Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Small Batch Soap Making

I did it! Another "homestead-y" skill to check off my list - soapmaking! I actually made my first batch in December with my sister-in-law for support (neither of us had made soap before, but we figured it would be easier with two of us). We followed the directions in Making It (you can read my review of the book here) for making small batch blender soap, and made one batch each of olive oil (Castille) and coconut oil soap (I'd share the recipes, but I'm not sure if that would be copyright infringement - and really, the book is so good you should buy it anyway!) We've been using the olive oil soap in the shower for about a month now, and I love it! My skin feels so much better than it usually does in February (Wisconsin winters can be very drying). I use the coconut oil soap in my homemade laundry detergent (1 bar soap, 1 box borax, 1 box washing soda), since it's very cleansing and doesn't suds up much (I have a front loading washing machine).

I actually bought two soap molds at Bargain Bill's, our local discount store, which had just enough room for the first batch . . .

. . . but not the second! So we scrambled around and found an old muffin pan (I think these are rather cute, actually!) I don't use non-stick pans for cooking anymore, so I don't mind using them for soap, since there will be no danger of cross-contamination.

These recipes made either 4 of the larger bars, or about 9 of the smaller "muffin" soaps.

A few weeks later, the kids and I went to my sister-in-law's house for a visit, where the two of us decided to try making goat milk soap (she raises dairy goats). Another success! (Sorry, I didn't keep a copy of the recipe - maybe if she still has it, she can add it in the comments - please?)

This week, I noticed our supply was starting to dwindle. Since it takes a month for soap to set up properly, I figured I'd better get started on another batch. I had some lovely grass-fed tallow from the half cow we'd bought in December, rendered and ready to use (and so yellow! You can tell it's 100% grass-fed just by looking at it!), and also some lard a friend had given me (from the pigs she'd raised that summer - she didn't want it, so she gave it to me for FREE!)

I searched high and low for a simple, no added colors or fragrance small batch tallow or lard soap recipe, but couldn't find anything that suited my needs. I did, however, find what I needed to formulate my own recipe online. First, I  found the saponification numbers for the two fats I was going to use (saponification is the process of turning fat and lye into soap - resulting in a substance that is no longer either of the two. So (if your ratios are correct) there will be no lye left in your soap, and it will be perfectly safe to use. Gotta love chemistry!), then I multiplied the amount of fat I wanted to use (16 oz) times the SAP #s to find the amount of lye needed. I added a little extra fat (called "superfatting" in soapmaking circles) to make sure there was more than enough fat to bond with all of the lye, just to be on the safe side.

It worked perfectly! Here are my recipes:

Small Batch Simple Tallow Soap Recipe
16 oz tallow (melted)
6 oz water
2.144 oz lye
(it's important to have a digital scale to get the weights accurate - you don't want any lye remaining in your soap!)

Small Batch Simple Lard Soap Recipe
16 oz lard (melted)
6 oz water
2.09 oz lye

Mixed Tallow/Lard Recipe
8 oz tallow (melted)
8 oz lard (melted)
6 oz water
2.112 oz lye

Just out of curiosity, I also calculated how much each kind of soap would cost. Here's what I found:

Castille Soap (I bought my olive oil at Walmart for $18/101 oz)
Per batch: $3.35
Large bar: $.83
Cupcake: $.37

Coconut Oil Soap (Wilderness Family Naturals Coconut Oil $12/32 oz)
Per batch: $6.50
Large Bar: $1.62
Cupcake: $.72

Tallow Soap (half cow $2/lb from my local organic farmer)
Per batch: $2.50
Large Bar: $.64
Cupcake: $.28

(I didn't calculate prices for the lard soap, since the lard was free.)

In case you're wondering, I bought my lye here. I believe it came out to about 25 cents an ounce, or about 50 cents a batch.


  1. Ruth! Thank you so much for sharing this! I LOVE making soap and I love tallow soap! Thank you for all the detailed breakdowns in pricing...awesome:) And thank you for sharing this on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways! I will be posting this to the wall of my fb page!

  2. How exactly to you render tallow or lard?
    Thanks for sharing this great post

  3. Funny you should ask - I just read a great post over at The Prairie Homestead on rendering tallow:
    Rendering lard is pretty much the same process. I've never heard of putting the fat through a food processor; I just cut it up and put it in the crock pot.

  4. your lye calculations are a little heavy according to 2 other sites ive checked on

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  6. Could also build wooden molds (we did), or silicone muffin pans don't need to be lined. We once had a scheme to hunt down a wild boar and render him and make soap in the field. After chatting up a chef, though, we decided it would be probably a waste of the wild boar, though.

  7. I haven't tried wooden molds yet, but I love my silicone molds! The soap always comes out easily (unless it's still too soft - I messed up a batch of castile soap because I didn't let it cure long enough). I have a couple of cute cupcake-size molds (snowmen, pumpkin, etc.) and I love how the fine details come out intact. I gave up on the cupcake papers because some of my batches wouldn't come out of the paper, and my plastic molds eventually cracked. But my silicone molds have lasted well over a year and are doing great! I got mine on Amazon (I'll add a link in my Tools box on the sidebar).