As a mother of ten and a foster mother of more than 50. I’ve had many children who are sensitive to commercial soaps. My second daughter was, and she would scratch at her back until it bled. That inspired me to try making my own natural soap.
It’s a hobby that I have learned to enjoy. I’ve had many flubs and many successes. I’ve sold it, and I’ve given it away for Christmas presents. People really like coming to my house and using my homemade soap.
I bought a large soap mold that makes the large bars. I’ve also bought candy molds and made small soaps for children, which goes over very well. Heart and flower molds make good small presents for special teachers and friends.
Soap making can be intimidating when you read the directions. And lye can be very, very dangerous, but precautions and common sense will keep you safe. I have had a very few accidents where I got lye on my skin – well, okay, once I tried to make soap in a glass jar, which broke and poured lye down my legs. It burned, but did not ‘burn’ me – in other words, I washed it off quickly, and while it itched for a while, I did not have visible burns. This is not to say it can’t happen. So be very careful!! And use stainless steel pots to make your soap in.
If you live near a butcher shop, you can buy fat pieces very cheaply. To render it, you cook it very slowly over a low heat, and then you strain the fat and use the liquid. You can give the left over pieces in small amounts to your pets. I’ve known frugal people who save the fat they drain off the food they cook for their families. My experience is that this doesn’t make as nice a bar of soap, and you can usually smell what you cooked in the soap. So I prefer to use vegetable or store-bought fats: lard you can buy in the store works well, shortening, olive oil, coconut oil…Once I was offered emu fat, and I was thrilled to render and use that.
You need soft water. You can buy distilled water at the store, but my favorite is to use rain water, and you often find bucket outside on my porch during a storm.
Lye is getting harder to find since Red Devil quit making it, but you can find it online, or in a chemical supply store. Do NOT use drain cleaner, as this will not work.
When you find a recipe, you will usually find exact temperatures, and you will be told to buy a candy thermometer. I have found however, that just feeling the pots of lye water and fats, until they are both warm, rather then hot or cool, will work fine. You don’t want them too hot, or you will have to stir forever. Too cool and they won’t mix. So you will learn to look for warm, but less than hot. Just warmer than you would make a baby bottle.
I like to make my soap with special herbs designed to specific things. Eucalyptus for when we have colds, tea tree oil for children with bug bites, and rosemary for the teenagers with skin eruptions. I sometimes make a tea of the herb, and use that for the water to mix with the lye. I buy essential oils to mix in. I also will chop the herb itself into very fine pieces, and throw that in at the last minute. It makes the soap pretty, and adds to the health benefits.
If I do have a flub, I will grate the soap and use it to wash dishes or laundry. It works well, especially for the dishes.
Here is my favorite recipe. I usually quadruple it:
2 ½ cups of fat ( coconut oil, tallow, lard, shortening, a combination that includes olive oil is what I like)
1 cup soft cold water
¼ cup plus 1 tblsp lye
Mix the lye and water carefully and set aside. Melt the fats. When the lye water and the fats are lukewarm, pour the lye into the fats and stir until it traces – or you can see a trail that stays on the surface when you pour a stream back into the pot. Once this traces, you can add herbs and essential oils until you like the way it smells. Stir again, and then pour into your molds. Place in a safe spot, and cover with an old blanket. Don’t touch it for 24 hours, and then check it. You can usually take it out of the molds at this point. Stack it in a box so that it can dry further. In two weeks, your soap is ready to use!