Once a regular chore for pioneer women, home-made soap is making a comeback. The regular soap bars sold at retail outlets often contain petroleum and other harsh ingredients that can cause skin problems. They also lack glycerin, the ingredient that helps the skin retain its moisture.
Once a regular chore for pioneer women, home-made soap is making a comeback. The regular soap bars sold at retail outlets often contain petroleum and other harsh ingredients that can cause skin problems. They also lack glycerin, the ingredient that helps the skin retain its moisture. The demand for an all-natural soap that heals rather than harms the skin has prompted many people to take up the hobby. Once a basic recipe is mastered, a variety of natural ingredients can be added to create bars with a specific scent, texture or healing property.
Although several basic recipes exist, the following one for vegetarian soap is simple and the ingredients easy to find. It makes an extremely mild soap that lathers well, so whip up a batch, wrap the bars individually and hand them out at Christmas. Read and understand all instructions before starting.
Note: All ingredients are measured by weight, not volume. Remember to subtract the weight of the pitcher for exact measurements. The recipe makes one pound (one-half kilogram). You'll need:
- 2oz (60g) lye (Caution: lye is extremely corrosive. If lye contacts skin, rinse with cold water. If burning persists, call a physician. Never inhale fumes.)
- 5 oz (155 g) distilled or spring water
The Truth about Lye
"Lye is a very harsh ingredient, but in the curing process all the lye is evaporated out of the soap. Therefore, even though soap is made with lye, it's not contained in the soap." Tracey Hobbs, Ceilidh Cross Soaps.
Step by Step to Soap
- Lay out newspaper on working surface.
- Put on safety glasses and rubber gloves.
- Heat the olive oil over low heat in large pot.
- While it's warming, weigh the water and pour into a heavy glass pitcher.
- Weigh the lye and slowly pour it into the water.
- Gently stir with a wooden spoon until all the lye is dissolved.
- When the oil has warmed, remove from heat.
- Place one thermometer in shortening and one in caustic (lye) solution.
- The caustic solution and shortening must be at an equal temperature of between 120°F (49°C) and 140°F (60°C) before they are combined. This is the trickiest part of the whole process. By using warm or cool baths, the temperature can be lowered or increased to reach the proper reading. Once an equal temperature is reached, gently stir the olive oil while slowly adding the caustic solution.
- Continue stirring as the mixture thickens, turns opaque and becomes grainy.
- Keep stirring until the mixture is thick enough that the spoon leaves distinct lines (trailings). This can take up to 60 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into a greased, clear, plastic mold that is lined with wax paper (use mineral oil or olive oil to grease mold).
- Place a lid on the mold and wrap in a towel for slow cooling.
- Place the whole bundle in a warm spot for 48 hours.
- After 48 hours open the mold.
- If the surface is still very soft, leave exposed to the air for a day or two.
- When the surface is not soft to the touch, turn the mold upside down over a sink or tub and remove the soap. Be careful liquid lye might still be present.
- Place the block of soap on freezer or butcher paper.
- Cut into bars using a sharp, heated knife.
- Space bars evenly on paper.
The soap will take four weeks to cure. During that time, the bars will harden and shrink. By turning the bars once a week during the curing stage, they will dry uniformly. Only after the curing process are the bars safe to handle without rubber gloves.
Add ingredients such as essential oils and oatmeal just after the mixture forms trailings (step 11).
- Essential oils: approximately one ounce (28 ml). Fragrance will dissipate over time.
- Flower petals: one cup (250 ml) of fresh or dried flowers.
- Goat or buttermilk: nine ounces (252 ml). Scent lightly with essential oil to mask potentially sour odour.
- Oatmeal: one cup (250 ml). Oatmeal must be ground in a blender.
Benefits of Home-made Soaps
- Comfrey soap known for its skin-healing properties and relief of sore muscles.
- Calendula soap used for centuries as a skin softener. Can be used as a facial cleanser and by those with sensitive skin.
- Camomile soap extremely soothing.
- Cocoa butter soap contains a skin emollient that is wonderful for sensitive skin.
- Goat's milk and buttermilk bars used for centuries, milk bars are excellent for relief of dry skin, eczema and psoriasis (does not cure psoriasis, but substantially reduces the red scaly patches if used daily.)
- Oatmeal soap gentle and soothing to irritated skin.
(Special thanks to Tracey Hobbs of Ceilidh Cross Soaps for her guidance.)