Sustainable Lifestyle...Making Soap

Finished soap with the soap mold, hand made by a friend.

A while back, I started getting together with an artist friend and making goat’s milk soap.  She has goats, and I had been wanting to make soap for a while, and it was a wonderful learning experience!  Since I picked up the last of our soap, and some molds so I can make more, it reminded me that it is a great process to familiarize oneself with, so I wanted to tell you about it.

We used a process which is centuries old, called “cold process” to make the soap.  It sounded a little scary at first, because it involves a chemical called sodium hydroxide, also known as lye.  Lye causes severe burns if it comes in contact with skin…definitely NOT nice stuff!  BUT…necessary for a process called saponification…that is they process by which soap hardens into a substance which lathers when you rub it on your skin or a washcloth with water.  Lye originated when folks noticed a yellowish substance which formed when ash came into contact with water, it sudsed and hardened a bit when dry.  Old-fashioned soap-making methods used water and a lot of ash to make lye, but the amount of sodium hydroxide was imprecise and sometimes the soap burned the skin or would not saponify properly.  Now, pure lye is available, so it can be measured very precisely and the exact amount needed can be used.  This prevents burning of the skin, and ensures exactly the amount needed is used for saponification.

OK, now that we have spoken a bit about the chemistry of soap, what else is used?  Oil, oil, and more oil!  Oils which are solid at room temperature are melted and mixed, and other oils are liquid at room temperature.  Different oils contain properties which have varying effects on the skin and soap properties.  Olive oil and shea butter are great skin softeners, palm oil helps soap last longer (makes it harder), and a small amount of tea tree oil can help with healing from skin conditions and ward off mosquitoes.  Other oils have different properties for softening or conditioning skin, hardening or softening soap, and treating various skin conditioners…the right blend is a matter of economics (some are expensive), practicality (what is available), and personal needs and desires.

Two more ingredients remain for cold process soap—liquid and fragrance. 

The liquid is used to dissolve the lye, and it is absolutely critical that it be right—otherwise there can be an explosion and chemical burns.  Powdered or chunk lye is added to liquid—not the other way around.  Ever.  The liquid can be water, but we use goat’s milk.  Often goat’s milk soap is dark brown—ours is sort of a light caramel color…this is because we keep the goat’s milk nearly frozen so that it does not burn when the lye is added.  The chemical reaction heats the liquid—so gloves, goggles, and long sleeves are used.

Next, the mixed and measured oils are added to the lye mixture and mixed…and mixed…and mixed…until the whole thing looks like pudding.

Then fragrance is added…my favorite part!  We have found some wonderful (and strange) fragrances for soaps!  Sage Lemongrass and Christmas Spice are my favorites.  Once we were sent a “rice” scent as a free sample…it was weird!  Flowery scents are not my favorites, but some folks like them, and I just found a scent called “energy” that I love!

Finally, the soap mixture is poured into a mold, covered, and left until it is just hard enough to slice into bars.  Once it is sliced, it must cure for at approximately two weeks.
Some soap with our original packaging, at Christmas time!

Interested in making soap?  Later today or tomorrow I will post further information, with recipes and suppliers…stay tuned!


  1. I should probably mention that I have a limited supply for sale...if you are interested, please contact me via email at or via facebook!


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