Easy Homemade Soap

Turn household items from duds to suds.

| January/February 2009

  • Chickens and homemade soap mean rural living
    A basket of handmade soap, towels and sponges are perfect for gift-giving, and for drawing the attention of the chickens.
    Lacy Razor
  • Resourceful gift-giving
    Dress it up in a bow, and give homemade soap to loved ones this holiday season.
    iStockphoto.com/Kutay Tanir
  • Colored bars
    Colorful and custom handmade soaps are a common sight at farmers' markets and street fairs.
    iStockphoto.com/Dan Moore
  • Trimmings in the kettle
    When melting the trimmings, keep the exhaust fan on, or do it outdoors.
    iStockphoto.com/Petro Feketa
  • Scrap meat minimizes costs
    You can often obtain the tallow needed for soapmaking for free, but make sure to keep the dogs out of it.
    Lacy Razor
  • Fancy soapmaking tools
    Common equipment works when making your own soap; specialty items just add to the fun.
    iStockphoto.com/Ferran Traite Soler
  • Strain in colander
    Strain the melted down trimmings in a cheesecloth-lined colander.
    Lacy Razor
  • Stir, stir, stir
    Stir at least every 5 to 10 minutes until the temperature rises 2 or 3 degrees.
    Lacy Razor
  • Lye water and fat
    Once the lye water and fat reach roughly the same temperature, add the lye water to the fat.
    Lacy Razor
  • Tallow
    Stir the tallow frequently with the fan on. Make sure before you start you attach thermometers to the lye-water measuring cup and the kettle full of tallow.
    Lacy Razor
  • Letting it cool
    The author uses flexible cake pans so the soap is easy to remove after hardening.
    Lacy Razor

  • Chickens and homemade soap mean rural living
  • Resourceful gift-giving
  • Colored bars
  • Trimmings in the kettle
  • Scrap meat minimizes costs
  • Fancy soapmaking tools
  • Strain in colander
  • Stir, stir, stir
  • Lye water and fat
  • Tallow
  • Letting it cool
SIDEBARS
Soap Factoids
Use of Borax in Homemade 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 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.

stacey weber
3/6/2011 1:14:42 AM

Love the article! I'm looking forward to trying some of your recipes. I made my first batch of lard soap for a locally focused butcher shop/market that is due to open very soon in Houston. My husband raises pigs so I have plenty of lard to do something with... I simply adore the brown crinkly paper strips that wrap your soap in the picture. Where did you find that or did you make it yourself? It makes such a lovely presentation, and I'd love to replicate it if you don't mind sharing! Cheers, Stacey W.


Josephine
1/28/2009 9:39:18 AM

Hi, for the laundry detergent, I mix the dry ingredients together without water or cooking, and use it dry. It takes much less room to store and works great, I use between 2T and 4T depending on the size and dirtiness of the clothes. I have also used it in the dishwasher and it did a great job. I also spinkled it on the oven door and bottom to clean up burnt on messes. I really do want to learn soap making, and look forward to trying your recipe. We plan on raising some pigs this year and will have our own source of fat. My dear mate says that you use everything but the squeal. I will also try your bleach alternative, can you use that on colored fabrics? thanks for a great article.


Razor Family Farms
1/3/2009 6:11:36 PM

Hi Elisa! It doesn't matter if you use the bottled or the fresh juice -- both work just fine. I love that substitute and have even put it in spray bottles for the various stains that appear on my kids' clothing. Also, the kids use it in spray bottles when they clean their bathroom. It won't hurt them and it does a great job on tile, sinks, and commodes. Blessings and thanks! Lacy Razor www.razorfamilyfarms.com NEWS @ Razor Family Farms (GRIT.com)




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