I used to think of soap-making as one of those cool things I’d love to try someday, but for a long time it seemed too complex and intimidating to actually take the plunge. Then, one day it so happened that I had all the necessary ingredients — namely, a box of lye crystals and a bottle of non-food-grade oil I had absolutely nothing else to do with. I took a deep breath and dove in. I was going to try making my own soap.
I hunted up the simplest recipe I could find and played around with it a bit. I will admit straightaway that I cheat and don’t really weigh my ingredients. I take my measurements in cups and tablespoons, using 2 tablespoons of lye per 1 cup of oil, and always prefer to err on the safe side and add a tiny bit less lye. This isn’t very professional or scientific, but it works for our personal use. Hey, people used to make soap in their kitchens using leftover cooking fat combined with water seeped through wood ashes, right?
This is the beauty of making soap: The basis is a relatively simple, straightforward chemical reaction, but all the rest is incredibly versatile. You can make your soap as simple or as fancy as you like, combining various oils and fats, adding essential oils to make scented soap, using different molds, etc.
Lye is an incredibly corrosive substance. Never touch lye or raw soap with your bare hands. Never dissolve lye crystals or mix your soap in an aluminum pan. When mixing the lye and water, make sure to work in a room with an open window, or better yet, outside to avoid the heavy fumes. Do this well away from small children.
Allow your soap the full time it needs to cure properly. This is hard to do when you can’t wait to try out your first batch, but believe me, the wait is worth it. Properly cured soap is milder, more effective, and easier to handle.
Since my first soap bars turned out somewhat lumpy, I decided to experiment with them as laundry soap. There are plenty of recipes for homemade laundry detergent out there, but I simplify even further. I either grate up a couple of tablespoonfuls of soap flakes and put them in my washing machine, or I take a bit of soap, put it in a little mesh bag, and throw it in together with the clothes. This method won’t remove heavy stains, but it works just fine for light everyday wear.
The first time I did my washing this way, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how soft the clothes came out – without adding any fabric softener. This makes natural homemade soap ideal for washing baby clothes. Newborn babies don’t crawl in the dirt or smear mashed vegetbles all over themselves, so their clothes don’t often get really messy, and all they need is a mild wash.
Not long ago, a friend of mine had a new baby, and when I came to visit, I brought along some homemade soap flakes, packed in a pretty jar with a note of instructions on using them in laundry. I think this is going to become my regular standby gift for new mothers.
I have no doubt I will spend many more rewarding hours making soap, enjoying the fruit of my labors, and sharing the results with family and friends.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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