Saturday, March 28, 2009

General Purpose Homemade Soap

This homemade soap is fast and foolproof. It's inexpensive to make, too. It uses vegetable shortening, which I just discovered, was actually developed as a substitute for lard and tallow, in soap making, during World War II.

I use as a general purpose household cleaner -- grated into homemade laundry soap, as a laundry stain pretreatment, blended with water for use as a dishwashing soap (not for the dishwasher, for hand washing!), and as an emulsifier in other formulas for washing counters, cabinets, bathrooms, and floors.

It's also fine as a hand and bath soap, although we usually use an olive oil and mint soap for this, just out of personal preference.

This is a huge recipe. It's easily enough to last a year, and give some away too.

The basic ingredients are
(2) 3 LB cans vegetable shortening
12 oz lye
24 oz water
1/2 oz lavender essential oil, optional

Just follow basic soap making methods:

1) melt fats, in non-reactive container (I use a stainless steel pot.)
2) add lye to water, in non-reactive container (I use a pyrex bowl with pour spout.)
3) when fats and water are about the same temp, combine
4) stir, stir, stir, in gentle figure 8 pattern, until soap traces, using non-reactive spoon or immersion blender
5) add scent, if using
6) pour into molds, wrap to retain heat (I use a plastic shoe box)
7) when soap has hardened (24-48 hours) cut into bars
8) cure for 2 weeks or so before using (I use a cake stand, to take up less space and allow for air flow.)

These are very broad stroke directions. If you've never made soap before, you'll want to read up first -- it's easy but lye is nothing to be haphazard with. All the usual cautions apply: Wear safety gear. I arm up like a 16th century samurai: long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes, hair back, elbow length heavy rubber gloves (make sure they're well-fitted so hands will be nimble!). I even wear a mask while I'm pouring the lye. I've never read any directions that require a mask, but I always wonder if breathing lye powder or fumes is all that good an idea. Also, keep vinegar handy, to neutralize lye just in case an accident occurs. Finally, keep children and pets well-away while making soap.

That said, I've never had a single mishap with lye or soap. Not even a minor burn or scratch. Which is not something I can say about any other cooking or household task. Maybe it's the National Emergency level of safety cautions I take for lye -- as opposed to the haphazard approach I take to most parts of life.

Speaking of haphazard, this soap is so foolproof that I sometimes measure by volume instead of by weight. Don't do that! Seriously, don't. Every book on soap making says you absolutely cannot measure by volume, or gigantic disasters will occur. And it's no big deal to just use a scale and measure by weight. I have a postal scale I use. It was inexpensive, and is a generally handy device, which has paid for its purchase many times over. So there's never, ever any reason to measure by volume.

Still, sometimes I do it, as I did this time. I don't know why. Just some kind of contrarian impulse. The worst thing that's ever happened is once my soap came out a bit soft. But still, listen to the experts and never, never measure by volume.

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