(This is a "How I did It" post, but to make soap, you really need to read up on it before making it yourself, and be very, very careful with the lye. I never have a problem with it, but it can be dangerous. My favorite book is the simple, pretty, Soap Book by Sandy Maine)
You can make pretty white soaps with dyes swirled through, etc, but that's not really my style, and mostly exceeds my attention span. (Most things do...) I like rustic looking soaps. I use herbs and essential oils mostly. Not because I'm opposed to the fancier soap fragrance oils, but mostly because they have to be ordered online and I don't often plan ahead well enough when it's time to make soap. Perhaps one year when I'm not knee deep in football season during soap making season.. or maybe some time I'll make soap at a different time of year. But for now, I usually make soap in September or October. Which means I intend to make it in September, to give it 3 months to dry before Christmas, but I rarely get to it until October. :-)
Traditionally I'm in sync. Soap used to be made from the lard, after fall butchering. So this is the time of year my ancestors were most likely to be making soap too. I've tried making soap with lard, but I can't get past the smell. It is a very, very strong smell. Crisco works fine. It's a little more expensive, but I gag just thinking about heating lard to make soap.
Soap making is a science. You can not just substitute one thing for another. You cannot be casual about your measurements. You need to use the exact measurements of the exact items. No guessing. No substituting. As casual as I am about cooking, I never approach soap making that way. This is not a cheap hobby, you do not want to waste all of your ingredients by not following the instructions exactly. A postal scale works great for measuring.
This recipe is from the book by Sandy Maine, Soap Book. I highly recommend it. It's a little book, and other than the scents and additives, it's mostly the same recipe over and over, but the instructions at the front are what you should read and understand before making soap. She explains all the whys, as well as the hows, of soap making, in simple, easy, terms, with photos.
So for this recipe, I'm using these oils:
24 ounces Coconut Oil
38 ounces Crisco (MUST be 100% vegetable oil)
24 Olive Oil (Be sure it is 100% olive oil!)
All of these can now be found at Sam's club. SO much easier than when I first started making soap! I bought this olive oil at Wengers, because I was there when I thought of making soap, but I've bought olive oil at Sams' and the prices are comparable.
Crisco $7.98 for 96 ounces
Coconut Oil $15.98 for 56 ounces
Olive Oil $13.98 for 3 liters, roughly 101 ounces
Although I'm specific in my measurements of the oils, I'm going with loose math for the costs, knowing the prices change regularly anyway. This is just a rough idea -
Half a bottle of Coconut Oil $8
Half a can of Crisco $4 (it's not really half, like I said, rough idea here)
1/4 of a bottle of olive oil $3.50
Roughly $16 in oils
Some of the other oils I use in soap making are even more costly. I often use palm oil & shea butter, in different recipes.
Do not mess around with lye. It will burn you severely. This is not something to work with with small children around. Notice that I use all pyrex when making soap - it handles the heat very well. When you add lye to water it heats up VERY fast, and to a very dangerous temperature. My pyrex bowls have always handled that well. You cannot use aluminum when making soap - it will mess it up. Plastic spoons are best, although I've always used wooden or bamboo.
Where to buy Lye:
Brushy Mountain Bee - located in New Columbia PA, you can go to the warehouse and buy it if you are local. Or you can order it, and other soap making supplies, and have them shipped.
Lowes or Home Depot - Look in the drain cleaner aisle. Just be VERY, VERY sure it is 100% lye, and not just a drain cleaner. I bought a roebic brand there a couple of years back, if you look at the back of the bottle it should say "100% sodium hydroxide".
$9.95 for 4lbs (64 ounces)
Roughly $2 for this batch of soap
Notes on the Water:
Hard water does not make good soap. If your water is hard, it's worth it to buy a bottle of spring water.
Mix The Lye & Water
I put some ice water in my sink, set the bowl of carefully weighed water in the sink, then carefully, very carefully, add the lye to the water. Stir. Make sure the water in the bowl was very cold - do not use hot water for this. Then I let this sit in the sink, stirring occasionally, while I mix the oils.
Mixing the Oils
I thought I would dry melting the oils in the microwave, but I didn't have a bowl large enough - so on the stove it is. :-) Heat the oils just enough to melt them all and mix them all thoroughly.
Then I remove the lye water from the ice water in my sink, add more ice, and place this pan in.
The goal is now to get both the lye and the oils to the same temp, between 95 and 100 degrees. Use precise thermometer.
Once the oils and the lye are the same temp, mix them together. Then use a stick blender (you can make soap without a stick blender, but it takes a LOT of stirring.. a stick blender will do the same work in a much more reasonable amount of time)
Once the soap reaches "trace", add your scents and colors. Trace is, essentially, when you can pull the stick blender out, move it back and forth over the top so that the mixture on the blender drops down and it lays on top of the mixture in lines rather than dropping in and disappearing. There should be a "trace" when the liquid from the stick blender fell.
I put the peppermint leaves in my ninja and pulverized them, before I started mixing oils and lye. This mixture, and a 2 ounce bottle of peppermint essential oil, went in once the soap hit trace. I used half the amount of essential oil the recipe called for.
Dried Peppermint (On hand, I don't know what it would cost now)
Peppermint Essential Oil $6.50
In The Mold
I'm fortunate to have a variety of nice wooden molds made by my husband and my mom. You can use rubbermaid containers though - these aren't necessary. But they are nice. The ends screw off of these, so the soap can be removed easily. Sometimes I line them with wet muslin, sometimes I just coat them in crisco. This time I used crisco.
This is the color when I poured it into the mold
A few hours later, you can get a better idea of the final color, around the edges of the mold here. It usually gets really dark a few hours after it's in the mold, then it starts to lighten as it dries.
Always let soap in the mold 24 hours. Longer is ok. I left this one in about 36 hours. The white here is from the crisco I lined the mold with - it wipes right off. (This is after I unscrewed the ends from the mold)
I huge bar of soap, ready to be cut.
When I cut soap, any of the rough edges that I cut off, I roll into balls, like on the far left here.
This will sit for weeks - preferably 3 months, but in this case, until a few weeks before christmas, when I label it and wrap it for gifts. You could use it right now, but it's soft and the bars would disintegrate fast. Letting it sit will allow it to fully harden, so that the bars last.
Final Rough Cost:
$6.50 Essential Oil
$24.50 for this batch of soap
That's not including the basic items that you'll need to get started - like a postal scale, a good thermometer, molds, etc.. but once you have those items, that's a good rough idea of the costs for making it right now. A lot depends on the additives you use - those essential oils and fragrances are a big part of the cost of soap making.
Soap Making Resources:
My very first post about making soap for the very first time, about 10 years ago
(I miss those soap shelves, Dan is making me some shelves for this house now)