My experience as a soap maker – oh, my!


I nearly blew up my kitchen when I first tried to make soap from scratch.  Not an auspicious beginning as a soap maker!

I was determined then, however, not to be outwitted by SOAP.  “Making soap can’t be that hard,” I reasoned.

My foray into soap making unfolded as a city person’s “next step” in learning “country skills.”  How would we city dwellers get by if retail stores suddenly vanished – how would we get the basic items we need at home?   I knew nothing about soap making, so I went to the library and checked out books on the subject.  What I wasn’t told in the first book I consulted is that lye – which can burn skin and cause varied manner of hot bubbling (until the soap being made “sets” or “cures”) – can overheat, etc. when a certain wrong thing is done.  When I did my post-mess research after my first soapmaking attempt, I found out what caused my lye-induced near explosion and burned hand.   One is not suppose to stir lye into water using metal stirring tools or a metal container.  The chemistry “doth boil over” when lye comes into contact with metal.  I went back through the book I’d borrowed from the library and confirmed – no where did that book say not to use metal when cooking with lye.  So, I went back to my local library and informed them of my experience and of the book’s glaring omission.  I suggested that they remove the book from their shelves, insert a disclaimer, and/or contact the publisher about issuing an update of the book.

While I’m not sure what happened with the library’s copy of the first soap-making book that I consulted, I held firm in my resolve to learn how to make soap (my first attempt didn’t result in a viable batch of soap).  I consulted several books over the next few weeks and experimented with variations of soap recipes therein.  I ended up with the soap recipe that I now use, though I’ve tweeked the recipe over time.  Recently, I learned that the basics of my olive oil soap recipe actually dates back several millenia as described here by Wikipedia.  I don’t feel “old and dated” about having unwittingly learned a tried and true soap recipe; rather, I feel positively connected to soap making history!

Now that I have a soap recipe that is viable and reliable, I am experimenting with new molds and coloring options.  I am having fun with it.

In future blog posts, I’ll share my experience on additional “city dweller learning and sharing country skills” topics such as working with fabric and sending a homemade comforter to the woman in Ireland who now owns the home my family owned until a century ago. If you enjoy my soap making tale, please check back for future posts about learning “country skills” in the city.

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