By Asha Kreiling
For my entire life, I’ve used mainstream soap — whatever is cheapest or whatever is on sale. In recent years, though, I’ve become uneasy about the various ingredients in cheap conventional soaps, including synthetic chemicals such as petroleum-based products, parabens and sodium lauryl sulphate, as well as additives like artificial fragrances and dyes. So, I’ve put some effort into avoiding these products and using more natural soaps that are sustainably produced with honest ingredients, making them better for the environment and my body.
Unfortunately, the all-natural type of products tends to cost a little more, and a lot of them still come in plastic bottles and wasteful packaging. In order to feel a little more self-sufficient and to give myself a new hobby, I decided to order some soap-making books, do some reading, and start making my own natural soap from scratch.
The process required a bit of preparation and some small up-front costs since I didn’t already have all of the equipment and ingredients; but knowing that this was going to become a long-term activity, I was willing to make the investment.
So, what exactly is soap and how do you make it?
Soap is defined as the product of mixing oil or fat with lye (sodium hydroxide). The oil acts as an acid, and the lye acts as a base; and when mixed together, a process called saponification neutralizes the two, creating “soap.” Soap making can require complex methods and ingredients, but if you just want some basic bars of soap, all you need is some oil, some lye, and some water.
A little precaution is required in soap making, as lye is a highly caustic chemical and high temperatures arise when mixing certain ingredients together. But, do not be dismayed; careful handling prevents any problems.
I’ll go over a recipe from Basic Soap Making by Elizabeth Letcavage, and the steps needed to make your own homemade all natural soap.
The “Four-Oil Soap Recipe #1” calls for these ingredients:
4 oz coconut oil (112 grams)
4 oz olive oil (112 grams)
3 oz safflower oil (84 grams)
4 oz soybean oil (112 grams)
5 oz distilled water (140 grams)
2 oz lye (56 grams) – Lye must be labeled as 100% lye or “sodium hydroxide.” It can be found in most hardware stores.
All soap recipe measurements are in units of weight, not volume, so you’ll need a small postal or kitchen scale that measures ounces or grams. Ingredients can be ordered online in bulk from soap supply companies, or can be found in regular grocery or health food stores, but you probably already have most of these in your kitchen. It is important that ingredients are measured very precisely.
- You should wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves, goggles and (if you want to be extra safe) a face mask.
- Begin by weighing the water in a plastic or glass container.
- Then weigh the lye in a separate, dry container.
- Pour the measured lye into the container of water. (Do not do the opposite by pouring water into the lye!) Stir the mixture gently with a plastic or silicon spoon until the lye is fully dissolved. The mixture should get very hot. Set it aside to cool.
- Next, measure all the oils in separate containers. The coconut oil should be microwaved for a few seconds until it melts.
- Combine all the prepared oils and mix thoroughly with a clean spoon.
- Once the lye and water solution is clear and has cooled to about 100 degrees F (use a thermometer), carefully pour it into the oil mixture.
- Stir gently with a silicon or plastic spoon or an immersion blender. Once the mixture becomes opaque and has the consistency similar to pudding, you have soap! (To determine when the soap is ready, soap makers use “trace” which, when mixing, leaves a trail on the surface before it disappears.)
- Pour the mixture into a soap mold. A wooden or cardboard box lined with heavy duty freezer or wax paper works well, as does a flexible plastic container.
- Cover the soap mold with a lid, and then drape one or two old blankets or towels over the box to insulate the soap and complete the saponification process.
- After 24 hours, carefully remove the soap log from the mold and cut into 1-inch width bars.
- The soap bars then must dry and cure, which takes at least a month. This allows the soap to harden and to last longer once you start using it.
After a month, you will have beautiful, homemade, all-natural soap bars that are great for your skin and free of synthetic additives.