Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Soap-Making for the First Time

Here's how I came to soapmaking:  I used the beef bones from our quarter of beef to make stock.  There was so much fat on the top that I couldn't bear to throw it away.  It sat in my fridge and freezer for a long time - for a couple of years, I think.  I finally offered it to a local soapmaker, but it didn't fit her method.  Another year went by.  I was shopping for reasonably priced bars of soap for handwashing and suddenly I thought:  why can't I use the tallow and make soap?

melting the fats

So I did. . . . after checking out numerous books from the library, reading some conflicting information online, making copious notes, and waiting for a time at home alone (not wise to work with lye around little kids who don't understand how caustic it is or how the fumes can get around).

I bought coconut oil from the Latino store nearby.  I bought lye from the hardware store in the town where I work.  I borrowed a digital scales because I have an old-school scales that I love and couldn't justify another scales for what might turn out to be a one-time use.  I already owned a stick blender, an instant-read thermometer and a candy thermometer; the tallow was a waste-product from making stock, and I keep the distilled water on hand for my iron.

I lined a cardboard box with pieces of heavy plastic I cut from a bag.  This was my mold.

I read my notes one more time, set out all the equipment, and off I went!  The actual soapmaking process is pretty simple:  make the fats melted and warm, add the lye to water and get the temperature down to warm, blend the fats with the lye/water until thickened, pour in a soap mold, cut into bars after 24 hours, cure for 6 weeks. 

the cardboard mold on top of my fridge for 24 hours - I'm afraid that's how my fridge usually looks

If you're going to make soap, however, do not rely on me for directions, but consider this post inspiration and introduction only.  I highly recommend Smart Soapmaking by Anne L. Watson, although I did not bother to test the finished bars with pH strips, nor did I get completely suited with protective gear when I handled the lye but rather acted with caution and purpose as my grandmothers would have.  I wore gloves and an old apron. 

It was hard to find a tallow recipe that suited the amount I had, but I found one at Miller's Soap that I halved, check on a lye calculator, and used:

Tallow Blend Soap
22 oz. tallow
10 oz. olive oil
10 oz. coconut oil
5.8 oz. lye crystals
16 oz. distilled water

The soap is pale green because when I make stock, I add vegetable tops and the resulting stock and fat has a shade of green in it.  I did not add scent because I love subtly scented soap such as shea butter, honey, oatmeal, or goat's milk.

Now the soap is sitting on its plant nursery tray in a closet to cure.  It is drying out and hardening up some more.  I can't wait to get out the first bar next year!  There was a little piece stuck in the corner of the plastic bag, so I stuck that on my kitchen bar and it seems to be quite nice.  I'm a little surprised that I made soap and it works! 

I'm adding this to my list of homemaking skills and probably when I've saved enough waste-fat, I'll make soap again.


Hazel said...


Soap making is on my list of things to try. Maybe in the new year...

Lisa said...

Wow. Is it going to be used for bathing? Facial soap? Or kitchen soap? How interesting. Were the fumes bad?
Very curious!

Jennifer Jo said...

That's absolutely splendid!

ChatterBlossom said...

This is something that I would love to try, but have been too scared to just do it! You are braver than I.

Margo said...

Lisa, we use bars of soap for handwashing at our sinks instead of liquid soap. So that's what it's for.

As for fumes, I mixed the lye and water outside and let the breeze carry any fumes away from me. So I didn't smell anything at all.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is really great! I have never done this. I admire the saving, and then actually getting to it and using/making that this displays (even though you say it took you a bit). I often save items, but not often enough actually get to it! Good for you! Shauna

Sew Blessed Maw [Judy] said...

Oh Margo, I bet the coconut oil soap smells really good.. Can't wait to hear how well it works.. DOn't for get to share with us, when you get to use it..This is such a smart way to use up the old fat.
My daughter in law's sister makes scented soap ..But not sure how she does it..
You amaze me at all the thrifty things you do..

Rhonda said...

your soap is very pretty and I hope you enjoy using it.

I made soap years ago, during some extremely lean finance years. I used fat saved from hamburger and bacon and Red Devil lye. Ours was not fancy but it cleaned great. My children liked to play in our pasture and by the creek and got poison ivy several times, but once they started bathing with that homemade lye soap, none of them ever broke out from poison ivy again.
I also hand-grated it fine and used it for laundry soap. I don't think I ever used it for dishes though.

Tracy said...

I'm SOOOOOO proud of you! I knew you could do it, Margo!

Margo said...

Rhonda, interestingly enough, my mom was recalling how they used a bar of homemade soap to wash dishes when she was growing up. I might try it once, for kicks.

Wendy Janzen said...

Hi Margo,
I stumbled upon your blog a few months ago, and love it (as well as your pins on Pinterest).
It sometimes feels a bit strange to follow someone online without introducing myself, so I figured it's about time I do that. I'm also Mennonite (from Ontario) and a mom of two young children. I do a lot of cooking & baking from scratch as well as making several of my own bath & beauty products. I made my first batch of soap last February, and in early November I made my second batch, adding Calendula petals I grew in our garden. I've always used vegetable based oils, but you have inspired me to save my animal fats now too and give that a try.
Wendy Janzezn

Margo said...

Wendy, thanks so much for introducing yourself. I'm glad to have you here! I've never made bath and beauty stuff (or you would hear about it on here), but maybe I should give it a whirl.

Anonymous said...

Well done!!! Can't wait to read your assessment of how the dried bars work for you.


Meghan said...

Is there anything you can't do? Wow!

Skin Whitening Body Soap said...

You must have had loads of fun and excitement when you made it for first time.