Home Soapmaking Made Easy

| 8/15/2008 12:05:55 PM

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

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

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