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I’ve been thinking about making soap for most of my life. It’s such a wholesome, enriching and fulfilling thing to do. Homemade soap is as appealing as fresh baked bread in my book.

Making your own soap…

yields such lovely results. You get a quality product with simple ingredients you’ve hand selected.
is fun and challenging. It’s a perfect learning experience for older children and homeschoolers.
means useful items for your household, as well as handcrafted gifts.

2010-05-03 - Monday Muse - How to Make Homemade Soap

After finally securing the lye (it’s no easy task these days), the bottle sat under the sink for a year. You see,
as soon as I finally bought some, I found out I was pregnant. Nausea settled in, the house fell to pieces (well, at least in my pregnant-hormonal-mind), and then right as my nesting kicked into full gear, I convinced my sweet husband to ‘help’ me make soap for the first time.

Cheers for partners and all they put up with! Four days before my third babe was born, we were busy measuring ingredients, mixing milk and lye, and successfully boiling up our first batch of soap at ten o’clock at night. Yes, a little more nesting, I suppose. And productive nesting, I might add.

So, for all of those homemaker buffs who are just as interested in making soap as I was…here’s a simple way to get started. (And, for those of you in Southern California, here is where I purchased my lye. Other potential distributors can be found here.)


I used the cold-press method and the ‘Basic Milk-Based Soap Recipe’ from Making Natural Milk Soap: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin A-199. For some reason, buying glycerin bars at the craft store and melting them into molds didn’t feel ‘from scratch’ enough for me. I’ve included links to some of the pieces of equipment that I own and use below. You likely already own almost everything you need to make soap.

One of my favorite things about this soap in particular is that its main ingredient is milk. As the author, Casey Makela, writes in Making Natural Milk Soap “Milk is not a beverage; it is a food.” And food for the skin is perfect!

Prep Time:
30 minutes-1 hour (depending on your own unique circumstances)

Start to Finish Time:
2-4 hours (It will likely take you two hours to complete a batch of soap after you’ve made a batch or two. But until then…three to four hours as you slowly but surely work carefully through each step for the first time.)

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Ingredients wp-image-2593" height="150" width="150"">

* 3 pounds vegetable shortening
* 17 ounces extra-light olive oil
* 12 ounces safflower oil
* 8 ounces canola oil
* 3 pounds cold milk (already homogenized or raw milk that you pasteurize)
* 12 ounces pure lye (sodium hydroxide)
* 1 ounce borax
* 1/2 ounce white sugar
* 1/2 ounce glycerin

What You’ll Need:
* Plastic wrap, tarp, or newspaper to cover work surfaces
* Digital scale that reads ounces and/or grams
* Digital thermometer or candy/deep fry thermometer that reads 80 degrees Fahrenheit
(Note: Many candy thermometers don’t read below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.)
* Hand/immersion blender or a regular blender
(Note: Using a regular blender adds lots of steps and time to the process.)
* 1 – 8 quart (7.5 liter) stainless steel saucepan
(Note: Never use aluminum. It will ruin the aluminum, as well as the soap you are making.)
* 1 – 4 quart (3.7 liter) stainless steel saucepan or large bowl
* 16 ounce (minimum) glass measuring cup
* 1-2 heavy-duty plastic or stainless steel large spoons
(Note: Lye will destroy wood, so don’t use your wooden spoons.)
* Stainless steel ladle, if you will not be using an immersion blender
* Safety goggles
* Plastic gloves
(Note: You are working with lye, which can cause serious burns if not worked with properly.)
* Soap molds
(Note: We used a medium-sized Priority Mail box–top cut off, lined with parchment or wax paper, or plastic wrap.)
* Curing rack
(Note: We used a rack we had that fits in our dryer when drying shoes. Get creative, folks!)

(Click on the thumbnail to enlarge)
Before you begin the soap making process, freeze the pasteurized milk you will use. After the milk is frozen, you will let it thaw. Freezing and then thawing the milk will take approximately two days.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Melting the Oils
1. Melt the vegetable shortening in the 8-quart saucepan over low heat. Add the liquids and heat till combined and melted. Remove from heat immediately after melted. Set aside.

2. Create an ice-water bath by filling the sink with cold water and lots of ice (3-8 trays of ice cubes would work). Pour the milk into the four-quart saucepan or bowl and carefully place it in the ice water bath. (You may need to add cups or jars to keep your saucepan or bowl from bumping around too much.)

[Sorry, no pictures of this stage. Our hands were full with two people at this stage (one person holding the thermometer and one person pouring lye and stirring).]
3. Wearing your goggles, very slowly and gradually pour the lye into the milk, stirring constantly. (It should take no less than 15 minutes too add the lye to the milk. Little by little is the key.) Using the thermometer, keep the lye-milk mixture at 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Pour other ingredients into mixture into mixture" class="alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-2602" heigh...
4. Over low heat, reheat the oils to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat. Slowly pour the lye-milk mixture into the oils. Add the borax, sugar and glycerin. Stir the mixture constantly for a few minutes.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Stir Soap Mixture Together
5. With your immersion blender, blend until mixture is thick, with no separation of the oils. The color will have turned a rich yellow by this time.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Pour Soap into Mold
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared mold.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Let soap sit for 12 hours
7. Allow the mixture to sit uncovered for at least 12 hours.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Cutting Soap into Bars
8. After approximately 24 hours, you may cut the soap into bars.

2010-05-03 - How To Make Soap - Let Soap Cure wp-image-2606" height="150" width="150"">
9. Stand or lay the soap bars on their sides and let sit on a curing rack for at least 6 weeks or longer.

10. Congratulations, you’re ready to use your new soap!

Mama footnote:
The entire process from start to finish took us (yes, two people) about three hours. That included:
30 minutes to re-read the directions and game plan how we would coordinate each task,
15 minutes to set up all the supplies,
45 minutes to measure all the ingredients in advance (we had to learn how to use our new little scale), and
1.5 hours to follow the directions.

This wonderful book has many more yummy-looking soap recipes and goes into greater detail than I have here. I highly recommend checking it out from your local library or purchasing it used before attempting your first batch of soap.

For over thirty years, the Storey County Wisdom Bulletin Series has provided home makers with great resources on all sorts of do-it-yourself projects. Check them out if you have a chance.

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