Last weekend I was able to watch my friend Kari, the owner of the company The Soap Barn, make a batch of soap. I’m interested in learning to make my own soap and Kari says she’ll teach me. A lot of people are scared to make soaps using lye so they stick to melt-and-pour soaps. Why use lye? Lye is the ingredient in soap that makes it harden. You can’t make soap without it. A reader mentioned this to me and I’ve done further research and even glycerine soaps are made with lye. In my experience the melt and pour soaps seem to to be softer while the soaps made from scratch are often harder and last longer. From the reading I’ve been doing there are many factors that control the texture and the hardness of your soap including the proportions of your ingredients, method used, and the length of time you let your soap cure. The only benefit of using melt and pour soaps, in my opinion, is to avoid having to use the lye yourself because it’s already been added for you. Otherwise it’s more expensive to use and you have a lot less control over the quality of your finished product.
- All her soap ingredients are measured by weight on a scale.
I have never seen a lye based soap being made so it was fascinating and exciting. One thing Kari pointed out to me is that she usually has all her soap making components ready to go, but because she was going to show me the process she dissolved her lye while I was there and we let it sit for a while. When you add water to your measured amount of lye the water starts heating up immediately which is really weird and certainly illustrates how caustic it is. She said she would normally have mixed the lye and water a couple of hours ahead of time because a lot of soap-making is about temperature.
A tip from Kari: always add your lye to the water, never the other way around. If you add water to the lye you could make a lye volcano and hurt yourself.
All the soap making books and on-line instructions I’ve read have you cooking your lye and oils on the stove top. Kari used to make her soaps this way too but heard of another way of doing it years ago and hasn’t gone back since. She adds her lye to her oils and then blends it with an immersion blender until it thickens to the trace point. When it’s reached the proper thickness she pours it into one of her wooden soap molds and puts it in the oven on a low temperature for several hours.
Doesn’t that sound easier than cooking it on the stove-top? Watching Kari make this batch made me feel a lot more confident that I can learn to do this too.
You can see how thick it got just before she poured it into the mold.
Here’s Kari smoothing the soap into the mold before heating it in the oven. After about a day in the mold it will be hard enough to remove and cut into bars but you need to let the bars cure for several weeks, even a few months, for the soap to reach its maximum hardness.
Why should you bother to make your own soap? I think there are a few compelling reasons to make your own soap.
Control Of Ingredients: the majority of soaps out there, whether or not they are fancy or cheap, have a lot of ingredients you’d be better off not using on your skin or polluting our waterways with. Skin is a porous organ and anything you put on it will also go IN it. Skin absorbs poisons really well. So whatever you put on your skin should be healthy, gentle, and pesticide free. The best way in the world to control what’s in your soap is to make it yourself.
Cost Effectiveness (household economy): there are some very cheap soaps out there that will fit a frugal budget but in most cases I’m willing to bet they’ve got a lot of stuff in them you wouldn’t really want inside your body. Natural soaps are expensive. You can nearly always save money making things yourself. Not if you buy expensive kits from craft stores or from fancy gift shops, but if you buy bulk ingredients you can save a lot of money. Sometimes buying bulk isn’t worth it for one family; consider going in on the ingredients with another family and make the soaps together!
No Packaging Waste: every single time we purchase something it comes in packaging. It is possible to buy soaps in specialty shops with no packaging, but this is still rare. More often than not soap comes wrapped in some kind of paper and often it comes in paper and also a box. It may not seem like much, but it all adds up. When you make your own soap you don’t need any packaging.
Personalized: when you make your own bath products half the fun is in being able to make exactly what you want. You develop herbal combinations that specifically suit your skin type and your individual taste in scents. Why let soap companies cram more lavender down your nose?* There are so many essential oils and herbs you can use in your soaps to suit who you are and what your body really wants. I think we all deserve that.
We haven’t set a date yet but when Kari teaches me to make my own batch of soap I’ll be writing up a detailed tutorial so that you can make your own too!
If you have no interest in making your own but would love to have another source for quality hand made natural soaps- check out Kari’s soaps at The Soap Barn!
*I LOVE lavender but I have a friend who hates it.