Home Crafts: Diy Homemade Soap

A guide to making your own soap at home. Information on materials, process and common problems.

In these days of rising prices and commercial excess, many people are looking to crafts and homemade items to restock the household with basic materials. One of the simplest household items that can be made easily at home is basic lye soap.

Despite the name, lye soap is not anywhere close to being as harsh or caustic as standard lye. In fact, some forms of lye soap are preferred by parents as the first soap that they use for their children. The word "lye" in the name is simply there to show the difference between this type of soap and "glycerine" soap (though both kinds of soap contain both lye and glycerine at one point or another.)

In making lye soap, you'll need to gather your ingredients first. For the standard soap that we'll be making with this recipe, you'll need to get the following:

12 oz. lye

3 cups water

9 lb. tallow

1 - 1 1 /2 cups lemon juice

rubber gloves

safety glasses

1 wooden spoon

1 large pot w/ lid (large enough for tallow to fit)

2 large glass or ceramic bowls (not metal!)

soap molds (or glass baking dishes for bar soap)

Once you have your ingredients together, you've got to melt and render the fat (aka tallow). Cut up the tallow into large chunks and place it in your pot, securing the lid. Place the pot on the stove or a burner over medium heat. Check on the progress of the tallow periodically, stirring the fat each time you check. Once the tallow has completely melted, add water to the pot (enough to equal the amount of melted fat), and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Once it's boiling, remove it from heat and allow it to cool overnight, covered.

The next day, you should be able to remove the fat from the pot as a large chunk. Discard the water below the fat, as well as any particles that may remain clinging to the bottom of the rendered fat. Measure about 6 lbs. of the fat and cut it into pieces around the size of your fist. You should place these pieces into a large container for later use.

Now put on your gloves and safety glasses, since you'll be dealing with lye, and get the rest of your ingredients ready. Pour the 3 cups of water into a large glass bowl, and slowly begin adding your lye. Lye is a caustic material, so use extreme caution while adding it. Stir the mixture in a well-ventilated area, making sure not to inhale any of the fumes it puts off, until all of the lye is dissolved. The water will begin to heat up as a reaction with the lye; this is perfectly normal.

Next, begin adding the chunks of the rendered fat you had put aside. Slowly and carefully add the chunks one at a time, stirring until each is melted. It's possible that the chunks of fat won't melt completely... if this happens, place the container over low heat to help the process along.

Once the fat is melted into the lye water, you can add the lemon juice and stir until the solution is well mixed. (You can also add some fragrance at this point if you wish, using around 1/4 oz. or less.) Pour the soap solution into your glass baking dishes or molds.

Should you be using baking dishes to make bars instead of molds, you'll need to cut the soap once it becomes firm but before it is completely hardened. Check it after 20-25 minutes, and then every 5 minutes after that. The soap should harden in 40-60 minutes, though it may take longer based on elevation, temperature, humidity, or the actual amount of fat used. Once the soap is hard and has been cut or molded, you may wrap it lightly in cotton cloths and store it in a cool ventilated are for up to 6 months.

Finally, be sure to wash all of your equipment in hot water to remove all of the lye and soap residue, wearing a new pair of rubber gloves in just in case any undissolved lye still remains.

And there you have it, homemade lye soap for your family's use.

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