The basic principle of avoiding convenience applies to soap. You can make your own soap and save money in the process — and probably get better soap. Exact soap-making instructions are a bit beyond the scope of this blog (you can find plenty on the internet and there are lots of instructional videos on youtube), but I’ll give an overview of the basics.
All you need are three ingredients:
- Fat (such as lard, coconut oil, or olive oil)
- Distilled water
You can also add some other ingredients for scents or added effects (such as lavender, peppermint, honey, oatmeal, and various coloring).
The preparation method for basic soap-making is
- C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y add the lye to the water (rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory)
- Warm the fat over low heat
- Get both the fat and lye-water to the correct temperature (which usually means warming the fat while waiting for the lye water to cool)
- C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y blend them together
- Mix until thickened
- Add any optional ingredients
- Pour into molds and cover
- Allow to cool slowly
- Remove from molds
- Allow to cure in the air for several weeks
You can get very creative with the scents, colors, molds, and packaging. You might be inspired by the soap-makers in your family tree. (“Your great-grandmother used to make her own lard soap in the backyard.”) You might explore the soap-making traditions of your ancestors. (“This is the kind of soap they made in the old country.”) Once you’re a skilled soap-maker, you have an excellent and one-of-a-kind unique gift for all-purpose giving.
You’ve probably heard that lye is dangerous. It is dangerous. That’s why you wear gloves and safety glasses. You should also wear long sleeves and pants. It’s also a very good idea to work with the lye outside, as combining lye and water creates toxic fumes. But, in my opinion, the danger level isn’t so inordinately high that soap-making must be left only to professionals working on an industrial scale. I’d say it’s not too far from the danger level of making using hot oil on a stove to make a large batch of french-fries. Of course, you do need to be careful and, to repeat for emphasis: wear safety glasses.
Do some research and if it interests you, procure the ingredients and make a batch. You should find a tried-and-true recipe and follow it exactly. Measuring quantities and temperatures precisely is absolutely essential when you’re making soap. It’s not like making a stew or soup that you can easily vary by adding more of one ingredient or less of another. The fat, lye, and water must be combined in the correct amounts and at the right temperature for saponification to occur.
Depending on what fat you use and how you obtain it, I think there’s a good chance that you’ll find the money savings and the high quality of the product are worth the effort. You might come to see, as we have in my household, that making your own soap isn’t much different than making your own breakfast, lunch, and dinner.