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Home Soapmaking Made Easy

By Lacy Razor 


Tags: soap, laundry detergent,

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 the manufacturing of soap. One of the best known legends is that soap takes its name from Mount Sapo, the location of many animal sacrifices by the ancient Romans. Rain then washed the mixture of animal fats and wood ash onto the clay banks of the Tiber where women scrubbed their families’ clothing and first discovered that the soapy water made the clothes much cleaner. Of course, animal sacrifices would probably not have created enough fat to make soap but “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” right?

Most experts credit the Ancient Babylonians as the first to produce soap since they carved a tablet with the first known soap recipe in 2200 B.C. While the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Mayans were bathing regularly in sudsy bubble baths, the early (and stinky) Europeans were still whacking each other over the head with wooden clubs in caveman fashion. During this time, soap making was actually quite dangerous. Soap makers boiled animal fats, water, and lye in large kettles outdoors. The only test for the strength of their lye solution was to float an egg in it. All of that changed when LeBlanc, a French chemist, figured out how to create sodium hydroxide (lye) from sodium chloride (table salt) in 1790. Thank goodness for the French, eh? Soap making practices dramatically improved and soap no longer “took your hide right off.”

So how do you make soap properly and why bother doing so in today’s world where it 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, well… you’ve come to the right place. Here’s how (I’ll dispel the myths along the way):

The first step is to make friends with your local butcher and ask him/her to save the trimmings of fat from the steaks and cuts of beef that come in. Since those scraps are usually tossed, you can obtain the tallow for free (cha-ching!). Gather a large pot, sieve, and cheese cloth. Set them up so that you can drain the fat into the pot. Now grind up the fat with a cast iron meat grinder or food processor.

Grinding the trimmings

Take the ground trimmings and put them in a kettle with 1 Tbsp of salt per pound of trimmings and cover with water (the salt ensures that when you make soap – it makes nice firm bars). Let this mixture slow cook on low heat until all that remains is a gray bubbling brew with gray hamburger meat floating in it. Be sure that you keep the fan on above the stove.

Trimmings in the pot

Pour the contents of the kettle into the sieve which is lined with cheese cloth and let it strain out. If you have lots of trimming to process still – refill your kettle with water, salt, and ground trimmings. Continue processing until all is finished. Now refrigerate the drippings overnight.

Straining the trimmings

The next morning, scoop out the solid fat on the top and throw out the brown jelly. Weigh the rendered fat and use the fat calculator to figure out how much lye and water you need. Just plug and chug with your amount of tallow and that you are using water and sodium hydroxide (lye). Need conversions? Click here.

Refrigerated Tallow

Gather lye, distilled water (or rain water), scales, stainless steel kettle, resin cake pans or soap moulds, glass measuring cup with a handle, two candy thermometers with kettle clips, and the tallow. Goggles and gloves should be handy, too. Lye (sodium hydroxide) can be found in your local hardware store in the plumbing section. I don’t advise making it from wood ash, actually.

Soap Makin's

Measure out your lye and water. Now, pay attention!!! Make sure that you are either outdoors or the fan above your stove is on. Put on your safety goggles. Add the lye to the water. The water will get VERY hot. Watch the thermometer temperature climb. It’s amazing!

Place the tallow in the kettle and begin to melt it on low heat. Stir frequently with the fan on. Make sure that you attach thermometers to lye water measuring cup and the kettle full of tallow. As soon as the tallow has melted completely, remove from heat.  Once the lye water and the fat reach the roughly the same temperature – about 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit – add the lye water to the fat. Stir. Now keep stirring. I like to use a hand mixer (a yard sale find) but stick blenders are nice, too. I stir for a while and then take a break and then come back to stir some more. Some people will tell you that you must stir constantly and never leave the mixture alone. But I'm not some people. Stir at least every 5-10 minutes until the temperature rises 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Adding lye-water to tallow

If you wish to add scents or colors, stir them in and pour the soap into moulds. I use the resin cake pans because I don’t have line them and the soap is easy to remove after hardening. In twenty-four hours, remove the soap from the pan(s) and cut into bars. Let the bars air or age on cooling racks or use produce containers. Some people will tell you that you MUST age the soap. You don't actually have to age the bars. They really are perfectly safe for use if you have followed the advice of the lye calculator – no more acidic than pool water.

Using a mixer on the tallow/lye mixture

How much did it cost? I purchased the lye for $1 a can (on sale) and used about ¼ of the can, got the rainwater from the sky, and obtained the fat for free. I made four pounds of soap for 25 cents. At no point did I feel that I took any health risks during the manufacturing process.

Soap in molds

What do I do with all that soap? First, I take a bar and make a few gallons of laundry detergent. Want to know how?

Laundry soap ingredients

You will need the following:

2 cups or 1 grated bar of unscented, organic soap (Fels Naptha, Sunshine, Octagon, or homemade soap)

6 cups water (to be added cup at a time)

3/4 cup Borax Natural Laundry Booster

3/4 cup all natural washing soda

1 quart HOT tap water

1 gallon tap water

Using an old kettle, heat soap and two cups of water (add the other four cups one at a time, stirring constantly). Don't let it boil even if you are really enjoying yourself and have begun to cackle while quoting "Macbeth." Measure & mix the Borax and washing soda. Pour the mixture into your bubbling brew. Stir. Continue to stir until dissolved and then remove from heat. Resist the urge to stick your feet in even though it does look totally inviting.

Bubbling soapmaking brew

Add 1 quart of HOT tap water to the bottom of a large tub.Pour the soapy mixture (which should be thickening slightly) into the tub and stir. Pour in that gallon of tap water now. Stir some more. Your arms will hate me.

Adding soap mixture to water

While stirring, you have my permission to add scent to your goop. I like lemon or lavender or cucumber – something refreshing. I think apple scent would be pretty nifty, too.

Adding scent to laundry soap

Now you can refill your detergent bottles and enjoy some more cackling. You savvy thing, you. Let the mixture cool before pouring it into the bottles and don't be surprised if it separates a little bit. That's normal. Really. Use 1/2 cup per load. It works like a dream.

Ready-to-use homemade laundry soap

Making your own soap really pays off. Not only do you have your very own homemade soap, know exactly what’s in it, but you can go on to make your very own laundry detergent. You'll be hooked faster than long hair on fly paper. NOTE: The homemade detergent will not create any suds (this is disappointing to many people who associate cleaning power with sudsy froth).

The historical information comes from the book Smart Soapmaking by Anne L. Watson. If you don't currently own this book and have any thoughts about making soap – I advise picking up a copy of your very own. The woman is a genius.

Please visit the Razor Family Farms Web site.

pam fries
11/3/2013 8:42:49 PM

Is lard and tallow the same thing? The store where I work sell large clumps of lard for people. That would be really easy. And can you use some coconut oil in place of some of the tallow for lather?


jennifer nemec
8/25/2008 11:47:30 AM

Hi Lacy, Got my soap today! Thanks so much! I resisted the urge to grate it up into laundry detergent and shared it with my Grit cohorts instead. Jean, Hank, and I each have a third of a bar to take home and try. We'll all be so clean and fragrance-free tomorrow... (Hank said he's going to use it for shampoo, too.) :) What did you use to color it? And the pretty texture is from your special soap-friendly mixer, right? Best, Jenn


becky and andy
8/21/2008 12:50:11 PM

Lacy, Thank you for your kind words on our first blog! I was checking out your website and it makes me wish we weren't half a country away from each other! You are doing all the great things my grandmothers did but never got the chance to pass on to me. (They passed on too early!!) Andrew and I have always said, we're arriving at the farm one generation too late; all the homemade things that used to be common on a farm have been lost to the ages. Andy does basic canning and I can make a loaf of bread, but we have goals of raising and grinding our own grain, making all our own dairy products and making most of our farm items. We need crash courses in almost everything! Does anyone actually churn butter anymore? Who around us butchers their own chickens? We are in this by ourselves and although that can be exciting, it can also be very daunting. We will be checking back at your site quite often! Thank you so much for giving and sharing as much as you do. That is a wonderful personality trait to have, and one that I admire. Becky


becky and andy
8/21/2008 12:48:23 PM

Lacy, Thank you for your kind words on our first blog! I was checking out your website and it makes me wish we weren't half a country away from each other! You are doing all the great things my grandmothers did but never got the chance to pass on to me. (They passed on too early!!) Andrew and I have always said, we're arriving at the farm one generation too late; all the homemade things that used to be common on a farm have been lost to the ages. Andy does basic canning and I can make a loaf of bread, but we have goals of raising and grinding our own grain, making all our own dairy products and making most of our farm items. We need crash courses in almost everything! Does anyone actually churn butter anymore? Who around us butchers their own chickens? We are in this by ourselves and although that can be exciting, it can also be very daunting. We will be checking back at your site quite often! Thank you so much for giving and sharing as much as you do. That is a wonderful personality trait to have, and one that I admire. Becky


razor family farms
8/20/2008 1:34:23 PM

Hi Lori! I'm so glad that you liked the post! Soapmaking is one of my favorite activities and for so many reasons: 1.) I am incredibly cheap... I mean thrifty. Thrifty sounds better, right?? 2.) I really like telling people that I make my own laundry detergent. Their expressions are priceless. 3.) I am VERY forgetful and must keep a supply of gifts on hand for emergencies. Soap is a great gift. And when you are out of soap, pour some laundry detergent in a canning jar, add fabric, and ribbon then roll up a few hand towels. Seriously, they'll love it. Unless, of course, they are like my beloved city-boy uncle. 4.) See number one. Blessings! Lacy Razor


lori
8/20/2008 6:31:33 AM

Lacy, I'm so glad you did this blog. I am crazy busy right now with canning and freezing all our garden goodies, but as soon as things slow down, I intend to try making soap. I am going to print this blog entry, and have it close by to refer to as I go. I'll let you no how it works out. ;^)


razor family farms
8/18/2008 9:21:28 PM

Yeongshe -- You are too! I love your website and (of course) your beautiful Goldens! Jennifer -- It's very strong stuff. Remember, it is drain opener! I like to mix it outside when I make a large batch but with batches four pounds or less... the exhaust fan is fine. Christina -- I never forget my blogging-sisters! Thank you for your wonderful comments! Congratulations to Jennifer and Marlene! You each won a bar of homemade soap! Please email me with your mailing addresses so I can send you your soap. Blessings! Lacy Razor


razor family farms
8/18/2008 9:05:35 PM

Holly, the Knitter -- Thank you so much! You rock, too! Julie at Elisharose -- I wish I could make the powdered but it's harder on our septic that and I like using my laundry detergent in my dishwasher, too. And who doesn't love gallons of goop? Marlene -- I can't wait to hear about all the cool things that you will do when you get your country home! You inspire me! C.C.-- It's really not as hard as you might think. Really. And the money that you save is just amazing. Rita -- Yes, making soap can take up some time. You can make soap with all kinds of things though -- Crisco, lard, tallow, and more. Also, Octagon and Fels Naptha are great to use and WAY less expensive. Cindy -- Thank you for your comment and for visiting the site! I'm so glad that you liked it! Believe it - it is easy and fun! Applie -- Or win homemade soap, right? Thank you for your comment! Dawn -- I'm glad you liked the history lesson. I love learning about where things come from and the legends surrounding them. Paulette -- Homemade soap makes for a terrific Christmas gift! Are you having a homemade Christmas? We had one of those last year and it was wonderful. Crossview -- Lye really isn't as frightening as you might think. As long as you make soap in small batches (four pounds of fat or less) then you should be fine. When you start making bigger batches then it gets a little strong. Marky -- I wonder if she rendered the tallow herself to make that soap? Not many people still do that because soap making supplies are easily ordered through websites and catalogs. I like to make mine the old fashioned way because it costs less and fits with my pioneering spirit. Tipper -- Thank you!!!! :) Barb -- I use essential oils (that are soap safe) which I find at health food stores. I love using fruit and topical scents: citrus, pineapple, coconut, cocoa butter, cucumber, etc. Yeongshe -- You are too! I love your website and (of course) your beau


christina
8/18/2008 6:16:01 PM

Great post.... I am so glad that I can say I knew you "before" you became a famous author! You teach me alot. Thanks. As always, you are awesome! Christina


jennifer nemec
8/18/2008 1:19:59 PM

Hi Lacy! So great to have this kind of thing on the site! I'm so excited to make my own laundry soap. Do you know if it'll work for high efficiency washers? (Do I just use less?) Also, I notice that you keep mentioning the exhaust fan... How bad is it? Would this be a better outdoor activity? :) Keep it up, and we'll keep reading! Jenn


yeongshe davis
8/18/2008 1:01:37 PM

Lacy, You are one girl with many talents!


barb_2
8/17/2008 8:17:42 PM

Cool! Lacy..What a process! You have to be the sweetest, busiest Lady I know! Where do you find the time & energy?! Also...Where do you get your scents & colors? (cute photo with the Dogs "whiffing" the grinder!)


tipper
8/17/2008 7:53:21 PM

You make me think I could actually make soap too! Great post.


marky
8/17/2008 7:50:17 AM

Lacy you make it look So easy! I would love to win some of your soap;-) We bought some last year from an amish gal and we loved it! Honestly I had NO idea what all went into soap making!


crossview
8/17/2008 6:15:21 AM

I'm a little hesitant to deal with lye since, well, I'm a chicken who sidetracks easily! But that laundry detergent looks safe, even for me!


paulette
8/16/2008 6:16:29 PM

Lacy, another awesome post. Your energy and creativity amaze and inspire me. I'm making a resolution to be making soap in time to give for Christmas gifts. (I enjoyed the history lesson too). Paulette


dawn_1
8/16/2008 5:10:30 PM

A great tutorial again. I have been meaning to try that homemade laundry soap but haven't got around to it. Thanks also for the history lesson on soap.


applie_1
8/16/2008 4:20:56 PM

That does look like it might be fun to make, but I am not sure I would try it. I'd rather buy homemade soap. LOL


cindy murphy
8/16/2008 7:19:00 AM

Hi Lacy. As with your sour-dough recipe, you make it all sound so easy, and fun....even your dogs looked like they were enjoying the soap-making process! I browsed through the Razor Family Farms website - something I've been wanted to do since you first started posting here, but haven't had the time. I'm amazed at what seems to me to be your boundless energy!


rita
8/16/2008 4:54:57 AM

What a neat process! I'd like to make my own soap but no time for a few months and while I wait I'd love to use the soap you have made. Thanks!


cc
8/16/2008 1:31:09 AM

Wow. That looks intense but awesome! I don't think I'm up for the challenge quite yet... But making my own laundry detergent I can try!


marlene_1
8/15/2008 11:15:50 PM

Hi Lacy, Thanks for the tutorial on soap/laundry soap. I have been waiting for this. I want to make this when we move to the country. We are planning on going natural as much as possible. It is so nice and refreshing to see these tutorials. How you must inspire many to become self sufficient and take control of their lives. Please continue along this path of serving the needy, (we are all needy). You are a rare person indeed. LOL


julie at elisharose
8/15/2008 10:45:05 PM

I just made my first batch of laundry detergent, but I made powdered. It seemed less intimidating and I use powdered now. I haven't actually used it yet, but I can't wait to! It's a lot cheaper than what I was buying before!


holly, the knitter
8/15/2008 10:26:49 PM

Lacy, you are going to inspire so many people with your soap making stories!!! You Rock, girl!