Homelife Homestead DIY Soap — 19 March 2013

One of the main staples in life is soap.  We use soap to wash almost everything from our bodies to our cars. As I started to think about it there is soap almost everywhere.  In our house we have  several different kinds of soaps in the kitchen, bathroom, cleaning closet, and laundry room.  I hate to think what life would be like without soap.

I realized that I’m pretty dependent on soap manufacturers to provide me and my family with soap.  What would happen if these companies stopped producing it, or I couldn’t get it for some reason?

I really don’t have a “need” to make my own soap right now, but I wanted to learn how to do it just in case I every really did need to make my own.  So, I checked out a book from the library on making soap.  The title is “Making Soap for Fun and Profit” by Linda Inlow.  It had some very basic instructions followed by several recipes.

Here is the recipe that I used:

24 ounces coconut oil

24 ounces olive oil

38 ounces vegetable shortening

12 ounces lye

32 ounces water

I found the coconut oil, the olive oil, and the shortening at the grocery store.  They lye is another name for sodium hydroxide.  I bought Roebic Crystal Drain Opener (100% sodium hydroxide) at Lowes home improvement store.

I should admit that I ran out of coconut oil and ended up substituting 10 ounces with additional olive oil.  (This may have been a very bad substitution…read more about it here).

I used a kitchen scale  that I found at Walmart for $5 to weight the ingredients.  I also bought two thermometers from the local grocery store Winco for about $3.50 each.

Step 1

I measured out the water and put it in my mixing container (an empty plastic cracker bin).  I then slowly poured in the measured lye powder.  I was expecting an exciting chemical reaction, and I WAS NOT disappointed.  There was a tremendous amount of heat given off, and my plastic bin started to melt!  I was worried that the lye solution might eat a hole through the plastic.  I was mixing this outside on my deck.  Once it ate through the plastic would it eat through the composite decking?  There wasn’t much I could do, so I let science run its course.

Lye Solution Melts Plastic

Lye Solution Melts Plastic

Among other things, I started to think about safety at this point.  I don’t think I was quite prepared for this.  Sure, I was wearing some gloves, goggle, and face mask, but I still didn’t feel very safe.  Lye is a pretty nasty caustic, that can leave burns, produces harmful vapors, and can leave stains.  Doing this again, I will buy some thick rubber gloves for added protection.

Who is this masked man?

Who is this masked man?

Shortly after adding the lye to the water, I measured the temperature at 175-degrees F!  The picture below shows the reading a few minutes later at 150-degrees F.

Lye Gets Hot!

Lye Gets Hot!

Step 2

I added the oils and shortening to a pot on the stove.  I needed to do this to melt the shortening, and also to get the mixture close to the same temperature as the lye solution.

It was handy having two thermometers to measure both the oil/fat solution and the lye solution at the same time.  The two should be combined once they both are at about the same temperature near about 98-degrees F.  I ended up cooling my oils/fat solution by putting the pan in some cold water.  I waited until both solutions were at about 105-degrees F.


Step 3

Using a second plastic mixing container (an empty plastic cracker bin), I added the lye solution to the oil/fat solution.  Once they were combined I started to mix the container with a stick.  I think the object of this is to make sure the oils don’t separate from the lye solution.  I’ve seen others use an electric mixer for this.  That probably would have been a lot easier.  The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to “trace”.

Oils/Fats and Lye Solution

Oils/Fats and Lye Solution

I stirred it for about 20 minutes.  It looked pretty thick to me, and it looked like it was “tacing” but I wasn’t real sure.  I was just about sick of stirring, so I decided it must be ready.

Step 4

I used an old seed starting kit lid for my soap mold.  I think just about anything will workI sprayed the interior with non-stick cooking spray then poured the soap solution into the mold.  I then covered the top with another old seed staring kit lid, then covered the entire thing with two towels.  I left this in our garage for 24 hours for the soap to harden up.

Soap Mixture Poured into Mold

Soap Mixture Poured into Mold

Step 5

After waiting 24 hours, I cut the soap into bars and stacked them to allow air circulation.  They had about the consistency of cheese cake.

Cutting the Soap

Cutting the Soap

It should be ready to use in about 2 to 3 weeks.  I’ll try the taste test then to see if they are ready.  If you put the soap to your tongue and it tingles, then it isn’t ready yet.  Once the lye is neutralized, there won’t be any tingle and the soap is ready to use.

Stacked Soap

Stacked Soap

So there it is.  In about 3 weeks I’ll finally be able to wash my hands again….okay I’ll use store bought soap until then.

So what did you think?  Are you ready to make your own soap, or did my lye story scare you too much?

For the latest update on my soap making you can visit my soap project page.



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(3) Readers Comments

  1. Looks like a pretty interesting process…glad you didn’t burn your eyes out or anything! I’ll let you try the soap first…

  2. I love this experiment. Be sure to keep us updated. If we weren’t in the DR I would give it a try right away!

    I’m sure you realize you need to keep the lye stored in a place that will stay dry and where the kids do not get to it. Keep it labled.

  3. Spencer…I’m glad I didn’t burn my eyes out either!

    Wallace…I’ll make sure to keep you updated on the soap. I think the kids destroyed one of the other library books on making liquid soap. So I may be trying my hand at making liquid soap as well. I’ll make sure to keep the lye in a safe place.

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