Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Homemade Soap

I decided to embark on a new adventure of making soap! Nine years ago I made my first batch and decided to revisit this hobby.  The reason for making soap goes beyond the bathroom sink; I will use it to make shampoo & conditioner and laundry soap.  To make shampoo, I need castile soap, which is basically a soap made with 100% olive oil.

When learning a new skill, there are always lessons to be learned.  The first batch of castile soap didn't turn out quite right.  I didn't begin stirring the lye and oil mixture until the temperatures were around 102 degrees.  I also stirred the mixture with a wooden spoon trying to do it the "old fashioned way."  After an hour of continuous stirring, I used an electric stick blender.  I learned that if the temperature gets too low before the mixture reaches this magic stage called "trace," it won't saponify correctly.  (Basically, the chemical reaction doesn't happen correctly and you don't get soap.)  So, in the end, my first batch is a bit too alkaline and not suitable for the skin, but I can still use it for laundry soap.  For the second batch, I began stirring when the temperature was 118 and I used a stick blender at the very beginning.  The soap turned out perfectly.

From the picture on the left, you can see the difference between the two bars.  The bar on the left is from the first batch (it looks sort of white and crumbly), and the bar on the right is from the second batch that turned out correctly.  The second picture is a bar from my third batch which includes: palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, lavender flowers, and lavender essential oil.  The lavender bar is used for the bathroom sink and shower.

Castile Soap Recipe:
2 lb. olive oil
4 oz. lye
12 oz. water


Phoebe April 10, 2011 at 5:58 PM  

That is very cool. I've never made soap. Is it messy? Handling lye sounds scary, is it? Can you use a regular stick blender that you use with food?
I would love to make some lemon grass soap. It's my favorite scent but it is so expensive.
Thanks for the primer.

Holly April 11, 2011 at 6:43 PM  

Hi Phoebe! Making soap can be messy at first until you get a system down. Because the lye is unsafe to handle and breathe, a soapmaker is very careful when handling it and cautious of any stray crystals. Can't get too sloppy with that. It's a good idea to designate a long sleeve shirt for just soap making due to occasional splatters. I have one large bath towel that I only use for soap making to help cover my area and insulate my soap. From what I've read, it's not possible to make soap without lye. Yes, you can use the same utensils for food consumption assuming you clean everything really well. I use my stick blender maybe twice a year so I'm not worried. If I was making soap every week and using the stick blender for food every week, I would purchase separate utensils. If using a wooden spoon, do NOT use with food. The wood will absorb the lye.

Lemon grass soap does sound good! There are many good recipes out there!

Phoebe April 14, 2011 at 11:53 AM  

Thanks Holly, I think I will get a stick blender from the thrift store and try making soap this summer when I can do it outside.
Thanks for the answers!

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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