Cold Process Soap


To make soap you need to create a chemical reaction known as saponification.  In technical terms, saponification involves base (usually caustic soda NaOH) hydrolysis of triglycerides, which are esters of fatty acids, to form the sodium salt of a carboxylate. In other words … soap.   So if you think you’d like to give cold process soapmaking a try, here is how I do it.

You don’t need a  wooden mold like the one I have. Molds can be made from PVC pipe or even an empty pringles can which is what I used to make the round soaps in the picture below.   Be creative.

Read through all of these instructions and assemble all of your materials before you begin. The actual process takes a while to do and it is mildly dangerous.  Do it when you can set aside an hour, or so, free from distraction.

In addition to the ingredients in the recipe you will need:

A stainless steel stock pot –  The bigger the better.
A good quality scale that measures in tenths of ounces and grams
A glass stirring rod or wooden tongue depressor for stirring lye into water
Glass Container with wide mouth for mixing lye solution.  I have beakers for this.
Glass container for measuring sodium hydroxide (lye)
One small stainless steel wire whisk or an immersion blender.  I recommend the latter.
2 thermometers
Rubber gloves
Safety goggles
A mold
Old Towel

Basic Soap Recipe Ingredients

8 ounces palm  oil – solid fat
4 ounces coconut oil -solid fat
6 ounces olive oil
2.7 ounces of sodium hydroxide dissolved in 6 ounces of distilled water

This recipe will accommodate no more than 1 ounce of essential oil at trace, but that is a lot of essential oil. I never use that much.

You may use infused oils if you have them about. You may also experiment with other liquids such as beer or herbal infusions.

Before you Get Started

Prepare your mold ahead of time.  I line mine with butcher’s paper and set it on the old towel before we get started.

Empty both sides of your sink and be sure to have some ice on hand in case you need to give something a cold water bath.

Have your additives measured ahead of time and ready to add at trace.

Now put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves.  Do not take them off until you have cleaned everything up.   Lye and raw soap are incredibly caustic and dangerous.   I usually send the children away.

Finally! You are ready to make the soap. 

Put your wide mouth beaker in a larger tub which you can add water to later, if necessary. Put the cold water in your wide-mouthed jar or beaker. Slowly pour the lye in stirring until it is dissolved being careful NOT to breathe in the fumes. I like to mix mine under the hood of the stove and run the ventilation fan.

While you are waiting for that to cool down, melt your solid fats in your stainless steel pot. I use a ridiculously large pot, to catch the splattering that occurs during the mixing process. When the fats are melted add the oil.

Now comes the waiting game. You want both the lipid mixture and the lye water to be approximately 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) For me ,this usually means giving the lye mixture a cold water bath; probably because of the surface area of my stock pot. This is much safer for me, because I use a laboratory grade glass beaker. Please be careful if you are using a canning jar. Start by pouring warmish water into the largish basin around the jar and slowly add ice to bring down the temperature.

When both mixtures are around 40 degrees, you begin mixing. Slowly trickle the lye water into the lipids while stirring constantly. The old fashioned ways is to stir with a whisk or a spoon alternating between making circles and figure eights. As I don’t have hours to stir a pot, I use an immersion blender. It is a grand invention not to be trifled with. I actually have two one that is devoted entirely to non-food use.

As you stir, you will notice the mixture becoming thicker and creamier. Trace is the term used for when the mixture is thick enough to hold up a dollop of itself, on its surface.   Here you can see that it looks a little like pudding at this point.

At this point you can toss in your essential oils and other additives such as apricot seeds, ground oatmeal, fine clay, herb powders or whole herbs. Some people suggest mixing a bit of the solution into the additives and then adding that to the soap, but to me that seems a dangerous step when messing with raw soap. Sprinkle the additives evenly over the surface of the raw soap and stir it a few times. Do you still have your goggles and gloves on? You’d better!

Now pour your soap into the mold. Covering the opening with a lid or plastic plastic wrap. I like to bang my mold on the counter a couple of times to encourage the soap to settle and work out any air bubbles.  Wrap the towel around your mold to keep it insulated. You don’t want it to cool too quickly. That may prevent it from getting hard enough.

After 24 hours you can put on your gloves and take the raw soap out of the mold and place it on a cooling rack or cutting board. Let it sit another 12 hours before cutting into bars. Stack the bars so as to allow air to circulate around them and let them sit for another 12 hours. Then you can layer them in a basket to cure with parchment paper between the layers.  Cure for 4-6 weeks.  I like to test mine with pH paper before I use them, but I am a safety girl.

Choices for a Brighter Tomorrow

a017f-z112660992So now that I have established that I am going to blog, I should talk about what I will probably spend a lot of time blogging about.   A few of you might remember the homepage I had built on Earthlink that talked about environmental issues in Iowa.    That sort of thing is going to hugely influence things I post on the blog.    A lot of it is going to be about food, because with four kids,  we cook a lot.  A lot of it is going to be about herbs, because I do the herb thing.   Some of it will be about our family and our traditions, many of which have to do with food.

Food is one item that must be purchased on a regular basis however there are still environmental and socials factors to consider when purchasing all  consumables.  There are a few questions that you can ask yourself when shopping  which will help  guide your choices.

One of the first questions to ask yourself is, “Can I make it myself?”

We tend to buy staple items in bulk and make most of our own food from scratch. This eliminates a good deal of packaging, waste and expense. Periodically I will add some of our favorite “make your own” recipes to this blog for food and homecare items.

Another component of making your own food is gardening. There are families that grow all of the food they need in a year on rooftops of apartment buildings or in container gardens on patios. Read more here.  As we just moved in to this house in June, the garden is obviously going to be one of the areas where we devote a lot of time as we strive to develop a more sustainable lifestyle.

This fall we planted herbs, grape vines, raspberries and two dwarf apple trees. We also started a compost pile. Composting, which is a huge component of organic gardening, significantly reduces the amount of waste a family sends to the landfill.

Another question to consider when you buy food is the issue of whether or not the food is locally grown?

Environmentally speaking, the transportation of food items creates staggering amounts of energy consumption.  Ideally, locally grown organic food, from your Farmer’s  Market or a local CSA farm, is the smartest purchase for the environment.

The final, and perhaps most important question to as yourself is “What segment of the population is profiting from my purchase?”

91 cents of each dollar spent at traditional food markets goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen, and marketers; only 9 cents of each dollar actually goes to the farmer. Supporting small family farms reduces your environmental impact and helps a real family to earn a living wage. This question is vital when applied to those items that cannot be obtained locally such as coffee, sugar, and chocolate. Large corporations often profit because of child labor and slave labor. It is vitally important to make sure that that these goods are fairly traded, ensuring that farmers all over the world are able to feed their families and work in reasonable conditions.

These are some specific measures we take and you can take to live a more natural lifestyle.

Cut down or eliminate the number of disposable products in your home:

  • Use cloth; napkins, cleaning rags, baby wipes, and diapers
  • Buy reusable items such as shopping bags, coffee filters, gladware and lunch boxes instead of their disposable counterparts.

Use your appliances efficiently:

  • Turn down your thermostat and water heater.    You can heat individual spaces with space heaters, rather than keeping your whole house at 75 degrees.
  • If you use a dishwasher let the dishes air dry.
  • Keep the lint trap on your dryer clean or better yet use drying racks or clotheslines. I use my dryer about once every two weeks.

Conserve Non-renewable Resources:

  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Turn off lights when you leave a room.
  • Turn off your computer when not in use.
  • Take public transportation or walk whenever possible.
  • When driving use ethanol blended fuel, drive fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicles or carpool
  • Reduce the number of petroleum based products you buy. In other words, avoid places that sell cheap, plastic crap. 😉
  • Buy used items whenever possible.

Recycle everything you can:

  • Support the bottle/can nickel deposit law.
  • Buy products made from 100% post consumer waste when possible.
  • REUSE items. Make gift bags and shopping bags out of old clothes.

Eliminate pesticide and chemical use:

  • Use Earth friendly cleaning products
  • Use unbleached paper items if you must purchase them. My cloth diapers and wipes are made of unbleached cotton.
  • Buy locally-grown, organic food.
  • Raise organic produce.
  • Compost!
  • Let the dandelions live! The greens are really good for you anyway. You would be amazed how many weeds I use in herbal preparations.

Conserve Water:

  • Use your water saving settings on your dishwasher.
  • Keep cold pitchers of water in your refrigerator.
  • Install low flow toilets or put a brick in the tank.
  • Install efficient shower heads.


I read The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad today. It is required reading for one of the classes I am taking during the fall semester. I thought I would get a head start on it and ended up reading the whole thing in one day. The book examines the life of family in Afghanistan and gives readers a fascinating glimpse of what life is like in Muslim countries. It also portrays the oppressions inflicted on Afghans by the Taliban.

It seems like tradition is almost an impossible thing for these countries to overcome. The author is a woman who lived with this family for some time. I don’t know how she could have tolerated the sexism that is described in the story. It would have been maddening to me. I understand that these women don’t see life the way that we westerners do. In much the same way that men from the Middle East do not seem to understand our absolute horror at the brutal methods employed by their dictators, these women in the story do not seem to comprehend our indignation at their subjugation.

I wonder if it was the same for our grandmothers and their mothers when women in this country first started to step outside their prescribed roles as mothers and wives? Was the shortening hemline viewed with the same disgust and trepidation as the casting off of the burka is by many modern Muslim women?

I cannot help but recall the stories I heard of my great-grandmother’s iron willed edict that no daughter of hers was going to be running around in bloomers. She was absolutely appalled by the attire my grandmother donned when she played basketball for her high school in the 1910′s. She almost had a heart attack when a few years later my grandmother saved her teacher’s wages to buy a car of her own.  I know that one of the reasons for my grandparent’s elopement was the fact that my grandmother taught at a school where women were expected to “retire” when they married. Consequently she and my grandfather kept their marriage secret for quite some time because they needed the money that my grandmother earned.

Sometimes I wonder if she would be disappointed with my decision to stay-at-home with my children?  I have suffered almost as much discrimination in my life by second wave feminists as I have men.   In some ways , probably because I had a stay-at-home dad, I may have been more supported by the men in my life.

Some feminists seem to think that those of us who are mothers and wives have “sold out” the memory of the women who fought for equality in this country and that to be powerful, we need to be like men. I like to think that they were fighting more for the right to choose their own destiny rather than have it prescribed to them by society. I certainly appreciate the choices that are available to my daughters due to feminist efforts, but I also encourage them to explore their feminine and masculine sides.

I love the Dar Williams song  “When I Was a Boy”    I watch the way the prescribed gender roles we have in society damage both boys and girls.   I am fiercely protective of Trapolin for this reason.   I have a lot of hope for real change to occur in my daughters’ generation.  They are pretty cool kids.

I hope that someday the author of this book goes back to check in on the younger generations of this family. I enjoyed the book and I am glad I read it. It will be interesting to see what other people thought of it, once class gets started. Until then it gave me things to think about. I think I am going to watch the Olympics. There are women in the group of athletes representing Afghanistan for the first time ever.

Night all,

A Beginning

I really haven’t the slightest idea why I am doing this. I have always meant to keep a journal, maybe this will force me to be more consistent. I really don’t know but so many of my friends are “blogging” that I decided to try it for myself. I have been trying very hard to think of what to write for my first entry and I have yet to be visited by the muse but I am waiting patiently. Surely if I procrastinate long enough something will come to me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my son, who just turned three, play dough on a carpet that I just cleaned days ago. It doesn’t bother me though. I learned long ago to pick my battles. Watching the intensity with which he approaches his project, it occurs to me that whatever lesson he is learning at this particular moment is far more important than the inconvenience of a little mess.The days when a can of playdough can interest him this much will soon pass and I would hate for my little scientist to miss out on this lesson.

He catches me watching him and flashes me the same disarming grin that I sometimes get from my husband when he is being particularly naughty. They are so similar it is uncanny sometimes. I love them both passionately. It was not that long a go that this would have seemed impossible to me. I discovered later in life than most that I have this unending capacity for loving others.

When my first daughter was born, the magnitude of my feelings for her completely eclipsed the feelings I had for her father. I thought that this was a natural, maternal instinct. I didn’t see as what it was yet another indication of the horribly flawed relationship I had with my first husband. It was only after my second daughter was born that I began to realize that there was something wrong. I had worried terribly before I had her that by having another baby I would some how be shorting my oldest daughter; that the same transference of emotion would occur when my second child was born. Of course that wasn’t the case and it was shortly thereafter that I decided to end the disaster that was my first marriage.

It seems as though it was a lifetime ago. The new life growing inside me stirs and brings me back to the present. I don’t have those worries about this babe because I know that in all of us there is an endless reservoir of love to tap into. I will embrace the new life I am carrying as completely and totally as I do the beings already inhabiting my world. I will savor every moment with this child the way I do the time I spend with my other children. I intend on savoring every moment of their childhood and when they have grown and gone I know I have long luxurious days spent reveling in my husband’s undivided attention and lavishing him with mine to look forward to.