Need Soap?

Making soap is not time-consuming, nor difficult, just follow the recipe, with a couple of minutes here and there throughout two days, and it’s made for several months.
Large, nonreactive pan (stainless steel pot, water bath canner)
Stainless steel pot large enough for two quarts
Plastic or glass half-gallon pitcher
Long handled wooden spoon or stirring stick (it will be eaten up after process)
Soap molds (I use a box lined with a damp cloth)
Old towels

1 can (16 oz) Red Devil lye (must be 100% lye for best results)
5 c distilled water
10 c tallow or lard
Keep an open container of vinegar nearby to flush any lye splashes, then flush with water.
This is a project done without holding babies and without little children present.


  1. Outside: put water into smaller stainless steel pan.
  2. Slowly pour lye into water, stirring with wooden spoon. Do not breathe toxic fumes. Do not touch pan without hot pads. (My children enjoy watching the ‘smoke’ through the window.)
  3. Cool pan in a well ventilated, inaccessible from children and animals.
  4. Inside: measure 10 cups tallow into larger pan. Melt slowly until liquid. Remove from heat.
  5. Periodically check lye water temp by feeling outside of container. When room temperature, bring inside. (Remove children)
  6. Check fat. If it’s congealed, heat just to liquid.
    (The fat needs to be barely melted, the lye needs to be room temperature. Many recipes give exact temperatures. I have not found such exactness necessary.)
  7. Pour lye water into glass pitcher.
  8. Stirring fat, slowly drizzle lye water into fat.
  9. Stir until the soap “traces”—leaves a thin trail over top of the fat that stays there for a while.
    This step may take several hours. Leave it out of the way, periodically stirring and checking it.
  10. When it traces and is thick, pour soap into mold lined with damp cloth.
  11. Cover with cardboard and old towel.
  12. Put in warm place for 24 hours. (If you use a box as your mold, the water will saturate it, so place on old blanket where seepage won’t eat its surrounds.)
  13. Turn soap onto counter protected with old towel. (Free lye may still be present and will eat through towel, counter…)
  14. Cut soap with sharp knife into bars. Fishing line can be used to slice.
  15. Place loosely in cardboard box, allowing air between bars to cure soap.
  16. Cure two weeks. Scrape off powder that forms on surface with paring knife.
  17. Soap’s ready.
    Do not expect lots of suds.

Soap molds can be purchased at various stores. Coat them with Vaseline before pouring soap into them. (I find them difficult and time consuming for large batches like this recipe.)
Fragrances, colors and essential oils can be added after tracing.
Plain soap has a definite lack of fragrance.
I have tried making rose water soap, which has astringent properties. Substitute rose water for half of the amount of distilled water when mixing the lye.

Tea Tree Essential Oil has antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-infectious properties. (The only thing it doesn’t kill according to this list is parasites!)

I’ve melted a finished bar of plain soap, added oatmeal, glycerin (to prevent excessive drying of the skin), a drop of lavender essential oil, and coloring.

I’ve added powdered milk, coconut oil, and vanilla to a melted bar to make “Vanilla and Cream Bath Bars” for gifts

Numerous books give recipes to vary the theme. Most recipes start with a bar of Castile or Glycerin soap which is melted than remolded with additional items.

Soap crumbles from broken bars can be used for laundry. They don’t whiten clothes, but they do clean them.

Save the pieces too small to hold and collect in a bottle until half full. Add boiling water makes a soft soap for pump bottle dispensers.


 100% lye is getting harder to find. Search smaller grocery and hardware stores. (I've tried mixtures of lye, dye and stabilizers with unsatisfactory results.)

 Lard can be rendered by taking fat from butchering and heating it slowly until a liquid, stirring frequently to avoid the cracklings from sinking and burning, strain, then cool. Lard can also be found in specialty aisles in grocery stores (like the Mexican aisle). You can also substitute part vegetable oil (not mineral oil) for fat. Vegetable oil will soften texture, requires less water, and needs longer curing time.

Beef tallow will give hard soap suitable for carving. Pig fat (lard) will make soft soap. A mixture of beef and pig fat is commonly recommended. (Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 1996) 368-371. Poultry fat is too soft by itself but could be added to harder fats.

 Mountain Rose Herbs 20818 High Street North San Juan, CA 95960 (800)879-3337  is source for rose water, essential oils, fragrances, and specialty oils

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Need Soap
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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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