My beloved Aunt Nancy taught me about making my own soap. I can remember seeing her bins filled with old fashioned lye soap with odd little rippled sides and bumpy bottoms. It was quite a few years before I discovered that my wonderful and resourceful aunt used the plastic trays that candy is packaged in as soap moulds! Brilliant! This explained the funny shaped soaps!
She makes soap the old fashioned way with tallow, lye, and water. I love that soap. It’s good, cheap, and fun.
After a few batches of the “good stuff,” it was time to try out some fun soap recipes. What a blast! Boy, did I learn a lot! I made some real rookie mistakes: forgetting to grease the moulds, failing to stir the soap until the fats and lye water have thoroughly mixed, failing to keep vinegar within arms-reach at all times, wearing clothes I actually care about while making soap (they got covered in little brown/black specks), forgetting to turn on the fan above the stove while making the water/lye mixture **cough, gasp, hack**, and much more. In the end, I got it right!
Some cinnamon almond bars (above) and scented soaps (top of page).
When ready to begin making soap, you should have a few items close at hand:
- digital kitchen scaleold mixer or stick blender
non-aluminum kettle and spoon that you do not plan to use for food ever again
2 thermometers that hook onto the sides of pots
glass measuring cup with a handle (helps to have metric)
container to use as a mould (flexible plastic cake pan, etc.)
vaseline (not needed for the flexible resin cake pans)
large jug of vinegar (to neutralize the lye)
Next you need to gather ALL of your ingredients and measure them into the cups before mixing or heating anything. Use the scales to make sure you have the exact amounts!
SLOWLY and carefully add the lye to the water in the glass measuring cup on your unheated stove with the fan running. Stir constantly. DO NOT SPLASH. If you should get some lye on your skin — pour vinegar over it immediately!!! NEVER add the water to the lye!! Clip thermometer to the glass measuring cup and step away. You do not want to be around the fumes! Be careful and do not touch the glass because it will be very hot.
Now, heat your oils and fats. Follow the recipe’s instructions. Add the lye/water mixture to the oils when the temperatures are roughly the same temperature (between 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit).
Waiting for the lye water temperature to drop a little more. See my old kettle with the broken handle? Trash becomes treasure!
Stir for twenty minutes with the mixer, then every fifteen minutes (resting during the 15 minutes) until it reaches trace. Don’t worry if you don’t reach trace right away. Every batch of soap is different! You will know when you have reached trace when the temperature rises 2 or 3 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here we see the soap when it is just a few more minutes before reaching trace.
At trace, you can add scents and coloring agents (like cocoa, cinnamon, mustard powder, etc.). Stir and pour into moulds. Follow the recipe instructions. I usually cover the moulds so they will cool slowly but that isn’t necessary. I generally don’t mess with them for 12-15 hours after pouring. Then I take them out of the moulds, cut them into bars, and let them sit on racks.
Here is some cinnamon almond soap that has just been poured into the moulds after reaching trace and stirring in almond oils and cinnamon. Notice the texture — like a thick cake batter.
Recipe for Lacy’s Cinnamon Almond Soap:
- 600 grams coconut oil400 grams palm oil
460 grams olive oil
40 grams shea butter
560 mils bottled water
220 grams lye
almond essential oil for soap
3 Tbsp cinnamon or cocoa
Add lye/water mixture to melted fats when both reach 100-120 degrees. Rest overnight or longer. Release from mould.
I like to use the plastic containers that usually contain strawberries for storage and hardening of the soap. I simply turn the entire box over each day and don’t have to touch the bars of soap or anything. It is very inexpensive and ideal for small batches. Below are a few bars of cinnamon almond soap before hardening and also before shaping: