Soap making: A brief explanation:
Soap is simply the combination of lye and oils. When you combine them, they produce a chemical reaction called saponification and the end result is soap. You cannot make soap without lye. ALL soaps are made with lye, or they aren’t soap, they are a detergent. You can buy melt and pour soap kits, but all that means is that the saponification part has been done for you already, and you are simply remelting the soap and adding other ingredients. From Zest, and Ivory, to Dr Bronners and any local soap, all have been started with lye. Soap must be left to rest, or saponify, for 3-4 weeks before you can use it. If you use it too soon the lye might not have completely chemically changed, and you could potentially burn yourself still.
This particular soap I have called the Modern Homesteader soap. I love the challenge of using ingredients I can produce myself, with ingredients homesteaders in my area would have had access to 100 or more years ago. The tallow (beef fat) which I rendered myself from grass-fed beef, and the goat milk from my own goat, satisfy this “homesteader” urge I have. The coconut oil and olive oil in the recipe are available now to “modern homesteaders” because we have the privilege of transporting these products to where we live so we can benefit from them too. Old time homesteaders in my area wouldn’t have had access to these ingredients, so this is the modern part. Olive and coconut oil are both fantastic ingredients in a soap, making a nice, hard soap with a great lather.
Before you start making soap, make sure you read through the recipe and the notes. Have all your material on hand and your safety precautions in place. If you are totally new to soap making, you might want to use water instead of goat milk since goat milk can be a bit tricky to use at first. But, if you are like me, my second time making soap I was using goat milk.
Soap mold (even a shoe box)
Plastic garbage bag
Old towels or blankets
White distilled vinegar, in case of lye burns
Long sleeved shirt
1 large bowl, 1 large pot
Stainless steel whisk
Several smaller bowls for measuring ingredients into
- Have all tools and materials ready and available ahead of time.
- Prepare your soap mold. You can use an old shoe box or a fancy soap mold, whichever you like. If using a simple wooden mold or box, line it with a plastic bag, trying to keep as smooth as possible. You will be pouring your liquid into this so you don’t want it to leak. Keep your stack of old towels or blankets for wrapping it in, nearby.
- Wear your gloves, safety glasses and long sleeved shirt!
- Measure, melt and combine tallow, olive and coconut oil. Set aside.
- Combine lye with goat milk. When adding lye to goat milk, do so VERY slowly, stirring VERY thoroughly to prevent scorching the milk. If it starts to turn even the slightest bit orange, back off with the lye, and put the bowl in a separate bowl of ice cubes to slow down the heating. The milk will melt. The key to adding milk to soap is to do it very slowly.
- Measure the temperatures of both bowls. When both are between 110F and 115F, combine the lye mixture with the oil mixture.
- Using a stick blender, blend, in a figure 8 pattern, making sure you are blending all of the combination. Continue to do this until the soap reaches trace. (Trace is when you lift up the blender and a drip sits on top of the mixture slightly, like pudding).
- Add and mix in essential oil.
- Immediately pour into prepared soap mold.
- Cover mold completely with a board, or you can lie plastic wrap or a garbage bag carefully across the top of the soap.
- Wrap well with old blankets or towels to prevent from cooling too fast.
- Store in a warm location (room temperature, no drafts) for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours are up, using gloves, remove from soap mold and cut into pieces.
- Place pieces on an old towel, with air being able to circulate between each piece.
- Let sit for 4 weeks, turning soap once a week.
- If a haze appears on your soap you can simply scrape it off after 4 weeks, or just leave it.
- Lye is caustic. It is a powder, and is activated when any moisture touches it. It gets very hot, very quickly. Use rubber gloves, long sleeved shirt and safety glasses to prevent burns. If you do get burnt, pour plain white distilled vinegar directly onto the burn.
- You want to combine your lye mixture with your oil mixture when they are both about the same temperature. Sometimes you will have to reheat either the lye or the oils to ensure they are at the same temperature. That’s ok! To reheat the lye mixture, place the bowl in a bowl of hot water. To reheat the oil mixture, put it back on the stove and reheat.
- When dealing with goats milk (or any milk) you don’t want to scorch your milk. This can happen very quickly since the lye will heat up very fast. Freeze the milk in ice cube trays, for easy measurement and a more even melting. Allow the milk to partially thaw, being slushy when you need it. If, when you are mixing your milk and lye, it starts to turn orange, stop, place the bowl of milk in a bowl of ice cubes, and try again. Add the lye VERY slowly to prevent scorching. If your mixture is a bit orange, that’s ok… it will turn brown when it saponifies.
- You can replace the milk content with plain, distilled water if you prefer.
- If you don’t want to use tallow, don’t use this recipe! It isn’t recommended to change amounts and types of oils in a recipe since each oil has a different way of reacting to the lye. I will be posting other recipes that don’t use tallow shortly.
- This recipe is a large one, and will produce about 7 lb. of soap.
- What types of oils to select? Any grade of olive oil will work. The more virgin it is, the lighter the soap will be in color. Pomace grade (the cheapest kind) seems to come to trace a little bit faster but may contribute to a darker, slightly greener color. For the coconut oil, I use an RBD grade (refined) coconut oil.
- Where to buy your ingredients? Mountain Rose Herbs has a lot of high quality, organic soap making ingredients. I have linked to them in the ingredient list above. Lye cannot be mailed since it is caustic so you will need to find a local supplier. I have a soap making supplier who is local and I pick up the lye at her store. The oils can often be bought at grocery stores.
- Soap-making isn’t scary. It isn’t hard. And it is lots of fun to do with a friend. These bars turned out to be about $1.30 each which is MUCH cheaper than buying quality, homemade soap from a store.