People with atopic dermatitis, that’s who. For real, though, I’m just majorly itchy all the time and that’s the worst. But you know what’s not the worst? Making my own soap. My skin likes me more now, and, as a bonus, it’s seriously fun and easy to make. Want to try? You should.
I’m not going to get too much into the complicated business of how each type of oil is different and why you might want to combine different types, but if you want more details shoot me an email. To keep it simple,
SOAP = FAT + (LYE + WATER)
Easy peasy. So why is it so scary? It’s not difficult, and special equipment isn’t really needed. Lye is the part that seems to freak people out. It’s why I wear gloves and safety glasses during the “dangerous” parts. But it’s seriously no more dangerous than working with bleach, and most of us use that without any protective equipment at all. Back in the day, lye was extracted from wood ash, but now it’s readily available online or in your local store next to the drain cleaner. It’s only dangerous when it gets wet, so DON’T GET IT WET UNTIL YOU’RE READY, AND ALWAYS HANDLE IT WITH GLOVES AND SAFETY GLASSES. For real. Nobody wants chemical burns here. But seriously, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.
- Gather your equipment.
- Measure your ingredients.
- Melt the fat.
- Mix the lye solution.
- Let them cool down.
- Mix together.
- Pour into a mold.
- Wait 24 hours.
- Wait until “done.” (3-5 weeks… sorry)
How easy is that? The whole thing (minus the final waiting period in step 10) takes maybe a half hour from start to finish. Keep reading for more details about each step.
- Gather your equipment. You will need a saucepan. You will also need either a spatula and/or an immersion blender. Immersion blender (also known as a stick blender) gets the whole thing done within a couple of minutes, but a spatula will work too if you don’t mind stirring for a while. You will need a digital kitchen scale. Finally, you will need a container to hold the lye and water mixture. This will get HOT, so don’t use anything that will melt.
- Accurately measure your ingredients. You need fat of some sort (coconut oil and/or lard are excellent options for your first batch, but it can be as complicated as you want), lye, and a liquid to dissolve the lye in. Water is the standard option, but you can use something else if you’d rather (in this batch, I used apple cider vinegar to help condition my hair, as I was making this to use as shampoo). How much of everything should I use? Check out this handy lye calculator to determine how much of everything you’ll need (or email me if you need help figuring it out).
- Melt the fat. Pretty self-explanatory. Mine took a little longer to melt completely because I added a bit of beeswax to make the bar harder (I don’t want it melting quite as fast in the shower).
- GENTLY pour your measured lye into your water. Make sure to add the lye to the water, and not the other way around. The last thing you want is water splashing lye into your face. WEAR YOUR GLOVES AND GOGGLES FOR THIS. Stir to dissolve all the lye. Keep your face away from this. It’s going to get crazy hot and it’ll release some gases that you really don’t want to breathe in. It’s not “open-the-windows” bad, but don’t stick your nose in it. Mine is a funny color because of my choice of liquid. If you use water it’ll be clear or slightly cloudy. You can see on the sides of my container that the liquid is steaming. This liquid will give both a heat AND chemical burn, so keep your goggles and gloves on until this liquid is out of the picture.
- Let both products cool down until you can comfortably touch the outside of the container and saucepan with your bare hand. They can be warm, but you don’t want them hot. You want them roughly the same temperature.
- Put your saucepan of fat in the sink (this is just to avoid splatter and keep your kitchen clean. SLOWLY add the lye solution into the fat. We don’t want splashing here. Now is when you break out your immersion blender and start mixing. Or you can use a spatula or whisk if you’d rather. As you mix the solution it will start to turn a creamy white color. Once you see what’s called a “trace,” you’re done! Basically, you’re looking for something the consistency of pudding. When you move the spoon or mixer across the pot it should leave a “trace” of where you moved through the liquid. This is when you can add in any fragrance if that’s something that interests you. That’s it! You just made soap!
- Pour your soapy goop into a mold of some sort. I’ve used Pringles containers in the past, but I recently got myself an actual soap mold (things are getting serious over here). You can use pretty much anything you want that’s water-tight. Just make sure you use something that you can get the soap OUT of. A silicone muffin or bread pan would work great, but if you use a glass or metal pan then there’s no way to get the soap out (or if you use something like a Pringles can, you can tear it apart to get the soap out).
- Wait approximately 24 hours before removing it from the mold. This gives it time to cool down and set up. If you remove it too early it won’t hold its shape and you’ll have a real mess on your hands.
- Cut into bars.
- Now we wait. How long? Until it’s done. That’s not terribly helpful, is it? I use what’s called the “cold process method.” This means that I mix everything together, and then let it sit until the excess water has evaporated out. It has the shortest hands-on time, but a long hands-off time. It usually takes 3-5 weeks before it’s “ready.” There’s another method called “hot process,” which is where you mix everything together and then cook out the extra water. This requires more hands-on time, but it’s ready to use almost immediately. I don’t want to do that, because these children really want to get covered in lye. I’m not ok with that, so I make it as fast as possible and don’t mind letting it sit for a month. It helps to turn the soaps periodically, to make sure they can dry out evenly. I probably turn mine once a week (maybe more if I want to poke them a little – it makes me feel like I’m doing something).
It’s important to note that all materials used in this process must be made out of glass, heat-proof plastic, or a NON-REACTIVE METAL (this means we’re avoiding aluminum, cast iron, and copper). Stainless steel is fine.
It’s seriously easy, and fun to customize. You can make it more moisturizing, you can make it organic, you can add coffee grounds for a delightful smelling, exfoliating experience. You can make it customized to your exact skin type. IT’S AWESOME, AND YOU SHOULD TRY IT!
Or, you can shoot me an email about what you’re looking for in a bar of soap and I’ll have it customized to your specifications and ready for delivery in 1 month. How cool is that?