Archive for the ‘Homemade Soap’ Category

pH Levels for Nourishing Soap

September 24th, 2018 No comments

pH levels are important to homemade soap because if you get them wrong, you wind up with something that can be harmful instead of nourishing to your skin.

pH levels range from 1 – 14. The lowest levels are acid or acidic and the highest levels are alkaline or sometimes called ‘base’. A 7 is considered neutral and that’s what water tests at.

Human skin has an acid mantel on it that protects us from bacteria. But if soap is too acidic, it can burn and irritate skin. On the other hand, if the pH level is too high, the soap will leave our skin susceptible to bacteria.

What is a Good pH Level for Soap?

Aim to make your soap in the 6 – 9 range. The higher number will make the soap dissolve dirt and grime better and is useful for times when you have to wash really, really dirty hands.

You can test the pH of any soap with litmus paper pH test strips.

If you’re making your own soap, this is really important because you want your finished product to pamper your skin. If you buy your handmade soap, ask the person who made it what the pH level is. If they don’t know or give you a blank look, pass on their product and look for another more educated soapmaker!

You can buy the pH test strips in packages of 100. They aren’t expensive and are a necessary part of your inventory.

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What Was The Original Homemade Soap?

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Where did the first bar of soap come from? That’s kind of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, maybe not quite that primal, but soapmaking was one of the happy chance discoveries that humans made a long time ago.

There’s an ancient Roman legend that talks about how the women would go to the stream to wash clothes. This stream was on a hill called Mount Sapo where animal sacrifices were made as burnt offerings to the Roman gods. The women eventually realized that the best time to do the laundry was after it rained. There was something that made the dirt dissolve in the water more easily.

Now these women were pretty sharp because they make the connection between the white chunks on the hill and the cleaning ‘magic’. These chunks were created from the ashes and animal fat at the sacrificial altar. When the rain went through this mixture, it turned the ashes into a weak lye. That primordial lye mixed with the melted fat (tallow) and collected on the rocks as a very simple type of soap.

The rain washed this simple soap into the shallow waters they used to wash. So in essence, after a rain, there was nice soapy water waiting for them to use. So they collected the soap chunks to use on laundry days when it hadn’t rained.

(And here’s my little editorial note: they probably also got their husbands and sons to bathe with it!)

Now, I don’t know if that story is true because it seems to me that if it wasn’t ‘discovered’ until the time of the Romans that the Greeks must have been awfully dirty! But it makes for a good story. Especially the part about Mount Sapo. That gives us a direct connection to the term ‘saponification’ that is used in soap making circles.

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Basic Ingredients For Making Soap

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Soap is really a pretty simple thing to make and requires very few ingredients. Our ancient ancestors discovered how to make soap probably by accident. So essentially, it doesn’t take any kind of high tech knowledge to produce. Soap is created from the chemical reaction between fatty acids and alkali.


Lye is at the top of the list and is the necessary alkali ingredient. Normally, we think of lye as a drain cleaner and something extremely caustic that will burn skin on contact. It is chemically necessary to have some type of lye to turn oil into soap.

Our ancestors didn’t have a hardware store or the internet where they could easily find lye. They created a weak form of it from wood ashes. In today’s world, we do have ready access but not all lyes are created equally.

For soap making, you need to be sure your lye is pure sodium or potassium hydroxide. You absolutely don’t want to use a brand that contains any heavy metals or other extraneous ingredients. At the end of the soapmaking process, there is no lye left – it has turned into soap.

Fatty Acids – aka Oils

The second necessary ingredient is some type of fatty acid. In the ‘old days’, animal fats were used in the form of tallow. The extra fat from a slaughtered animal was rendered into tallow and used for soap as well as other necessities. No part of the animal was wasted.

Tallow can be easily made from beef fat which is readily available and quite inexpensive from any butcher or supermarket. It’s a traditional ingredient and produces a hard soap with a very rich lather.

Today’s natural soap makers usually use vegetable and plant oils. There’s a huge list of oils that are popular and each has it’s own unique qualities to bring to the final soap product. Coconut oil, olive oil and palm oil are very popular choices and widely used. Different types of oils each have their own unique properties and are what makes soap making so interesting and certainly never boring.

Extra Enhancing Ingredients

Simple nourishing soap can be made with just oil, lye and water. But we can also add all kinds of extra ingredients to enhance it. Sometimes these items will help with a certain type of skin problem and sometimes they are just for our pleasure.

Essential oils are what gives soap it’s heavenly fragrance. They are distilled from the parts of various shrubs and herbs. They can also have therapeutic and medicinal qualities.

Use them sparingly because they are highly concentrated. The best kinds of essential oils are natural and pure. They haven’t been ‘watered down’ with the addition of an inexpensive oil. If you see a price on them that seems too good to be true, it’s probably because they aren’t of the highest quality.

Goat’s milk is another favorite ingredient. It adds a creamy richness to the lather and is very emollient. You can use it in place of the water in your soap recipe.

Botanicals, in the form of fresh or dried herbs and spices, make a nice addition to your soap. You can also add oatmeal or cornmeal as an abrasive to enhance the cleaning ability for your hard working soaps.

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Soap Making Equipment Basics

September 24th, 2018 No comments

When you embark off onto your adventures as a soapmaker, there are some necessary pieces of equipment you’ll need. Most of the things you need can probably already be found in your kitchen. Remember, making soap is an ancient process and can be easily done in our modern homes.

Important: once you’ve used any kitchen equipment for making soap, you must keep them separate from any other pieces you use for food preparation. Never prepare food with any utensil that’s been involved in making soap.

Aluminum, tin, zinc and most other metals react with lye. Even stainless steel will react although not immediately. Be sure to wash any stainless steel utensils as quickly as possible after exposing them to lye. This will keep them from corroding.

To store and mix your lye, use a container made of glass, enamel, oven-proof stoneware, plastic or stainless steel (note the precaution about it above).

You’ll also need a scale to accurately measure your ingredients. The chemical reaction between oil and lye is directly affected by their weight. If you get the proportions wrong, you won’t get that chemical reaction called saponification that’s the critical component of this whole process.

You scale should be able to weigh in tenths of ounces. A good scale is pretty easy to find and the newer digital ones are best. They are much easier to read.

Cups and measuring spoons are useful for adding your essential oils, botanicals, spices and any other ‘extras’. By measuring them out, you’ll know exactly how to recreate a recipe that you particularly liked.

More needed equipment:

  • A glass measuring cup for your lye. It should hold at least 2 cups.
  • Lye resistant container with a wide opening at the top for mixing your water/lye solution. It can be a beverage pitcher and needs to be able to hold at least 8 cups. This can double as your pouring jug when you add the lye solution to your oils.
  • Lye resistant, heat-proof mixing pot that holds at least 12 cups.
  • 2 thermometers like stainless steel meat thermometers. They need to measure temps between 70 and 200 degrees F. Preferably get ones that give a reading in a few seconds as opposed to ones that take longer to give a reading.
  • 2 water baths – one for cooling the lye solution and the other for heating or cooling the oils. These need to be big enough to hold the lye solution container and the mixing pot. You’ll need generously sized ones! Think in terms of ‘bucket’.
  • Spoons – wooden, stainless steel or sturdy plastic. Have 3 or 4 handy.
  • Lye resistant pouring pitcher to hold your newly made soap. This will make is easier to pour your mixture into molds.
  • Rubber spatula – use it to scrape every bit of soap out of the pouring pitcher.
  • Soap molds – these can be almost anything from simple box shapes that you’ll cut into bars later or fancy purchased soap molds.
  • Pot holders – always have plenty of these around for handling hot surfaces.
  • Old blankets – or pieces of cardboard for insulating your soaps while they set up.
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Soap Molds – Plain and Fancy

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Soap molds can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you want to just produce hardworking, plain bars for everyday use. But then at other times, you’ll want to go all out and create some beautiful, fancy bars either as gifts or to sell.

A soap mold can be as simple as a cardboard shoe box. You’ll need to carefully line it with plastic wrap before you pour in your new soap mixture.

You can use just about any kind of plastic container. Drawer organizers that you can find at discount shops work well. They come in many different sizes.

For tiny guest soaps, consider using an ice cube tray. I’ve found them in the past that are shaped like hearts, dolphins and other interesting critters.

These types of improvised soap molds work well and can give you a chance to experiment with soap making without having to spend a lot of money.You can also look in craft stores for candle molds. Just be sure the mold is plastic and wider at the top than at the bottom.

Many soapmakers have wooden boxes made into just the size they want. After the soap has set, they can cut it into predetermined and uniform sized bars.

Pre-made shaped molds for soap come in many different sizes, shapes and designs. They are especially popular with the melt and pour soaps. Layering different colors in the mold makes for especially beautiful bars.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your soap molds. Sometimes an accidental find can become a favorite and unique choice.

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Ten Safety Rules When Making Soap

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Making soap requires you to use ingredients that need to be respected. Once you understand how to follow some simple safety rules for soap making, you’ll be just fine.

  1. Wear eye protection – get a pair of safety goggles and use them. The smallest amount of lye and even the vapors of the lye solution can cause damage to your eyes. If you feel any discomfort or burning in your eyes at any time, stop immediately and flush them with running water.
  2. Wear a face mask – I strongly urge you to wear a face mask at all times during the soap making process. The fumes from the lye can hurt your lungs as well as your eyes. You can buy these at any hardware store.
  3. Work in a well ventilated area – the more you can have those noxious fumes disperse, the safer you will be.
  4. Wear rubber gloves – lye is a very strong solution and can cause a severe burn if it gets on your unprotected skin. Get a pair that will protect your wrists and forearms from splashes.
  5. Keep a half gallon of white vinegar handy – if you accidentally get lye splashed onto your bare skin, immediately apply vinegar. The acid in it will help to neutralize the alkaline lye. Then rinse with water.
  6. Use care when handling your lye – lye absorbs water from the air, so as soon as you open your container, this process begins and will weaken your lye and even make it clump up. Only open the container to weigh out the amount you need. Then seal it back up right away.
  7. Clean up spills – immediately clean up any spills of lye, lye solution or your fresh made soap. Wash the area with water and detergent, rinse with water and dry.
  8. Access to running water – only make soap where you’ve got some kind of access to running water whether it’s a sink or a hose.
  9. Store all your soap-making equipment in a safe place – keep utensils, container and freshly made soap away from children and pets.
  10. Focus – don’t start a batch of soap if you think you’ll be interrupted or distracted. Always make it at a time when you can dependably know you’ll be able to focus on the task from beginning to end. You’ll need a couple of hours of uninterrupted time.

Remember that you’re using a very strong chemical when you use lye. Never become complacent with following the safety rules.

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A Good Soap For Soothing Away Aches

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Sometimes you over-do an exercise routine or working in your garden. Whatever you did sure made you achy. You can make a soap designed especially crafted to help ease away those pains with the addition of a couple simple ingredients.

Use this magical blend of an old favorite – wintergreen – and one of the new oils that’s been discovered – emu oil. When you use this combination in your soap, let the lather stay on your skin a bit longer than usual so the pain relieving properties can work their magic to soothe away your aches.

How does it work?

Wintergreen has a compound in it that is very similar on the molecular level to the pain relieving compounds in aspirin. It gives you the same effect although somewhat milder. This essential oil is helpful with soothing muscle aches and arthritis.

Emu oil has hit the scientific world with a bang. Researchers have been testing the effectiveness of its anti-inflammatory properties on skin, especially in the treatment of burns. This also makes it effective in reducing scarring. Emu oil has also been shown to help with sports injuries. Adding a couple of ounces of it to your batch of soap imparts just one more healing quality to refresh your tired joints and muscles.

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Making Your Own Soap Is So Rewarding

September 24th, 2018 No comments

There’s something about bathing with a bar of natural handmade soap you created yourself. It’s an intangible feeling of accomplishment and connecting to an old skill practiced by our ancestors. After all, soap making is still basically the same as it was long ago.

When you wash with soap you created, you know exactly what’s in it, good wholesome ingredients. You also know what’s not in it, too. There’s no hidden dyes, no hidden chemicals. It’s only the things you thoughtfully added and lovingly mixed together.

There are many different kinds of soap you can make. Very mild ones full of extra emollients are great for your face. Simple, unscented bars are good for sensitive skin and for babies.

For times when your hands are extra dirty, you can make varieties with exfoliating extras in them. Good choices for this are:

Almond meal – also good for oily skin
Apricot seeds – ground up finely, also rich in vitamins and softening oils
Coffee – excellent exfoliator and also anti-aging properties
Corn meal – exfoliator and good for oily skin
Loofa – puts your scrubber right there in your soap
Pumice – grind very fine, can be abrasive
Walnut shells – grind fine for exfoliating
Another use for your homemade soap is to wash your hair. Just rub your bar over your head and work it up into a lather just like regular shampoo. Rinse well. Then I’ve always liked to have an apple cider vinegar rinse ready – a dash of it in a cup of water works great. It’s an all natural cleansing process.

You can actually create a super-fatted soap that will make you feel like your bathing with lotion at an expensive spa treatment. Some extra cocoa or shea butter will make your soap super moisturizing. Add in your favorite scent and the benefits of aromatherapy will envelope you in a cloud of relaxation.

And don’t forget – you CAN make your own homemade pet shampoo that helps to repel fleas, makes your dog shiny and smell great. No more worries about itchy, flaky skin from all the chemicals in commercial dog shampoos.

There’s a natural handmade soap for everyone that will cleanse, soften and moisturize along with smelling so delicious. Nurture your soul with feelings of well-being and contentment. Your family and friends will thank you, too!

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Natural Herbal Hair Rinses

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Leave your hair smelling heavenly and super-shiny after you’ve cleaned it with your natural soap. A lovely herbal rinse also promotes healthy hair and a healthy scalp. Herbal hair rinses are very simple to make. You can mix up a large container at one time and save it for up to a week.

Dark or dull hair will benefit greatly from a rinse made with these botanicals:

  • Fresh rosemary
  • Elder flowers
  • Ground Walnut leaves
  • Nettle
  • Horsetail leaves

Put these herbs in a pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Let them steep while the water cools. After cooling, strain the ‘hair tea’ into a container. Add a cup of apple cider vinegar and a the juice of a lemon (or a couple ounces of lemon juice). To use this, dilute one cup of your mixture with 4 cups of water. Your can use it right away and store the rest in your refrigerator.

Dry or fair hair will really perk up with this rinse. Use:

  • Calendula petals – 1 cup
  • White oak bark – 1/2 cup

Put the herbs into a pot with 3 cups of water and boil. After cooled, strain and add a cup of apple cider vinegar. Rinse your hair with this blend by diluting a half cup of your solution with 3 cups of water.

All hair types can use this herbal rinse. It’s easy to make but you’ll need to start it ahead of time as it takes a couple of weeks to produce. Get a quart jar with a tight fitting lid. Fill it half full with any combination of the following herbs:

  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Nettle
  • Horsetail
  • Sage
  • Chamomile
  • Yarrow

Pour in enough apple cider vinegar to fill your jar. Shake it everyday for for two weeks then strain. To use it, dilute a half cup of the vinegar/herb solution with 4 cups of water.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve liked to use an apple cider vinegar rinse on my hair after washing it. These herbal variations make it even better. Give them a try.

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Is Soapwort Soap?

September 24th, 2018 No comments

Soapwort is a perennial herb that’s native to Europe. It was brought to the US where it has thoroughly naturalized itself. It has spread all across the country growing in ditches, along the road, in meadows and in some gardens. The botanical name is Saponaria officinalis. It sometimes has other names like:

  • Sweet Betty
  • Bouncing Betty
  • Wild Sweet William

Now the name of it (soapwort) sounds like something Harry Potter would be familiar with but its use predates him. It actually predates those ladies who discovered soap on Mount Sapo. I would venture a guess that it’s probably the oldest cleansing agent known to man. The roots, which are actually rhizomes, contain a lathering substance known as saponin.

You can easily make a nice hair shampoo from soapwort. Dried rosemary is a good herb to include in your shampoo because it helps to deep-clean follicles and encourage hair growth. I also like to include a bit of lavender because its my favorite herbal frangrance.

Please note that soapwort is irritating to eyes. It’s also poisonous and can destroy red blood cells, so use caution not to ingest any.

To make the soap, boil all parts of the plant but especially the roots in water. It doesn’t take much – about  of the chopped dried root to a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Add your rosemary or other herbs after the simmering part. Put a lid on it while cooling. Then strain it and use within 5 days.

If you have any delicate fabrics that could be harmed by synthetic soap, try washing them with your soapwort infusion.

You can find soapwort at health food stores or order it from online bulk herb suppliers. It’s also easy to grow yourself and has pretty, delicate pink flowers from June through October.

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