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Do-It-Yourself Experiment #7: Homemade Soap

My sister has been making homemade soap for a number of months, so she inspired me to add it to my list of Do-It-Yourself Experiments to try this year. And she graciously came over to help me make it, because I’m pretty positive I would have ruined the whole batch without her experienced help.

You first have to get the water really cold. We used ice to accomplish this.

Then we added in the lye crystals slowly while mixing. We did this outside with gloves on as you have to be very careful when working with lye crystals. The mixture gets very hot very quickly.

While the lye mixture was cooling, we melted the fats in a big pot on the stove over low heat.

Once we got the lye mixture to the right temperature, we slowly mixed it into the melted fats and then used a stick blender get it to trace. This took us around 10 minutes, but I also didn’t have a clue what I was doing and my sister had to coach me a lot on what it meant for the mixture to “trace”.

We finally got it, and then we added in the essential oils, oatmeal, and lavender and poured it into the soap mold to cure (the mold was a cardboard box with a plastic trash sack in it!). I left it on the kitchen table with a piece of wood and a blanket over it for two days and then cut it up tonight. It needs to cure for a few more weeks and then it will be ready for use.

I cannot tell you then sense of accomplishment I felt from cutting up the bars of soap tonight! It’s hard to describe, but there’s just such a deep feeling of fulfillment from putting forth the effort to make items from scratch. And I can’t wait to actually use the soap once it’s ready!

In case you missed it, here’s the list of the 12 Do-It-Yourself Projects I Plan to Try in 2011:

January: Make From-Scratch Chai Tea

February: Make Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

March: Make Homemade Hamburger Buns

April: Make Homemade Laundry Soap

May: Make Appliqued Flower Tee

June: Make Homemade Hummus

July: Make Strawberry Freezer Jam

August: Make Homemade Soap

September: Sew a Rag Quilt

October: Make Homemade Apple Butter

November: Make Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

December: Make Homemade Marshmallows

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  • Jennifer Kaiser says:

    Oh wow! It looks AMAZING. I think it’s time for another giveaway 🙂
    ~Jennifer K

  • Tracy says:

    So is it the lye that makes this “clean” you? That seems so harsh since straight lye requires the gloves and all to avoid burns. And yet, I can’t imagine that rubbing myself with crisco would get me clean… What makes this stuff work? I’ve always wondered what was in soap.

    • lyss says:

      Through the soapmaking process (called saponification) the chemistry of the lye and the fats totally changes. Neither lye nor fat will clean you, but when made into soap, it’s a different story! Once cured properly, the lye used in the soap will no longer burn you. 🙂
      No, I’m not a chemist, but I’ve made soap and have read books on the subject.

  • Carrie says:

    @Tracy I think all true soap has lye in it. Am I wrong?

    When I first read that you were going to make soap I thought it would be a waste of time because I can usually get Dove or Ivory for free or close to it doing drugstore deals. But now I see that the soap you get is like the fancy schmancy soap that makes great gifts and looks so nice on the bathroom sink — that stuff is EXPENSIVE.

    If I were ambitious enough — and my kids were a little older — I’d make this as holiday gifts.

    • Crystal says:

      Yes, from what I’ve priced, you can rarely get it for less than $3/bar–and often it’s upwards of $4-$5/bar. For gifts, this would definitely be a very inexpensive, unique, and practical gift.

  • Ashley says:

    You have inspired me to do a “try it” list! Great ideas always coming from your mind!

  • deborah says:

    I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try making soap, but the name alone sounds awesome! Lemon Lavendar Oatmeal…mmm!! Lavendar is one of my very favorite scents and lemon is great too. Lemon has such a freshness. Maybe you should do a giveaway?! 🙂

  • Sara says:

    Wow! I’m impressed! I’m very sorry if I’m posting a question another reader asked. I don’t have time to read all the comments this afternoon! I’m not a particularly crafty person, so the economics of projects like this would motivate me to try it more than the curiosity/personal enrichment factor. How would you say the price for ingredients filters out compared to the price for soap at the store?

    • Crystal says:

      Homemade bar soap like this sells for $3-$5 per bar at specialty shops, you can make this for around $1/bar. It would be a great gift to give, but you’re probably not going to beat the price of buying bar soap at Walmart with coupons when making it yourself.

      • Sara says:

        Thanks for the answer! By the way, for your apple butter month, my sister has a yummy recipe if you need one. I’ve also made pumpkin butter from the sugar pumpkins that are out in the fall – delish! I love it because I get to decorate a little with fresh pumpkins and my decorations don’t go to waste! However, the pumpkin butter must be frozen rather than canned because it is difficult for home canners to really get pumpkin to the right acidity to prevent botulism. 🙂

  • Miriam M says:

    Your soap looks absoultely wonderful! I’ve wanted to make my own soap for years! I am wondering if there is a substitute for “lye” and Crisco (since we don’t use either). In addition to one of mychildren having an allergy to nuts, most of my personal products are made with either organic or “natrual” ingredients. if you or any of your readers have any suggestions I would greatly appriciate any imput. Again, I really love the ideas on your blog. Thanks.

    • Crystal says:

      You can substitute Crisco, but you cannot substitute lye, as far as I know.

      • mary kuha says:

        What could I substitute for Crisco? I don’t use that stuff either. Sorry to make this difficult. I’m a beginner 🙂

    • Heather says:

      Lye is quite “natural”. I believe that it is made from wood ashes. Read “The Little House in Big Woods” for info on old-time soap-making. Back in the good ‘ole all-natural days, everyone’s soap was made with lye. Of course, it is very toxic on its own, so extreme care must be taken. I’ll admit that I’m scared to have it in the house with small children, and so I plan to wait to try this until they are much older.

    • Andrea Q says:

      Check the labels of the products you’re already using. If it says “saponified” on it, then it was made with lye. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, for example, are made with lye.

  • Chris says:

    The listing of “lye” and “crisco” in the ingredients doesn’t sound at all healthy, safe, or good for your skin. I know there are other recipes online & in books, but the ingredients in this one make me scared to be honest.

    Is it just me?

    • Crystal says:

      The only way to make true soap is with lye. See information posted in the comments above that explains how the process works. You can substitute Crisco, though, but I wanted to do it the way my sister does once before trying any experimenting myself!

    • Heather says:

      I ordered some lye soap online once, and it was wonderful, although pricey. My skin was so soft, and I didn’t have to use lotion! Properly made, lye soap is great for your skin. However, there is an kind of lye soap that is much harsher that was used for laundry back in the day and poison ivy.
      You can use another fat instead of Crisco.

  • Anita says:

    check out or these sites have wonderful tips. I have never made soap before, but my mom has, so…after seeing this posting from Crystal, I decided to call her and pick her brain. I also did some research and think I will give this a whirl.
    As far as people being concerned about crisco and lye…as the ingredients saponificate or cure, their chemistry change, making it safe to use on skin. Think about all the processed foods with added chemicals and preservatives people put into their bodies… I would rather wash with lye and crisco, than eat some of the stuff on the shelves/restaurants out there!!

  • JenMarie says:

    I have a rather blunt question…
    I love this idea but…
    Does it get the stink off?? 😉

  • katie says:

    It is so fun and rewarding to make soap. It really isn’t any harder than making a batch of muffins. I give it as gifts (teachers, hostess gifts, for the neighbors, in stockings, etc.) at Christmas and people really appreciate it.

  • Ginny says:

    I’m so glad you gave the disclaimer you did, Crystal. Soapmaking should never be attempted without a lot of prior study because you can get seriously hurt! I haven’t made soap in over five years because I have so much left over from when I had a small business selling it; sometimes, I really miss it.

  • Denny says:

    I have been making my own lye soaps since 2001. I had such awful skin problems and had tried a bar of handmade soap at a craft fair. Viola! No more skin issues. I had several flops before I found a great, fail-proof recipe. That lead to learning to make my own lotions and lip balms. I sell some of my things occasionally (I’m a busy teacher/school administrator), enough to fuel my habit and pay for more supplies. It is wonderful to know what goes into the products I am putting on my skin. Happy soaping! Very fun hobby.

  • Heather says:

    Great idea for Christmas gifts for my Bunco girls. We’re all die hard penny pinching die hard do-it-yourselfers. 🙂

  • katie t says:

    I just wanted to comment on your do it yourself experiements over’ve really inspired me to try more things for myself at home..i really enjoy your sight and visit it daily for tips for throughout the household…as well as encouragment and ideas than spark my creative light. my 25th birthday was yesterday and i celebrated being 17 weeks pregnant as well…for my birthday and the month of august i wanted to make my own loaf of bread {we used a bread machine} but i did it..and it felt really good!!! thanks for all you and your team do and i hope to continue being inspired from you for a very long time!!! katie t from ohio

  • karen says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! I hope to make my own soap someday.

  • amanda says:

    you can get the lye at ace hardware

  • Nikki Worstell says:

    how much would you say your investment was and how many bars of soap will you have from your recipe??

  • Beth says:

    When you click on the link above for homemade laundry soap it brings you to the homemade dw detergent. I was wondering how the laundry soap worked out. I’d heard that it dulls whites & wasn’t effective. What’s your opinion?

  • Brooke says:

    I can’t wait to see your finished rag quilt! I am a FACS teacher and teach my students how to make small baby quilts. I also teach an adult education course in the evenings during fall and spring on how to make large king size rag quilts. I have never done it in strips…interesting. We always do it in squares.

  • shannon says:

    That’s great! It does feel really good making it and it’s really not hard at all. I’ve made one batch so far with Red Devil Lye that I ordered online so it cost a lot more than it should have, just to have it shipped. Locally, I was able to find “Crystal Heat Drain Opener” which is lye crystals but I didn’t know if it was pure lye so didn’t use it. Do you have any thoughts about that? Thanks!

  • Sandy Cutler says:

    In the recipe it calls for 1 small bottle of lavender essential oil and 1 small bottle of lemon essential oil. how much is in the small bottle ? I am looking online and it has 1 oz, 2 oz, 4 oz, 8 oz and 16 oz. Not sure what to use. Also if you are using one fragrance would you need to use 2 bottles of the same fragrance instead of 1 of each (lavender and lemon). Just a bit confused. Maybe I should try it the “original” way before trying something new 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Karoline says:

    Hi, I’ve been making soap for several years and they make great presents for all occasions. The receipe you have used is great, and easy to make.

    I use home made soap as it doesn’t leave scum on the shower glass, it great for the skin and all the goodness is left in the soap. What I mean about this is that the manufactures remove the glycerin from the soap and use it in other products. Because of this some soap are drying and more of detergent reaction on the skin, leaving it itchy. Home made soap is natural and depending on ingredients used it can moisten the skin, help with rashes, but most important of all, there are no chemical extras are added.

  • Amanda says:

    Making my own soap or something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I have a some questions I’m hoping you’ll answer.Is lye safe? How many of the soaps in stores are just not safe and good for us. Also what are pulverized oats? Where are you order your ingredients? And lastly what brand of essential oil are you using as I know some brands are in safe but I have very little knowledge of essential oil’s. Thank you so much!!!!!

  • Sharon says:

    Can you use lard instead of Crisco? I don’t buy that stuff anymore.

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