≡ Menu

Making Soap in Time for Christmas

There are so many great soap makers out there that I hesitated to post this.  Please feel free to leave links and tips in the comments!  But in case you are overwhelmed with too much choice, here’s my one simple, rustic but gorgeous soap making recipe.

I make soap once a year, in time to give it away as Christmas presents. I truly hate the commercialisation of Christmas. Unless I can do handmade presents I feel really yucky and conned by the whole thing.   But homemade vegetable oil soap is so luxurious that it makes a great present.

The downsides are that making luxury soap is not super cheap, and you need to get organised a couple of months in advance to allow it time to cure.  The upside is that it is not that expensive – for about $30 to $40 you can make about 50 bars of soap that is truly decadent.  And having a good incentive to have it done months in advance is kinda nice.

The Recipe:

It is worth being well organised and prepared. It’s not hard at all to make soap, but it is one of those things where there is potential for lots of disasters if you are trying to multitask.

You need:

  • A nice well ventilated space with no kids, dogs or disruptions for a couple of hours.
  • Shoes and long sleeves – caustic soda burns if it splashes on your skin.
  • Plastic gloves.
  • A large stainless steel or enamel pot.
  • A 10 litre plastic bucket.
  • A big plastic or wooden spoon, long enough to stir the bucket.
  • Scales and a measuring jug.
  • Moulds.  Waxed milk cartons work nicely for square soap.  Cut down plastic one-litre milk bottles make round moulds.  Recycled post tubes also make nice round soap if you tape the stopper at the end on well.

Ingredients:

  • 1000 gm coconut oil or copha (for good bubbles)
  • 2 litres olive oil (for hardness)
  • 500 ml macadamia oil (for palmitolic acid which is beautiful on your skin)
  • 500 gm solid oil (like Supa-Fry)  (for setting)
  • 687 gm caustic soda

Step 1: Make up your caustic solution

This is the bit that everyone gets worried about.  Caustic burns if it gets on your skin, and when mixed with water it instantly gets very hot and gives off vapour that you’d rather not breathe.  So do this bit carefully in a well ventilated space with gloves and long sleeves.  (And you probably really should wear safety glasses as well).

Use your measuring jug to put 1.83 litres of cold water in the large pot.   Weigh the caustic soda and very carefully sprinkle it into the water, stirring all the while.  The mixture will get very hot and give off vapour. DON’T POUR WATER INTO CAUSTIC (or it might bubble and spit furiously).  Do it the other way round – add the caustic to the water.

Cool this pot of caustic solution to baby’s bath warm temperature.

Step 2:  Mix Your Oils

Pour your liquid oils into the bucket.  Melt the copha and solid oil together,  add to the liquid oils, and mix thoroughly.  Bring the oil mix to baby’s bath warm too.

Step 3: Stir the Caustic Solution into the Oils

When both the caustic solution and the oil mix are baby’s bath warm – between 35° and 37° C – slowly pour the caustic into the oil in a thin continuous stream, stirring all the while.  This mix is still burny so take care not to splash it on yourself.  Continue to stir for about 10 minutes, then frequently for an hour or two, until the mixture has thickened to a thick custard consistency and gone pale.

Step 4:  Add Other Ingredients

At this stage you can stir in other ingredients if you like – essential oils, dried rose petals or lavender, rolled oats.  I like to keep it simple. I added a few handfuls of rolled oats and some grated lemon zest to this batch.

Step 5:  Pour into Moulds

Pour your soap mix into your moulds, banging them to remove bubbles.  Take care – it’s still a bit caustic.  It won’t burn instantly but it will sting.

Step 6: Slice into Bars

Leave it for a day or two to set.  After a day or two, your soap will be set hard enough to slice up.  The longer you leave it the harder it gets, so there is a knack in picking the moment when it is firm enough to cut but not so hard it crumbles. I use a thin bladed bread knife, dipped in boiling water, to slice it up.  This is rustic soap – it won’t slice perfectly neatly and some will crumble. Proper soap makers use individual moulds. You can try “rebatching” the crumbles.

Step 7:  Allow to Cure

The soap needs to cure for several weeks to finish its chemical reaction and harden.  At that stage it will miraculously have lost the caustic sting and will have hardened to a beautiful white, fine grained hard soap with a nice lather and a really luxurious feel on your skin.

[relatedPosts]

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Tulipwood November 7, 2010, 12:21 am

    Thanks for the soap recipe. Sounds easy enough for me to try. Disappointed about the temperature gauge you used though … baby’s bottle is usually associated with artificial infant formula feeding. In both the food security circles and, of course, permaculture, artificial infant formula is a major concern – and that’s without a mention of the health, growth and development problems it causes for the infant. A very few babies may have to be fed artificial baby formula, but using the analogy as you have raises the practice to acceptable, everyday behaviour for all.
    How about ‘baby bath’ temperature … or even ‘luke warm’?

  • Marita November 7, 2010, 7:37 am

    Linda, been following your blog for a while and your permaculture home garden book lives at my bedside… I am jealous of you warmer weather as we live above 900m in the central tablelands of NSW… anyway.. what is the “solid oil” that you add to your soap… would love to try some homemade soap.

  • Linda November 7, 2010, 10:19 am

    It’s just one of the solid white vegetable oils for frying, that you find near the margarines in the supermarket. I just use the cheapest kind.

  • Linda November 7, 2010, 10:33 am

    Good point. I mean the temperature where, if you put a drop on the inside of your wrist, you can just barely feel the warmth. (But don’t put caustic solution on bare skin!) Little bit warmer than luke warm. I don’t know how critical the temperature is – the whole process is chemistry so I guess it matters. But I haven’t got a thermometer and it’s always worked for me just going by feel.

  • kimmy November 7, 2010, 3:36 pm

    Linda, how did you get the round shape ? Was it a canister or do you have a special mould?It gives a real ‘homemade ‘ feel to it, which is what is all about.
    I have made one batch ready for Christmas and am ready to do the second …hope to find a friend’s garden has calendula flowers in it , as I have read they are the only flower that doesn’t change colour during the saponifying process.
    Great post .
    thanks, thegirlwithgreenthumbs.blogspot

  • Linda November 7, 2010, 4:57 pm

    Hi kimmy. I used a round post tube – the kind that is used to post rolled up posters etc – as a mould. I taped the stopper at the bottom on and poured the custard-stage soap (Step 5) into it. Then when the soap was set I peeled it off (destroying it in the process). I also used a couple of cut down recycled 1 litre plastic milk bottles as moulds. Both moulds gave me cylinders of soap, that I could slice into circular bars. Does that make sense?

  • carly November 8, 2010, 5:20 am

    Do you think it might ruin/damage a cast iron pot? My husband has a la cruesse (spelling??) pot which he is very precious about and understandably doesn’t want it wrecked…
    Thanks for this recipe
    Carly

  • Linda November 8, 2010, 12:12 pm

    Hi Carly, all the instructions I’ve ever seen say to use stainless steel, enamel, glass, or plastic. I think metal affects the chemistry, so I wouldn’t use the cast iron pot. Instructions say not to use metal even for moulds. I don’t know if it would harm the pot or the soap, but I’d rather leave that question unanswered!

  • Inner Pickle November 16, 2010, 10:15 pm

    That sounds like a totally do-able soap recipe!! Must try this one. When you say ‘several weeks to cure’ do you mean, say, 6? xx

  • Linda November 17, 2010, 12:48 pm

    Anne commented (under Leafy Greens post a few days ago) that she’d had success making a batch. It’s a recipe that has always worked well for me. I make it at least 6 weeks before Christmas to give as gifts, preferably a bit more. It gets better with time.

  • kerri November 18, 2010, 7:35 am

    Linda does the caustic process ruin the stainless steel pot at all? I am wondering whether I need to purchase one especially for this or if I can use an exisiting one I have at home. I have been following your blog for a few months now and absoluetly love your recipes, with 3 boys, your museli bar challenge has been an absolute hit. None have been rejected so far. Wonderful blog – thank you.

  • Linda November 18, 2010, 8:55 am

    Hi Kerry, I use my much loved stainless steel pressure cooker, with no problems at all. Just makes it very clean. I think the problem is that iron and aluminium can chemically react. I’m so glad your boys like the lunchbox baking recipes. It’s the thing parents complain about, that healthy is all very well but they have to actually eat it first!

  • Francesca October 23, 2011, 3:40 am

    thanks for posting this. although we have plenty of olive oil around here in Italy, I have a very hard time finding the other ingredients – and so my soap making dreams haven’t materialized yet. also, the curing process concerns me a little: I heard soap can take up to 10 weeks to cure – which poses huge problems in terms of where to find the space to let those soap bars harden!
    I loved, loved your post at the coop today, will leave a comment there.

  • Linda October 23, 2011, 7:58 am

    Hi Francesca, you can use canola or sunflower oil in place of macadamia oil. It has the same setting qualities, just not the palmitolic acid. You should be able to get copha or coconut oil somewhere? And Supafry is just the hard blocks of cooking oil sold for deep frying in supermarkets. I wouldn’t ever buy it for deep frying, but it works in soap. But there are also lots of choices in oil blends you can use. You will find lots of recipes on the internet. It does take 10 weeks or so to cure. In fact, it just keeps getting better. Old soap is harder and finer grained. And that’s my major challenge too. The mice and even the birds think it is very tasty.

  • erica October 24, 2011, 7:02 am

    Hi Linda,

    I’m wondering if using nut oils will have an effect on my kids, who have nut allergies. I’ve never even thought of this until now! I’m thinking the process takes all potential allergens out in the saponification process, but I’m not sure. Do you know?

  • Linda October 24, 2011, 7:13 am

    Hi Erica, that’s something I never even thought about! I have no idea. On one hand, it could be a safe way to desensitise, on the other hand it could be an allergen. You can use canola or sunflower oil in place of the macadamia oil. Makes it much cheaper as well. I just like the macadamia oil for the palmitoleic acid.

  • Kirsten December 5, 2011, 7:42 pm

    Funny, I’ve been meaning to track down a good soap recipe for Chrissy presents this year – didn’t know it would have to cure for that long though, rats. I guess I’ll just have to make jam again…

  • celia January 25, 2013, 8:26 am

    Your soap this year has been so divine that I’ve been reading back over all your old soap posts! Thank you! 🙂

  • Karen September 18, 2013, 1:31 pm

    Thanks for the lovely recipe. I have finished my second batch and all looking promising. I wanted to add, incase there is anyone as unchemistry oriented as me, that aluminium pots don’t work with soap making. As in really don’t work.

  • Joella October 14, 2015, 11:28 am

    supafry is animal fat

Leave a Comment

Next post:

Previous post: