Control of Your Ingredients
If you make your own soap, you have direct control of what kind of ingredients you like to have in it! In today’s commercial soap, there are many chemicals used, which causes skin irritation or even cancer! Industries find their way through, to make even more profit out of a cheap, chemical product which ends up in our drinking water, while we’re using it – running down the sink. As we know, water is essential for life, therefore – stop buying industrial soap!
So, to break it down, I was looking for a recipe on how to make soap from scratch. Even if I know that I could buy the ingredients right away, I was wondering what a recipe from our ancestors would look like. I found pretty interesting material and got excited about it! And now I would like to share it.
Two Main Ingredients for a Soap Base
First, I want to tell you how to get a soap base. For that, we need two main ingredients which make soap out of a chemical reaction. You need these two main ingredients, otherwise you can’t make soap! One is fat (animal fats or vegetable oils) and two is an alkaline (Lye created from wood ash is potassium hydroxide (KOH) whereas commercial lye is composed of sodium hydroxide (NaOH)). Once these two are combined, you have a chemical reaction called saponification, which makes your soap base. Once those two are together, there is no more lye in it. But, you can’t make soap without lye! When you get a bar of soap there is no lye in it because the saponification has already taken place. It’s important to know that, because in the beginning I thought, there must be a way of making soap without lye, but actually – no! You can buy the finished soap base and melt it down for your own soap production. But for me, I’d like to do it all from scratch. Source
Soap in World War One
I found an article about soap from World War One (Germany), when they replaced the fats with 90% clay and 10% white sand. “An alternative for soap“, they called it, to save raw resources back then. But as I mentioned above, without fats and lye there is no soap! And people realized, that this soap of clay must be a joke! 7 million kilos of clay were washed down to the water system, per month and the clay soap did not have any properties like normal soap. Source
A Brief History of Soap
The history of soap making goes back to the Sumerians (modern-day southern Iraq). They burned date palms or pine cones and out of the ashes, made lye and mixed it with oils to have soap. They also used this soap base as a remedy for injuries. Greeks and Egyptians adopted that recipe and refined it. For example, Egyptians added bicarbonate and also used it for skin problems. Back then, lack of hygiene was the main cause of skin irritation. In the first stage, Romans used soap only as a beauty product, for example only for their hair. Soap as we know it today, exists since the seventh century (period from 601 to 700).
Soap Spreads Through Europe
In 1791, Nicolas Leblanc, a French chemist, found out how to produce the chemical lye, which had previously been extracted laboriously from ashes. This milestone allowed people to produce soap more easily and in higher quantity. Sicily (Italy) was one of the first European places to do so and still today, you can find traditional small soap making factories, with soap made out of 90% extra virgin olive oil. After Genoa (Italy), followed by Marseille (France), they made potash with the dried plant species Salsola soda, in combination with olive oil. “Marseille soap”, with its characteristic cube shape was popular back then! They used it mostly for washing their clothes and for cleaning. In the process of the “Marseille soap”, they cooked the base ingredients for ten days. To remove backlog from the fat, they washed it out with the addition of salt. The basic substance was olive oil.The “Marseille soap” has been used for skin problems too and was even recommended to sleep with a sopa block if you are struggling from leg cramps at night. The use of salt in soap making gives the soap a hard shape in the end and you can even keep the soap stored longer. For the special “Savon noir” soap, they used glycerin, from the decocted soap base, and potash with olive oil, which is an old recipe from North Africa. Source
If we mix lye and fat together, the substance of glycerin will stay in the soap and this glycerin has a skin caring effect – therefore good for our skin. A basic recipe for making clear glycerin soap base here
Careful, Lye is Acid! Can Burn Skin
Be carful when handling lye! It’s a very dangerous chemical that can burn skin on contact and is fatal if ingested. Cover work surface with newspaper. Always use gloves and safety goggles when handling lye, and wear long sleeves and pants to protect yourself. Handle lye without disruption or children and animals around you! Have vinegar on hand in case lye spills or splashes occur.
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), was mostly used for washing delicate fabrics. It can be used as a very gentle soap, usually in a diluted solution. It has historically been used to clean delicate or unique textiles; it has been hypothesized that the plant was used to treat the Shroud of Turin. The plant has a toxic substance in the roots and contains levels of up to 20 percent when the plant is flowering. An overdose can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. In excess, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor center. It produces a lather when in contact with water. The plant grows in cool places at low or moderate elevations under hedgerows and along the shoulders of roadways.
The lathery liquid has the ability to dissolve fats or grease. It can be procured by boiling the leaves or roots in water. Take a large handful of leaves, bruise and chop them and boil for 30 minutes in 600ml of water; strain off the liquid and use this as you would washing-up liquid. In the Romanian village of Sieu-Odorhei, natives call the plant “Sǎpunele”. It is traditionally used by the villagers as a soap replacement for dry skin.
Despite its toxic potential, Saponaria officinalis finds culinary use as an emulsifier in the commercial preparation of tahini halva, and in brewing to create beer with a good “head”. In India, the rhizome is used as a galactagogue. In the Middle East, the root is often used as an additive in the process of making the popular sweet, halvah. The plant is called ‘irq al-ḥalāwah in Arabic, çöven in Turkish, and is utilized to stabilize the oils in the mixture or to create a distinctive texture of halvah.
Instruction for soapwort solution from “the herbgardener making”
- Add 2 cups soapwort leaves and stems (1 cup dried) to 1/4 (distilled or rain water) boiling water and cover the pan. For Shampoo just use 3 Tablespoons soapwort to 1 Cup of water.
- Continue simmering for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and cool.
- Strain through cheesecloth.
- Include any additives, like lavender for washing fine handkerchiefs, lemon juice to lighten stains on fabric.
- You can keep the liquid up to a week in the refrigerator.
The hot process
The lye must be added to the water, not the other way around. Otherwise it can inadvertently cause a minor explosion. Next, the lye mixture is added to heated fat. The mixture is stirred for a while before adding any desired extras. The mixture is then stirred a bit more so everything is evenly distributed before being poured into molds.
The cold process
The cold process is very similar. The fat is heated, but the lye, water, and fat mixture is not heated. Some people claim that the cold process produces a soap that is softer on skin.
Both the cold and the hot process rely on lye. Many people have tried to find a way to make soap without using lye, but this is impossible. Even the soap in the melt and pour soap kits was processed with lye, although people using these kits do not have to handle the lye themselves. Children, beginners, and people who have a healthy fear of caustic chemicals are probably better off using the melt and pour method.