Easy Homemade Soap
Turn household items from duds to suds.
Dress it up in a bow, and give homemade soap to loved ones this holiday season.
Soap is essential to our existence and enjoys a rich history of prolonging human life (and enabling us to tolerate close quarters with one another). As with any process that dates back a few millennia, there is quite a bit of legend and myth surrounding both the origin and manufacturing of soap. But once you cut through all the grime, you see that making your own soap is easy, inexpensive and cleanly rewarding.
Stories of cleanliness
In one of the best-known legends, soap takes its name from Mount Sapo, a place where the ancient Romans performed many animal sacrifices. Rain then washed the mixture of animal fats and wood ash onto the clay banks of the Tiber River, where women scrubbed their families’ clothing and first discovered that the soapy water made the clothes much cleaner. Although animal sacrifices would probably not have created enough fat to make soap, it is from this legend that the name for the process of making soap, saponification, comes (see “How Lye Becomes Soap”).
Most experts credit the ancient Babylonians with first producing soap, since they carved a tablet with the first-known soap recipe in 2800 B.C. The Babylonians, Egyptians and Mayans were bathing regularly in sudsy bubble baths, while other early (and stinky) peoples were still whacking each other over the head with wooden clubs in caveman fashion.
Early soap makers boiled animal fats, water and lye (made from wood ash) in large kettles. They tested the strength of their lye solution by floating an egg in it. In 1790 LeBlanc, a French chemist, figured out how to create sodium hydroxide (lye) from sodium chloride (table salt). Soapmaking practices changed dramatically, and using soap no longer involved risking your hide.
So, how do you make soap properly and why bother doing so in today’s world, where it’s so readily available? Isn’t making your own soap expensive? Isn’t lye dangerous?
Truthfully, making soap can be as expensive and complicated as you decide to make it. If you want to keep it inexpensive and simple, lard and beef tallow are your friends. Once you have mastered traditional soap, you may want to dabble in soaps that include pricey oils, butters and scents.
Beef Tallow Soap
This economical, soft bar soap is not your grandma’s lye soap, but it’s pretty close.
The first step is to befriend your local butcher and ask her to save the fat trimmings from the various cuts of beef she processes. Since those scraps are often discarded, you can obtain the tallow for free.
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