One of the most exciting things about our transition to become a more non-toxic and chemical-free household has been learning to make soap. It’s one of those things that – for me, at least – was super scary at first. Like jumping out of an airplane or off a cliff (you can see the bottom but have no idea how long the ride will take). I entered into it with a lot of excitement and trepidation… and it has become something I truly love.
It still scares me a little. Like teaching or performing or running a workshop. There’s a wiggly-tummy feeling and a bit of anxiety that I get before I begin but ultimately know will pass. I consider it a healthy fear. It keeps me alert in the process, and it serves as a good reminder that I need to be as careful as possible.
I say all this not to scare you. Sort of the opposite! It’s one of those “dive right in” type things. A leap of faith… with lots of prep!! But the feeling you get from making, storing, and using your own soap is tremendous. Self-sufficiency + “I know exactly what’s in this” + that I-made-this sense of pride that is confidence-boosting in the best sort of way.
This recipe comes from one of my favorite books, Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. It makes a very hard soap with a very low oil content – perfect for grating and using in your laundry powder mix.
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In terms of difficulty, this probably sits in between the All-Nature Castile Olive Oil Bar Soap and the Homemade Natural Coconut Shaving Soap. And please remember: Safety is VERY important. If you are new to soap-making, find some good books in the library, hunt down some YouTubes, and read the extra instructions in the Castile Olive Oil Bar Soap recipe before you get started!
This recipe can be molded using the technique featured in the Castile Olive Oil Bar Soap recipe (an old milk carton). Just keep in mind that it sets really fast and becomes a dense little block! So peeling off the paper can be a bit tricky if you wait more than 24 hours. If you want smaller blocks to work with later, be sure to cut it into bars before you hit your 24-hour mark! (I waited too long and was unable to cut mine.)
- counter-top blender (make sure the mixing jar is glass, not plastic)
- digital scale
- glass container (a clean jar works very well – just be sure to use something heatproof)
- spoon or chopsticks for mixing the lye (make sure you don’t use anything aluminum) and for testing trace
- gloves (I use a pair of old leather driving gloves)
- eye protection
- kitchen towel or cloth
- soap mold(s) (see the note in the Process section below)
- rubber spatula
- 2.8 oz lye (sodium hydroxide)
- 6 oz distilled water
- 16 oz coconut oil
Ultimately, what this will yield is soap with which you can make laundry powder. You cannot use the soap in the laundry alone… but this gives you a good base for a DIY Laundry Powder recipe that is simple and entirely natural (more on that at the end!).
- Measure the lye using your digital kitchen scale. (Remember to zero the scale for whatever container you are using to hold the lye before you move to step 2.) The scale should read exactly 2.8 oz for the lye.
- To measure your water, you can either measure using the scale (after zeroing with your container) or you can use a liquid measuring cup. Either way, you want as close to 6 oz on the nose as you can get.
- Mix the lye and water. The best way to do this is to either use a funnel to ensure you don’t spill, or carefully spoon the lye bit by bit into the water. NEVER PUT THE WATER OVER THE LYE. You’ll create a very unfortunate volcano reaction. This process will create some fumes and a lot of heat – so it’s best to be near an open window or even move outside as you transfer the lye. This is the time to wear your gloves! The glass container will get hot, so touch it sparingly – and stir the water carefully (once all your lye is in). Then set the container aside for at least 5 minutes. (You want the water to change from cloudy to clear before you add it in step 5.)
- Get your oil and blender ready. Check your blender one more time to make sure it’s ready to go. Measure out 16 oz of coconut oil using your scale (in this case, I used a bowl to weigh the solid oil). Before you use it in the blender, you will have to make sure the coconut oil is in liquid form. You can accomplish this by either heating it over a water bath or putting it in the microwave. For either method, go slowly, and stir as you go. Once your oil as fully melted, pour it into the blender.
- Add to the lye water to the blender (make sure it’s clear). You should definitely wear your gloves and goggles when you do this – just to be safe. Pour slowly and carefully, then put the lid on the blender. Cover the lid with a towel or cloth to give you extra protection from splashing.
- Mix until you reach trace. (Trace is the stage you want your soap in where it’s thick enough to mold but not yet thick enough to set up.) This is the trickiest part because there is no set time for mixing – and coconut oil means the mixture will hit trace faster. The easiest way to make sure you go long enough to get trace but not too long is as follows: Mix for 30 seconds and check your mixture for trace. (You can do this by dipping in your mixing spoon or chopstick from step 2 and then letting the soap dribble off the spoon back into the blender. As soon as the surface of the soap holds memory of the dribbles (you can see the spoon’s path or the lines/swirls don’t sink back into the soap and disappear), it’s time to mold. Until then, just mix in 10-second increments – checking each time for trace. This way you are sure not to miss it.
- Once you’ve reached trace, transfer the soap into your mold. You can use an old milk container or any kind of container lined with plastic wrap. Carefully scrape the soap out of the blender into the mold; try to get as much out as you can. Pinch closed the top of the milk carton or lay something stiff over your mold (like cardboard or wood) and set somewhere cool and dry. Let it sit, undisturbed, for not-quite 24 hours.
- Clean up all of your equipment and soap-making ingredients carefully. (Keep your gloves on for this. The raw soap is caustic until it has cured.) Use a paper towel to remove any leftover soap from your blender and dispose of it in the trash. Wash everything with warm, soapy water (and then I usually run it in the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle just to be safe).
- Check your soap after somewhere in the 20-24 hour mark to if it’s ready to cut. The soap will be soft, but should not be sticky or wet. If it is still wet enough to show a fingerprint, allow it to sit another hour or two and then recheck. Once the soap is soft but no longer slimy, carefully unpeel the milk carton from the soap (or remove your plastic wrap).
- You can cut your soap into bars using a very sharp knife or a cutting wire. (I waited too long and was unable to get a knife through it!) You can make your bars any size you like. Set the bars on a drying rack (like a cookie cooling rack) and cover with a clean towel (this will ensure they stay dust-free).
- Allow the soap bars to sit an additional 4 weeks to harden (someplace cool and dry is ideal). This ensures the lye content will not be too high for your skin (something to think about even if using in the laundry). After 4 weeks, you can use the soap to make your own DIY Laundry Powder!
To make DIY Laundry Powder…
Making homemade laundry powder is best when you can use a homemade soap. In a pinch, I’ve used grated castile olive oil soap, but this soap works even better – and I feel better knowing it contains fewer oils.
The recipe for laundry powder is one of ratios. Start with your soap and then you can measure your other ingredients based off whatever amount you’re using (this helps because sometimes you can only grate so long!)…
- 1 part grated coconut laundry soap (I like to use at least 1 cup)
- 2 parts washing soda (I get mine at our local ACE)
- 2 parts borax (also from our local ACE)
- However much soap you’ve grated, once you’re done, measure it and use that for the rest of your ingredients. So if you’re starting with 1 cup of soap, you use 2 cups each of washing soda and borax. Starting with 2 cups grated soap means using 4 cups each of the washing soda and borax. Etc.
- Put all three ingredients in an airtight glass container (I use an old Nestea container that was in our basement when we moved in. I washed it first, of course!). Mix well.
- Use approximately 1/4 cup of the mix for regular loads. For really tough loads, you can add another tablespoon or two of the powder – or supplement with an environmentally-friendly liquid detergent.