The secrets of soap

I had wanted to make soap for a long time, but was stopped by the mysterious ingredient called “lye”. I had no idea what it was or where to obtain it… until by pure chance, I discovered that lye is actually the caustic soda we always keep on hand to take care of severely clogged pipes.

We also had a bottle of olive+unspecified vegetable oil we once bought to light Hanukkah candles and discarded because it smoked. So it just sat for years on our pantry shelf, not fit for human consumption, lighting, or much of anything really. It was the perfect candidate for my soap-making attempt.

I started reading about soap-making and realized it’s a whole science/art, with all sorts of oil combinations with different properties, essential oils, etc. I decided to just do something basic for starters. I followed a very simple recipe, omitting the essential oil and using, instead of the different oils, the one I had on hand.

I’m far from figuring out all the intricacies of soap-making just yet. I didn’t use a scale. My measurements might not have been 100% accurate. My batch of soap never showed a proper “trace” and took forever to set. There was probably too much liquid. Nevertheless, the oil did turn into soap and I was thrilled, because I made something useful out of something useless.


Above: soap cut into bars and set out to cure

These soap bars might not look very shapely, but I’m making good use of them for laundry. I cut off a piece of appropriate size and simply place it in a little mesh bag, which I then toss in with the load of clothes. It really works! It doesn’t have the potency of a commercial laundry detergent, but it’s fine for clothes that are slightly sweaty/dirty.

I intend to go on and learn more about making soap, and will keep you posted as I progress.


Author: Anna

An Orthodox Jewish wife and mother enjoying a simple life with her family and chickens, somewhere in the hills, in Israel.

21 thoughts on “The secrets of soap”

  1. What a grand “adventure”. I’ve also wanted to try making soap, but sometimes things are just too much for two people. We can often find homemade soaps at farmer’s markets around here, and they are usually pretty soft, not like the bars of Ivory or other commercial soaps.
    I never thought of using the little pieces for laundry. My mum used to take a washcloth, fold the four corners into the center and stick “loose ends” into that to use for bathing, but it didn’t take long for the bag to get “grodey”, as the kids say, and I never liked to use it. I think you’ve solved the problem!


  2. Hi Anna,
    Thanks so much for sharing my recipe!
    If your bars took a long time to set, you probably had a bit too much oil, resulting in a high amount of what’s called superfatting.
    Superfatting is done to make soaps more moisturizing, especially for face and body soaps. They aren’t usually as “cleaning” as soaps that haven’t been superfatted much (or at all).
    I make a homemade laundry detergent using homemade soap. You can find the recipe on my blog is you’re interested. Coconut oil soaps are very cleansing for those types of uses, especially when not superfatted much.
    The problem with not measuring out the ingredients properly is that you could end up with excess lye that isn’t used up, which can be very rough on your skin. In your case, it appears to me that you erred on the safer side- more oil, meaning that all of the lye was mostly likely used up and you had leftover oil which took a long time to set. Your soap probably won’t get as hard as one with less oil either, but I’m guessing you’ve ended up with a very moisturizing soap. Try using it for your hands to see. (It may almost even feel oily afterwards, rather than squeaky clean, but that’s just the moisturizing effect in action.)
    I’ve been getting back into making soap again lately, and have lots of new recipes planned for my blog soon. I’m looking forward to seeing if you keep up with it and make new soaps too. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tracy, thank you for your helpful comment. I will certainly continue making soap – I have some non-food-grade coconut oil and more of the olive/vegetable mix oil. I’m sure any fluke was due to my own inexperience, and not your recipe. I’ll be sure to check out more recipes from your blog. Soap-making is so interesting I actually counted it as a homeschool science project!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not knowing the exact oils you are using will also change the recipe. You can interchange liquids pretty much without any issues, but the changes in the oils you use can totally change the outcome, even if the overall fat amount is the same. So, if you really want to see how the recipe should turn out, the mystery olive oil/vegetable oil combination probably isn’t the best choice. 😉
        If you think it’s mostly olive oil, or have a guess as to what the combination may be, you could run your idea through a lye calculator (can be found online) to see the best ranges to use for a soap using your particular combination.
        Good luck, and have fun! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Tracy, thank you for the tip. I had no idea there’s a thing such as a lye calculator. You are right, it *would* have been better to know the exact composition of the oil, but as I have nothing to do with it otherwise than make soap, and as the soap that I made is fine for personal and household use (I tried one of the bars and it was great – enough lather and didn’t dry my skin at all, even though it has not completed the advised curing time), I’ll use up what I have left.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never tried this but it sounds interesting! I look forward to reading more about your experiments! 🙂 And seeing the pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What lovely soap! I made soap from lye and oils a few years ago and you remind me that I should give it another go. I also have oil sitting around the house that I’m not using due to a recent dietary change. It would make perfect soap!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dianna, do give it a go. You have nothing to lose! It’s really satisfying to make something useful out of something that just sits around and takes up shelf space.


  5. Anna,
    I’ve been making soap for quite time and have used several batches before the supposed good by date. A simple test to find out if it’s ready is to touch the tip of your tongue to the bar. If it has a “stinging” metallic taste let it rest a few more days.
    Happy soaping!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Tracy:

    So how do I navigate to get to “your blog”?I am new to all this “blog” stuff and understanding the difference in URL’s for websites and then just typing in a persons email address to reach them without having to first type the 3 “w’s” or the “http://” part? So if I need to type something like www. first or something, please include that info for me. (PC Dummy here…LOL).


    1. Hello,
      Anna linked to my blog in the post above. She linked to the post about making a beginner soap which you can find here:
      Normally, you can tell the links because they are in a different color. All you have to do is click on those words to be taken to the link. That’s a great way for you to find other interesting posts on Anna’s blog too (or any other blog you’re reading). Normally bloggers will link out to other similar posts of theirs that you may find interesting.
      Also, when another blogger comments on a blog post, normally you can click on their name in the comments if you want to be taken to their blog to check it out.
      As for the www and http:// thing, well, normally you can end up finding a page using either/or or neither. (That may depend on the browser, and if you need the www or not depends on how the person set up their name. In the case of my blog, and for most, you can get to it either way. So, when I’m typing in, my browser takes me to my blog. Some browsers may take you to a search instead, I’m not sure, but in those cases the blog you are looking for should come up first in the search.)
      I hope that makes sense. 🙂


  7. Hi Anna:

    You mentioned about not being aware of how to get “lye”. Actually, you can make it yourself. All it takes is burning a wood fire and then taking the ashes from there once the fire goes out completely and adding it to some water. However, remember that lye is indeed “caustic”, so be sure to use a container that can hold the lye without it “burning” through the container! Glass is always a good choice. With the exception that when you get to the step where you need to cool it down, be sure to let it cool down a lot on it’s own, with time, rather than trying to speed up the process by placing it in an ice bath! As soon as the glass with the hot liquid touches the cold ice water bath, that glass is going to break immediately! I learned this through a friends lack of patience one day…LOL She wasn’t hurt but ugghhh what a mess!

    Yes, I too am looking forward to reading more as you all experiment in your soap making endeavors!

    Oh and BTW Anna……I found your blog now about soap making that I asked you for earlier…lol If you have any others though I would like to read them! I wish I could use the coconut oil, but I am allergic to anything made from coconuts! It causes me to itch like crazy!

    Have fun making soaps! Keep us posted!


    1. Thanks for your insight, Tirtzah. Yes, I do know that it is possible to make lye yourself, but store-bought is easier and more reliable. And subjecting glass to rapid temp changes is sure a risky thing!


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