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Lessons Learned from a Novice Soapmaker


I have always had a dream of making soap. It seemed so domestic, so natural and organic, so like something a good wife, mom, housekeeper would do. It also seemed like something my Grandmother would have done ... and she did.

I envisioned myself happily mixing herbal concoctions of wonderful smelling soap that would make my family's skin glow with health and vitality. I tend to dream big, can you tell?

After finding a free Kindle book on soap making at Amazon, "Basic Soap Making," I decided to wait no longer. I'd skimmed the book, from the back to the front, of course, and decided it was easy enough. My husband, an admitted non-craftsman, was going to make my wood mold, unbeknownst to him, of course, and I was off and running.

Friday night came and I once again opened the eBook to review the materials I needed to purchase Saturday morning. I decided to work from the front to the back of the book this time. Fortunately. Because as intended by the author, she spent time giving her ambitious readers necessary warnings before embarking on this new venture.

Hmm. I came across a particularly graphic photograph of safety gear needed for soap making. I quickly skipped past that page. And then another. And then a few works like, "Required Safety Precautions," caught my reluctant attention and I read about the necessary protective gear like; three-way goggles, gloves that came to your elbows, long sleeve shirts, long pants, and closed-toe shoes. Um, I'm not sure this is what I had in mind, I think I said aloud.

And then came the pages about lye. At this point, I was paying a little better attention to the actual words of the text.  Warnings, photos, images that didn't fit the ones in my head.

So then I find that lye is a necessary but chemical, corrosive element to soap. I'd heard about lye, I just didn't know what it was. For instance, I didn't know it was a drain cleaner/opener. I didn't know that if it came into contact with certain metals, like aluminum, that it could ignite, it could cause blindness or carbon monoxide poisoning if everything wasn't handled correctly. I gazed at the image of a woman decked out in what she said was the necessary protective gear. She looked like a hazmat team member, or a scientist, neither of which I am or have the talent to be. And my exuberance over making soap dimmed somewhat. Well, to be honest, a lot!

Did you know?  Lye is a caustic, alkaline hazardous chemical made from sodium hydroxide. It comes in flake, granular, or liquid form. It is used in most common household cleaning products; laundry, etc. But did you know that it is also used to cure food like pretzels, olives and mandarin oranges?
Lye wasn't always a man-made chemical substance. For centuries, people made lye by burning specific hardwoods; like sugar maple, hickory, and beech trees, and dissolving its grey or white ashes in water. This would create a substance that would harden soaps. To read more about creating your own lye, visit this e-how link or this WikiHow article.

What to do, what to do. I really wanted to make soap.

Solution? So easy. I petitioned my friends on Facebook. And I must say, they gave me some of the best advice I could find anywhere on the internet. Namely, why are you trying to make soap from scratch? Why not just go to a craft store, Michael's, and buy the raw soap, one of them asked. Frankly, I didn't know I could!

Thanks to my friends tips and advice, I went along to Michael's and found more than I was looking for.

Since that time, a few weeks ago, I've made 34 bars of soap. And while I don't know a lot, I know it is wonderfully fun and fantastically easy. And I plan to keep making bars of soap.

To read more about the recipes I used ... visit

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