I’ve recently gotten into making all kinds of different essentials at home, such as homemade shampoo, a natural teeth whitener, and natural deodorant (just to name a few), because, for one thing, it helps reduce my overall toxin-load on my body from chemicals, preservatives, and other additives that can be found in pre-made products, secondly it is less expensive to bulk make these things compared to buying them all the time, and thirdly, it’s less harmful on the environment as the ingredients are more natural, plus I can reuse containers, bottles, etc. to package each product in, meaning less is thrown away to landfill or recycled (as only a small amount of the things we recycle actually get recycled due to contamination reasons).
So, the next essential I desired to make was soap! I’ve been using a pre-made natural soap for a while, however I wanted to learn how to make one for myself, and also it would be a less expensive way to wash myself over the long-term.
The process does look daunting at first (I felt totally overwhelmed when I first looked at the recipe) but it is actually quite simple, especially after you’ve made it once.
Is It Possible to Make Soap Without Lye?
This is quite a common question asked by soap-makers (I was definitely one who was thinking this) as it’s one of the biggest concerns by all who make soap (it was one of my biggest concerns too before I researched it).
If you’ve ever purchased Lye before, you may have noticed it came with its fair share of warnings, and for good reason too. But this does not mean that the soap product, when it’s finished, is in any way dangerous. This is because even though Lye is dangerous to work with, after it reacts with the oils in the soap (through a process known as saponification), no Lye will remain in your finished homemade soap.
So the simple answer to the question above is no, you need Lye to make soap for this chemical reaction to occur.
What is Lye?
Some of you may be sitting there thinking, “Maybe I should be Googling what Lye is if there’s so many warnings about it?” (this was me when I was first reading about it in homemade soap recipes and was heeding all their warnings about it).
So to save you all the time, Lye is Sodium Hydroxide, a caustic alkali. It is able eat holes in fabric and skin and cause severe reactions with other chemicals. When you’re using it in soap, the crystal form of pure Sodium Hydroxide is used (this is important to remember!) and the Lye must be added to water, not the other way around.
Now, you may be there thinking “Hell no. This sounds way too dangerous for me.” But before you shut down the idea of ever making soap again, just think about this. Table salt is made up of sodium and chloride, both dangerous on their own but edible once combined.
You Need Lye to Make Soap
Soap, by its very nature, is an alkali mixed with fats. When combined together, the process of saponification occurs, creating the soap. This process allows the liquid and oils to mix and also creates the soaps’ cleansing properties.
Without Lye, you just have a mixture of fatty, chunky oils floating around in water (not very pleasant).
What’s important to remember and keep note of is that you use the correct amount of Lye for the particular type of soap you’re making, as different fats and oils need different ratios of lye.
Customise Your Soap
You can decide to include add-ins for your soap to customise its colour, scent and texture. Some great add-ins to include are:
- Essential oils
- Colours – natural colour options include ingredients like turmeric, Spirulina, ground coffee, cacao, beet root, hibiscus, and others.
- Dried herbs – dried lavender flowers, Calendula, or chamomile flowers work well, though you can add any dried herb you prefer.
- Texture changes – healing clays like bentonite clay, oatmeal, sea salt, or any other ingredient you prefer.
How to Make Your Own Soap
Although Lye can be dangerous on its own, as I explained earlier, there is no Lye remaining in the soap when it’s been made properly so there is no need for concern when using Lye appropriately and in the correct ratio for soap making.
If you’re ready to get started on making your very own homemade natural soap, here’s what you’ll need:
- 2/3 cup Coconut oil – to produce good lather
- 2/3 cup Olive oil – which makes a hard and mild bar
- 2/3 cup Other liquid oil – like almond oil, grapeseed, sunflower or safflower oil
- 1/4 cup Lye – also called 100% sodium hydroxide
- 3/4 cup Cool water – use distilled or purified
- A digital scale (this is important for making a soap that is not too harsh or too oily)
- Glass jars and bowls
- A stick blender
- A metal spoon
- A wooden spoon
- A spatula
- Soap moulds (or an old cardboard box lined with parchment paper). These are good basic bar soap moulds to use.
- Gloves and sunglasses or eyewear
- A large bottle of white vinegar for neutralising the Lye mixture if it spills on anything.
- Cover your work area with newspaper. Put your gloves and other protective wear on (i.e. protective eye wear, apron etc.). Measure your water into the quart canning jar. Have a spoon ready. Measure your Lye, making sure you have exactly 1/4 cup. Slowly pour the Lye into the water, stirring as you go. Stand back while you stir to avoid the fumes. When the water starts to clear, you can allow it to sit while you move to the next step.
- In the pint jar, add your 3 oils together. They should just make a pint. Heat in a microwave for about a minute, or place the jar of oils in a pan of water to heat. Check the temperature of your oils – it should be about 49°C (120°F) or so. Wait for both to cool somewhere between 35°C (95°F) and 40°C (105°F). This is critical for soap making. Too low and it’ll come together quickly, but be coarse and crumbly.
- When both the Lye and oils are at the right temperature, pour the oils into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the Lye, stirring until it’s all mixed. Stir by hand for a full 5 minutes. It’s very important to get as much of the Lye in contact with as much of the soap as possible. After about 5 minutes, you can keep stirring or you can use a stick blender. The soap mixture will lighten in color and become thick. When it looks like vanilla pudding it’s at “trace” and you’re good to go.
- Add your herbs, essential oils or other additions at this point. Stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into moulds and cover with plastic wrap. Set in an old towel and wrap it up. This will keep the residual heat in and start the saponification process.
- After 24 hours, check your soap. If it’s still warm or soft, allow it to sit another 12-24 hours. When it’s cold and firm, turn it out onto a piece of parchment paper or baking rack. If using a loaf pan as your mold, cut into bars at this point. Allow soap to cure for 4 weeks or so. Be sure to turn it over once a week to expose all the sides to air (which is not necessary if using a baking rack).
- When your soap is fully cured, wrap it in wax paper or keep it in an airtight container. Hand made soap creates its own glycerin, which is a humectant, which means it pulls in moisture from the air. It should be wrapped to keep it from attracting dust and debris with the moisture.
- Note: When you’re done making soap, always clean every piece of equipment that has been exposed to Lye. You can neutralise the Lye with white vinegar, then wash the equipment well as you normally would. For the rest of it, let it sit for several days. Why? Because when you first make soap, it’s all fat and Lye. You’ll be washing forever and you could burn your hands on the residual Lye. If you wait, it becomes soap and all it takes to clean it is a soak in hot water.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products.
* * *
Have you ever made soap before? What were some of your favourite add-ins?
Wells, Katie. (January 9, 2019). How to Make Soap (With or Without Lye). Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/60992/how-to-make-soap/
Maslowski, Debra. Learn How to Make Natural Soap For Face and Body. DIY Natural. Retrieved from https://www.diynatural.com/how-to-make-soap/