Why make soap? There are several good reasons:
When you make soap at home, you can be absolutely sure that the product hasn’t been tested on animals. Further, if you’re concerned about the use of animal products, you can be sure that your soap isn’t made with animal tallow like many mass-marketed soap products.
Getting started and buying equipment can be a little bit pricey, but most recipes make ALOT of soap. This means spending less on store-bought soaps, so if you make enough batches the stuff starts to pay for itself.
Many store-bought soaps are excessively swaddled in plastic packaging that will eventually end up in a landfill.
Perhaps most importantly, you can make soap that’s free of additives and chemicals that can irritate the skin, or do much worse things to your body. The only chemical ingredient that you need to use is lye, which is “used up” in the chemical reaction of saponification, so that there is no real lye left in the resulting bar of soap. Compare this to mass-produced soap, which can contain the following scary chemicals:
Diethanolamine (DEA): a chemical found in many cosmetics. When it reacts with other ingredients in cosmetics products over a period of time, it can turn into a powerful carcinogen.
Triclosan: found in many antibacterial products, this chemical is suspected of impairing muscle function and possibly disrupting the endocrine system.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): a chemical that is used to preserve fats and prevent them from going rancid. Used in cosmetics, it can be toxic, potentially carcinogenic, and is eerily used in embalming fluids.
As if those reasons weren’t convincing enough, it’s also really fun to make soap!
I would like to preface by saying that I’m a novice soap-maker, but that all it really takes is adhering to exact measurements and strictly following some safety guidelines while working with Lye. It’s just like following a recipe!
What you need (at least, this is how I make soap):
- A digital scale that measures in ounces
- A thermometer
- Safety goggles
- Plastic gloves
- A big giant pot (Important: must not be aluminum)
- A stick blender
- A few containers for measuring ingredients in (I recycle old glass salsa jars for this purpose)
- A plastic container to use as a mold, lined with a plastic garbage bag (I picked up a rectangular plastic container for $1 at a thrift store)
- A piece of cardboard that will completely cover the top of your mold
- Waxed paper
Some recipes are more eco-friendly than others. This tutorial is based on a recipe that I found on Greeniacs. It has been modified a bit to suit my preferences.
One thing that I’ve learned to look out for is when recipes call for palm oil (and many do) because palm oil manufacturing is becoming known for the destruction of the rainforest and various species of wildlife.
Okay. With that said, let’s try this one:
- 8 ounces soybean oil
- 4 ounces olive oil
- 4 ounces coconut oil
- 5 ounces coffee (I used Yuban, which is certified by the Rainforest Alliance)
- 2 ounces lye (Important: must be 100% sodium hydroxide – I use Roebic Heavy Duty Drain Cleaner)
1. First, brew coffee. Set one of your measuring containers on the digital scale and press “tare.” By performing this action, you can be sure that the weight of the container will not factor in when you weigh out your ingredients (depending on what type of scale you have, you may have to do this each time you weigh something). Measure out 5 ounces of coffee into the container and then let the 5 ounces of coffee cool (I set mine outside in the chilly air for a few minutes).
2. Now is when you need to put your safety goggles and gloves on! Turn your kitchen fan on or make sure you are in a place with good ventilation. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is a potentially dangerous chemical. Measure out exactly 2 ounces of lye into a fresh container. Keep white vinegar on hand and use it to neutralize any spills.
3. Slowly and carefully, without splashing, pour the lye into the coffee. ALWAYS pour lye into a liquid when making a lye solution. Doing it the other way around – pouring liquids into lye – can create a violent reaction.
4. The reaction between the coffee and lye produces heat. Set the mixture aside so that it can cool down to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. Measure it every few minutes.
5. Meanwhile, measure out your oils and heat them on the stove, letting the coconut oil melt.
6. Measure the temperature of the oils with your thermometer. When the oil mixture reaches 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it from heat.
7. When the lye mixture and the oil mixture reach the same temperature (it can take some vigilance to get them to just the same temperatures), slowly pour the lye mixture into the oil, without splashing.
8. Stir the solution with your stick blender until it has a honey-like consistency. With a stick blender, this will only take a few minutes. If you choose to stir your solution by hand, it can take around an hour. Either way, try not to splash it around too much.
9. Pour the thickened solution into your plastic-lined mold, and cover the top of the mold with the piece of cardboard. Place towels (or a blanket) over the mold to insulate the soap.
10. Let the soap sit for 48 hours.
11. After 48 hours, unwrap the towels from the mold and remove the cardboard. If the soap has hardened, peel the plastic away and turn the soap over onto waxed paper. (If it is still soft, replace the cardboard and towels and let it sit for another day.)
12. Cut the soap into bars (I use a crinkly cutter that I found at a hobby store.)
13. Let the bars of soap cure for 3 to 4 weeks before using.
Important: Anything that you used to make soap with, set aside to use strictly for soap-making. For instance, you should not use your soap-making stick blender for cooking.
Enjoy using your homemade, chemical-free, cruelty-free coffee soap! It’s particularly good for banishing onion and garlic smells from your hands!