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Have you ever wanted to try making soap the way your grandma used to? I’ve wanted to for a long time. After all, what’s a self-reliant person supposed to wash themselves with? So I decided that for this episode of the Self Reliant Skill of the Week, I was going to make soap from homemade lye water.
If you’ve been following along on my self reliance journey, you’ll know that I made lye from hardwood ashes a couple weeks ago. Well, I guess not TECHNICALLY lye, but lye water. (And I’m not 100% sure that I didn’t mess it up!)
I’ve done a bunch of research on this, since I’ve never done it myself. I started to try a cold-process soap from scratch recipe from my friend Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead, but I realized AFTER I added the lye to the water that her recipe would be for lye that’s in a powder form. And mine wasn’t, since it’s lye water! So unfortunately I had to scrap that try, but I had to try it again.
Supplies needed to make soap from homemade lye water:
- 1 cup of grease or fat (you can use olive oil, shortening, coconut oil, lard, or tallow)
- 3/8 cup of lye water (make your own from hardwood ash!)
- 1/4 tsp of salt (optional, but makes a harder bar of soap)
- Stainless steel pot (preferably one that you only use for soap)
- Plastic or stainless steel spoon
- Immersion blender (optional but saves a lot of time)
Soap making tips:
Make sure you’re wearing gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection. Lye is very caustic and can burn your skin. And if it gets in your eyes, it could actually blind you!
Lye can eat through aluminum or fabric. It reacts with metal, except for stainless steel. Plastic, enamel, or glass is a better option for storing and using lye.
Keep your soap batter warm but not too hot during the entire process. It should be between 90 and 120 degrees.
Once your soap batter hits “trace” it’s done, and should be poured in your mold immediately. “Trace” is when you can drag a spoon across your batter and you can see the line.
Of course, you can add fragrances or colors to your soap, but we’re going for the basic, old-fashioned soaps that our ancestors made. Plus, since I’m a newbie myself, I left the additives out!
Here is my video of my very first time making soap:
Process for making soap from lye water
Make sure you’re making your soap in an area that’s free from distractions, kids, or pets. Also, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. Outside is best. Use a mask so you don’t breathe the vapors. And make sure you are wearing long sleeves, gloves, and safety glasses.
Start by melting 1 cup of your chosen fats in the stainless steel pot. Don’t boil it, just make sure it is nice and melted and warm. 120 degrees is ideal. Turn off the heat. Slowly pour in 3/8 cup of your lye water, and mix well with the immersion blender for 3 minutes.
If you are wanting a harder bar of soap (soap made with lye water isn’t as hard as commercial soap), you can add 1/4 tsp of salt at this point.
Mix with the immersion blender for another 10 minutes, then allow to rest for about 10 minutes. After the rest period, mix for 1 minute, then allow to rest again for 10 minutes. Keep alternating this process.
You want to continue this process until the soap batter is solid cream or light brown, without streaks. It will become thick like pudding, and then your soap will hit “trace”. This process can take a bit of time.
To check for “trace”, draw a line in the thick soap batter with a spoon. If you can see the line you just drew, your soap is done!
Immediately pour your soap batter into your mold. I didn’t have a soap mold, so I needed to DIY a soap mold.
Put your soap in an area that it can be undisturbed for at least 24 hours. It’s best to keep a towel over it to help hold in some of the warmth.
After 24 hours, you can remove the towel, but you probably don’t want to take the soap out of the mold yet. It needs to cure for a few days to be hard enough to cut it.
When the soap is firm, remove from the mold and cut into pieces that are easy to handle. It is soap, after all!
But wait – don’t use that bar to scrub-a-dub-dub yet! Your soap will need to FULLY cure so it’s no longer caustic. The curing process takes about 6 weeks. Keep the soap in a dry, somewhat climate-controlled area while it’s curing.
When the soap is completely cured, store it in glass jars, plastic, or butcher paper.
You can definitely make a larger batch if you have more lye water (I wasted a lot of mine in my first botched attempt), just double, triple, or quadruple the same ratio of 1 cup oils to 3/8 cup of lye water.
Ready to make soap from lye water – completely from scratch?
Lots of people are hesitant to make their own soap, because of concerns of working with lye. While there are some precautions you need to take, you don’t have to worry!
Just keep in mind that lye is a natural chemical, but it is caustic. Caustic is the opposite of acidic. But it can actually still burn you. Wear gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection, and make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area (outside, if at all possible).
Don’t be intimidated. Trust me – if I can make soap from homemade lye water, you can too. Just don that protective equipment, dive in, and do it!
Make sure you share your experiences in the comments. Let’s learn together!