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Success! I finally made a batch of soap that I liked

Soap 1

After some great advice from the wonderful people here on the forum my second attempt at making soap turned out MUCH better than the first time. Check out the comments on this forum thread to see my first failed attempt.

For those who are interested in making soap, I’ll give a brief summary of how to do it.

Shopping list:

  • Pure sodium hydroxide (lye). I bought 2lb for $16 on Amazon and it came with a free silicone mold. I’d link to the item I bought but it doesn’t seem to be available any longer.
  • Silicone molds. These make the process much nicer and produce a better bar than homemade cardboard molds, so it is definitely worth investing in these.
  • Two small 3-4 gallon buckets
  • Silicone spatula
  • Soap blender
  • Disposable paper cup
  • Kitchen scale to measure ingredients
  • Fat sources. Coconut oil, beef tallow, olive oil, and many other options. Check out the possibilities on soapcalc.net to see what they can help you use. Avoid polyunsaturated fats, I learned this the hard way in my first attempt, which is linked up above.
  • Distilled water
  • Eye protection and disposable gloves

A quick and dirty summary of how soap is made is that you take some fat source like olive oil, mix with lye and water, and chemical reactions happen that turn it into soap.

To calculate what recipe you are going to use, go onto soapcalc.net and plug in your various fat sources and how much you have. For this successful attempt I used about 2/3 beef tallow and 1/3 coconut and olive oil. The users on this forum taught me which parameters I should shoot for. I went with an INS of 160, higher than this gives you a harsher soap and having some superfat to offset possibly being off on your recipe and avoiding excess lye that will burn you. Tweak your fat levels until you reach the goals you are going for. Here is my recipe. I don’t know what all this means but I’ve highlighted the things I look at.

2021.12.03 soap recipe highlighted

According to your recipe, measure out your ingredients. Use a disposable cup for the lye, but the other food grade materials (water and the fats) can be measured into your normal kitchen’s bowls because they won’t touch anything toxic. 

Take one of the 4 gallon buckets outside and put on eye protection, gloves, and a long sleeve shirt. Pour in the water first and then the lye and stir with the spatula. It will give off some nasty fumes and heat up pretty hot from the chemical reaction. 

Back inside you will heat up your fats to as close to the same temperature as the lye mixture. I just threw it all in the crock pot and melted down the solid beef tallow and coconut oil. If you are doing just oils like coconut oil and olive oil then just heat them up in the microwave.

Combine the lye and oil mixture in your second bucket and mix for 2-3 minutes with the electric mixer until it is very creamy and thickens up a bit.

Pour the liquid soap into the molds and use the spatula to clean out the last drop. Put the molds in a cool dark cupboard and cover with a cloth for it to harden. I gave it a couple days and then pulled the soap bars out of the molds and stood them up on a piece of cardboard to get more airflow. Let them sit for a month to cure and they are ready to use.

Soap 2

The nice bars in the back of this picture were from the mold, and the weird pieces were ones that I broke up from a large chunk in a cardboard mold that I made. I won’t use a homemade mold again and will get more silicone molds because they make it so much nicer.

My soap bars smelt very strongly like beef broth when they were just poured into the molds. By the time a month had passed and they were ready to use they still smelt slightly beefy if you put your nose up to them. When you lather your hands a smell of beef broth can be smelt but your hands don’t smell like anything after you rinse them off. It’s an interesting smell that I don’t particularly like, but my wife has showered with it and said she didn’t smell anything. Maybe I am just more sensitive to it. Next time I make soap, I have some pig lard that I need to use. It probably won’t smell as strongly as the beef tallow, but I still am going to only put in 25% lard because I am not a fan of the meat smelling soap. I also do not want to add essential oils because I don’t want to smell peppermint beef either.

Well, that’s about it. I am extremely new to this world of soap making and if I said something incorrect please correct me. I don’t know how everything works, I just know that if you do steps A+B you get C and that’s what I want. It’s a fun experiment and I feel a sense of self sufficiency. If there was a nationwide run on soap for whatever reason I could make my own and share with others. Soap and cleanliness is very important for health and moral so it is an important survival and prepping skill to know how to make. At first I was scared and worried I wouldn’t get the chemistry right, and I actually didn’t the first time, but once I knew what to shoot for it was very easy to do. It is not a hard skill to learn and there are so many things and variations you can run with from here. I just like plain, simple, cheap survival soap though. Maybe one day I’ll expand into scents, colors and shapes.  

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  • Comments (21)

    • 2

      Cool!  And congrats!

      • 2

        Thanks! It’s good to finally know what I am doing and have my skill pay off. It only will get better from here with the more batches I make. Practice makes perfect.

      • 2

        Keep us updated

    • 3

      So cool Robert! Looking forward to hearing about more soap adventures!

      I stopped using lard because I didn’t really like the smell of old BBQ when I was making the soap and I only used tallow once as an experiment (I was a little unimpressed). As for essential oils (EO), there is a whole world of them out there, more than just peppermint. I have tried lavender, but I found that it doesn’t last much beyond the curing phase. There are fragrance oils that hold a scent way better than EO and, again, they are another whole world, but they are artificial. I do use them in soaps for gifts if I know the recipient doesn’t much mind about man-made chemicals. For my own soap, though, I don’t use any fragrance at all.

      I have strayed into the realm of using milk products (like goat or almond, or even leftover whey from making cheese) in soap, I use it as a substitute for water and make sure I use it frozen. I then add the sodium hydroxide (NaOH, lye) right onto the frozen milk and continue to stir it until it’s all incorporated. I didn’t know that handy little nugget when I first tried it (long winded post about the process here, about halfway down, on a blog I no longer use) and the smell was…remarkable… 🙂

      I too was firmly in the overwhelmed camp when I first looked into making soap – between dire warnings about NaOH and the eleventy-billion steps outlined on artisanal soap websites, I never thought I could do it. I’m really glad for you that you’re pursuing this. Even getting this far, you deserve to be proud of yourself!

      • 1

        That is really cool you are using milk products. I know a lot of people really like those kinds of soap. Do you have to adjust the recipe in any other way or is it just a 1:1 substitute for water?

      • 3

        I straight substitute for water, 1:1, and haven’t had any issues with it being too soft/hard/etc. I have used long-life (or UHT) almond and goats milk as well as powdered goat’s milk. I haven’t used powdered milk much and I’ve tried it as a make-the-milk-first method and then I tried the soap with water and just add the milk powder once the oils and lye solution are incorporated, but well before trace. For the latter, I had to work quickly as the sugars in the milk hasten the trace process and the batter is nearly too thick to pour. Weirdly, I don’t get that issue when I’m using liquid milk.

        I do think that milk soaps would probably have a best before date, but on the small test batches I ran, that wasn’t an issue as they were used up by about three months, I think.

      • 2

        I’ll have to study up on milk soap and make a nice batch as a Christmas gift when it will be used soon after.

        I will stick with water though for my long term prepping soap because it will be more shelf stable.

    • 3

      That does look like good soap, and I read it with interest, as I’m planning to make soap myself for the first time this coming spring.  (Well I’ve “made soap” at a workshop at a festival before, but the ingredients and instructions were provided by someone else, so that was cheating.)

      I have worked a lot with tallow for other purposes though, and I wanted to mention that you can get rid of the smell completely (even in venison tallow!) by cooking it in water enough times.  To do that, place about 2 parts water to one part rendered fat in a pot large enough not to boil over, bring it to a rolling boil for a few minutes, let it cool, scrape any visible impurities off the bottom of the cake of tallow, and repeat with clean water.  After maybe 8 cleanings I can’t smell it, and after 12 to 16 cleanings, you get a fat so clean that dogs won’t even try to lick it – which for certain uses, is important!

      It does take patience – more for the cooling than the cooking – but if you have a big batch to do at once it’s fairly worth the effort.

      • 1

        I did one cleaning of the tallow in the crock pot with some water, let it harden and then scraped the impurities off the bottom but there weren’t any visual impurities in this batch so I thought I was good to go and make it.

        Thanks for the tip that more cleanings would have reduced the smell.

        Hope your batch of soap goes well whenever you make it. If you need to run a recipe by some experts first, the people on this forum have been really great.

    • 2

      Glad your soap turned out so well and you learned a new skill! 🧼

    • 2

      Kudos on trying, learning, iterating, and improving. Very cool work. Thanks for sharing.

    • 2

      I made my third batch of soap and it turned out EVEN BETTER than the second batch which I featured in this thread. 

      With this new batch, I bought more silicone soap molds because they weren’t that expensive and makes such a nicer to use bar than the DIY cardboard mold.

      molds

      With this batch, I used less animal fat and more oils to hopefully cut down on that beefy smell, and it worked. The bars don’t smell like anything, which is what I was going for.

      Soap 04

      IMG_20220520_104027_1

      As you can see in this picture, one of my previous bars of soap is on the left and is all chalky, white, crumbly, and just not as well made as the new batch on the right. Everyone in our house really has enjoyed the newer batch because it not only smells better, it is more creamy, lathers more, the bar holds together better, and the bars just last longer. This definitely was a win and I will make this batch again.

      I did make two bars with some lavender essential oil to see how those would turn out. The scent did diminish from when the bars were initially cast to when they have hardened and were ready to use, but it still is there and is pleasant. So I’ll make a couple of those again next batch and use those for the bathroom sink because my wife likes that.

      IMG_20220520_103337

      • 2

        Wow! WTG! Those definitely look more “appetizing.” I am so thankful that we have two very prolific plants here in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert that can be easily used as soap, with no processing needed, lol

      • 2

        Also, if you want to make lavender-scented soap, try using whole lavender flower buds. They will release their oils as you rub the soap over your body or a washcloth. I had a small lavender bud pillow that I used to sleep with, and whenever the scent diminished, all I had to do was simply twist or smash the pillow and more scent would be released :). That small pillow lasted for 10 years!

      • 1

        There is something that my grandma had that had lavender buds in it so I know what you are talking about. I’ll have to get some of those, it will add some color as well.

        What are the two plants in the desert that can be used as soap? How do you use them?

      • 1

        Yucca and creosote! They are literally EVERYWHERE where I live in AZ. 

        We have an extremely different environment, here. I am originally from the Midwest, so I thought the AZ desert was a dead place before I moved here. Boy, was I wrong!  The Sonoran Desert is teeming with life and edibles, the main one being Mesquite pods, followed closely by Palo Verde tree beans.  While finding water can be an issue, finding food is not! Oh. Forgot about the rattlesnakes and scorpions, hahah

        Here’s a great video on the plants you can use as soap:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8QU8-_3uIM

    • 3

      I make a brine bar (salt is dissolved in liquid/water before adding the lye). I use a stainless steel container for the lye. My recipe which friends love is as follows

      40% olive oil

      30% beef tallow (food grade)

      20% coconut oil

      10% castor oil

      I use a 5% superfat (excess fat that is not saponified)

      As I use salt in the liquid this soap cures really fast after reaching trace, so once you see that, move fast and pour into individual moulds – brine bars cure hard so you will not be able to cut once cured.

      If you are looking for a good book on soapmaking, I would recommend Jan Berry’s book Simple and Natural Soapmaking.

      https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/books/

      She has a section on soapmaking on her site so you can look further.

      https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/soapmaking/

      • 1

        In my 2nd attempt, I poured salt into the water, lye, and fat mixture right before pouring into the molds. Maybe I should have dissolved it into the water before adding to the lye. 

        And the reason you add the salt is just to make the bar hard right? What are the benefits of that over a softer bar?

      • 2

        Adding salt to the soap before pouring into moulds makes a salt bar. That should make a bar that is exfoliating. You should be able to feel the salt in the bar depending on how much you added.

        Adding the salt to the water makes a brine or solesiefe bar. It is quite gentle on the skin, far more so that the salt bar.

        The salt does make the bar a lot harder. They stay quite hard right down to the small slivers. My friends like it because it does not disintegrate in the dish. If you are using a high percentage of soft oils it will definitely extend the life of the bar and will enable you to use it earlier. For example, I have read that if you make a bar with 100% olive oil, you will need to store them for about a year for them to be hard enough to last a decent while when using them.

        My brine bars are made cold process, so I wait for three weeks for them to cure before using. However, I have not had much luck with using essential oils for scent.

      • 1

        Thank you for your answer. Luckily the latest batch I made is just perfect and no salt will be needed. But I do want to attempt to make some shampoo bars and if that does use softer oils, then knowing that I can add salt and make a brine mixture will be helpful. 

      • 2

        Now, there are two types of shampoo bars. Soap based and Shampoo based. Soap based is obviously made from soap, but I believe the superfat is a lower percentage, and there is a higher ratio of lauric acid – therefore coconut oil is often used in shampoo soap as it has a cleansing effect. Castor Oil is also often added for the lather.

        Shampoo based bars are essentially made of the same ingredients found in commercial shampoo, but in a solid form. That means a lot more ingredients and experimentation for the right solution that works for you.  I have not tried this yet.

    • 1

      Hey all you soap experts out there. LBV gave me some good tips on how to make a shampoo bar, but I need some more guidance. Has anyone made some before?

      I’d like it to contain coconut oil, olive oil, and I’ve read that castor oil is also a really good addition for shampoo bars. 

      My question is, what are the numbers I should be shooting for on a lye calculator to make it a good shampoo bar? INS, superfat, lather, etc…