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Soap is a waxy substance used for cleaning off oil-based substances. It is traditionally made by a chemical reaction between lye and oils, but now soap like detergents have become more popular.

The chemistry

Water and oil are fundamentally different. For this reason, they do not mix well. Washing something with water alone will remove the water-soluble substances, but leave behind most of the oil-based substances. Within these oily substances can be many toxins and pathogens, as well. Soap molecules are long chains with a curve at one end—one end is water-soluble, the other in oil-soluble. I cannot fulled dissolve in either one for these, but will try to attach to both oil and water molecules. When soap is applied to an oily surface, one end attaches to the oil molecules, but the other does not. When water is run over this surface, the other ends attach to the water, and usually end up flowing away with the water, taking its oil molecule with it. As the soap remove the oil, this reveals all the other pathogens and contaminants which where protected, and these then rinse away in the water.

How To Make Soap

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We use soap every day, but many people don’t realize that most commercial “soap” is actually made of harsh detergents that can irritate and dry out their skin. Since real soap has become hard to find, many crafters have started making their own. Soapmaking is easy to learn, and few things are more rewarding than taking a bath or shower with a bar of soap you made yourself.

Many soapmaking tools are common kitchen items. You will need a one-gallon stainless steel or enamel pot, a large heat proof pitcher, a small bowl, wooden or plastic spoons, two thermometers, and rubber gloves. Do not use any utensils for food preparation after you have made soap with them. You will also need safety goggles, a plastic container with a lid to use as a mold, (baby wipe containers work very well), and an old bath towel. The final and most expensive piece of equipment is an accurate scale. A digital scale which has a tare feature and measures in ounces is best.

To make two pounds of mild castile soap, you will need 1.5 pounds of olive oil, 1 ounce of beeswax pearls, 4 ounces of lye (available at most hardware stores where it is sold as a drain cleaner), 10 ounces of distilled water, a small amount of vegetable shortening, and any scents or colorings you wish to add. (Only use scents and pigments intended for use on the skin).

Put on long sleeves, long pants, your goggles, and gloves. If you have long hair, tie it back. Keep a bottle of white vinegar on hand, and if any lye comes in contact with your skin, douse the area with vinegar, which, being highly acidic, neutralizes the alkaline lye.

Place your pot on the scale and record how much it weighs so you will be able to subtract its weight later, or if your scale has a tare feature, press the tare button and the scale will reset to zero. Slowly pour the olive oil into the pot until the scale reads 1.5 pounds. Remember to subtract the pot’s weight if the scale does not have a tare feature. Add one ounce of beeswax. Heat the beeswax and oil to 120oF and set the pot aside.

Weigh 10 ounces of water in the pitcher. Remove the pitcher from the scale and weigh 4 ounces of lye in the small dish. Be very careful because lye can cause severe burns. Slowly pour the lye in to the water, stirring to dissolve the crystals. Don’t pour the water onto the lye or they will react violently. The water and lye will heat up to a high temperature. Be careful not to breathe the fumes coming from the solution. Use the second thermometer to measure the lye and water mixture’s temperature. Wait until the solution cools to 120oF.

As the lye is cooling, grease the container you are using as a mold with vegetable shortening, and put a piece of freezer paper on the bottom. Some soapmakers prefer to line the mold with a plastic garbage bag. Both methods work well, so use whichever one is easier for you. If you use a garbage bag, make sure it lies flat in the mold so your soap will be smooth.

When the lye solution cools to 120oF, slowly add it to the pot of oil and beeswax while stirring briskly. Continue stirring the soap until it begins to thicken. Occasionally test the soap’s thickness by scooping up a little soap and allowing it to drip off a spoon into the soap mixture. When the soap leaves a small bump on the surface of the solution before sinking back in, the soap has reached the stage called “trace”. If you are adding scents or colorings to your soap, add them at this point, and stir them in thoroughly.

Pour the soap into the mold and put the lid on the container. Wrap the mold in the towel and put it in an undisturbed area for 18 hours. Remove the towel and leave the soap for another two hours. Put on your gloves and turn the soap out of the mold. The soap still needs to cure and may be mildly caustic. Let the block sit for a day or two before you slice the soap into bars. Once you have sliced the bars, put them in a well ventilated box so that they do not touch each other and leave them for two weeks or longer. The longer the soap cures, the harder and milder it will be.

Your soap is now ready to use. Try to keep your homemade soap out of the stream of the shower if possible. This will help the bar to last longer.