Saturday, June 9, 2012

Making Lye Soap

I envisioned a post, in a few weeks, showing perfect, beautiful smooth bars of creamy soap. I even had the entire post written out in my head. But as nothing in this life is ever perfect, the hopeful post was doomed. So I will write this one in place of it. Because, after all, it is something to write about. 

I have been wanting to make real homemade soap for quite some time. I have fake kinds before - the "melt and pour" kind and the kind where you use glycerin instead of lye. But to me that didn't seem real enough. It was like eating a low fat, sugar-free brownie from a box when the thing you want is a real, dark, chewy, moist and decadent brownie made with plenty of real butter and sugar. For a while I have wanted to make some all natural soap for the baby and with only 9 weeks to go now, I knew I'd have to make it soon so it would have time to cure and get mild before she arrives. At last I got some oils together and was hugely delighted this week to actually find 100% sodium hydroxide at a new store in a nearby town. On Thursday I made my first batch of lye soap with coconut milk and rose essential oil and it seemed to come out well, but almost too well - I knew something had to give.

It did, the next day, when I removed it from the mold and tried to cut it. I molded it in a cylinder and wanted to slice it into rounds. Sadly, the rounds crumbled around the edges when I cut them and as I neared the bottom as I was slicing some of the rounds just plain broke away. My thought was that the soap had become too hard, too quickly. I didn't know what to do. I could have used the crumble-sided soap as it was but I wanted it to look *perfect*. I decided to rebatch the soap and cut it when it was not so hard. It took me a few hours to melt the soap down over low heat in the oven and after it had melted I pushed/patted it into a recipe box lined with plastic and wax paper. I was very disappointed at the appearance of my once-perfectly-creamy-white soap. It was so brown and gloopy and gelled. 

In the meantime, to help lift my spirits, I made another batch of soap using the same basic recipe but adding honey and oatmeal at trace. It didn't trace quick as thick as the first batch but after a half hour of beating I poured it into a mold and decided to just let it become what it was going to become. This morning I took it out of the mold and cut it - I was terrified of it becoming too hard - and it was still somewhat soft and the knife easily sliced through it. Happiness! The bars aren't "perfect" and I think there are some air pockets in there from beating and beating and beating to bring it to trace but that is okay, since the oatmeal gives it a rustic sort of texture and appearance anyhow. And the honey makes them smell oh-so-good. 

I also removed the rebatched soap from the mold and cut it while it was still soft. It was almost *too* soft to cut but a thin, sharp knife did the trick quite well and now I have my bars of soap drying. And the color has improved. The rebatched soap is still not dry and has a slightly spongey texture but I read that for rebatched soap, that is normal since there is extra liquid that will have to evaporate as it cures. (I added 4 oz. liquid for every pound - this case two - per suggestions from experienced soap makers). 

Morals of story: 

Perfection is not attainable.
Adapting ones mindset to accept less than perfection is beneficial to ones mental state of happiness.
Embrace the unpredictable results of experimentation. 
Learn to love the rustic look.
Make more soap. It's fun.



  1. At any rate, your soap looks good enough to eat! They look like yummy oatmeal bars, and probably smell like em too!

  2. I think you did a great job. I mean, you made your own soap! I wouldn't know where to start. That took some creativity and perseverance. And it must be so satisfying! Nice job!

  3. They look great! Definitely close enough to perfect to count, I think.

  4. Nice looking soaps despite the initial mishaps! And they truly look like fudge candy :)
    I've also been making soap and at least until now have had good luck with them. I started with the most basic soap you can make - the marseille. Measure everything before beginning with the mixing: 500g olive oil, 125g of water and 64g of lye. Pour the water in a big jelly jar (glass with a metal cap) add the lye - close jar and twirl it gently until all the lye is dissolved.
    Let the lye-water cool to about 50C and then pour it into the olive oil. I find the best mixing utensil to be a cheap handblender. Pulse the mixture until it thickens. Pour into a mold and cut on the next day.

    I've found mixes with essential oils, sugars (honey) and milk products overheat easier than those without and can therefore be a bit tricky.

  5. Is it weird that that soap looks good to eat? You're inspiring me to make my own soap... I almost never use soap because my skin dries out so easily but I've been reading that this homemade soap is much better in that respect, so I may have to try it!

    And I think your rustic bars look beautiful :-)

  6. I think your soap looks beautiful. I lean towards more rustic soaps, because my mom and I made all of our family's soap (except my dad, he is an Ivory snob) when I was in my teens. We had so much fun. We made goat milk soap with milk from our goats. We colored soap with melted crayons. You do have to be careful with that-certain crayon dyes react with the lye and change color. One fun one is coffee soap-add coffee grounds. It makes a great kitchen soap as it is slightly abrasive on the hands and the coffee smell covers any unpleasant odors your hands might take on when working with foods such as onions or garlic. I miss that stuff.

    Do you have an immersion (stick) blender? We bought one midway through our soap making journey and I'd never make soap without one again. It brings soap to trace sooo much faster than a whisk, spoon, or anything else we tried. If you plan to keep making soap, you won't regret having one. You'll be able to clean it up just fine between batches of soap, so you can use it on food as well.

    Have fun! I'd love to see photos of other soaps you come up with. I'm kinda jealous. I could never indulge in something so potentially dangerous with my kids at the ages they are.

  7. Emily, coloring the soaps with crayons sounds intriguing! I was thinking about different ways to color soaps with things like spinach water or carrots or blueberries, but crayons sound fun as well. I can tell this will be an ongoing experiment! Judah and Malachi especially have sensitive skin that gets very dry, even with using Dove soap (that is all I can use without totally drying out). David and little David have skin of iron and can use anything with no ill effect, it seems. : /

    I'd like to try goats milk at some point. I really like the creaminess of the coconut milk in the little sliver of rose soap that I tried (i know, it has to cure for weeks but i figured it was safe to test since I heated it when rebatching it). I will need to find a source for goatmilk. . . maybe asking around at the 4-H fair next month would be a good thing to do.

    I freaked out when the boys came near the kitchen when I was making these. For the most part I kept them outside but when they did come in to get a drink, they were not allowed to even come in the kitchen (thankfully it can be shut off from the rest of the house). When the weather is bad and they are stuck indoors I think I will have to do my soap making at night while they are asleep.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!