Soap Making Recipes and Tips for the Homesteader

Learn about the basic soap making process. Instructions for preparing fats, making a variety of soap types, and rescuing a bad batch are included.

| January/February 1972

  • Homemade soap
    Soapmaking can be easy if you follow these instructions.

  • Homemade soap

Making soap is yet another down-home pursuit that allows you to feel good inside because you get to recycle and create at the same time. It's also an operation that can be just as small-scale and simple or as large and sophisticated as you want to make it ... anything from throwing ashes into the cookout frying pan to carefully measuring rose geranium petals into a precisely controlled batch of bar soap. Perhaps best of all, this homemade cleaner contains none of the phosphates, NTA, still-caustic sodas and other additives that made today's detergents so dangerous to the environment. Real homemade soap is all natural, all organic and as welcome on the homestead as a compost pile.

Tips for Making Soap 

  • Never use lye on aluminum utensils (it acts on them). For small batches of soap, enameled or granite ware is suitable ... for larger batches, an iron kettle may be used.
  • There need never be a failure in soapmaking. If separation occurs, ingredients can be reclaimed.
  • Remember that lard is the melted and clarified fat of swine and tallow the hard, coarse fat from sheep or cows (usually from around the kidneys and loins). Before tallow dries out, it's called suet. Rendering fat is simply clarifying it by melting.
  • The following fats are listed in order of their desirability for soapmaking: tallow, lard, their combinations, olive oil, other vegetable oils. Mineral oils will not make soap and poultry fat should be combined with other fats since soap made from it alone is soft and spongy.
  • To obtain soap with a clean wholesome odor, all grease must be pure and clean.
  • Instead of storing rinds and meat scraps, extract the fat and store it in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place.
  • Make the fat into soap as it accumulates and let the soap age rather than allowing the fat to get too old and rancid.
  • If you find that your grease has become rancid or contains materials other than fats, boil it in a large quantity of water, allow it to cool, skim off the grease and then follow the directions in the recipe for soapmaking.
  • Measure accurately and be careful about tempera tures.
  • The ammonia, kerosene, carbolic acid, etc. that some people add to soap help it little, if any . . . they are usually neutralized by the lye. Such ingredients DO increase cost and may even make soap harsh on skin.
  • Coldness makes a hard, brittle soap.
  • Excess lye makes a coarse, flinty soap that will crumble when shaved. Aged soap should have a smooth velvety texture, should curl when shaved and should not bite the tongue.
  • Aging always improves soap. Soap made from lard or soap that has been boiled requires the longest aging before it becomes hard and ready for use.
  • Use the recipe for all-purpose soap included in this article as a toilet soap, as a shampoo or as a laundry soap for prints, lingerie, hose and other delicate fabrics.

Preparing Fat

Good soap requires fats that are free of dirt, rancidity, lean meat scraps, salt and other impurities. Fats may be grouped in three classes:

  1. Ready-for-soap fat: rendered from tallows, meat trimmings and other meat scraps.
  2. Meat fryings and other refuse fats: which should be washed as follows: add an equal amount of water and bring to a boil. Remove from fire, stir and add cold water (one quart to one gallon of the hot liquid). The cold water precipitates foreign substances and makes the clean fat come to the top . . . remove it when it's firm. Some fats require a second washing and a very rancid fat should be washed at least twice. If the fat has a strong odor, melt it in a double boiler and, instead of using an equal amount of water before boiling, add either 1/4-teaspoon soda and one cup boiling water ( or 1/2-cup milk and a small sliced potato) to each two pounds of fat.
  3. Cracklings: Remove fat from pressed cracklings by covering them to twice their depth with water to which has been added one level tablespoon of lye for every four pounds (or one gallon) of pressed cracklings. Boil for one hour. Remove from fire and, when boiling stops, pour in one quart of cold water for each gallon of fat and proceed as with the meat fryings and other refuse fat above. Treat unpressed cracklings the same as you handle the pressed ones, except for using one level teaspoon of lye—instead of one tablespoon—for each four pounds of cracklings.

NOTE: Sixteen pounds of cracklings (approximately four gallons) can be boiled at one time. Remove fat from the cracklings after butchering and store it until enough has been accumulated for soap. 

Recipe for All-Purpose Soap

To make nine pounds of pure, hard, smooth soap suitable for toilet, laundry or soap flakes, use:

  • 1 can lye (13 oz.)
  • 2-1/2 pints cold water (rain water is best)
  • 6 pounds clean fat (about 6-3/4 pints or 13-1/2 standard cups)
  1. Pour the lye into the water (remember, never use an aluminum container), carefully stir until the lye is dissolved and let cool to correct temperature (see below). Melt fat into clear liquid and let cool gradually to its correct temperature or until the fat offers resistance to the spoon. Stir from time to time to prevent crystals of fat from reforming.
  2. Pour the lye solution into the fat in a thin, steady stream, stirring slowly. Rapid addition of lye solution or hard stirring is liable to cause a separation. The honey-like liquid will begin to thicken in about 10 or 20 minutes as all the lye is incorporated into the fat.
  3. Pour this thickened mixture into a wooden box that has been soaked in water and lined with a clean, slightly damp cloth. Place the filled mold in a protective pan and cover it with some cardboard or a board and then with a rug or blanket to retain heat while the soap is texturing out. Let the soap remain undisturbed for 24 hours, then lift it from the mold by grasping the ends of the overhanging cotton lining. Cut the soap into bars by wrapping it once with a fine wire or string, crossing the ends of the thread and pulling.
  4. If, after 24 hours in the mold, the soap has a film of grease on its top, leave the new soap for 48 hours (or until the grease disappears) before cutting it. If liquid appears in the bottom of the mold, cut the soap into small squares and let it stand until the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Place newly cut soap so that air (but not drafts or cold) can reach it.  Never let the soap freeze during its first two weeks. Fresh soap may never lather well if exposed to drafts and—if excessively chilled—may become hard and flinty. Your homemade cleanser will be ready for use in 10 to 14 days and will improve with aging.

Temperatures When Making Soap

Correct temperatures are extremely important for making the finest soap, so follow these guidelines closely (use a dairy or floating thermometer):

  • For sweet rancid fat, the temperatue of the fat should be 97 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the lye solution should be 75 to 80 degrees.
  • For sweet lard or other soft fats, the temperature of the fat should be 80 to 85 degrees and the lye solution should be 70 to 75 degrees.
  • For half lard or half tallow, the temperature of the fats should be 100 to 110 degrees and the lye solution should be 80 to 85 degrees.
  • For all tallow, the temperature of the fat should be 120 to 130 degress and the lye solution should be 90 to 95 degrees.

In hot weather or in a hot room, the soap mixture may remain greasy. If so, set the mix in a pan of cold water and continue stirring until it thickens and becomes ready to pour.

Patsy Melton
10/10/2012 12:16:49 PM

Could you please update this article, since you can't buy lye in cans anymore? (at least in my area you can't.) I can only get lye online and in a bucket of about 32-40 ounces. How many ounces are in a can of lye?

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