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A Dilettante's Guide To Making Your Own Soap

By trentseigfried in Science
Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 12:12:38 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

Ever wondered what is in your soap that you use in the shower each day (well, ideally, at least)? Ever thought about why some soap feels softer and other soaps make good lather? Ever wanted to pretend that you're Tyler Durden?

This is a short guide to making your own soap, and all you need is a quick trip to your local supermarket and hardware store!

Safety Precautions: Some of the ingredients and procedures described below are very unsafe. Neither myself or kuro5hin are responsible for any damage, either physical, emotional, psychological, or property, that may occur from the following of any instructions given here. This is for entertainment purposes only.

Another note: Soap-making is an art and can easily get much more complicated than the instructions given here. This is intended as a basic outline to get you started; there are many useful books and other resources on the intracicies of fat and oil selection, alternate ingredients and cooking methods, and so forth for those who venture deep into the world of soap-making.

So, let's make soap!

First things first, go to the grocery store (and probably the hardware store, too). There are a few things you're going to need.

Lye, otherwise known as sodium hydroxide. This is the dangerous material in making soap. Very dangerous, in fact. You aren't going to want to get any at all on your hands or skin. I have had good experiences using Red Devil Lye, but this is becoming hard to find. Other brands of lye will work just as well, however. Look for this stuff in the cleaning section of your local department store; if you can't find it there, ask at your local hardware store. For your own safety, the MSDS for lye is essential reading.

Oil. Any sort of oil will do. Look in the cooking oils section of your local grocer. Here are the effects of some common oils in terms of the soap they produce:

Olive oil makes very fine, small, silky bubbles that feel nice on the skin, but the soap doesn't work as a hardcore cleanser.
Coconut oil makes huge, fluffy bubbles.
Popcorn oil makes the soap very yellow, but results in large fluffy bubbles, mostly because popcorn oil is by and large the same as coconut oil.
Canola oil makes almost no bubbles at all, but makes a great deal of lather.
Vegetable oil makes a very average soap; medium sized soapy-feeling bubbles.

Litmus paper. This may be the trickiest thing to find; try asking at your local hardware store if you can't easily come across any. If this doesn't work, go to your local swimming pool supply shop, as they carry a wide variety of pH paper. Ideally, you want paper that includes a pH value of 10 in its detection range. pH paper is somewhat expensive, though; one trick is to cut the paper vertically into three or four very thin strips, thus tripling or quadrupling the number of samples you can take with the paper. pH is very important when making soap so that you don't accidentally make a soap that will damage your skin.

An ice cube tray. You will eventually pour your soap into some sort of container to allow it to harden; an old ice cube tray works just fine for this purpose.

A blender or a hand-held mixer. Mixing is crucial. I prefer using a hand-held mixer with plastic blades; the metal can often react with the lye, resulting in not only bad soap but corroded equipment.

A few plastic bowls. These will be for stirring and mixing purposes.

Ice and water.

When you have all of this collected, you're ready to go!

The directions below will make a minute amount of soap, enough to fill perhaps four squares in an ice cube tray. You can multiply the amounts by any integer to make more soap.

First, measure about 1/8 cup of cold water, then add a small ice cube to the water bringing your total amount of liquid to about 1/4 cup. The goal is just to have some very cold water; the measurement doesn't have to be exact. Now, take your lye and go outside. It is a bad move to mix the lye and water in the house, as lye can take the surface off of Formica and damage anything metal that comes near it.

Measure out 1/8 cup lye, and then VERY slowly add the lye to the water, stirring the water slowly. The water will heat up rapidly as you do this, so be careful and do it very slowly. Eventually, the water will clear up; let it sit and return to room temperature. Meanwhile, mesuare out a cup of oil that you plan to use.

Once you have a cup of oil and 3/8 cup of lye water, put the oil in a bowl and then slowly pour in the lye water, stirring this slowly until you've poured in all the lye water. At this point, blend it on low, then slowly increase the speed of the blending.

After about ten minutes of blending, you should stop and scoop out a bit of the liquid soap, and then let it drop back onto the soap. When you drop the soap back on top, check to see whether or not you can observe a visible outline around the drop. If there is an outline, the soap is ready to put into your drying tray (i.e., the ice cube tray); if not, mix the soap for another few minutes and try again. This "outline" phenomenon is called tracing.

Once your soap mix has a trace, just pour it into the tray, put it somewhere dry, and let it sit for a few weeks, with one little exception: after 72 hours, stick a piece of pH paper into one of the soap pieces (it should be of a pudding consistency at this point) and check the pH. If it is at 10 or below, your soap is just fine; if it is above 10, keep checking it daily until it gets to 10 or below. The recipe here should wind up with a pH around 9.

After two to three weeks, you should have small ice-cubed shaped pieces of soap. When the soap is appropriately hard for you (this is up to you), just pop out the soap as if they were ice cubes and seal them in a reclosable bag for storage. The soap may get a thin, white powdery layer on it after a while; this isn't anything to be worried about as it is just soda ash resulting from the carbon dioxide in the air mixing with the soap. This occurs in commercial soaps and is cut away during the shaping and imprinting of the soap.

Wash, and enjoy your homemade soap!

Advanced Techniques If you get the basic recipe to work and enjoy it, there are a lot of things that you can try for your own use:

Melt a crayon and add it to the mixture at the trace stage. This will provide color to the soap. Since crayons are primarily stearic acid, which is a type of fat, the crayon will become part of the soap itself and color it throughout. Don't worry; it doesn't affect the cleaning power of the soap at all. Be sure to mix the crayon so that the color is consistent throughout.

Add a dash of perfume, herbs, or other smelling substances at the trace stage. Mixing in a touch of perfume, natural herbs or flower petals, or other such items at the trace stage adds a hint of color, smell, and texture to the soap.

Cook a fat to use instead of oil. This is very tricky, but results in some wonderful soaps. Be careful that the fat you're using is pure fat, however; if you mix in pieces of non-fat into the mix, it will cause problems with the soap. I strongly recommend trying lard. A tub of lard from the grocery store makes a wonderful soap when mixed with lye; my favorite recipe for soap is mostly lard with a few dashes of other types of oils. It should be noted that lard is harder to make soap with than just oils; thus, try making soap from just oil first.

Additional Soap Resources You may also want to visit some web resources on soap making to get advice from others who have adopted soap-making as an enterprise:
The Soap Making Home Page is probably the best all-around resource for soap making on the web.
Formulas and Recipes for Homemade Soaps contains several interesting recipes for soaps, including a liquid hand soap that I've had some success with.

Also, the following books are recommended reading for potential soap makers (bn links):
Melt and Pour Soapmaking by Marie Browning is a very fun book for beginning soap makers with a lot of good recipes.
The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch discusses soap-making from an all-natural perspective; it has a ton of good ideas for natural ingredients to add to your soaps.
Milk-Based Soaps by Casey Makela and Deborah Balmuth investigates the use of milk in soaps as a supplement to the fats. This is a more advanced book on soap-making, but it's the area I'm currently experimenting with.


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What's the best color for soap?
o White 26%
o Blue 4%
o Green 15%
o Red 6%
o Black 26%
o What is this "soap" you speak of? 19%

Votes: 63
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Scoop
o Lye
o the MSDS for lye
o Litmus paper
o The Soap Making Home Page
o Formulas and Recipes for Homemade Soaps
o bn
o Melt and Pour Soapmaking
o The Natural Soap Book
o Milk-Based Soaps
o Also by trentseigfried

Display: Sort:
A Dilettante's Guide To Making Your Own Soap | 110 comments (85 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
Now I know how to make: (4.66 / 3) (#1)
by tokugawa on Mon Apr 21, 2003 at 11:41:25 PM EST

Soap. Yeast. Bread.

...and Beer! (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by opendna on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 01:53:28 AM EST

[ Parent ]
and Sushi (nt) (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Hana Yori Dango on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 10:05:11 AM EST

[ Parent ]
and build a simple microcontroller programmer (nt) (5.00 / 2) (#52)
by Siddhi on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 01:03:22 PM EST

[ Parent ]
now we can all be fed, cleaned and drunk ..... (none / 0) (#57)
by mrondello on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 05:24:36 PM EST

after the impending apocalypse.

Anything else we need to know?

[ Parent ]
My idea of heaven! (none / 0) (#62)
by jabber on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 07:38:24 PM EST

I mean really. Clean, full and tipsy.
What more could you ask for?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Civilization [nt] (none / 0) (#63)
by KnightStalker on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 07:45:15 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Bah! That caused the apocalypse! n/t (none / 0) (#64)
by jabber on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 08:36:17 PM EST

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Semantics.... [nt] (none / 0) (#65)
by KnightStalker on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 08:49:24 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Soap, Bread and Booze (5.00 / 3) (#75)
by monkeymind on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 02:45:47 AM EST

Is Civilization. If you don't think so try being Hungry, Dirty and Sober...

I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people and assume the deserve it.
[ Parent ]

A couple of points for lye (4.33 / 3) (#2)
by epepke on Mon Apr 21, 2003 at 11:57:34 PM EST

Don't let lye come into contact with aluminum, because it makes hydrogen, which is flammable. When I was a kid, I used to mix lye with aluminum in pop bottles and put balloons over the end. Always outdoors, of course. Way more fun than helium.

Vinegar is good for neutralizing lye.

Lye feels slippery when you get it on you.

For a real thrill, use potassium hydroxide, used for liquid NiCad batteries instead. Potassium hydroxide is used for shaving soaps, because they foam better (for some reason).

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

You too? (none / 0) (#8)
by Andy P on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 02:44:04 AM EST

We used old liquor bottles because the process of emptying them only added to the fun.

[ Parent ]
Lye feels slippery (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by hoops on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 03:38:44 PM EST

because it mixes with the oils in/on your skin and makes soap.

If I were a koala bear, the first thing I would do is urinate all over you and bite you in the scrotum. - bri4n
[ Parent ]

no (none / 0) (#58)
by Suppafly on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 05:35:56 PM EST

no, it feels slippery because it is a base, the same reason bleach feels slippery.
Playstation Sucks.
[ Parent ]
No actually (4.50 / 2) (#66)
by EvilGwyn on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:13:45 PM EST

it feels slippery, as all bases do, because it is dissolving your skin away.

[ Parent ]
Yes, if it has a PH > 7 (nt) (5.00 / 1) (#95)
by EvilGwyn on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 09:57:55 PM EST

[ Parent ]
All the "How to make/cook" stories (4.66 / 3) (#3)
by jjayson on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 12:13:43 AM EST

I can do "A Dilettante's Guide To Making Your Own Crystal Meth" next.
Smile =)
* bt krav magas kitten THE FUCK UP
<bt> Eat Kung Jew, bitch.

How to articles (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by flo on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 03:02:28 AM EST

Soon we may need a dedicated "How to" section on K5 if we go on like this. On the other hand, who here volunteers to write a "How to write a 'how to' article" article?
"Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
[ Parent ]
How to write a 'How To' article (none / 0) (#11)
by jjayson on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 03:30:23 AM EST

Something close has been done. A while back when there was a rush of "Introduction to ..." articles somebody wrote "An Introduction To 'Introductio To' Stories" piece that was voted down.
Smile =)
* bt krav magas kitten THE FUCK UP
<bt> Eat Kung Jew, bitch.

[ Parent ]
Make it a topic, not a section. (none / 0) (#20)
by Canthros on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:50:48 AM EST

How-tos might be related to any of the section topics and then some. Better to make it a topic, like food, rather than a section, like culture.

It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
[ Parent ]
I'd do that... (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by Drooling Iguana on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 11:09:13 AM EST

I'd do that, but I'm not sure where to begin. Would anyone care to volunteer to write a "How to write a 'How to write a "how to" article' article?"

[ Parent ]
And I'd do that... (none / 0) (#80)
by 87C751 on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 10:16:13 AM EST

Would anyone care to volunteer to write a "How to write a 'How to write a "how to" article' article?"
Sure, as soon as I find a "How to write a "How to write a 'How to write a "how to" art&&^$%&$

My ranting place.
[ Parent ]

You could.... (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by ShadowNode on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 12:49:56 PM EST

But the G-men will come for you if you live in the land of the 'free'.

[ Parent ]
+1 FP (none / 0) (#92)
by Prophet themusicgod1 on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 09:00:48 PM EST

"I suspect the best way to deal with procrastination is to put off the procrastination itself until later. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't gotten around to it yet."swr
[ Parent ]
Now (3.50 / 2) (#5)
by tang gnat on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 01:11:46 AM EST

Tell me how to make something I can use to get dirty, so I can make some soap to get clean!

An Introduction To Making Your Own Mud (4.88 / 18) (#38)
by Mr Spot on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 10:56:03 AM EST

Things you will need

Some dirt. You should be able to find this in most backyards. If you don't have any dirt, then you can either buy some from a gardening shop, or simply take some from someone else's yard. The type of dirt you use shouldn't matter too much, but you probably don't want mud that is full of fertiliser, since that will make your mud smell pretty bad.

Water. This is easy to find, simply get some from the tap. Bottled water is a waste, why pay for water when you can get it straight from the tap?

A bucket or something, to put your mud in. Directions

Mud is very easy to make. Pour the dirt into the bucket. Then add the water and mix around. If you add more water, the resulting mud will be runnier, so keep this in mind.

Now you have your very own mud!


One of the best uses of mud is to make things dirty. Spread it over your body and you are instantly in need of a shower or bath with your home-made soap.

Other fun and exciting uses for mud include throwing it at your (least) favourite neat freak, and smearing it on your 4WD so it looks like you have actually taken it off the freeway at least once since you bought it.

[ Parent ]

oh wow (1.00 / 7) (#15)
by jope on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 06:24:21 AM EST

yes, you can bake your own bread, cook your own meals, make your own soap, clean your own clothes, cut your hair, write your books, plant your trees, build your bombs, soldier together your tv, build your bookshelf, synthesize your drugs etc. But dont your think this is getting a bit boring? Reminds me a bit of a one of those 40-year-old-frustrated-housewives-exchanging-cookie-recepies websites that must exist out there somewhere.

Recipies (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by bse on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 01:41:11 AM EST

You mean like this one?

Seriously though, there are lots of useful and age old recipies on that site that still work great today, in our modern fast food world.

"Please sir, tell me why, my life's so pitiful, but the future's so bright? When I look ahead, it burns my retinas." -- Pitchshifter - Please Sir
[ Parent ]

Why? (3.00 / 9) (#17)
by SanSeveroPrince on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:45:08 AM EST

Why would I want to make my own soap?

People, the beautiful thing about being humans, as opposed to being animals is that we can pay for sex, shave our testicles, and BUY SOAP!

Our evolution is so far a chequered affair. Some things put us back millions of years, like Hanson. Others made our life sweeter and all the more worth living, like soap.

Now that I think of it, the only reason I'd have wanted to make my own soap would have been in post WWII Germany, to make sure I wasn't washing with Jew shavings from the furnaces.
But I'm not there, and neither are you. Can you really make more functional soap than what you buy?


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

Here's a couple reasons..... (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by lb008d on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:51:01 AM EST

First off, it makes real cool gifts for people, especially if you make something that smells wonderful like Peppermint Tea Tree oil soap. Second, natural soap is a lot better for your skin.

Go somewhere that sells some real fat/lye soap and try it for a while. It keeps my skin from drying out.

[ Parent ]

So does my Palmolive.... (nt) (none / 0) (#22)
by SanSeveroPrince on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:51:46 AM EST


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
But if you can buy natural soap (none / 0) (#23)
by Cloaked User on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:53:57 AM EST

Then the question still remains, why make it?
"What the fuck do you mean 'Are you inspired to come to work'? Of course I'm not 'inspired'. It's a job for God's sake! The money's enough and the work's not so crap that I leave."
[ Parent ]
Variety. (none / 0) (#26)
by lb008d on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:57:12 AM EST

It's the same reason why I do all my own cooking. Variety. Plus, once you make enough it gets cheaper and cheaper.

[ Parent ]
Hanson (3.00 / 4) (#41)
by edo on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 11:16:48 AM EST

> Some things put us back millions of years, like Hanson.

What is wrong with you, man? Hanson ruled!

Read Dutch Taylor Hanson porn.
Sentimentality is merely the Bank Holiday of cynicism.
 - Oscar Wilde
[ Parent ]

Hanson (4.00 / 2) (#43)
by SanSeveroPrince on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 11:23:59 AM EST

Look, this is not a pet peeve. It is not a major psychotic hatred reaction. It is a simple preservation reaction, rooted deeply in human DNA.

Hanson should cause disgust and hatred in all biologically functional individuals.

There is therefore something wrong with you, and anybody who likes Hanson. Get some hormones, you'll get over it eventually.


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
Why do anything? (5.00 / 4) (#50)
by ShadowNode on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 12:41:54 PM EST

Why build a deck for your house? Why build your own computer? Why tinker with Linux or BSD? Why read a book, take in a movie, or watch the sun set?

Some things are worth doing for their own sake.

[ Parent ]
It makes good cheap gifts [n/t] (none / 0) (#55)
by epepke on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 02:34:21 PM EST

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
A few differences between home made and commercial (4.00 / 1) (#77)
by hawthorne on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 06:18:27 AM EST

1. Commercial soap tends to be made mostly of the cheapest fat available - usually tallow or lard, with a proportion of coconut or palm oil to make it lather.

2. In commercial soap making, the soap is made with a huge amount of water, and the soap is then precipitated using sodium chloride. This leaves the glycerin suspended in the remaining water, allowing it to be extracted and sold separately (it's more valuable than the soap) - and leading to the 'now with xx% added moisturiser' soaps to make up for the lack of glycerin.

3. Satisfaction!

[ Parent ]

Call me red... (4.00 / 1) (#81)
by Alex Buchanan on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 11:03:35 AM EST

...but I dislike the idea that just to remain alive I have to give hard-earned money away in vast quantities. I'd like to think that it is, at least in theory, possible to be self-sufficient for the important stuff.

[ Parent ]
Red Herrings (3.00 / 2) (#85)
by SanSeveroPrince on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 05:56:09 PM EST

Really, you sound reasonable, so let me expose the myth you're buying into: 'self-sufficiency'.

Reading from the article, I see that in order to make your own soap, you need lye, oil (eventually scented), litmus paper, and ice cube tray, a blender and a few plastic bowls. Do not forget a fridge to make the ice. Oh, and it takes THREE WEEKS.

Now, while trying not to rely on multinationals is an admirable goal, and spending lots of money for daily necessities is sometimes extreme, do you realize what a fool you've been taken for?

SELF SUFFICIENT? Both litmus paper and plastic trays are beyond the scope of even the most rabid house chemist. Are you going to make your own? No, you're going to buy them. Want to know something funny? A pack of litmus paper alone costs rougly the same as a month's worth of soap. This is based on a quick check at my local grocery store and chemist. I am sure prices vary, but not by much.

SELF SUFFICIENT? Are you telling me that you're going to prepare these things with the electricity that comes from your own power generator, which you hand crafted from raw minerals you pried bare handed from the living rock? Come on. It's satisfying, and it's definitely a worthy hobby, but isn't that bar of soap from anywhere you care to mention looking more and more attractive with each word?

Like many self sufficiency fads, it's meant to make you feel a little more in control of your own live. Just live it instead, it's much more satisfying. And buy the damn soap. The lye will thank you.


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
Blue tuna (none / 0) (#89)
by Alex Buchanan on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 08:08:45 PM EST

Really, you sound reasonable, so let me expose the myth you're buying into: 'self-sufficiency'.
Yet another thing I have to purchase? :o)

I am well aware that in practice self-sufficiency is a pipedream in the modern world. Although I assembled the computer with which I am writing this, and would like to think I could write an operating system and web browser for it, I have no desire to build a multi-billion pound fabrication plant to make the fiddlier components.

Just accept my post as the musing of a recently graduated postgraduate student who wishes everything didn't cost quite so much. :o)


[ Parent ]

"Self-sufficiency" (5.00 / 1) (#90)
by Verminator on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 08:10:18 PM EST

Well, you could just kill an animal and render its fat over a fire. Then take the ashes from the fire and run some water through them to get lye. Mix two parts rendered animal fat to one part lye and boil until it thickens. Let it sit till hard and it's ready to use. Self-sufficiency.

If the whole country is gonna play 'Behind The Iron Curtain,' there better be some fine fucking state s
[ Parent ]

There you go again (2.00 / 1) (#99)
by SanSeveroPrince on Thu Apr 24, 2003 at 02:07:07 AM EST

Kill the animal with your bare hands, or a home made bow? Get the wood how? Carry the water to the fire how? Boil it in what, over a fire that you started?

Again, it may well be possible, but does that Palmolive bar not smell soooo sweet in comparison?


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
Well, (5.00 / 1) (#108)
by Verminator on Fri Apr 25, 2003 at 05:23:17 PM EST

This is a subject that's quite relevent to me since I'm forsaking civilization to go live in the woods soon and there won't be any corner stores selling Palmolive. Wow, I just realized for the first time where Palmolive got its name - palm and olive oil in the soap, hip.

There's many ways to kill animals, depending on what you're after. For big game a bow or spear would be necessary, both fairly easy to make in the woods with the materials found there. Same with wood for the fire, real easy to find in the forest. A water container (that can be heated to a boil) is a bit tougher, but could still be made without too much difficulty out of clay, or a well-woven basket could work too. Personally I'll be bringing cookware with me to solve that issue. Fires are also quite doable with nothing that you can't find in the woods, provided you have the proper skills.

So yes, self-sufficiency is totally possible in the woods if one is willing to work at it hard enough.

If the whole country is gonna play 'Behind The Iron Curtain,' there better be some fine fucking state s
[ Parent ]

Respect (none / 0) (#110)
by SanSeveroPrince on Sat Apr 26, 2003 at 05:44:14 AM EST

Respect for your decision.

But then you're really going for self-sufficiency, and living in the wilds.
That's something other than sitting in a server room all day and thinking you're a macho outdoors man because you bake bread, or congeal commercial lie with a few oils in it.

I respect your decision, but don't you think that it won't leave much time for K5? :)


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
anyone can start a fire (5.00 / 1) (#109)
by tichy on Sat Apr 26, 2003 at 02:09:06 AM EST

didn't you see "castaway". just gotta make sure the air gets into the little thingie so you gotta use a split thingie and bring a volley ball to the island.

[ Parent ]
look at it this way. (5.00 / 2) (#88)
by Work on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 06:58:17 PM EST

Why work hard at catching the girl who catches your eye when you can stop by your local hooker and pay for a fuck?

One's ultimately more fulfilling than the other.

The point of living life is to be happy and fulfilled, right? If some people find happiness and fulfillment by making a batch of soap every once in awhile - much like any other hobby - whats wrong with that?

[ Parent ]

I don't get you. (1.00 / 1) (#102)
by SanSeveroPrince on Thu Apr 24, 2003 at 08:10:09 AM EST

Everyone knows that the hooker is more satisfying and economic. You pay per sexual encounter, as opposed to having to pay for a ton of unrelated supplies, which eventually may lead to a rough, inexperienced lye (sorry, could not resist).

It's faster, more convenient, and lathers way more than home made soap. Oh, and you can try some really perverted stuff with your hooker, without worrying about hurting her feelings or what she will think of you in the mornings.

You can also try several hookers per week, without any of them being jealous.

So, everyone knows those things. Yet you seem to think that they are the other way around. What a curious moral deformation. Catholic, are you?

P.S. Sure, if you're into that kind of thing, pursuing soap (or a girlfriend, you seem confused on the issue) is a worthy cause. Just don't come and tell me that it beats a good old hooker where it comes to convenience and saving....


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
since you've allready crossed the ww2 nazi line (none / 0) (#94)
by Prophet themusicgod1 on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 09:46:38 PM EST

are you SURE that you aren't? i mean, i'm doubting you've tested in any way for it? where did those 1600[0] arabs go after 9/11? in your soap! that explains the lack of quality soap, they are giving us dissenters-bones-and-flesh to wash ourselves. kind of ironic, "don't you think"?
"I suspect the best way to deal with procrastination is to put off the procrastination itself until later. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't gotten around to it yet."swr
[ Parent ]
Source of Lye (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by minerboy on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 09:46:10 AM EST

it might be interesting to point out, that originally, Potash, (potasium hydroxide)could also be used. This was obtained by passing water slowly through ashes from a fire. IT will take some fussing to get a strong enough concentration, -the lye will be much easier to use- but it is doable, perhaps interesting for historical purposes.

Hardwood (5.00 / 1) (#78)
by farmgeek on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 08:43:33 AM EST

You want hardwood ashes, not the soft stuff.

We actually saved our ashes from the fireplace one year in order to make lye, in order to make soap.

All I can say is that it was a major pain in the ass.  I'm glad I did it, but I'll be damned if I'm going to go through the trouble of doing it again.

And in answer to the inevitable "why"...because I like learning how to do stuff, you never know when off the wall experience/knowledge will come in handy, but it seems like (in my life at least) it inevitably does.

[ Parent ]

History of soap (3.33 / 3) (#33)
by IHCOYC on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 10:19:23 AM EST

The ancient Romans, for all their building of bath-houses, were entirely innocent of soap. They washed themselves with water and olive oil, but no soap was used in the ancient world. Launderers (fullones) would collect urine from the Roman piss-pots to wash the togas with, for the ammonia content.

From Pliny the Elder we learn that soap was invented by the ancient Gauls. The process is much as you described it, except for the alkali they too used ashes. However, the Gauls didn't use the product for bathing; they used it for hair slickum. Gauls haven't changed much over the past two thousand years, it seems.
The color is black, the material is leather, the seduction is beauty, the justification is honesty, the aim is ecstasy, the fantasy is death.

-1, Paper Street Soap Company shill (3.75 / 4) (#36)
by Conspir8or on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 10:41:37 AM EST

You didn't write this article after a month-long bout of insomnia and a crucial conversation with a single-serving friend on a plane flight, did you?

Seriously, though, interesting article.

Yes I did. (nt) (5.00 / 4) (#60)
by I am Jack's username on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 06:47:37 PM EST

Inoshiro for president!
"War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]
+1 Section (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by TurboThy on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 12:13:00 PM EST

I would have given +1 FP if you had used metric units. Seriously.
'Someone will sig this comment. They will. I know it.' [Egil Skallagrimson]
Proportions are more important (5.00 / 2) (#49)
by trentseigfried on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 12:26:01 PM EST

I used cups as an arbitrary measurement; any standardized unit can replace cups in this recipe.


If you tolerate this then your children will be next. - MSP
Visit my web log, OneJourney.net. It's more than just link dumpage; I actually write things and try to find off-the-beaten-path
[ Parent ]

Yes, proportions are vital, but (5.00 / 2) (#74)
by hawthorne on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 02:35:19 AM EST

by measuring by volume, you have no real control over those proportions. The form in which you buy your lye determines the actual quantity of NaOH in your arbitrary measure of volume.

Measuring by weight will let you have far more control over the finished product.

[ Parent ]

I'd Kill for the recipie for your own shampoo! (none / 0) (#53)
by gte910h on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 01:32:43 PM EST

I'd spend the time to make that if there was a HowTo Article on that front. Or if it was in one of those books

well (none / 0) (#68)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 10:24:47 PM EST

supposedly washing your hair with soap is better than using shampoo.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

hmmmm (none / 0) (#87)
by Work on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 06:51:50 PM EST

the lye in soap is a bit harsh. I would think it would strip too many oils out of the hair and leave it dry and brittle.

[ Parent ]
Liquid Soap (none / 0) (#70)
by kraant on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 01:33:51 AM EST


If you use potash instead of lye the soap will be a liquid not a solid.

Of course I'm not sure whether that would count as shampoo...
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...
[ Parent ]

Use Beer (none / 0) (#96)
by NateTG on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 10:11:39 PM EST

You can wash your hair with Beer, and then use skim milk as conditioner.

[ Parent ]
This sounds a lot like the recipe for biodiesel (none / 0) (#54)
by frankwork on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 02:13:18 PM EST

If memory serves, this is a lot like the recipe for making biodiesel at home.

You take methanol, mix it with a strong base (sodium or potassium hydroxide) to make sodium/potassium methoxide. That is then mixed with the fat/oil to make fatty acid methyl esters (biodiesel) and glycerol.

Black soap (none / 0) (#61)
by nstenz on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 07:07:49 PM EST

Seems like a pretty cool idea. Do you have any suggestions on how to color soap black?

Crayola (none / 0) (#71)
by bse on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 01:36:26 AM EST

A black crayon would probably do the trick here... That is, unless black crayons are unlike the regular coloured crayons.

"Please sir, tell me why, my life's so pitiful, but the future's so bright? When I look ahead, it burns my retinas." -- Pitchshifter - Please Sir
[ Parent ]

Black oxide..... (none / 0) (#73)
by hawthorne on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 02:31:47 AM EST

made for the job!

[ Parent ]
Mischief. Mayhem. Soap. (5.00 / 1) (#67)
by SpyderFaerie on Tue Apr 22, 2003 at 10:19:11 PM EST

Fight Club anyone?

"Love is a severe mental disorder." ~Plato
"You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity." ~Bullet-Tooth Tony, Snatch

Fight club (none / 0) (#97)
by stodd on Thu Apr 24, 2003 at 12:21:56 AM EST

I was waiting to see the instructions for getting fat out of the dumpster at a liposuction clinic. I think I was almost disappointed not to see it.

[ Parent ]
They are very easy. (5.00 / 1) (#98)
by SpyderFaerie on Thu Apr 24, 2003 at 12:25:40 AM EST

1) Find liposuction clinic
2) Climb over fence undetected (which is tricky, not for the faint of heart, or the clumsy)
3) Climb into dumpster (make sure you have some sort of overalls or extra change of clothes to get into, you might get kinda sticky)
4) Grab bags, containers, etc. of fat.
5) Enjoy.

Now those weren't that hard, huh? Are you almost done being almost disappointed now?

"Love is a severe mental disorder." ~Plato
"You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity." ~Bullet-Tooth Tony, Snatch
[ Parent ]

Sadly... (none / 0) (#103)
by Kruador on Thu Apr 24, 2003 at 12:13:44 PM EST

...apparently liposuction fat does not make very good soap.

So say the BBC, anyway: recently Hollywood Science tackled this one.

[ Parent ]

Brain soap... (5.00 / 2) (#69)
by pridkett on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 12:50:51 AM EST

Even better than merely using oil, it's possible to use most any type fat. Back in my high school biochemistry class I made bacon grease soap. It worked okay, but your hands smelled rather, umm, bacony afterwards.

The next year in an advanced biology course we were disecting cats while the other students were making soap. One of my intrepid classmates, upon the observation that the brain is mostly fat, proceeded to make Cat's Brain Soap. Surprisingly it actually did remove dirt from one's hands (although not nearly as well as say, pure clean lard soap). I wish that was in the days of digital cameras, we probably could have made an amusing web page of the whole incident.
Read this story.

Some more resources... (5.00 / 5) (#76)
by hawthorne on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 03:26:35 AM EST

OK, so I was in the process of writing one of these myself, therefore this is the condensed set of links and advice.

If you are making soap which is intended for use by anybody other than yourself, then you really do need to measure everything by weight rather than volume. This ensures that the resulting soap is safe rather than caustic.

It can't be said too often that lye is a dangerous substance. A spill of it, whether in liquid or dry form, needs to be treated seriously - especially if it is on your skin. It's a good idea to keep a bowl of diluted vinegar on hand to deal with any spillage.

If you can, wear goggles when adding the lye to the water, and never add water to lye - this is likely to result in a spluttering volcano of boiling, caustic particles.

Don't use aluminium, cast iron or non-stick utensils or containers for lye or soap. Using aluminium or cast iron will ruin both your batch of soap and the container. While non-stick is mostly safe, the slightest scratch in the surface will have the same effect as above.

Every oil has a different saponification value. This is a simple measure of how much NaOH is required to turn a unit weight of that oil into soap with no oil or lye left over. For most soap that is intended to be used on the skin, you should aim to leave a certain amount (usually 5-8%) of free fat in the final product - known as superfatting. This stops the soap from drying your skin too much, and leaves it feeling much nicer.

There is some debate over whether it is useful to reserve a quantity of the more 'beneficial' oils (such as hemp oil if you are using it) for superfatting and adding it once the rest of the batch has reached trace, in the hope that this is the oil which will remail unsaponified, and therefore in a free form in the finished bar. I personally don't bother, and put all the oils (with the exception of essential oils for scenting) in at the beginning, given that saponification continues for several weeks after the soap has been poured into moulds.

Oils also have differing iodine, or INS values. These determine how hard a finished bar of soap will be - in general, the use of solid (at room temp) oils or fats will result in a harder finished bar of soap than the use of liquid oils.

Finally, different fats and oils have different properties in the finished soap. I personally like to have some (up to about 20%) cocoa butter in most soaps as this contains unsaponifiable moisturising components that therefore remain in the finished soap and give it a very nice feel on the skin.

It is a very good idea to run any recipe that you find, whether from a book or the web, through a lye calculator to check that the proportion of lye to the various fats and oils will produce something safe. One typo in a recipe can leave you with an unusable product.

Once you've found a good basic recipe to use then there are innumerable variations that you can make:

  • Substitute another (water based) liquid for the water used to dissolve the lye - herb tea, beer, pureed fruit/veg or milk are all possibilities. Be aware that adding lye to milk will probably result in an orange or brown, foul smelling curdled liquid - don't be alarmed!
  • Add essential oils to the soap once it has traced - somewhere between 0.5% and 2% of the total weight of oils is normal.
  • Add powdered herbs / ground oatmeal / seeds / whatever to your soap (or a portion of it and swirl that with the rest in the moulds). Don't go overboard - a teaspoon or two per 500g oils is usually plenty.
  • Spices and cocoa can be used to colour soap - turmeric, paprika and cinnamon are worth a try
  • Honey can also be added at trace - maybe a tablespoonful per 500g of oils.
If you are really impatient and don't want to wait for several weeks for your soap to cure before you can use it, then you may want to try hot process soap - this method uses various sources of heat to complete the saponification reactions in a matter of hours rather than weeks, but the texture is not the same as that of cold process soap.

If a batch of soap goes wrong, or you end up with funny shaped scraps of soap rather than nice bars, or you just want to add some extra ingredients such as oatmeal to the soap, you might try rebatching - almost all commercial soaps are rebatched (a.k.a. milled) as it does allow for better stability of any additives.

Be warned. Soap making is addictive, and you are likely to find that you end up with many batches of soap at different stages of the curing process scattered around your house, and that you are giving away soap to anybody who will take some!

Never make soap with grease (5.00 / 2) (#82)
by SpyderFaerie on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 11:37:52 AM EST

It is gross. I had to make soap in a chemistry class not too long ago, except we did it the "old fashioned way" with beef grease, pork fat, and the like. I personally had beef fat I had to save from food I cooked.

We added sodium hydroxide (NaOH) to our various fats, and then stirred over low heat. It was rather disgusting because some mixtures had beef or other meat particles in it still... eeew. Although some people cheated and bought lard from the store, so it was a pasty white color. My soap, on the other hand, is a fun pale cream color, with little bits of beef for an extra bonus.

I'd like to make soap some other time, this time without the lingering smell of a hamburger.

"Love is a severe mental disorder." ~Plato
"You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity." ~Bullet-Tooth Tony, Snatch

ha! (none / 0) (#86)
by Work on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 06:45:38 PM EST

I was just thinking 'man, i could make bacon soap..mmm...'

[ Parent ]
Soap + bacon = funny (5.00 / 1) (#93)
by SpyderFaerie on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 09:41:24 PM EST

That reminds me of a Zim quote. Hehe.

"Love is a severe mental disorder." ~Plato
"You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity." ~Bullet-Tooth Tony, Snatch
[ Parent ]

Adding milk and other organics, won't they go bad? (4.00 / 1) (#83)
by mallyone on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 12:22:44 PM EST

As a soapy neophyte I was just wondering, wouldn't the organic ingredients (like milk, oats or cat brain as suggested in the comments) go bad or spoil leaving a fetid pile of goo instead of a luxurious hunk-o-silky soap?

Well... (none / 0) (#84)
by hawthorne on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 12:55:36 PM EST

milk seems to be pretty stable, whether combined with the lye in the beginning (albeit with some rather unexpected results the first time you do it - a curdled, bright orange mass of foul smelling gloop is the best way I can think of to describe it) but the smell disappears during curing.

For other additives, it's important to make sure that they are both fairly small and not too wet - large pieces of oat, for example, may go mouldy once the soap starts to be used, and gets wet regularly leaving some of the oat exposed on the surface. For that very reason (and the fact that large lumps of 'stuff' aren't really very comfortable) most organic additives are powdered. Those don't seem to be a problem - the total quantity of additives is small compared to the volume of soap.

[ Parent ]

how cool (none / 0) (#91)
by tweetsygalore on Wed Apr 23, 2003 at 08:32:38 PM EST

especially the diletantte part.  haha.

After each perceived security crisis ended, the United States has remorsefully realised that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis comes along. --- Justice William Brennan

How To Make Your Own Soap (5.00 / 9) (#100)
by drivers on Thu Apr 24, 2003 at 02:08:30 AM EST

# make soap

Just kidding. That'll never work!

Actually what you do is, you save up all the little scraps of leftover soap that are too small to use then you smash them all together making a new bar of soap.

I can't believe I posted this.

I don't get what the Litmus paper is for (5.00 / 3) (#105)
by skim123 on Fri Apr 25, 2003 at 03:30:36 AM EST

You say:
Once your soap mix has a trace, just pour it into the tray, put it somewhere dry, and let it sit for a few weeks, with one little exception: after 72 hours, stick a piece of pH paper into one of the soap pieces (it should be of a pudding consistency at this point) and check the pH. If it is at 10 or below, your soap is just fine; if it is above 10, keep checking it daily until it gets to 10 or below. The recipe here should wind up with a pH around 9.
Ok. So I am going to have it sitting in the ice-cube tray for a few weeks. On day 3, I check to pH. If it's 10 or lower, great, if not... then what? Check it again, you say, but what if it's still not 10? Wait longer? So do I let it go a few weeks plus a few days? I am confused. Your directions make it sound like Litmus paper is not really essential.

(I am not trying to be difficult, I am interested in trying this on my own and have all the "ingredients" save the Litmus paper and hence am wondering if it's really a necessity. Thanks!)

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

But (4.75 / 4) (#106)
by Herring on Fri Apr 25, 2003 at 04:16:15 AM EST

I prefer to use XML/RPC.

I'll get my coat.

Say lol what again motherfucker, say lol what again, I dare you, no I double dare you
Neutralization... (none / 0) (#107)
by Canar on Fri Apr 25, 2003 at 04:23:31 AM EST

What would happen if I threw in some HCl to neutralize the NaOH? How would that affect the soap making process? It seems that this method would be more useful than waiting for the pH to decrease itself, but there must be some reason why it was omitted from the story in the first place.

HCl+NaOH=H20+NaCl (5.00 / 1) (#111)
by loudici on Sat Apr 26, 2003 at 09:30:50 PM EST

HCl would neutralize the leftover lye allright but it would produce salt and water, the water you can let evaporate ( but you are back to waiting), but the salt is probably not something desirable in soap.
gnothi seauton
[ Parent ]
I tried making my own soap once (4.00 / 1) (#112)
by frijolito on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 07:48:50 PM EST

The whole house smelled awful. Had to crash at the in-laws. Man, I'm not falling for that one again!

For a Touch of the Macabre (none / 0) (#113)
by Iron Citadel on Sat Jul 26, 2003 at 01:25:24 AM EST

Ask your friendly pathologist for a bit of adipocere.
Your lucky number is e.
A Dilettante's Guide To Making Your Own Soap | 110 comments (85 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
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