I made soap this past weekend with a few woman friends and it was so much fun I had to post the recipe and encourage people to try it. Because you must use lye to make soap (ALL soap has lye, sometimes they just call it something else to fool you!), it can seem dangerous. The woman who taught us how to make it has been making soap for years, so she showed us how to do it safely. I also learned that after the soap cures for about a month all the lye, oil, and water is completely transformed into soap so there is NO lye in your finished product. Amazing! I am giving detailed instructions for how we made it, but you can find lots of soap making videos and info online. Just don’t let the “lye” part deter you. If you are careful, wear gloves, goggles and a long shirt when you are adding the lye to the water and remember not to handle the mixture with your bare hands you will not get burned. Also, keep vinegar in your work area and if any lye splashes onto your skin wipe with vinegar (which is an acid) and it will neutralize the lye (which is alkaline). I know it sounds scary but it really is easy. Just take your time and be careful with the lye part and you will want to make ALL your own soap. You can buy the oils and other supplies online. They are not really that expensive and you can make ALOT of incredible wonderful soap for so much less that you would pay in a store. One note: look for organic, sustainably grown palm oil as regular palm oil is contributing to deforestation. Try http://www.soap-making-resource.com for supplies.
– Candy thermometer
– several glass measuring cups (one that holds at least 2 cups)
– large enamel or glass cooking pot that will hold at least several quarts
– emulsion blender that you will never use for food again!
– small loaf pans (glass or metal) or other containers that be your soap molds (this recipe will fill about 2 small loaf pans and 2 larger ones; any extra can be made into soap balls or put in small molds if you have any.
– rubber gloves and safety glasses
– freezer paper or parchment paper
– small container of lye (at least 4 oz.) : this is sold in hardware stores as drain cleaner, but make sure to get the kind that has ONLY sodium hydroxide… no other ingredients
– 12 oz. of distilled water
– 16 oz. oil (avocado, almond, or olive oil)
– (10 oz) coconut oil
– (6 oz.) organic, sustainably grown palm oil
– grapefruit oil or Vitamin E (for preserving) – 1 – 2 TBSPS.
– essential oils of your choice : lavender, peppermint, rose, orange (they should be pure essential oils)
– 1 TBSP. shea butter (optional, but makes a very creamy soap)
- First, put on your rubber gloves and safety glasses. Do this part outside and make sure there are no pets or children around!
Carefully and slowly pour the lye powder into the distilled water, let it sit with a candy thermometer in the liquid. It will immediately heat up to about 180 degrees (it’s an exothermic reaction – produces heat) so it needs to cool back down to between 110 -100 degrees. This takes about ½ hour, so you will be working on the other ingredients while it cools. Check it often because you cannot heat it up again once it cools off. Make sure it is a safe place away from pets and children, too.
2. Prepare your molds by cutting freezer wrap (shiny side up) or parchment paper to fit inside the containers. Use 2 pieces, one cut to fit in the long direction with about 5 inches of overlap on each end and the other piece goes the shorter direction, with 6 inches of overlap (this is so you can hold the paper and pull the soap out when it is somewhat firm, but not hard.) Set your prepared molds aside for now.
- Next, measure 10 oz. of coconut oil, 6 oz. of palm oil and 1 TBSP. of shea butter (optional) into a large enamel or glass (not metal) cooking pot. Add the avocado or olive or almond oil to the pot and turn heat on very low. Heat until it is about 100 – 105 degrees, then add the Vitamin E or grapefruit oil. Turn off heat.
- Carefully bring in your lye/distilled water container when it has reached about 100 -110 degrees and slowly pour into the melted oils. Using your immersion blender, blend the mixture until it gets to be the consistency of pudding. Do not let blender rise above the mixture to avoid splashing. Wear your gloves and goggles and long sleeves while blending just in case. The lye is still caustic at this stage and can burn your skin.
- Once it begins to thicken like pudding (around 10 to 15 minutes at most), remove the blender and add whatever essential oil you want. If you want to make different scents, pour half of the soap mixture into a glass bowl and add different oils to each container. It is not necessary to make it scented. You can also add oatmeal, almond meal, dried herbs (like lavender buds), etc. at this stage, mix in well.
- Carefully spoon the mixture into your molds and smooth the top with a spatula. It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth because you can smooth out the edges and top after it sets for 48 hours. Put the molds filled with soap mixture in a warm place for 48 hours. Cover with a cloth to help keep warm.
- After about 2 days, remove soap from molds by pulling up on the paper. You can use a sharp knife to trim off any lumpy areas and then cut into bars, and decorate with herbs/dried flowers if you choose. Once they are cut into bars you will now store them in a COOL, dry place for at least 3 to 4 weeks to cure. You MUST do this to give the lye time to change to a neutral pH which is soothing on your skin. Otherwise, your soap may burn when you use it!! The opposite of what we want. Curing turns it into a wonderfully smooth, gentle, fabulously creamy soap that is very good for your skin with no trace of lye left.
I want to thank Laureen Campana, who shared her knowledge, materials and work space with us. She is a Public Health nurse, an Herbalist and just finished her Fellow in Integrative Medicine. Laureen teaches classes at her Mountain Herbal Studies studio and is one of the most knowledgeable, generous and kind women I know. I have taken numerous classes from her making herbal tinctures, balms, beauty/health products and she makes it easy and so much fun! Check out her website at : mountainherbalstudies.com