Learning how to make soap is a valuable homesteading skill that everyone striving for greater self-sufficiency can acquire. It doesn’t matter where you live or how many acres you are on, we can all make soap at home! Start with a simple recipe like this lard soap. It’s perfect for beginners!
How to Make Soap at Home
While soap making can seem intimidating, once you learn the basic steps it’s really quite simple. To break it down to its most basic parts, every recipe is the process of:
1.) melting the solid oils,
2.) mixing them with the liquid oils,
3.) mixing your water and lye together,
4.) combining the water mixture with the oil mixture until it reaches trace
5.) adding in any essential oils or exfoliants
6.) hardening the soap batter in a mold
7.) curing the soap for a month or more
See how simple it really is?!
But for many, it’s the fear of working with lye that is holding them back. I don’t want to make light of the dangers of lye, but if you take the proper precautions there is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve accidentally gotten lye on my skin and, honestly, it hurts much worse to be stung by a bee. Simply wash the lye off with plenty of cool water. You’ll be fine. And since you’ll be wearing a long sleeve shirt, gloves, and safety glasses anyway, you don’t have to worry about it, right?
Soap Making Supplies
By gathering a few supplies, most of which you may already have on hand, you can start making soap! Here is a list of the equipment I use. Best practices dictate that these supplies should only be used for soap making but in my kitchen common sense prevails. Because glass can be so thoroughly cleaned, especially with a dishwasher, I’m not concerned. I find that the essential oils tend to permeate the plastic and they are the only supplies I use exclusively for soap. Do what you feel most comfortable with.
- 3 Large glass or plastic bowls
- 1 small glass bowl
- small saucepan (for double boiler)
- kitchen scale
- silicone spatula
- immersion blender
- soap mold
- safety gear, gloves and glasses
- instant read thermometer, optional
Soap Making Ingredients
The basic ingredients in any soap recipe are fat, water, and lye. While you can use a variety and combination of fats and the water portion may be substituted for milk, juice, herbal teas from your herb garden, or other liquids (even kombucha) you must use sodium hydroxide (lye) for making a true cold-processed soap recipe.
The key to making a great bar of soap is the ratio of ingredients. I know the self-sufficient homesteader in you is dying to know if you can make soap solely with fats produced on the homestead. The short answer is yes, you can make soap with only lard or tallow, or any other animal fat for that matter, but the composition of each oil in your recipe lends different properties to your soap. So while you can, that doesn’t mean you’ll be making the best soap you possible can be.
Animal fats will give your bar a hardness that will help it last longer with proper care. (You know, by not leaving it sit in a puddle of water.) Coconut oil will boost your soap’s cleaning properties so it can do it’s intended job well… clean! And oils such as sunflower oil or sweet almond oil will add moisturizing properties to your bar so your skin isn’t always dry and cracked. This is really important, especially if you heat your home with wood in the winter. The air gets so dry! Olive oil is another moisturizing oil you can use but it does make a softer bar, especially in combination with lard. It will need a longer curing time and may not last as long.
The recipe I’m sharing today contains 3 simple oils you may already have in the pantry: lard, coconut oil, and sunflower oil.
Please Note: You cannot simply substitute other oils in a recipe. You MUST run any substitutions through a soap calculator so you know the appropriate ratio of water and lye to use in your soap recipe. I use this soap calculator and keep an eye on the properties to make sure any changes I make will still create a balanced soap recipe. Also watch the INS number. I’m not going to explain it here, just know that you want the number to be as close to 160 as possible so the batter is easy to work with.
One of the perks of having a family cow or goat is that you always have a little extra milk on hand. Milk is a great choice for the water portion of your recipe because it adds extra moisturizing properties. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN make soap with cow’s milk. And it is just as beneficial as goat’s milk. A common marketing gimmick says that goat’s milk is superior since it is closer to the pH of human skin than cow’s milk. But the difference is negligible and depends on the health of the animal. (So a healthy cow may make milk with a pH closer to human skin than an unhealthy goat.) But all of that is irrelevant because the greatest influencing factor in the pH of a cold-processed soap is from the lye, not milk. Your bars will end up with a pH of about 7.5 regardless of what liquid you use. So use whatever milk you have!
I prefer to freeze my liquid portion before making soap, especially when using milk. When you freeze the milk first, it keeps the overall temperature during soaping much cooler and the sugars in the milk will not scorch and turn your soap brown. You will get a lovely creamy white bar of soap using frozen milk. It wasn’t long before I realized there were other benefits to making soap with ice cubes. First, you don’t get the terrible fumes that happen when adding lye to liquid. You also don’t need to wait as long for the lye/water mix to cool down before adding the oils. By the time the hard oils are melted the lye/water mixture is at the perfect temperature for mixing it all together. So now I freeze all of my liquids first when making soap.
I don’t think that lard or tallow-based soaps have an odor when you wash with them. But the first thing everyone does when they grab a new bar of soap is to give it a smell it so why not make your bars smell inviting? Essential oils are a natural way to add scent, though some will fade sooner than others. Lavender essential oil is an inexpensive, pleasant option, but my favorite combination is 50/50 lavender essential oil and lemongrass essential oil. It is such a lovely bright combination! If you want to experiment with essential oil combinations, check out this EO calculator to create your own blends.
Simple Lard Soap for Beginners
Learning how to make soap is a valuable homesteading skill that everyone striving for greater self-sufficiency can acquire. It doesn’t matter where you live or how many acres you are on, we can all make soap at home! Start with a simple recipe like this lard soap. It's perfect for beginners!
- 16 ounces lard
- 9.5 ounces coconut oil
- 6.5 ounces sunflower oil
- 12.16 ounces frozen ice cubes, water, milk, herbal tea, juice
- 4.63 ounces lye
- 1 ounce essential oils, optional (my favorite scent is 50/50 lavender and lemongrass)
Gather all of your equipment and ingredients.
Weigh the lard and coconut oil into a large glass bowl. Set it over a small saucepan filled with water to create a double boiler.
Boil the water until the solid fats in the bowl are melted. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, weigh the sunflower oil into a separate bowl.
In a third large bowl, weigh the ice cubes.
In a small glass bowl or pyrex dish, weigh the lye while wearing safety glasses and gloves.
In a ventilated space, slowly sprinkle the lye into the container with the ice cubes while stirring until you have added all of the lye. Continue stirring until the lye is fully dissolved. Set aside in a safe place where it won’t get spilled.
Measure out the essential oils, if using, and set aside.
Once the solid fats have melted, combine them with the sunflower oil and stir well.
Take the temperature of the mixed oils and the temperature of the lye mixture. You will want them to be about the same temperature, in the 90-110F range. (Or that when they are combined, the average temperature will be in that range.)
Slowly pour the oils into the lye mixture and stir well with the silicone spatula.
While you are stirring, take the temperature of the oils and make sure they are within the correct range.
If so, use the immersion blender to combine the soap batter until it reaches trace.
(Trace is achieved when it is a runny pudding-like consistency and you can drizzle the batter from the blender across the surface and you can see the drizzle sit on top of the batter. Trace can be confirmed with the thermometer. It will be at least 2-3 degrees higher than it was when you first mixed the oils and lye water together.)
After you have reached trace, use the immersion blender to fully combine the essential oils if using.
Pour the batter into your soap mold.
Cover the mold with plastic wrap and set in a cool place for 48 hours or until the soap is hard enough to remove from the molds. (When making milk soaps, I refrigerate the soap in the molds during the saponification process to ensure it doesn’t overheat and turn the soap brown.)
Cut the soap into bars.
Set on a shelf to cure for 4-8 weeks. The longer you allow the soap to cure, the harder the final bar will be and the longer it will last.
Quinn and her family have been homesteading in central Ohio for over 15 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. She is the founder of the SmartSteader homestead management app and is currently the Executive Assistant for Homesteaders of America.
Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens.