (22.93 ounces) canola oil
  • 775 grams (27.33 ounces) palm oil
  • 342 grams (12 ounces) lye dissolved in 700 grams (24.7 ounces) of distilled or deionized water
  • (optional) Your choice of essential oils (I use lavender)

Step-by-Step Directions for Cold Process Soap Making

  1. Set your clean molds out so they are ready to use.
  2. Weigh all oils except optional essential oils,  and pour in pot.
  3. Melt oils on medium heat.
  4. Use the candy thermometer and remove the pot from heat once the temperature reaches between 122 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (50 to 60 degrees Celsius).
  5. Put on your safety glasses and gloves.
  6. In a well ventilated area, outside is great, pour measured lye into measured water, stirring continuously. IMPORTANT: always pour the lye into the water. NEVER pour water into the lye!
  7. Once the lye dissolves completely and the solution is clear, pour it gently into the oil mixture.
  8. Stir mixture until it begins to thicken to a custard like consistency and form a trace. TRACE: the point in which a spoon full of soap, poured back into the pot, leaves a brief, faint imprint on the surface.
  9. (Optional) Add desired herbs and/or essential oils.
  10. Pour into molds.
  11. After 2-3 days, remove soap from molds and place on wax paper.
  12. Store for 4 weeks prior to using. The soap needs time to complete the saponification* reaction. This means time is required for the oils to fully consume the lye. There should be no lye left in the final product.
  13. Store extra soap in a plastic container.

Unless you are using an electric stick blender, mixing by hand can take some time. I make soap by hand only when there is a second person able to switch off stirring the batch with me.

Clean Up

For the most part, making soap doesn’t create too much mess.

  • Measuring cups used to measure out oils and the silicone molds can be washed normally.
  • The water jug should be cleaned thoroughly using soap and water and then labeled with permanent marker,  ‘Do NOT Use to Drink From. For Lye Mixture Only‘.
  • The pot and spoon used to mix up the batch of soap is best left out for a day or two until the solution is dry enough to scrape off using a hard nylon scraper. Scrape off as much of the soap residue as possible and empty into the garbage. Then wash with soap and water.
  • If using an electric mixer, while wearing gloves, wipe off as much residue as possible and wash thoroughly with soap and water. This should be done before the residue hardens.

Once you master this basic recipe, the possibilities are endless. Find a good soap calculator on-line (HERE is a good one to get started with as it is free and come with basic instructions) and let your creative juices flow!

*saponify – verb (used without object), sa·pon·i·fied, sa·pon·i·fy·ing. To become converted into soap.

12 thoughts on “How to Make Basic Soap”

  1. This looks pretty straight-forward. One of these days I’d love to give it a try! Thanks for the info!! 🙂

  2. Like the author said, before making soap get a good book and read more about. These instructions over simplify things. Soap making is not difficult but potentially very dangerous. You must know what you are doing when using lye. This is not something to do with small children around. I always keep a spay bottle of vinegar out in case of accidents because vinegar neutralizes lye. If using a mixer it should be a stick blender that can be fully immersed in in the soap mixture so that the mixture is not splattering everywhere. There are two different types of lye. Sodium hydroxide is most commonly used and what I assume this recipe calls for. Potassium hydroxide is the type you would be able to make from wood ash. Sodium Hydroxide makes a hard soap and potassium hydroxide makes liquid soap. Making and using potassium hydroxide is on my to do list and I will be ordering the book recommended by the author. Lastly learning from a basic recipe is good but if the SHTF I think coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil etc… are going to be hard to come by, at least in my area, so I would recommend having a good lard or tallow soap recipe available.

  3. Unexpected Farm Girl

    You are very right about stressing the safety issues when using lye. Like all chemicals used in the home, saftey should be number one, but it is not something to be afraid of and hopefully not prevent someone from trying soap making. Good point also on the listed ingredients being a problem to find if the SHTF. A lard recipe is very important to have on hand. There is, among many others, a good and simple lard recipe in the book listed above. I personally prefer to make a lard/tallow soap because it is a byproduct of animal husbandry and something we have an abundance of here. However, I find some people are a little uncomfortable using animal fat and wold be less inclined to try soap making because of it. As soap making is a skill that needs to be mastered, any recipe that peaks ones interest is a good recipe to start with. That way when SHTF a person is skilled enough to make a soap from the local resources available. Thanks for your insight and added information.

  4. Clifty Creek Soap

    Another important SHTF consideration is you would have a commodity with which you can barter for other things you need.

  5. Unexpected Farm Girl

    Clifty Creek Soap you are so right. Soap is very important in maintaining and preventing the spread of disease and will be a very difficult commodity to get if SHTF. Plus it keeps well so having some stored for even short-term emergencies is a good idea.

  6. In the 80’s I started making soap. The oils like coconut and even olive oil weren’t as common as they are today so I just followed directions on the back of the Red Devil Lye can. I have used beef tallow lard from pigs and I had a goat that stopped breeding and got really fat so I used that. I liked lard best for laundry and goat for in the shower, because lard has a lower melting point so it would dissolve better and rinse cleaner. The goat fat is very hard and doesn’t dissolve easily in the shower. 🙂

  7. Unexpected Farm Girl

    Dell that is great information to know about the different animal fats. Thank you for sharing.

  8. @Unexpected Farm Girl. Yes, rendered animal fats can be used but if one wanted to use vegetable hard fats, any brand of generic shortening, crisco-type fats can be used, costs very little (about $2 a can) one can makes about 3 batches and really works well and makes a creamy lather. One brand I use has palm oil in it anyways and is good for soapmaking but any hydrogenated fat will work.

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