Experiments in Handcrafted Gifts: SOAP!

So as I posted last week, this year I am making homemade gifts.  The first gift I’ve finished is handmade soap.  I used a recipe I found online for goats milk honey oatmeal soap, though I made some adjustments to use what oils I could find.  I must say, I think the experiment was quite successful.

Making soap, especially handmade from-scratch bar soap that uses lye as a part of the recipe is a scary thought for people who’ve never done it before.  I know I was certainly nervous.  Not anymore!  With a few precautions it was very simple to do and we didn’t have any mishaps nor were we close to having any.


Because Lye is a very strong base, it is extremely caustic and can burn right through your skin and deep into tissue.  So of course you MUST use precautions when making lye-based soap.  Every soap book and most websites will tell  you about it.  The important ones I noted are:

  • Wear chemical-resistant rubber gloves.
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and wear closed-toed shoes.
  • Wear safety glasses, or even better safety goggles.
  • Work outside to avoid inhaling fumes during the process.  If you must work inside, wear protective respirator gear and provide direct outside ventilation for fumes like a fan.  Honestly, I wouldn’t work inside and neither should you.
  • DO NOT do this when small children and pets are around.
  • MAKE SURE the oil and lye are at the same temperature.  An explosive reaction may result otherwise.
  • ADD THE LYE TO THE LIQUID, NOT THE REVERSE!  An explosive reaction may result otherwise.
  • Have basic white distilled vinegar close at hand in case you get lye on you.  Vinegar, because it is slightly acid, will help to neutralize the lye.

For the mixing we worked outside, in 35 degree weather.  I left my dog inside during the lye-based procedures.  Due to the weather, short sleeves were out of the question anyway so we’re all bundled up.

Now that you’re good and paranoid that you should never try this…


  • One pot to heat the oils in.
  • One pot or bowl (stainless steel or glass) you will devote to soapmaking from now on.
  • Medium Glass or steel bowl to hold the lye (will be devoted to soapmaking from now on)
  • Steel spoon
  • Scale that can measure in hundredths of an ounce.
  • Two candy thermometers that MUST go down to below 90 degrees.  One will be marked for Lye and never used for food.
  • Electric Stick blender.  Not absolutely necessary but definitely recommended.  The difference?  Stirring for 45 minutes by hand, or 15 minutes with the stick blender.  The blender should likewise be dedicated to soapmaking.  It’s about $25 at walmart.  I’m going to try to get an extra immersion piece to use for food so I can use the mixer both for soapmaking and regular cooking.
  • Soap molds or 9×12 baking pan and parchment paper


  • 42 ounces – Olive Oil
  • 28 ounces – Coconut Oil
  • 18 ounces – Almond Oil
  • 32 ounces – Goat Milk (about 1 quart)
  • 4 ounces – Oatmeal, ground fine
  • 2 ounces – Honey
  • 12.39 ounces – Lye (use only 100% lye (sodium hydroxide).  If it doesn’t say 100% lye [or caustic soda, as it is called in other parts of the world], look elsewhere.  I got mine at a local small hardware store)

If you want to (or need to due to price/availability) replace any of the oils in this recipe, you really need to use a lye calculator to calculate the specific amount of lye you will need to correctly soponify the oils and come out with a good soap.  All amounts should ALWAYS be by weight, it’s more accurate.


  1. Pour the goats milk into a large baggie (or a large flat bottom bowl or pan) and lay it flat in the freezer until it’s pretty solid.  You’ll need to mush it into slush so you don’t want it to be too solid.  You freeze the milk because otherwise the lye chemical reaction can actually burn the milk, this helps that not happen.
  2. If you choose to use a large baking pan rather than dedicated soap molds, line the pan with parchment paper so it’s easy to get the soap out.
  3. Oil Mix

    Oil Mix

    Measure out all the oils into the oils pot.  Here you can see the coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, and the other oils mixed together.

  1. Heat the oils on the stove and keep them at 92 degrees.  I’ll admit my attention got diverted and the oils got up to about 120.  Given the temperature outside this actually worked out better for us.
  1. Measure out the oatmeal by weight and run it through the food processor or spice grinder until it’s like whole wheat flour. I ran mine through my blade grinder I have set aside for non-coffee work.
  1. Measure out the lye by weight into the medium bowl.  Be precise!
    Measure Lye

    Measure Lye

  1. Carry everything outside if you’re not already there.  Make sure that the bowls are covered if breezes are an issue.  The lye we got was in very fine light grains, I had to cover it to make sure it wasn’t a danger and it didn’t get blown into the garden beds.
  1. Empty the goats milk into the lye pot and mush it up.  Make sure the lye thermometer is on the lye pot.
  2. Stir in lye

    Stir in lye

    Slowly pour the lye into the goats milk while stirring.  When it’s all poured in, stir a bit more.  The lye will cause a chemical reaction with the liquid and raise the temperature of the mixture.  Ours got up to about 105 degrees, but that was out in 35 degree weather.

  3. lye mix chemical reaction

    Let the lye mixture cool to 92 degrees.  Make sure the oil mix is at the same temperature.  I put my oil pot in an ice bath and stirred for a few minutes to get it back down to the temperature of the lye mix.

  4. Once the oil pot and lye mixes are the same temperature (approximately 92 degrees, but no more than 95), pour the contents of the oil pot slowly into the lye mix.
  5. Mixing oil into lye mixture

    Using the stick blender, mix the contents for approximately 15 minutes.  Around this time, you should get to a stage called “trace”.  Trace is where the mix has thickened to a pudding-like state, where it retains the contour of where the spoon passed for several seconds.  Here you can see the contour of where I removed the stick blender from the pot.

  6. Mixture at “Trace”

    Add honey and oatmeal, and mix until combined, just a couple minutes.

  7. Soap in baking pan mold

    Pour the mix into the prepared pan or soap molds.

  8. If you’re using a baking pan, wait until the mixture has solidified before removing from the pan.  It was VERY cold here during that time, so after 24 hours the soap was quite solid enough to remove from the pan and cut into pieces.  If it’s summer and it’s humid, I would wait at least 48 hours.
  9. Soap bars drying on rack

    Cut the soap into bars, like cutting large hard brownies.  Our bars are pretty uneven, but I think that adds to the charm.  I stamped this soap with a regular rubber stamp to make it pretty.  It took a pretty solid push and wiggle into the softer “side” of the soap bar to get the design to show.

  10. Put soap bars on a cookie cooling rack or other open drying rack for a week or two before wrapping.

In Summary

The soap is quite charming I think, and it smells like…soap!  Actually it smells better than store-bought soap.  I smell a nice subtle sweet oatmeal scent, nothing to overpower.  In all, I found the process quite rewarding.  The cost of the oils was higher than I would have liked, especially because I was using quality and organic oils.  I don’t have the exact price, especially because some of the ingredients and I already had on hand, but I think it was about $75, and I got 24 rather large bars of soap (3″x2″x2″) out of it.  I could probably have halved each of the bars in thickness and gotten 48 smaller bars out of it.  As far as time, it only took about an hour of time combined to measure and mix and after waiting to cut.

Notes for next time

  • Next time I may add some essential oil, or perhaps more honey.  I had used a wonderful local wildflower honey, and would have liked more of that scent/character to come out.
  • The soap also was browner than I would have expected.  This is typical of lye/milk mixtures, hopefully I can improve on it in the future so it’s more “milky” colored.
  • Next time I will find better sources for oils so it will cost less.  I had a deadline for making the soap, which meant I had to use what I could find locally.
  • Next time I’ll probably make the bars smaller.

Hopefully this will inspire someone out there will also take the plunge into making homemade soap.

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