Lather Up!

About a hundred years ago (well, perhaps more like thirty-five or so) I decided I wanted to learn how to make soap from scratch. As with most things I wanted to learn about back then I checked out books from the library, studied, and set out a plan.

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My first step was to render fat. For weeks I trimmed fat from meat and, when I had enough, set it to simmer on the stove. When the fat was melted, I cooled the pot, scooped out the fat and saved it all in a jar in my refrigerator. I continued this patient practice until the constant smell of rendering fat became too much and I abandoned the whole soap-making idea. (Trust me. This is not a scent you want to permeate your home with for any length of time.)

A few months ago my interest in making soap was piqued again and I decided to give it another go–sans the animal fat. I dabbled with melt-and-pour soap making but it seemed akin to baking a cake using a store-bought mix and not the do-it-from-scratch experience I was seeking. I set out again to research–this time with the convenience of Google and YouTube–and put together a brand new plan.

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Turns out that at a high level, making soap is actually pretty simple: mix lye and water; heat and combine the fats and oils; add the lye water to the fats and oils and mix until a chemical reaction called saponification occurs (don’t you just love that word?).

Soapmaking is very precise though. Recipes must be followed and the ingredients must be carefully measured by weight–soap recipes are not something you can tweak as you go. Making soap requires the use of lye–nothing to be afraid of but care is required and safety precautions (goggles and gloves) are called for when using it.

Soap making can be a creative endeavor–you’ve probably seen all manner of hand-made soaps at specialty markets and shops. They can be made with many types of oils and fats to give them different characteristics; fragrance and colours can be added, as can other additives like milk, honey, oatmeal, flowers, and other plant material for example.

Yesterday, I finally took the plunge and made soap. I used a simple recipe I found at a delightful blog I follow called written by Rhonda Hetzel called Down To Earth (it’s a wonderful treasury about the joys of living a simple life at home) that called for:

  • 450 mls filtered water
  • 172 grams lye
  • 1000 grams olive oil
  • 250 grams coconut oil

I chose not to use any fragrance, colour, or additives for this first batch. One of the reasons I am interested in making soap is so we can have a basic pure soap. I may dabble with additives later–or I may not.

Here is a link to a post on the Down to Earth blog that has specific instructions about how to make soap. I pretty much followed these steps.

The soap sat overnight in the molds and this morning I cut it and set the bars in my pantry where they’ll cure for four to six weeks. Some soap makers trim the bars and tidy up the edges after they are cured; many also put a decorative band or other embellishment around them. I’m happy with the rustic appearance of these bars since we’ll just be using them ourselves.

Making soap is another skill I’ve long been interested in as part of the simple, back-to-basic, lifestyle that suits me. What fun to finally have had the time and opportunity to get started!


I’m a writer, reader, and creative. I thought by now I’d have things figured out, but I keep coming up with more questions. I think that’s okay. I’m here most mornings pondering ordinary things and the thin places where faith intersects.
  1. I’m amazed by the common threads we share! All those years ago when I lived on the farm and my daughter raised pigs, I would render the fat and use it to makeour hand soap and laundry soap. I love what you are doing!

    1. We are kindred spirits indeed, Mary Jo . . . 🙂 How cool that you made soap by rendering the fat! I’d love to hear more about your experiences one day. I’m sure there’s a story or blog post in there.

  2. My Grandma Longenecker used a big metal tub to make lye soap on her back porch. I never helped, just observed. I do remember watching her cut the finished product into cubes. Fascinating!

    1. It really is fascinating to see the raw materials turn into soap!

  3. This does sound fascinating! But isn’t lye somewhat yucky? Do you have to add that?

    1. You definitely have to treat lye with respect. All soap has lye in it–even the easy-peasy melt-and-pour soap bases were made with lye. Melt-and-pour is an option for those who don’t want to use lye. I took safety precautions when working with lye (mixed it outside to avoid nasty fumes, wore protective goggles and gloves when mixing it) and it wasn’t a big deal.

  4. Sounds like fun. I’ve often been tempted by the idea of becoming as self-sufficient as possible. Never managed to take the steps needed to get there and now, with all the gardening required, I know I’ll never do it. Good for you.

    1. I’m learning that the simple life is not necessarily the easier life! It’s work, but work that satisfies me.

  5. I have an acquaintance who adds black cumin oil and essential oils to his soap.

    1. At the moment I’m on the fence about adding essential oils to my soap because I think the therapeutic benefits from having oil in soap is negligible and there’s more benefit in using them separately. We’ll see. More research is needed. 🙂

  6. I’ve always wanted to try making soap. Visiting from Kim Klassen’s Be Still – One Year Wiser class.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Diana. I’m so looking forward to another year of Being Still with Kim, aren’t you?!

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