How to Make Soap Using Lard and Lye, Home Made Soap Recipe
Home made soap
Easy Soap Making
For some, making soap is the understanding of a simple chemical process; for others, it’s an artform. I’m not quite an artist at it yet, and maybe I never will be, but I do think it’s a lot of fun and it’s really not that difficult to do. Here’s a simple soap recipe that uses lard (which you can buy from your local butcher), lye (I use a product called “Rooto,” purchased from my hardware store), and water. This will produce a good hand and body soap, but I have to recommend against using it as face soap. There are other, better oils and fats to use for face soaps. I’m afraid this one would just dry your face out! And if you feel a little weird about using fat to make soap, I can tell you that the final product smells really good, so don’t be concerned about what the melting lard itself may smell like. If you use lard (pork fat), it pretty much smells like bacon, but your soap will smell like soap – honest! In fact, the first time I tried this and later smelled the soap, I thought, “So this is what real soap smells like.”
5 lbs lard*
10 oz lye
28 oz water
*When purchasing your lard, make sure it is lard and not tallow. Tallow can be used for soap making too, but different fats require different ratios of lye. I’ve never used tallow to make soap, so I can’t speak on it. This recipe is specifically for lard, so make sure that’s what you are using. The butcher will know!
1 large pot for melting the lard
1 large bowl, crock, or bucket for mixing
1 small heavy-duty plastic cup, or small crock, but nothing aluminum!, for mixing the lye/water
Wooden spoon or stick blender
Measuring devices (scale and/or measuring cups)
Soap mold – this can be anything from a bunch of (empty) Pringle containers, a wooden or plastic shallow box or box lid, a shoe box lined with wax paper or plastic, or a frame mold specifically designed for making soap
For Safety's Sake, Wear...
Rubber gloves (latex really won’t do)
Long sleeves and long pants
Where to make soap?
I like making soap outdoors, and actually haven’t tried it indoors yet. If you’re going to do it indoors, you should know that ventilation is important. The lye in the soap-making process will release vapors that you shouldn’t inhale in great quantities; also, soap doesn’t smell very good until a little ways into the process.
Getting Ready to Mix
In a large pot, melt the lard over low or medium heat. Stir frequently. Be careful not to scorch it! The melting, liquified fat shouldn’t even be sizzling or bubbling. It may take a little time to melt it all, but if you burn the lard you will have to discard it.
While your fat is melting, you should get ready to mix the lye with the water. Put on your goggles, wear your gloves, and be careful with the lye. In fact, let’s talk for a moment about lye before we start working with it.
Lye is a highly caustic substance, and when mixed with water it can give you a very painful and severe burn. Remember the movie Fight Club? You don’t need to have some sort of “near-life” experience, or a moment of glory, or a nasty-looking scar because you wanted to make soap. So be careful with it!
The lye product you use should be 100% lye, or sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Read the label. I’ve been using Rooto, a drain cleaner that I bought from a hardware store, and it works just fine! Red Devil is another drain cleaner product that will work, as long as you buy the one that is 100% lye.
So now that you’re all suited up with your goggles and gloves, and your lard is nearly all melted, you’re ready to mix the lye with the water. Pour the water into the cup first, then add the lye. The order here is important. If you pour water over lye, it can cause a small explosion… but we don’t want any explosions, no matter the size; just soap!
When the lye contacts the water, you should see a vapor rise up. The container will also start to get hot. This is a good sign, and the beginning of a reaction that will make it possible for the lye to saponify the fats in the lard. Saponification is the key part of soap making!
Stir the water and lye solution until the lye crystals have completely dissolved. This step is also important, and note that the cup or crock containing the water and lye is going to get kind of hot while this reaction is taking place, so be careful about picking it up or holding it.
Set the lye solution aside for now; it needs to cool down a bit.
Check on your lard. When the fat has completely melted, and the lye solution has cooled off a little, you will be ready to start mixing the soap!
Like my soap?
If you're interested, you can take a peek at my little Etsy shop for some of my soap and other things farm life inspired.
To start the soap mixing, first pour the melted fat into your large bowl, bucket, or crock. It should be large enough to hold all of the liquid with some room to spare, so that during mixing you won’t be splashing the soap out. If you are using a plastic bucket, it should be made of heavy duty plastic. If using a bowl, it should not be aluminum. I like crocks best!
After you pour the melted fat into the large mixing container, you can add the lye solution. Immediately begin stirring with your wooden spoon. Alternatively, you can use a stick blender, but I don’t own one so I stir by hand. You lucky stick-blender-users will probably only have to blend for 10 or 15 minutes. Those using wooden spoons, you will probably have to stir for about 30 minutes.
Continue stirring the soap. The idea is to keep agitating the mixture; this will ensure that the lye will be evenly dispersed. And as we all know, oil (fat) and water do not easily mix, so at this stage the soap really needs your help to get going. If you’re using a spoon, you can stir for 5 or 10 minutes, take a break for just as long, come back to it for 5 or 10 minutes, etc.
Continue stirring until the soap mixture has reached what’s called “trace.” Trace is the point at which the soap is about the consistency of pudding, such that if you move your spoon through it there will be a line trailing behind the spoon, or if you spoon a little out and drop it on top it will sit there for a couple seconds. For those of us stirring by hand, this can seem like an unreachable goal. You may even start to wonder if you did something horribly wrong. If you’ve been stirring for more than 30 minutes, you should just walk away from the project for a little while, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, and come back to it. You’ll probably find that the mixture is the desired consistency. The first time I made soap with lard, I didn’t see trace for an hour.
Once you have achieved trace, you are ready to pour the soap into a mold. However, if you would like to, this is also the point in the process at which you could add other things to your soap, such as for fragance (essential oils or dried herbs) or other ingredients, like finely-ground oats or flax seed. It's all up to you! I like Pringle containers for molds because you get nice, round bars. Actual soap molds are, of course, a very good choice, but you can use anything that is made of a nonreactive substance (or lined with plastic).
Let the soap sit in the mold for 24-48 hours. This will give it time to harden up a bit more. Then remove the soap from the mold and cut it into bars, however you would like to! Using fishing line to cut the soap works well for me. Sharp knives are also good. Although at this point what you have should look like soap, it's not quite ready to be used.
Place the bars of soap on paper bags or wax paper, and put them all up on a shelf or somewhere else that’s out of the way. At this point, the soap should be allowed to cure for 3 – 5 weeks. You should flip the bars over once a week to ensure even drying.
During the curing process the bars of soap will continue to harden, but more importantly saponification will continue. Properly made and properly cured soap won’t have enough lye left in it to burn or irritate your skin. If you’re not sure whether your soap is ready to be used or not, wait the first 3 weeks and then take a bar and use it to wash your elbow. Just do a little washing on a small patch of skin. Wait 24 hours to see if some sort of irritation occurs. If you don’t have any problems with it, then the soap is ready to be used!