Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to make your own soap

It started when I heard about a caffeine soap bar; with your morning shower, as you lather you get a nice little caffeine buzz while your skin absorbs the chemical in. First reaction: ohhhhh, I need this! Second thought: WTF?! what am I already absorbing from my soap now? If I seriously absorb enough caffeine from a soap bar to get a 'shower shock' then I must be absorbing something from my current body wash. But wait, I don't even know whats in my body wash or how to pronounce half of this crap... At this point I'm experiencing a slight panic attack; birth control, nicotine patches, medicated rub, my skin just soaks this stuff up! In my usual style I ran to the nearest laptop and started googling what exactly those scientific ingredients in my body wash were, and the results were not looking good.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - proven to irritate skin and can cause ulcers when in toothpaste
  • Propylene Glycol - "Implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; can inhibit cell growth in human tests and can damage membranes causing rashes, dry skin and surface damage" .-From Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
  • Phthalates - In high doses this easily leached chemical is known to change hormone levels and cause birth defects
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) - another skin irritant, possible carcinogen and known to cause nerve damage

And this is just to name a few ingredients listed on the back of a typical shampoo, body wash or commercial bar soap ingredients listing.
So what's a girl to do? I know soap has been made around the world for thousands of years. I tend to have this 'how hard can it be?' mantra to life - so, back to google to dig around for handmade soap recipes.

The process for handmade soap seemed a bit daunting. Strong recommendations of goggles, long pants and gloves made the beauty of handmade soap seem less appealing. I pushed the idea to the back of my brain hoping maybe I would forget about the dangers of my seemingly harmless body wash. But everytime I stepped in the shower I could no longer enjoy the creamy fruit scented lather that my body wash provided - I was overtaken by images of chemicals seeping into my poor permeable defenseless layer of skin and penetrating my blood stream. Damn the mind that has been made aware. 

Back to google. I finally settled on what was described as an easy homemade soap, similar to one that is now listed on TreeHugger. The ingredients are all basic ingredients and can be found at your local grocery and hardware stores. I have confidence each and every one of you can make your own soap - it's not as scary as it sounds.

Ingredients include:
  • 72 ounces of Olive Oil 
  • 32 ounces of Coconut Oil
  • 32 ounces of Palm Oil
  • 9.5 ounces of lye - this can be purchased as 'drain cleaner' at any local hardware store. Read the ingredients list, it must say 100% lye, 100% sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or 100% caustic soda
  • 700ml of purified water
  • Thermometer
  • At least 1 stainless steel pot and a bucket or glass bowl
  • stick blender, or spatula
  • Wax paper lined container - shoe box, plastic food continer, wooden box, pvc pipe (unlined) all work well


You really do want to wear goggles, rubber gloves and be in a well ventilated area. Lye is not to be taken lightly, it will burn right through your skin (fight club anyone?).
In a glass bowl, heavy duty plastic bucket or stainless steel pot, mix together the measured water and lye. This will heat up really fast - keep away from kids, dogs, pets, drunks, and druggies. If it touches your skin it burns like hell (scared yet?).

Separately over a low burner in a stainless steel pot mix your measured oils together until they reach around 100 degrees F.

Once the temperature of your oils and your lye are the same - around 100 degrees F - it's go time. Always poor lye into oil, not the other way around. There is less chance of  'volcano-ing' the lye into your face. Pour all of the lye into the stainless steel pot with the oil in it. Using your stick blender or spatula stir the mixture rapidly. The is the part of the process called 'saponification' which literally translates into 'soap making.' If you are not using a stick blender this process may take a little longer. What you will be looking for is the point when your soap reaches 'trace.' Translated fairly literally, this is when you can see a trace of soap left on the top of the mixture before it sinks back in, kind of like homemade pudding. has a good example of how you can check for trace in your soap.

This is the point where you would add in essential oils, natural color, or a little bit of butter such as cocoa butter or shea butter. Mix in these additional ingredients and then you are done. Pour your soap into the lined container of your choice. We use wooden boxes lined with wax paper. Plastic food containers also work well. Store your poured soap in a warm area (at least 70 degrees F) for 24 hours. After the 24 hour period your soap is ready to be removed from the container you poured it in and cut if you want to cut it. Now is the agonizing part - your soap won't be fully cured and ready to use for 3 - 5 weeks. Using it early will not hurt you, technically it is already soap, however at this point it is very soft and somewhat difficult to work with.

I have personally found handmade soap to make a big difference in my overall skin quality. Its worth every minute put into making it. It is soft and smooth on your skin and does not leave it overly dry when the proper combination of lye and oils are used in the recipe. I've actually noticed my soaps to leave my skin feeling moisturized which I could never say for commercial soaps by the end of the day.

Not everyone has that 'how hard can it be' mantra. If you're interested in trying handmade soap - you should, at least once, it really does make a difference especially if you have problematic skin, acne, or in general care about your skin quality and what your body is absorbing. My husband and I make our own line of soaps available at several different health food stores across Michigan and also available online. We personally guarantee that if you don't like it, send it back and we will either exchange it for another kind or refund your purchase.

Visit our store online at


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