A few weekends ago I was able to spend some time with my sister and her family to make a new batch of soap. Making soap is something I got inspired about while I was learning about chemical exposure in bath/body products as well as how soap used to be and still can be made with by products from animal butchering. Its one of those products that often comes up in discussions of how to monetize homestead products but mostly soap is a product that once you’re spoiled on a nice quality product, it is hard to go back to fillers and artificial crap.
Soap traditionally was made with tallow from animals. When an animal is butchered, there are certain cuts of the fat inside the body cavity that are very delicious when rendered down to cooking and baking fats. Traditionally on butchering day there was just a big pot bubbling the whole few days the hogs were being processed that rendered the fat as they went. Rendering the fats purifies it, they keep for months in a fridge/freezer and can still last a few months sitting on the counter. This and butter are what we used to cook with before the dreadful vegetable oil products became available—think Crisco. They are high heat oils so good for frying and sautéing, the mild tasting fats like leaf fat off a hog are ideal for baking. The little bits and scraps of fat or pieces that weren’t good enough for eating were often used for soap. And if you think of butchering a steer, that’s a lot of fat, so to use the whole animal, some was used for soap. I think its another great way to not let any of the animal go to waste. Many people feel that even through the rendering and lye the soap maintains it’s higher vitamin A and E content which is also good for the skin. You will need to render it to make it into soap, this is another easy but smelly process. There are lots of sassy old ladies in youtube videos who can teach you how to do this!
Once you tell someone you’re making soap, or someone tries your soap and loves it, inevitably they are going to say, “Oh my god, you should sell this”. Which is a nice thing to say right? I just also want to warn you that this is a great suggestion to make you end up with a really big box of soap. HA! As with most entrepreneurial endeavors; it’s not quite that easy. I have found handmade soaps to mostly just make excellent gifts and improve my daily life. They make a great Christmas or thank you gift to neighbors and family. Have I had them for sale? Yes. Would I have to have a formal market stand, permits, marketing plan, and budget system in place to actually make a profit off of doing this? Also yes. So take that with a grain of salt, maybe you are already settled enough in your community that you could sell your soaps easily and joyfully. Or if you already have a stand selling something, adding this could be a wonderful addition but the solo soap operation still takes some effort.
We are exposed to chemicals everyday; I feel like 100% of the time. It’s the plastics, the artificial colors and scents, the GMO products, the emissions, the technology outputs—IT’S EVERYWHERE!! Men’s and women's body care products and makeup are also huge offenders. And these are the things that we put on our most delicate skin. Some things like eye makeup, soaps, sexual lubricants, douches, and lipsticks actually touch mucous membranes that are designed for permeability. This means they are sucking up the chemicals immediately. A bar of soap with no added garbage may seem like small peanuts compared to these other things, but it’s cheap and is something you’re exposed to daily so it’s worth the effort.
Many of these chemicals are already banned in most countries but the US will not tighten up their regulations. The FDA… The FDA… The FDA was designed for consumer protection, they may do some of that…they do a lot of not that. Not my favorite organization. I will include at the end of this the list of ingredients often found in personal care products that you really should start reading labels for. They have been shown to have carcinogenic or risky reactions in enough people that this list has been made, seems like enough proof for me.
The soaping process it’s self is some simple chemistry. It takes some time, a good thermometer, a food scale, and moderate safety precautions but is a very simple and fun process that you can do. There are several books I like about soaping (big surprise huh?) and most of the recipes I have used come from these books. I have never had one come out really bad. Sometimes they don’t seem to smell strong enough or the color is off but I’ve never made one that I had to throw away or anything like that. Keep it simple at first and find a class if you’re nervous about the proper safety techniques you’ll need when working with lye.
This time we tried an all tallow bar and one with mixed olive oil, lard, and coconut oil. We made a bar with oatmeal and honey for baths and the kids to use. The other was rosemary lemon and should be kind of scrubby and feel good on our muscles. I will likely still try a hot process soap to make a cleaning bar for around the house. There are recipes out there for all kinds of soaps. You can make kitchen cleaning soaps, laundry soaps, shampoo bars, skin bars, anything you could want. So if you have animals that you butcher regularly, maybe you can use the lard to make your dishwasher or laundry soap too, wouldn’t that be cool?
Sometimes with natural products I find that maybe I could wash the clothes with it every other time as it may or may not be as strong as I’m used to with commercial bought products. But that can still save me money and decrease my input to the waste cycle at least a little bit more. If you’ve ever had to wash your own clothes by hand with Dr. Bronners for an extended period of time you know that the washing machine is really what is doing the most work to clean our clothes, a more mild soap often doesn’t change that they still smell better when you’re done.
This was one homestead chore though that was not fun for the kids. Fred and Fran wanted to help a lot and were confused why they couldn’t come outside to mix the lye water. I did let them pour some finished soap into molds and they could have helped measure out the additives a little more probably, but bottom line, LYE IS DANGEROUS. It’s fine for adults doing their best but a kiddo could get hurt. Just remember that as you plan your own soap adventure. If you don’t have a personal source of tallow, go to your local farmers market! Leaf fat from a hog is the nicest fat for cooking so it will cost a lot as fat goes. Try to find a beef farmer who could save you tallow the next time they take cows to be butchered. There is also a lot of other fat on a hog that you might be able to negotiate a better price for.
Stories, projects, and ideas from office to farm. Be well! Dr. J