Cold-Process Soap Making

Try cold-process soap making and create all-natural soap bars to pamper your family and friends.

| February 2012

Avoid artificial chemicals and fragrances that irritate your skin by making your own soap. Follow these easy step-by-step instructions for cold-process soap making, and soon you’ll be using essential oils, natural clays and oatmeal to make truly unique and lovely soap bars. Suggestions about equipment, instructions and safety, as well as three soap making recipes can be found in this excerpt, taken from Homegrown and Handmade (New Society Publishers, 2011). This excerpt is taken from Chapter 13, “Producing from the Home Dairy.” 

We had been on our homestead for a few months when I complained to a friend about my allergy to commercial soap. I had found only one unscented soap at the health food store that did not make me itch or sneeze, which was painfully boring for a former fragrance junkie like me. I used to be one of those people who had six or seven perfumes with matching soaps and lotions. Gradually, they began making me sneeze or itch or both. My friend interrupted my complaining to suggest that I start making my own soap because, she said, “You have goats.” I had no idea how goats and soap were connected, but she said that I could use my goat milk to make soap.

Even though I saw soap recipes that called for very specific amounts of lye, such as 6.7 ounces, I was initially put off by the idea of buying a digital scale. People have been making soap for millennia, and they didn’t have digital scales; right? As I discovered with a lot of other things, the answer is not that simple. Soap is one of those things discovered by accident. At its simplest, soap is merely water, ashes from a fire, and melted fat from an animal. It is easy to imagine these being mixed by chance all over the world. Soap is mentioned in writings from many early civilizations. Although it appears soap made cleaning easier, we don’t know much about the quality of the soap made three or four thousand years ago. The quality probably varied tremendously from place to place because it was made from different oils in different places.

We do know that a couple of hundred years ago, it was not easy to make a good batch of soap. On American homesteads, lye was made from water that dripped through a box of ashes. If an egg floated in the liquid, the lye was thought to be strong enough. If the egg didn’t float, the liquid was poured through the ashes again. As you might imagine, this was not a very reliable method. Soap that did not contain enough lye was too soft, and soap that contained too much lye was too harsh. Making a good batch of soap was more art than science, and some women had a knack for it. Just as some were famous for their delicious bread, some were known for their excellent soap. So, although you can make soap without a digital scale, the quality will be questionable. The amount of modern lye that makes the difference between a gentle batch and a harsh batch can be as little as a quarter of an ounce in a small batch of soap, which is tough to eyeball with measuring cups. Although I initially resisted the digital scale, after I bought it, I used it daily for weighing goat milk, as well as when canning or freezing fruits and vegetables.

Soap Making Safety

Six months passed from when I started reading about making soap until I finally did it. Why? Because I didn’t want to wind up blind or with a hole burned in my arm. A lot of information written about soap making is nothing less than terrifying. Yes, lye is wicked stuff, but you need not be terrified if you understand how it works and take a few safety precautions.

Do not make soap when you are in a hurry or are distracted. If you have small children, make sure someone else is available to take care of their needs while you are making soap. There are times when you absolutely should not leave the area during the process. Every soap-making accident I’ve read about that involved a bystander happened when the soap maker’s back was turned or the soap maker left the room for a moment. In one story a woman’s husband walked in and drank the lye solution, which was in a pitcher. In another, a toddler reached up and grabbed the handle of a pitcher filled with the lye solution when his mom turned her back for just a moment. If you have never made soap before, schedule at least one hour when you know you will not be disturbed. If you have pets, especially a cat that might jump on the counter, lock them in another room.

6/8/2016 3:52:27 PM

I'm curious as to why you would say that coconut oil is not good for the skin.

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