Self Sufficient Skin with Homemade Soap

Homemade Cold Pressed Vegetable Oil Soap

Homemade soap needs fat or oil.  You can use animal fat or vegetable oil.  In our case the vegetable oil is, as always olive oil, as that is the one oil we are self sufficient in.  So far we have only made 100% olive oil homemade soap  (Castille soap) but other oils could be added.  Coconut oil would be a particularly good oil to include in your homemade soap.  In moderation it would improve the lathering qualities of this homemade olive oil  soap.

If you are new to soap-making I highly recommend trying the 100% olive oil soap.  It is straightforward and doesn’t mean sourcing lots of ingredients.  It certainly gave me the soap making bug!

Soap making at home can be as basic or as complicated as you like.  If you would like to find out how to make a decent and simple homemade olive oil soap please read on.  If however, you’re after something very pretty and scented this might not the place for you.  Well not until I have made a lot more anyway.

Basic, though this Castile soap recipe may be, it is also a great place to start if you have never made soap before.  The end result is a very hard bar of moisturising soap.  The lather is not as ‘bubbly’ as you might be used to but it does all the things soap should do!

All oils need different amounts of lye to turn them into soap safely.  So if you want to add other oils to the soap or use different quantities you must re-calculate the amount of lye needed.  There are lots of free on-line lye calculators.  I use this Brambleberry one as it is easy to use and quick.

How is Soap Made?

In very basic terms coldpressed soap is made  by adding an alkali (base) which will be lye (caustic soda) to a fatty acid (olive oil).

A process called saponification occurs which stabilises the lye and solidifies the oil, creating, lathering capabilities.  There is loads more to it but we don’t need to know all the chemistry to make soap at home.

When making soap at home we can see saponification start as the mixture begins to ‘trace‘.  All that means is that the mixture will thicken and the surface become almost ripply.  The path of your spoon will leave a ‘trace’ across the surface of the mixture.

Saponification will continue after the soap is poured into moulds.  The mixture will warm, liquefy and cool repeatedly during this process so make sure you do not handle it for at least 12 hours or until the mixture has cooled completely.

How to Make Homemade Castile Soap

First of all, you will be working with lye which is extremely corrosive so clear yourself some room, protect everything and be careful! Goggles, gloves and no pets would be the ideal scenario.

Utensils for Soap Making

All pans, bowls and moulds used should be non-corrosive (definitely no aluminium) and ideally assigned for soap making duty only.  If not they will need very careful cleaning before using for anything else.

Wooden spoons are suitable for soap making but will be degraded by the lye so definitely keep one solely for use in soap making and nothing else.

Soap Moulds

Moulds can be any plastic or glass (more difficult to unmould though, trust me) kitchen containers or wooden soap moulds.  Just make sure they have a cover or make one from cardboard.

To make unmoulding easier you could grease the mould and line with greaseproof paper.  Or pop the mould in the deep freeze for a few hours to allow the soap to shrink away from the sides of the container.

Homemade Castile Soap Ingredients

In soap making, things must all be measured by weight not volume.   For our starter Castile soap recipe we use:

  • 30 oz olive oil
  • 3.8 oz lye
  • 10 oz water

If you want to make a larger or smaller batch recalculate the amount of lye required using the Brambleberry Lye Calculator.

Homemade Castile Soap Recipe

  1. Firstly make your lye water by slowly adding the caustic soda to the cold water.  This may get hot and bubbly and give off fumes so take care.  Leave to cool.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a non-corrosive pan.  Allow to cool to 100ºF.  If you don’t have a thermometer just leave till the outside of the pan feels warm to the touch.
  3. Slowly add your lye water to the warm oil, stirring all the time.  Once all the lye water has been added to the oil the mixture should be well amalgamated.
  4. Now keep stirring.  You will need to stir from between 10 minutes and an hour.  You can use mechanical help but have to be careful not to over mix so keep any blender action to short bursts.  I’ve always found stirring by hand pretty therapeutic so just put on some music and stir with a wooden spoon – we find about 25 minutes tends to do it.   The finished mixture will be thick and rippled looking.
  5. Pour the homemade soap into prepared moulds.  Cover and leave somewhere warm or wrapped in a towel for at least 12 hours.
  6. The next day (or at least within a week), unmould and cut the soap while it is still relatively soft.
  7. Leave your finished homemade castile soap to ‘cure’ for four weeks wrapped in tissue or card on a well-ventilated shelf.

As the homemade soap cures, water content is lost, the Castile soap hardens, and the lye becomes inactive.   If you are unsure of the soap’s qualities you can always test with a ph kit or litmus paper.  Soap should ideally have a ph of  7 – 9.5.  If it is any higher the soap may still be used for laundry but not on the skin.

Olive oil soap cures into a very hard soap so make sure you cut it sooner rather than later as it gets quite brittle.  You can see below I left this batch a little too long before cutting.

Homemade Olive Oil Soap
Homemade Olive Oil Soap

Using Homemade Lye from Wood Ash

You can of course use homemade lye from wood ash to make your homemade soaps.  But, it is far more difficult to gauge the quantities to use as it depends on the strength of the lye.  We used 6oz homemade lye water for 16oz olive oil, but it really is different every time.

Generally homemade lye is used for making liquid soaps.  But you can make hard soaps by adding salt.  For every pound of oil in the soap recipe add 1/2 tsp of salt to the lye water.

Homemade Liquid Olive Oil Soap

We have made liquid soap using homemade lye from wood ash.  The method is the same but no additional water is needed.  Just add the homemade lye-water to warm olive oil.  I make no guarantee of this working though as you need to ensure your lye-water is of the correct strength!

If you are in the mood for some soap making at home then it is worth having a go.  I’ve found the homemade liquid olive oil soap using homemade lye from wood ash is really thick and creamy.  It actually works better mixed up with water in a squirty handwash bottle.  It is possibly good shampoo material but I’ve yet to decide 100%!

I hope I’ve inspired you to have a go at making your own homemade soap.  It is suprisingly simple and the possibilities for creating your own recipes are endless.  I think I know what everyone I know is having for Chrimbo this year!

For a more self sufficient future

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18 Responses to “Self Sufficient Skin with Homemade Soap”

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  1. Goo says:

    Great post, useful and informative. I am extremely jealous you are self sufficient in olive oil, global warming will have to take a considerable turn for the worse before we could grow olive trees in our heavy,damp soil! However, we are not short of woodash so I’m going to give some of your recipes a go.

    Goo’s last blog post..Raised Beds, Raised Hopes

  2. Gary Dill says:

    Can you recommend a brand of olive oil to use?

  3. Patrick says:

    I am curious, what would you use as a scent that would actually last?

    The only one I have found to work well was lemon oil. What do you use?

    Because otherwise the olive oil can start to get a funky smell after a while.

    • Hi Patrick,

      To be honest we keep the olive oil soap as basic (and cheap) as possible. I don’t bother with any scents and have had no probs so far. The only issue is stopping the dogs eating the stuff (don’t ask) – it smells very faintly of olive but mostly just of soap and we have had some knocking around for seven months or so that is far from funky!

  4. Elle Wood says:

    I can’t lie, I love using Olive Oil in my home made soaps. I am a firm believer in it’s repleneshing abilities.

  5. I found this site a while back and I just now found it again… I graduated college and am on my own. This will definitely help me get on the right track. Thanks!

  6. Interesting post, not like the others that I usually read about castile soap recipe!
    Can I link to your blog? Keep it up! Can’t wait to read more about castile soap recipe.

  7. Jenifer Church says:

    When using homemade lye, you say to add salt. Does it matter if it’s iodized or not?

  8. Phalini says:

    Hi, Mrs. Dirty Boots–

    My boots are dirty, too; covered with mud and cow dung. I am so grateful for your comprehensive instructions. For years, I have been wanting to learn how to make homemade soap, and for the first time, I have started a batch of homemade wood ash lye. I am just now contemplating what kind of oil to use with the lye. Because we are vegetarians, I won’t be using fat from slaughtered animals, but I have been thinking about using ghee, although it’s pricey. But now, after reading your article, I am thinking more along the lines of using olive oil for my first attempt at soap-making. Thanks for your awesome articles!


  9. Krystal says:

    If using homemade lye water, do you use the amount of water called for in the recipe (in the above, 10 oz) or do you add the weight of the water and the lye (in the above, 10 oz water+3.8 oz lye=13.8 oz homemade lye water). I’ve been making homemade soap for some time now, but why pay for lye when I can make it using the ashes from our wood stove?! Thank you!

  10. Megan says:

    I just wanted to add what I’ve read. I have not tried this to back it up for sure yet. But when you make lye water from wood ashes. You can set the bucket or what ever your using in the sun (away from animals and children) and the sun is supposed to evaporate the water and leave the lye in the dry form….

    I will be starting my very first “lye factory” soon. So I will let you know how it works for me! On that same note I’m hoping to be able to buy lard and tallow from local butchers in my area so I can render my own fats for soap making. And of course I use spring water from the spring head on our farm!

  11. Amara says:

    I always thought that it was really hard to make soap! Maybe I’ll have a go at this one day…

  12. Janie says:

    I made lye soap from ashes and deer fat but didn’t add the salt till it traced.I used 3 handfuls for 2 1/2 lbs. of fat. Now my soap has white powder dust on outside. Did I use two much salt?