I Learned to Make Soap!

I love learning new skills. I especially love learning new skills that are productive-things that can add to my life either by creating a better quality product or by saving money. Soapmaking is a skill that fits that criteria to a T!

Homemade (or rather “hand crafted”) soaps are far and away a better product then the “bars” you buy at the store-many of which aren’t actually soap.  Seriously–look at the packaging on a bar of store “soap”–it probably doesn’t actually say the word “soap” on there anywhere–does it?  That’s because they legally can’t–they don’t contain soap!

Hand crafted soaps are made from just a few products-all of which you can pronounce!  At the very simplest you need a fat/oil, water and lye.  That’s it.  Of course you can add more–colorings, scents, exfoliants, and a varieties of fats/oils that have differing characteristics.  Most of the oils/fats used are far more moisturizing to your skin than those “beauty bars” you buy at the store.

But soapmaking is a bit of a science.  Lye actually has a chemical reaction with the fats in order to saponify and turn into the soap.   Lye is very caustic stuff and has to be used carefully in order to be safe.  The proportions of lye necessary changes depending on the fats you use (and if you use multiple fats you need to calculate the lye based on the percentages of each you are using–don’t worry, there are lots of online sap calculators that do the hard work for you).  Some oils, fragrances and add ins can cause the chemical reaction to change a bit.  You have to know by sight and feel when the soap has actually reached it’s “trace” point.

I had read books, watched videos and read articles.  I was too chicken to try it on my own.  Soapmaking just seems like something that I really wanted help with the first time.  So I did a local search for soapmaking classes and found that several of the educational institutions that offer “Adult Education” classes had soapmaking.  I signed up!  Actually I signed up for the beginners class, the advanced class, and the goat milk lotion class.

Soapmaking ClassThe process wasn’t hard, but I was really glad that I had the teacher there to talk us through the process.  I do feel confident that I could make this same recipe at home in the future, but I’m glad that I’ll also be taking the advanced class later this month to see how to make a different kind of soap.  I think I get a choice of castille soap (aka made with olive oil) or a goats milk soap (which replaces the water with goats milk).

I made 10 lbs of a complexion bar with lemon grass essential oil and crushed up lemon balm inside.  The recipe was mainly beef tallow with some coconut oil.  it smells fabulous, but I want to wait a few more weeks before using it–you have to wait long enough for the lye to finish saponifying (about a week)  but from everything I’ve read the longer you wait the better–the bar of soap gets harder and it lathers better.  So I’ve got it sitting on top of my computer armoire curing–and the office smells fabulous!

Soap Drying

I paid $35 for the class and a $25 material fee.  I wound up with 34 bars, so that’s around $1.75 a bar.  The instructor sells her soaps for $3.50 a bar, so comparing apples to apples that’s already a savings.  Depending on how I get my supplies I could get the price down pretty low.  For example, I have a dairy farmer friend who raises and slaughters a steer each year for the family who said she’d give me the tallow-so I could get that for free.  It would be a bit of a pain to render it of course. . . the lye is pretty cheap at the hardware store, like $4 for enough to make 3 or 4 batches.  Seriously, the essential oils are the most expensive part.

My thought process is that I don’t need soapmaking to become a hobby or a business (although it easily could).  I could just take the time once or twice a year, do a couple of big batches, and I’d have enough soap for my family to use.  January/February seems like a good time to do that to me–post holiday, pre garden, way pre harvest. . . sort of a dead time.  We’ll see-right now it’s just a theory.

So.  What do you think?

 

 

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Comments

  1. Amyrlin says

    You went and did something I have been dying to try! I think it is great, you have another skill set to add to your regiment. Once you get the knack of soap making you could start another side business “Frugal Facials”. This may empower me to try the crockpot soap making I have been dying to do!

    • says

      I highly recommend checking out your local community colleges and such to see if they have a class–it’s fun and as I said, it’s really nice to have someone help you through the first time.

  2. Pam says

    That is too funny! I am signed up to take a soap making class this Sunday. This lady teaches classes at local colleges but also has a studio in her house (that’s where I’m going). Glad to see your post, it makes me less apprehensive. I definitely have to sign up for the goat’s milk products!

    • says

      Rebecca-it was very fun! My problem is I have more fun hobbies then I have time. Sometimes I just have to reign myself in from trying to do too much all at once. That’s why I think having a goal to make larger batches once or twice a year will keep me from feeling stressed about it, but sort of mentally give me permission to put it aside for a while and just do it when I’m going to enjoy it. Does that make sense?

  3. Turnip says

    So did you notice if your new soap causes more of a soapy build up in your shower? Do you just add more water to this mixture to get liquid soap? So there are so many online showing how to make soap and it doesn’t look that hard. Many use crock pot and digital measuring scale along with gloves and goggles. Not sure what part of this you found too much that you will not try this again at home?

    • says

      Turnip–I haven’t particularly noticed more of a build up on my showers–however we were using bar soap prior to this as well. I have read that bar soap usually leaves more residue then those liquid “body wash” type products.

      The soap I made was a “cold processed” soap–so although the fat was heated and the lye/water mixture chemically heats (you actually have to wait for them both to cool down to a point where you can mix them) once the ingredients are combined you do not additionally cook them. The crockpot soap you’ve seen is a type of hot processed soap. Cold processed needs to cure for far longer then the hot processed before you can use it without the alkalinity burning you–but many folks feel the cold processed gives you a smoother, harder, better quality soap. It’s sort of a matter of opinion–I have heard that both produce good soap :)

      I do plan on making soap again at home now that I’ve had the class–I was just apprehensive about making it the very first time by myself. I just felt more secure having someone there who could look at the soap when I though it had reached “trace” and let me know if I was right. . .

  4. says

    I’ve got several recipes, but I’m not sure that I’m liking any of my recipes. They call for expensive ingredients that I can’t get around here. I’m in a very small Podunk town, but I’d LOVE to learn how to make soaps. If you have any suggestions, or recipes, that are pretty much fool-proof I’d greatly appreciate it.

    • says

      Beverly–I’ve only made soap 2x now, both in classes where the instructor provided ingredients, so I don’t feel expert enough to really recommend a particular one. The first one we used was a basic complexion bar made from beef tallow, coconut oil and lye. That made a nice hard bar. It was like 10 cups tallow, 3 cups coconut oil–can’t remember the lye and water (so please, don’t try to use this as a recipe!). I did find tallow for sale in a really big pail (and about $40 but would make a TON of soap) at my local restaurant supply store. I’ve read that some folks make soap with crisco–so you might try searching for that. I also created a whole pinterest board with soapmaking stuff on it:

      http://pinterest.com/jennfowler/soapmaking-diy-personal-products/

  5. says

    Check out the Miller Soap Page (millersoap.com) for LOTS of great online soapmaking help. That was my go-to page when I was starting. I love your excitement and how responsibly you’re handling the lye, learning and so forth. I do the bulk of my soapmaking in the winter, especially when using goat’s milk, as I don’t let my GM soaps gel. A well-cured 4-5 ounce bar will last two of you 2 weeks or so, and it doesn’t actually go bad (though it can get spotted if it’s exposed to humid air). Keep having fun with this! :)

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