A Year Of Bathing For About Five Bucks
Previously, I have explored a practical skill that Laura Ingalls-Wilder tells us about in her books. I’ve made soap using a boiling method, but have found that the cold method makes a good bar of soap as well. It’s much easier in fact, and I like the way this soap turns out even better. It is so much easier to mold and manage. Let the next few photos show you the steps to making enough soap for the entire year with these regular household items. Each batch of about 25 two and a half oz. bars will set you back about five dollars.
- 48 oz. vegetable oil
- 14 oz. water (distilled if your tap water is hard)
- 2 oz. coconut oil (found in Asian markets) or cocoa butter
- 6 oz weighed not measured in a cup, pure lye crystals (not Draino)
- 2 tsp essential oil for scent (optional)
- A large non metal pot dedicated only to soap making
- a wooden spoon or spatula also dedicated to soap making
- Hand and eye protection
- Petroleum jelly
- Two 32 oz. plastic containers like the ones cottage cheese comes in
- an old plastic place mat or sheet of cardboard 12″ x 16″
With everything in place, I begin outdoors by donning gloves and eye protection and add the 6 oz. weighed lye crystals to the 14 oz water. NEVER add water to the lye! It will result in a violent reaction that could harm you and definitely your working surface. Be sure you use a sturdy glass container that can withstand a temperature of 200° F (that’s nearly boiling temperature). That’s how hot the lye and water get. It also will make nasty fumes while it reacts so I recommend doing this outdoors. Stir with a wooden spoon until the solution goes from cloudy to clear. Wait until the solution cools to about 105° F or about the temperature of bathwater.Now combine the vegetable oil and coconut oil in a non metal pot. I use the barbecue grill to heat the oil to the same 105° F or bathwater temperature. The lye should cool down while the oil heats up and both liquids should be roughly the same temperature when they are mixed together.Pour the lye solution carefully and slowly into the fat when they’ve reached similar temperatures, and always use gloves and eye protection when handling the lye. This stuff can blind you so take serious precaution! I can’t say it enough. I do the mixing on an old glass patio table that can be easily cleaned with a hose. I use this table to pot and divide plants most of the time so I don’t really care about this surface. In other words, expect to spill or splash some harsh stuff on your surface. I wouldn’t do this on your new granite counters.Once the fat is combined with the lye the danger is slightly less. I even took off my glove to take pictures and blend. Any equipment you use to make soap should be equipment dedicated only to making soap. I’ve dedicated wooden spoons, a Corning-ware Dutch oven, and an immersion blender to this craft. You could use a whisk to blend the acids and bases but it will take a long time (possibly 30 minutes) to reach the “trace” stage. Just before this stage is when to add your fragrance. I used burberry essential oil and lemon grass essential oil…a teaspoon of each. The trace stage is when a reaction called saponification occurs. In chemistry the blending of acids and bases result in a salt, and soap is a salt technically. After about five minutes of blending with the immersion blender this stage begins. It thickens. It is when a spoon or other tool is dragged through the solution and leaves behind a trace. The solution will be now somewhere between the consistencies of pancake batter and mayonnaise.You can see that the work surface needs to be one you don’t care about. The blender can splash a bit. At this point the soap is quite harsh but not nearly as harsh as the plain lye solution. The fat has toned down its corrosiveness, but if you happen to get some on your skin you’ll want to rinse it off thoroughly with warm water right away. Finally I’m ready to pour the soap into molds. I use plastic yogurt or cottage cheese containers. You’ll need containers that add up to at least 56 oz. Two 32 oz. containers is good. I used one of those and another 24 oz container, and it was just barely enough capacity. They need a bit of lubrication and I used a jar of petroleum jelly that I got at Julia’s baby shower…ten years ago. Though it has an amazing shelf life, I’m glad I’ve found a new use for it. Now that the soap is in its greased containers, it’s time to put them to bed. They do best curing wrapped up in a towel. The longer the soap stays warm as it cool down the better. These babies will need to stay snug as a bug over night.The next day they are ready to be removed from the molds. If I’ve done a good job greasing the containers they will slip out easily and in one piece. It takes a while to get them to release. I squeeze the sides all around to allow air to slip in. It takes a little working to get an air pocket to get to the very bottom of the mold…or should I call it the top since I have to hold it up-side down.I get the soap to finally come out. Wow this is the biggest bar of soap ever! I think I need to cut it into more manageable pieces. I use an old boning knife to cut up the soap into bars. It has a straight smooth blade, is nice and thin, and does a neat job of cutting. This soap is still quite harsh, but will become milder as it cures. It’s good to do all the cutting work on an old plastic place mat or a sheet of cardboard. It still has a corrosive nature, so I don’t advise setting this down on just any surface to finish its curing. Curing takes at least a week but three weeks to a month is better. Handling the soap in the first few days, you will need to rinse your hands thoroughly if you feel it on your skin. If you have very sensitive skin, just use gloves. As the soap cures it will become very mild and even good for sensitive skin, but it will need to cure completely.The chemical reaction will continue as the soap cures over the next few weeks. The bars will change color maybe even a couple of time during the curing. In the end it should be totally opaque. Right now I can see light through these bars but in a few weeks it will become more hard and solid, of uniform color, and light will not come through. That’s when you know it is ready for use. I can’t wait to use this lemony fresh soap but it smells pretty good just sitting there.
Arrange the bars on a your mat or cardboard and let them have a little air space in between each one. Keep them in a dry place while they cure. I wrap mine in coffee filters when they are finished, and store them in the linen closet or give them away to friends and family. It’s so fun and rewarding to manufacture such a practical item, so I encourage you have a go at honing this survival skill. I hope this article helps you if you get the notion to try soap making. There are videos and many other on line tools that will help and answer questions that I have not. In the meantime take care and keep it clean!