A Family Builds a Homestead in the Rain

Basic Homemade Soap Recipe

We’re due to make a batch of soap as our supply begins to dwindle. Switching to commercial soap would simply not be an option.

Our homemade bars are silky, scent-free, and fantastic for the skin– I use it on my face and it’s been the first product to leave me with clear skin, even among fancy, expensive cleansers.

The formula and process are simple, though precision of method, measurements and temperature are essential with any soap-making. Oatmeal or scented oils could be easily added at the end of the process; I just love the plain kind too much to mess with it.

Within the next year I hope to be using homemade lye and tallow in the process as well– keep an eye out for those projects.

Homemade Bar Soap

All measurements are by weight; you will need a digital scale. Lye is a dangerous, reactive substance, so the utmost care must be taken for the duration of its handling. Work over newspaper in a well-ventilated area. Keep a set of soap-making pots and utensils, along with dish-washing gloves, apart from those used for cooking.

32 oz cold water

12 oz lye

24  oz olive oil

24 oz coconut oil

38 oz lard

Measure the water into a medium stainless steel pot or vessel. Slowly add the lye, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. The chemical reaction will cause the temperature to shoot up and fumes will likely rise off the mixture, so use extreme caution. We prefer to set this pot outside in a safe place to speed the cooling process and avoid the fumes.

In a large stainless steel pot, add the fats over low heat. Stir occasionally to combine well and check the temperature regularly. When it reaches between 95 and 105 degrees fahrenheit, remove it from the heat. Maintain the temperature until the lye has cooled to the same temperature.

When the lye mixture and fat mixture are within a degree or so of the same temperature, between 95 and 105 degrees, slowly pour the lye solution into the fat. Stir constantly with the wooden spoon until the product begins to thicken a bit and begins to trace, which means the spoon leaves a faint trail; this can be exceedingly subtle, and the stirring may take 45 minutes or more.

When you achieve trace, pour the mixture into molds or a broad dish or loaf pan. We use silicone molds. Cover the soap with a generous heap of towels or blankets for insulation. Resist checking for at least 24 hours.

After 24 hours, check to see if the soap is setting up and growing firm. If it’s still soft, leave covered for another day. If you have used a slab-style container rather than individual-bar molds, remove the soap when it is firm enough to hold its shape but soft enough to cut into desired bars without cracking and crumbling. Set bars out on a rack or stack of newspaper, overturning each bar weekly, to cure for at least 4 weeks.


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  1. November 18, 2014    

    Hi! I would like to give you some tips, if you don’t mind 🙂 Depending on your time available, it might be easier to make your soap using the Hot Process method. This cooks the soap all the way through saponification, meaning that the finished soap before you pour it in a mold is already usable. Once it has cooled, it will be soft but solid. You can leave it to continue maturing, but can actually use some of it in the meantime. It just won’t last as long. I make mine in our crockpot- since it is just soap when done, I rinse it and everything else out very well with vinegar and it’s ready to make chili. I use most my utensils for both cooking and soaping, with the exceptions of the (wooden) spoons and the molds. Speaking of vinegar, I go ahead and fill my sink with water + 1 cup vinegar before I even begin mixing anything. If an accident happens, I can dunk my hands in that to neutralize the lye. As I use utensils and bowls, I just plop them in the vinegar water to make sure any residue is dissolved. Last, invest in a stick-blender. It will cut your mixing time down so very much you will wonder why you ever stirred a batch for 45 minutes with a spoon. Sorry for being long-winded! Happy soaping, Frankie.

    • November 18, 2014    

      Love these tips! Thank you! I’ve seen that many people use a stick blender to cut time, and I do have one. Do you use a vinegar rinse and use it for cooking also? Vinegar is a brilliant idea for cleaning things for other uses. And I will have to give the hot process method a shot. Thank you so much for taking the time to share!

      • November 18, 2014    

        We actually don’t use the stick blender for anything else, but everything goes into the vinegar bath, so we could if we wanted to.

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I'm Kelly. Writer, crafter, forager, country winemaker, cook. Mama of an awesome toddler and married to my best friend. We recently returned to the Pacific Northwest, where we're setting out to grow, make, and learn as much as we can as the future unfolds.

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