I’m getting ready to make soap! Are you? I hope Clover’s getting ready, too….in her own way.
Making homemade soap can be daunting. There are so many decisions and preparations. I’m breaking them down and working through them, dreaming about yummy-smelling homemade soap. I can do it! So can you!
I’ve never made melt-and-pour or hand milled soap. Many people consider these to be homemade soap impostors as they begin with a commercially-made soap or soap base. You’re not really making soap as much as re-making soap. The difference between melt-and-pour and hand milled is that in melt-and-pour, you don’t have to add water. You just melt the soap base and go from there. In hand milled, you grate soap and add water then go. In either case, you can still get creative with color, fragrance, and additives to make your own unique product, and it’s a perfectly valid craft. You don’t have to deal with any of that scary lye stuff.
Of course, I can’t take the easy way out, and, to me, that just doesn’t sound as satisfying. I want to really make soap, which means hot process or cold process. In hot process, the entire process takes place over a heat source. This is how our great-grandmas did it. In cold process, the saponification process takes place away from the heat source. (Saponification is the chemical process that occurs when fats/oils are combined with lye.) External heat is only used to melt the fats/oils. I intend to try both.
What goes into soap? What is soap? Soap is created by combining fat with lye. The fat can be all sorts of things–lard, tallow, shea or other butters, and all sorts of oils–many of which you can find in your kitchen. Lye is sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as caustic soda. This is, no doubt about it, a dangerous product, and I’ll post more about safety precautions before I make soap and I encourage you to research safety precautions on your own. Using lye is the fear that holds most people back from making soap. It’s a legitimate fear, but there’s no reason to let fear stop you from making soap. Many people have made soap and lived to tell about it. The key is educating yourself about safe use and proper procedures.
Our great-grandmas made their own lye by leaching wood ashes, resulting in uneven levels of strength. This is where homemade lye soap got the bad rap for being harsh. Commercial lye available today is of a standardized strength, which makes non-harsh soap a reliable accomplishment. (I’ve been a bit interested in making lye since we have a wood-stove, but I’m not so sure now. I’m more comfortable with using lye of a standardized strength. This is similar to the use of commercial lemon juice in canning–standardization in the product is a helper in safety and quality.)
What else goes into soap? Water. Our great-grandmas used rainwater–for the purity. You can try that (boil the rainwater after collecting it) or use distilled water. As for what else besides water–anything! This is where soap gets so creative and fun, in the additives. All sorts of things out of your kitchen or garden can be put in soap, as well as essential oils (natural) or fragrance oils (synthetic). You can also add color. Eventually, I hope to make soap using my own goat milk, too, but for now, that will have to wait. (CLOVER!)
I want to make a soap as natural as possible, so I intend to use additives right out of my kitchen. I like to smell like cookies, so I came up with a vanilla sugar recipe. Not only will this help me smell like cookies, it’s frugal. I’m going to use fat and oil out of my pantry–lard and olive oil. Creating your own recipe is fun–though it requires a little math. You can find soap tables online or in books that will guide you in the proper measurements. You can find a soap calculator here.
Math makes my head explode, plus I don’t know what I’m doing and the soap calculator looks like Greek to me, so I consulted my soapmaking guru, Cindy, for help in running my recipe ideas through the soap calculator to come up with the proper measures. (I’ll be posting it here when I make my first soap.) If you want to make soap with me using my recipe, you can probably find what you need in your kitchen, too. All we’ll need after that is the distilled water (or boiled rainwater) and lye.
Where can you get lye? Lye can be hard to find nowadays because of drug use, but you can sometimes find it at hardware stores. You can also buy it online.
So who’s getting ready with me? Your homework, should you choose to accept it:
1. Determine where you can get lye.
2. Decide on a recipe and lay in the ingredients.
See? Baby steps. We’re not making soap yet, we’re just getting ready. We don’t have to be scared, we’re not even going to open the lye and look at it. (Tuck it away safely, away from children and pets.)
Remember, if you want to make my recipe, other than the lye and distilled water or boiled rainwater, you’ll just need what’s probably already in your kitchen. (Vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, lard, and olive oil.) If you want to create your own, get crackin’ using the soap calculator or research tried-and-true soap recipes online or in books. (Soap is a chemical equation–don’t try to create a recipe without making the proper calculations–this is why it’s best as a beginner to either use an already-existing recipe or use a soap calculator and consult with an experienced soapmaker in formulating your own.)
Watch for Part 2 of my series on Getting Ready to Make Soap and not opening the scary lye yet!
And–surprise giveaway (ya gotta pay attention around here!): I’ll draw a random comment number on this post for another copy of Smart Soapmaking by Anne L. Watson. (I’ll have to actually order this one for you since I only bought one extra copy last time.) Eligible entry closes at 10 a.m. Eastern tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 23). The winner will be announced in this post soon after 10 a.m. Eastern tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 23).
Return to this post for an update with the winner. (You’ll need to send me your address if you win, so check back. Please understand that I can’t track giveaway winners down! Thank you!)
UPDATE 02/23/10:The winning comment number is #77, Cindy H. Email me at CITRgiveaways(at)aol.com with your full name and address for shipping! (If anyone wonders how I draw numbers, I use random.org. It’s great for drawings!)