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If you’ve been wanting to learn how to make soap at home, then this beginner’s guide to soap making is for you. We’ll be talking about the different ways to make soap when to choose which method, and how to get started with cold process soap making with lye water.
The pioneers of old used lye, which they made from wood ash and water until it formed lye, then it was mixed with either tallow (beef fat) or lard (pork fat) to form their soap. They didn’t have the benefit of science like we do today to make sure it wasn’t too harsh (aka too much lye).
Listen to the Pioneering Today Podcast where we focus on old-fashioned wisdom and skillsets in a modern world to help you create a more self-sufficient home and well-stocked larder.
Today we have many oil choices, all of which allow you to custom your soap based on what you want from it. We’ll be diving deep into those oil choices shortly.
It seems when people begin questioning the ingredients and wisdom used in commercial products, they start by replacing the items in their pantry or their cleaning and body care items. And the soap you’re using to clean your body is no exception.
No matter which path we start down, once you start, you end up looking at the ingredients in everything you come in contact with.
Not only is homemade soap a healthier alternative when you use natural nourishing ingredients for your skin, but it’s less expensive to make it at home than it is to buy it.
Grab your copy of Hand Made: the Modern Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living for my favorite soap recipes & tutorial, how to make herbal infused salves, balms and more by clicking here.
No, you cannot make soap without lye.
I often hear people asking ” how to make soap without lye ?”
I get it, making homemade soap can be a bit confusing and scary, so let’s break down why lye is such an important ingredient.
To answer that you have to understand the role of lye in soap, let’s be very clear, all soap has lye in it. But there is a method you can use without dealing with active lye, and that’s melt and pour, see below for more info.
Lye is one of the main ingredients necessary to create soap, you can’t have soap without it. Sodium Hydroxide is the form of lye we use when making bar soap.
The formula for soap:
Alkali base (lye) + water + acid (your oil/fat) = soap
Sodium Hydroxide (known as lye) is your base and when combined with oil (considered the acidic part of this equation) it goes through the process of saponification. This means when you mix the two together they start a reaction that converts it into glycerin (the fatty acids combine with the hydroxide ions) and your soap.
Soap is made when your base ingredients go through the chemical process of saponification.
All soap, regardless of the kind, goes through the saponification process and has lye in it.
Most commercial bar soaps at the store are closer to detergent than actual soap because they’ve stripped out the glycerin in order to sell it (more profit) but this soap doesn’t contain the moisturizing benefits found in glycerin. They also contain synthetic dyes, fragrances, and other additives many of us want to stay away from.
Store-bought soap is harsher on the skin and I find it feels like it leaves a layer behind. When I use homemade soap I notice a difference immediately.
Melt and pour is when you purchase the base (someone has already done the saponification process for you) you can add your own additives from natural colorants, essential oils, scents, herbs, or bentonite clay, then you pour it into your mold and you have usable soap in less than 24 hours.
FREEBIE, grab our resource page where I’ve done the research for you and share my favorite places to order (for both price and ingredient reasons) here. Click here to get your FREE Soap Making Resource Charts and Supplies
Once soap has gone through the saponification process, the lye is no longer active and is safe to use
If you want to know how to make soap from scratch, then the next two methods are for you, my friend!
Cold process soap is my current favorite because you really get to customize and control every single ingredient in your soap. Each oil has specific properties and reasons for using it in your soap recipe, I’ve got the most common oils listed for you in the freebie.
In general, cold process soap creates a smooth and creamy bar, with tons of options for customizing its scent, colors, and additives with herbs, spices, and essential oils.
As it cures, the soap continues to go through the saponification process and the bar will harden up. You don’t want your bars to be too soft (we want it to last when in contact with water) and you also need it to finish out the saponification process so it’s not too harsh on your skin.
Hot process soap is made in a slow cooker or a pot on your stove and it goes through the saponification process and the gel phase before you pour it into the mold. This means it’s in the pot and under heat for about an hour or so. It doesn’t have the longer curing time but it’s not thought to be as creamy and it will have a different finished texture.
It’s easier to prevent the injury than it is to treat one!
Let’s talk about the different properties each type of oil gives to your homemade soap and how to choose which type of oil to use in your soap.
Homemade soap can be (and should be in my opinion) superfatted. Superfatted means there’s extra fat left behind to create a more nourishing bar of soap, instead of just enough to be used during the saponification process.
Grab my favorite bases and supplies to make your soap at home, including my oil properties chart done for you in an easy to read and print chart.
To make soap at home, you’ll need the following supplies:
Let me know in the comments below!
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.