I love handmade soap, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores. The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical process of making soap, which is called saponification.
In the old days, when people had to make their own soap in addition to their lye, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water and liquid lye would float to the top. It sounded so simple, that I really considered doing it for about 1 second and then thought that the soap making would be enough of a challenge without complicating things.
Lye is 100 percent sodium hydroxide, NaOH. I got mine at Lowes in the plumbing aisle as Crystal Drain Opener. It can be hard to find as it is used in the illegal manufacture of meth ( who would have thought!!!) and it has been pulled from drugstore shelves. You can also buy it online.
I also wanted to use my accumulated hoard of beeswax in my soap so started looking for soap recipes which included beeswax.
First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed. They are:
- Immersion blender
- Digital cooking thermometer
- Kitchen scale
- Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for making soap like a heavy saucepan, plastic 2 quart beverage container, wooden spoon
- Soap mold- I bought a small kitty litter pan
- Old clothes and apron
- Rubber gloves
I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. Lye is very caustic and you need to respect that, but don’t be afraid of making soap because of that. If you are careful and use common sense, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.
Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to make soap!!
Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap
36 ounces olive oil
6 ounces coconut oil
3 ounces castor oil
2 ounces of grated beeswax
12 ounces water (distilled is best)
6 ounces lye
2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are only limited to what you can think up)!
- Measure your plastic pitcher first and then measure 12 ounces of water into the pitcher. Your scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water. Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
- Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
- Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off – away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.
4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool.
5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.
6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 farenheit. This is the most difficult part of the whole process. The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:
7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.
8.Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.
10. Without turning on the blender yet, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit. I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!
11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency. Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top. The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.
12. Add your essential oil and mix in.
13. Pour your soap into your mold which has been lined with parchment paper and smooth it down with your spoon.
14. Cover with a board and throw some towels on top and leave it for 24 hours to cool down and harden.
15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife.
Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my use and for gifts.
To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water – same with the digital thermometer.
Variations and Additions
With this soap base, you can add anything to personalize and complement your own preferences, like herbs, spices and colorings. For colorings and scents, you could add chocolate, coffee, tea, paprika, mixed herbs, turmeric, cocoa, cinnamon, mint, poppy seeds, star anise, lavender buds, orange peel, rose buds, honey, marigolds, and orange peel. The possibilities are endless.
Experiment! These soaps above look good enough to eat!
I tried an oatmeal soap batch where I added oatmeal after the mixture had traced up and was getting thick. I poured the mixture into an empty clean milk carton with straight sides which had one of the long sides cut out. I pressed bubble wrap into the mixture while it was still soft to get the texture of honeycomb. The next time I add oatmeal, I will grind it up into smaller pieces. When you use this soap now, clumps of oatmeal fall out!
You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.
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