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Join Nicole and Angela of Axe and Root as they chat about how to make soap at home and why working with lye may not be as scary as you think!
What You’ll Learn
- Supplies needed for soapmaking
- The different techniques used for soap making
- Lye and soapmaking safety
- How to Make Soap class with follow-along videos
Axe & Root Homestead is a six-acre homestead based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. What started as a family initiative to grow their own produce has turned into a small farm with ducks and geese for eggs, two honeybee hives, draft horses, vegetable plots, and an orchard.
Angela and her family started growing their own food on a .67-acre plot and later moved to a six-acre historic farm built-in 1775. They are as self-sustaining as possible and craft many homegrown or home-created items, such as soap! It is their goal to pass these skills and values onto their children as they strive for a simpler lifestyle.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Axe and Root Homestead Website
- Axe and Root Homestead Instagram Page
- Axe and Root Homestead YouTube Channel
- How To Make Soap class
- Soap Making Mould*
- Complete Soap Making Kit*
*Denotes affiliate links
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast where we aim to inspire, educate, and share practical information to help your homestead thrive. I'm your host Nicole and today I'm joined by Angela of Axe and Root Homestead and today we are going to talk about making soap. So Angela, thank you so much for joining me today.
I'm honored to be here. Thank you for having me.
Yeah, I'm really excited to talk to you. Not only do you have a beautiful Instagram, but I know nothing about making soap and it's something I've always wanted to learn about. Being a beekeeper and having bees wax. It seems like something that I need to incorporate into my life sometimes. So I'm excited to learn for myself, let alone share with everybody else. So, it's exciting!
Good, good. It's good to be excited to learn something new.
Oh, it's the best thing in the world. I'm always learning.
Yeah. And there's no doubt about that when you're a homesteader, right?
Oh goodness, there's certainly no shortage of things to learn either.
Yeah, we're just sponges, we have to soak it all up, we don't have a choice.
Exactly. So for those that maybe haven't seen your Instagram and don't know what you're up to, can you share a little bit about your background?
Sure. Well, sort of to paraphrase, I never had it as a goal or anywhere in my orbit at all that I was going to be a homesteader. My husband and I were York City bound, I became pregnant. And then funny how things sort of change when it comes to plans and we ended up settling in a suburb in New Jersey. And I went through postpartum depression and it kind of made me question my identity as, you know, I was this career driven woman who had worked on building her own graphic and website design business for 10 years and It had been really great. And I thought that I was completely married to that. But then all of a sudden I was a mom and I wanted to be outdoors and spend time with my child rather than being on client calls and answering deadlines. So it became this sort of identity shift with the postpartum depression. And I had to ask myself some pretty tough questions. And I decided that I didn't want to do design anymore. So my husband and I decided that if I could find a way to replace our second largest expense, which was food from the grocery store, with homegrown goods, then it might work for me to homestead so I learned as much as I could very quickly, pored over books, watched YouTube videos, took some classes, joined Instagram, so I could learn from farmers that way. And it just sort of snowballed from growing our own food to having ducks, and then we had some goats, but then the city didn't like us. And so we got rid of the goats and we moved and we bought the farm we're at now what is six acres, and it's just taken on a life of its own. We have the Clydesdales, for not only pets and providing, but also for plowing and helping to till and do some of the vegetable work. We grow our own food. We have an orchard, we keep bees. I make sourdough, I make my own soap. I write articles for a couple of country magazines. And then in addition, my husband just planted a hobby orchard. And then there's the beekeeping and the sheep. So we have no shortage of things to do around here. And we have two kids that we balance that all with. So every day is an adventure. But I'm very happy now. And this is definitely the path I think I was meant to be on.
Well, that's wonderful to hear that, you know, you're in a better place. It's amazing to me how many people that I talk to that are accidental homesteaders, who are you know, suits and ties and had corporate jobs and then just gave it up for whatever reason in their own life to end up in this place, and everybody definitely seems happier.
I think so. I think there's something to be said for being able to be outside To feel the shift in the seasons, feel the sun on your face... to even know if it was sunny that day or what the temperature was, as opposed to sitting behind a computer. And I know that's a luxury not a lot of people can afford to have is to be able to, you know, close their design business, for example that they built and have the the spouse sort of be the breadwinner when it comes to finances and then be able to homestead full time. But it's such a blessing to be able to go from an office to being outside all day. It's an incredible change, and it definitely makes me happier.
Well, that's wonderful. And I think that it's interesting, your approach that's thinking about it, one that I hadn't heard before, is for you guys, it actually in a way saves you money because you do grow your own food. So I think that that if you can find a way to make your homestead pay for itself or at least you know, save some money then that's that's even better.
Absolutely. You know, if you think about how much it costs to buy a packet of seeds, $3.50 to $8 depending on the nursery and whether or not it's a unique or heirloom variety. That's pretty cheap, for however many seeds are in that packet. I mean, you can get sometimes 150 to 500 seeds per packet and that cost you that little. And you can have that many broccoli plants or that many tomato plants. Now granted, you have raised beds and soil and you know, fertilizer. But when you actually start to break down the cost of all of that, and if you can, if you can harvest that crop and preserve it, can it, freeze it dehydrate it, you can actually stretch that harvest and make it last a really long time and it comes out to be quite inexpensive.
Mm hmm. So piggybacking on that self sufficiency, I mean, you mentioned that you have your livestock and your bees and everything but in today we were going to talk about soapmaking. Is that something that you got into as a hobby or because you guys needed soap any that you'd make some, or how did that come together?
So the soapmaking thing was sort of an extension of homesteading. It just sort of was like "Hey, I'm making everything else myself I might as well try soap".
But actually sort of to go along with that, to run parallel with that is the fact that soap that you buy at the store, only 5% of that or some statistic that I read and I apologize I can't quote where I read that from at the moment. But only about 5% of that is actually true soap. So true soap comes from the marriage of saponified oils and that means that you have your lye and your water solution that you mix with oils, and that creates soap, those pieces together. 95% of what's on the market is detergents and a lot of people have issues with their skin when it comes to over drying or rashy or eczema flare ups, and oils and people hear the word "lye" and they think "Oh my gosh, that's so scary!", but no, oils in lye, it neutralizes the lye in the sense that it becomes a cleanser that is safe for the skin. And those oils moisturize the skin and then you have all the fun additives you can start playing with, and you get a product that is actually a lot better for your skin. It's not over drying, it's not harsh. And people say their skin looks better. I mean, we've definitely notice a difference. And so to answer your original question, part of the reason I got into it was because I was just sort of tired of buying chemicals. We strive and everything we do to have a green home. And making soap was just an extension of that.
Yeah, I know, a lot of homesteaders do it. I'm slacking on my part.
You're gonna go there,
But you're going to help me learn today. That's the first hurdle is I don't know how to do it.
Okay. Well, you know, like I said, some people are really scared of it, and they hear the word "lye" and they start shaking in their boots, but there's a couple of different methods, a couple of different ways to go. So I can run through those really quickly if you want me to.
Yeah, that'd be wonderful.
Okay, so brief overview. The main methods of making soap are cold process, hot process, melt and pour, and then as an extension of the cold process is room temperature or extra cold process soap making. So you sort of have those three main areas for if you include room temperature. Melt and Pour is probably a great place to start for people who don't want any interaction with lye, they don't want it in their home, they're afraid to work with it, and they're just not mentally in a place where they're prepared to handle that and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. Melt and pour simply means that somebody, a manufacturer, already went through the process of turning that lye and water and mixing that with typically, glycerin. And all you do is go to Michael's or another craft store, you buy the chunks of the soap, if you will, that you're going to melt. You can throw it in a Crock Pot or a special soap container, follow the directions to melt it. And all you do is add color and essential oils or fragrance. So you're creating sort of a gateway into soap making by taking the heavy lifting of using the lye out of it. And you have a product you can melt and then you can customize it. So that's a great first step. For me, I'm sort of a "Go big or go home" kind of girl. My first attempt with soap was with hot process. Now, hot process and cold process soap making are very similar. I mentioned that you mix lye, which is sodium hydroxide with water. And you can actually use lye I use lye just straight from the hardware store. As long as it's 100% sodium hydroxide crystals, you can follow your soap recipe, mix that with water and you create a lye solution. When you do this, a chemical reaction occurs in both hot and cold process soap where it heats up and while that is cooling to the desired temperature, in cold process, we do 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, in hot process it's more. We wait for the temperature to be reached, while that's cooling we go over and we start blending oils. Most commonly when you're working with soap making you'll find recipes that use olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil or avocado or palm oil, and what you'll need to do is heat those up in order to match the temperature range you're looking for on the lye solution whether you're doing cold or hot process. So let's take cold process, if you're looking for your lye solution to be between 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, we would need to heat up our oil solution to be that desired temperature and when they are within 10 degrees of each other, we mix them together right away. When you mix your lye solution, the water and the lye with your oil blends depending on your recipe, it clouds up, it's still liquid, but that oil is no longer clear. It becomes very cloudy, and then you can use a stick blender which makes the process so much faster, to blend your lye solution your oils together. It really only takes one or two minutes, typically speaking, for that to become what's called a trace. A trace is when it's thick that if you were to draw a line across the top of it with your blender, it would be like cake batter. You can make a little dollop at a light line or a light trace is when you will add any additives you're using in your recipe, clays for exfoliation or moisture retention. Those fragrances are essential oils, even florals, you'll want to then blend that together, and then you'll just pour it into your soap molds. So I tell people, if you are competent enough to follow a recipe to make dinner, you can make soap. It really is no different. It's just getting over the fear of working with lye.
Yeah, that sounds like there's certainly some science to it and some steps to follow but it doesn't sound terribly difficult. Just some steps.
Yeah, it is just some steps. You're absolutely right. And it is scientific and that you do need to follow a recipe. Creating your own recipe comes with experience, you would want to find a base recipe and learn to customize later. In the beginning, it's so important to follow it because lye solution is calculated based on the oils you're using. So if you say, "Oh no, I'm out of olive oil, I'm just going to substitute coconut", your soap recipe is not going to work. Every single value is calculated in ounces or grams. And it is all in proportion so that you end up with the soap bar that hardens after it's mixed together. And after it solidifies, substituting, or even just adding something willy nilly, could be very, very bad. You could end up with not only liquid soap or something that smells rancid, you could end up with a mini explosion, like I did one time when I wanted to make apple cider soap, which I thought sounded great for the fall season. And I went ahead and added a little apple cider. And no, that was not smart. My lye solution started to foam over and basically we had a volcano science experiment in my kitchen.
I mean, there was no damage. But you know, you do have to be worried with breathing in some of the fumes on some of those things.
So one of the questions that I wanted to ask you was what supplies we needed for this, but maybe I should ask you first what is some safe handling techniques for for the lye and the fumes and anything else?
We can make soap and it's very easy, but yes we want to be prepared. You're going to hear horror stories about getting lye crystals on your skin, your flesh will be eaten. And there are definitely YouTube videos where they pour it directly on like a raw breast of chicken and the corrodes in front of you. Yes, if you get lye crystals on your bare hand, it burns, however, you go to the sink and you wash it off and that's the end of it. And I don't have a hole in my skin when this accidentally happens. But you're absolutely going to be fine. What you need to do is just act responsibly. So for the first couple of years or forever, how long you're comfortable, making soap wear gloves, latex rubber gloves or dish cleaning gloves are absolutely a good choice and they will keep your skin safe. As will, you know, just a long sleeve shirt to cover your arms. Eyewear is definitely in good idea. When you are blending your soap, especially with the wand mixer at the end of the process, that does create opportunity for some splatter. So having some sort of protective eyewear is good. The other thing to keep in mind is you want to work in a well ventilated space because when you do mix those lye crystals, that sodium hydroxide with water in the very beginning, that chemical reaction that starts to take place releases fumes. Those vapors are really really hard on the body to breathe in, and it only lasts for a few seconds. But what I do is I just open a window and I set my Pyrex dish of however much water I poured and set that on the windowsill and then I dump my lye into it. And you'll see this in your recipe and you'll learn this in any beginner soap making content that you read. You always want to add lye to water. Never dump water into lye. It always has to be the other way around. But if you can follow those simple basic safety rules: gloves, long sleeve shirt, eyewear, in a well ventilated area. Really, you're gonna be fine.
And as far as your miniature explosion, if lye, you said sodium hydroxide, correct?
Is that then a base so is it... was it like that acid-base reaction like the vinegar and baking soda is that kind of what happens?
I don't know what happened.
All I know is that I had my lye solution, my water in my lye, and I had already mixed it with my oils and at the end is when you add you know, your fragrances like I mentioned or your clay. I added a little apple cider vinegar, or excuse me a little apple cider because I thought okay, this is gonna be great. It's good. You know, it's good. And now I can really call it apple cider soap. It didn't like that. So I don't know what it was about the apple cider that didn't work out, but it just wasn't good.
And that was a mistake on my part. I thought you said apple cider vinegar. So I was wondering if it was a vinegar thing that we shouldn't put in ourselves but...
If the recipe calls for it, most of the time you should be fine.
So what are some of the things that we need to get started? Is soap making something that can be done on a budget or is there anything special or expensive that is needed to get started?
Absolutely, it can be made on our budget and it saves a lot of money in the end, you know, after you're making your own homemade soap products. You know, I have come to calculate it cost me about 84 cents per bar that I make. Now that is for a recipe that doesn't have anything extravagant in it, that would just be a base simple recipe. So that being said, the materials are fairly inexpensive, what you'll need for actual supplies, in addition to safety equipment, would be some Pyrex measuring cups and a digital scale. A digital scale that can be dedicated to soap making is great, but if you have one that you already have in your kitchen to use, that's fine too. That's what I have. Just make sure to wipe it down after every soap making a session. But your soap making containers, I use Pyrex, there are dedicated soap containers out there that you can buy, they really need to be used only for soap making. And the reason for that is there could be cracks or crevices that we can't see with the eye. And if lye creeps in there, you just really don't want that in your food, even though it is soap. Eventually, if there is anything that was caught like a lye crystal, it's just better to not have that interact with any recipe you're making to consume.
That makes sense.
So yeah, I use Pyrex or you know, you can use another soap making container, it needs to be something that's heat safe, a digital scale. A thermometer is essential, you're going to need to know your temperatures. I use just a digital read thermometer I got off of Amazon. I've even used a meat thermometer before I got my digital thermometer. So just something that's going to go up to about 160 degrees ideally to 175, if you're doing the hot process soap. Let's see what else you'll need some spoons and or whisks, metal or something heat tolerant is good and then you'll need something that you can safely heat your oil up in. So I actually have a mixing bowl that's heat safe, and I set that directly on my stovetop and that's how I heat my oil. And then finally, you'll need molds, you'll need to pour that soap batter that you make into something, a loaf mold is the most common. That essentially looks like a loaf pan for bread. It's just a long rectangular box with a silicone liner most often that you would pour your soap into and allow it to harden in there before cutting. So really just looking at some measuring devices, a thermometer and some mixing containers and definitely going to want to get a scale to make sure that you get recipe accuracy.
And then you mentioned in the beginning that the lye can just be purchased at your local hardware store?
That is where I get my lye. Yep, so as long as it's 100% sodium hydroxide, that's what you'll want to purchase in crystal form. You can get it online, any craft store or Amazon or soapmaking supplier will have that. But you can definitely just go pick it up at the hardware store if that's most convenient.
And for each batch that you make, about how long does it take from start to finish?
It's actually very, very easy and it doesn't take much time at all, which is important when you have kids and animals that need to be attended to because it is a process that is scientific and does require attention. So this is not something that you should multitask and do other things at the same time. So when I start a batch of soap, what I do is I first mix my lye solution, then as that's cooling, you know, I sort of do my oil so I can get that done. And for my lye solution to come to the desired temperature where I can start working with it with my oils, that usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes. From there. It's just all hands on time. It's about five minutes of just mixing, adding in the additives and pouring in the mold. After it's poured into the mold. I just set it aside, cover it with a flour sack towel or a dish cloth and I keeps the heat in there to go through what's called a gel phase. That cloth needs to stay on there for at least, you know, several hours. I leave my towel on there until the bar is actually hardened all the way, which depending on the recipe can be about 24 to 48 hours. Some of my recipes are hard in only 12 hours. So that's something you kind of have to go over to the mold and actually feel. But the hands on time is pretty quick. It's sort of the waiting time. The duration of time before you can actually use your soap though, is not good for impatient people like myself, because after you make a bar soap and you cut it you want to wait four to six weeks for it to complete the full saponification process.
Yeah, so I mean I'm going to be honest, I've definitely used a bar of soap before the four week mark because I want to and I I still have all my skin nothing's burned off and everything's fine. But ideally you would wait four to six weeks to actually use the bar.
I had no idea that had to sit, I thought once to cut it out of the mold it was just ready to use.
Well I should clarify it with you. If you were to do the hot process, it is ready for use immediately.
I use cold process soap making. So I misspoke, cold process soap making: four to six weeks, hot process where you heat up your solutions to a higher temperature before mixing: you can use that right away.
Well, that's definitely something to consider then I guess when you're considering which way to go, because I would not be wait four to six weeks for my creation.
It's delayed gratification, that's for sure.
And then you have to plan ahead for the holidays, and that just seems like a lot of work.
Right or if you do seasonal scents or anything like that, yeah, you're always ahead of the game.
I don't know if this is something that you might know offhand. And if not, maybe some suggestions. Do you have a favorite recipe or maybe a favorite combination that you like to use?
I do. So my favorite recipe, my sort of base recipe I call it is just a mix of water and the lye, the oil is just coconut and olive oil. And then I'll just add in a fragrance. So it's incredibly simple, very easy to make, and I can customize it to be fit for any season, any weather, you know, as far as the scent is concerned, but yeah, that's all it is. I don't recall the exact measurements in grams or ounces off the top of my head.
But yeah, you can go, Pinterest is a great resource. There's a lot of books out there for beginner soap making. I also have an online beginner soap making class where the recipe is provided. That's the one and I've done a lavender soap on there. But yeah, if you can get that recipe down and make your first bar, it's sort of liberating because then you think, "Hey, all I got to do is change the fragrance and I went from a lavender soap now I'm going to make like a lemon mint". That's kind of fun. And then you can start feeling like you're customizing it when really all you're doing is changing the fragrance. And then that sort of opens the door for saying, "Oh hey, now what does it do if I want to change the color? What are some colors that I can use or what are some different additives like shea butter or clay?". So yeah, having a good base recipe opens the door after you get comfortable to customizing based on what you're looking for.
I feel it's similar like with cookies once I figured out how to make a basic chocolate chip cookie, you can put butterscotch or you know, walnuts mix it up, do whatever you want.
It's exactly the same thing. Yeah, it's just like that.
So can you tell us more about your soap making class? What all is covered in it and about how much it costs?
Sure. So the soap making class I think it's $40 or $50. I think it's $40. It's just a couple of hours. It has some digital downloads as a PDF so people can walk away with shopping lists for protective gear, supplies, ingredients, recipes. It sort of discusses and teaches from start to finish through a demonstration soap making and in that particular demonstration is cold process. We talk about what happens if you were to mix at this temperature, sort of adding the fragrance when you do that, what does it look like, cutting the bars so it really is sort of a step by step demonstration in my own kitchen, you sort of with me making that bar soap and then I give you what you need to download and print and take with you to go shopping for those materials and make your soap bar at home.
That sounds very helpful and like it would help somebody like me be more successful.
Well, it's definitely something that I was looking for when I was making soap. I learned from YouTube videos, and YouTube is great, but sort of the problem is you don't know what's credible and what isn't. So I wanted to make something that I knew worked, that I would feel confident passing on to other people.
I think that's great. It's definitely a needed item, especially with seems like nowadays people are becoming more interested in self sufficiency. And so I'm sure that if they haven't started making soap yet, that is something that they will do in the future.
I think it's definitely the most popular class we have online currently, is the soap making because I think there's a lot of resources out there, but people don't really know how to find them or are confident when it comes to finding them.
Yeah, I know, I've definitely experienced that in other things, you look for one answer. And then that leads you to another question. And it's just frustrating. It's nice to have something in one spot where you can just get all the questions and all the answers to all of your questions and all the resources and they don't disagree with each other, you know, different resources and stuff. So and like you said, especially when it's something more scientific like this, you would want to have good, reputable information.
Sure, I think that's so important. And the other thing is to that with the content that is in the class, not just the printables, but the actual video, if somebody purchases the class, that's theirs forever. So when they're ready to sit down and make soap, they can get logged back into their account, and they can actually make the soap bar with me right there teaching the class so they can watch it anytime day or night indefinitely. There's no maximum amount of times that the content can be viewed, so therefore, they can feel like they're actually participating in the demonstration.
That's perfect. I like the idea of being able to work along with the video, especially while you're learning.
Yeah, I think it's good. I'm a hands on learner. You know, it's one thing to sit in front of a screen. But it's definitely helpful when you can have somebody sort of watching over you or with you when you're doing it yourself. I think it's great that you asked about safety. I'm glad you did. I think that's something that's definitely just as important as the actual making of the soap.
I'm a retired firefighter. So safety is like...
Oh, stop! Really?
Oh, awesome. Yeah, so we definitely don't want any explosions.
No, they should be avoided at all costs.
Well, Angela, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to give us kind of an introduction into soap making. I know, like I mentioned, it's something that I've been really wanting to do. Hopefully this winter, I'll have some time to make it come to fruition and I'll definitely be signing up for your class. But where can we find your class online and get more information about soapmaking in your Instagram?
Sure, so if you're interested in finding out more about the classes you can go to our website which is "AxeandRootHomestead.com". So A X E, A N D, R O O T, homestead.com. And then you'll just click on the classes link at the top menu. And it'll take you over to Think Epic, which is the platform where we do all of our online classes and demonstrations. So the soap making class is there. And like I said before, it is the users indefinitely, so you have the ownership of all of the content to use thereafter. On Instagram, we're located at same thing, Instagram and then username: Axe and Root Homestead. And there you will find not only images and content related to soapmaking, but all of the other facets of the farm.
Okay, well, I will put links to all of those in the show notes so that people can check them out. And Angela, thank you so much for joining me today.
Nicole, I really appreciate you having me. I'm honored to be a guest on your podcast. Thank you.
Thank you! And for those of you listening, thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. If you have a question for the show, call our listener message line at 719-647-7754, and leave your question or comment. And don't worry, we'll put the phone number in the show notes. And we'll see you again next week.
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