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Waxing about homemade soap

December 8, 2008

This is my favorite homemade soap.

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Castile soap with beeswax.

Making soap at home can make save you money, and lets you be in control of the ingredients.  Much like cooking from scratch.  I started out making cold process laundry soap with tallow from our beef, and lard from our pigs.  I still make that homesteaders laundry soap, but this Castile soap is what I make for gifts.  Some people get tensed out knowing that soap is made from animal fats.  I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t kill a beef so I can make soap – it is hard to explain that really I’m trying to honor that animal, and use every part of it I can in a meaningful way.  But that argument is for the “soap” box, so I’ll get down and give you a recipe that isn’t really too green, but makes a great soap, nonetheless.  (By green I mean that last time I checked, coconut, palm and olive trees don’t really grow well in my locale, but cows and pigs do, so actually my old tallow and lard soap is actually “greener”) 🙂 

I use this recipe as a base soap for re-milling into other soaps, such as saddle soap and shaving soap, or it can be remelted and put into fancy molds.  Usually though, we just use the rustic bar form.  It also makes  a great shampoo bar.  Just remember real soap is alkaline, so you need an acidic rinse for your hair (apple cider vinegar) to restore the balance.  Most commercial shampoos are actually detergents so you need conditioners with those, but not with homemade lye soap which is actually mild after curing, and still contains glycerine.

Ingredients:  Olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, beeswax, lye, water.

Traditionally Castile soap is made out of pure olive oil, but it is hard to get the oil to totally incorporate, so adding the other oils and beeswax help it saponify fairly fast, and beeswax lends a light, honey-like scent.  The addition of palm oil helps make a luxuriant lather.  Remember Palmolive, Palm-olive.  I really like love this soap, it never gets rancid, even after years of storage, like some soaps made with other vegetable oils like soy, canola, or sunflower.

Soap making with lye can be daunting at first.  But, if you practice a few precautions, it is perfectly safe.  Lye is no longer sold in grocery or hardware stores, so it has to be ordered from a soap-making supply house.  Make sure you get Sodium Hydroxide, pure lye.  When you are making soap make sure to keep the ingredients out of reach of children and pets.  Lye is very caustic, and the smells of the fat in the curing soap can be attractive to pets. 

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Stainless steel or enamel kettle (no chips) for melting oils/fat and making soap.
Plastic pitcher for lye and water solution.
Clip on thermometers (2)
Safety goggles.
Rubber gloves.
Wooden spoon.
Scale for measuring ingredients.
Plastic container for measuring lye. 

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Inexpensive Olive oil.

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Palm Oil.  I had a hard time finding this locally, so this was kind of expensive. 

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Palm oil and coconut oil is solid at room temperature.  I used a knife to cut what I needed. 

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Most soap recipes go by weight not volume.  The easiest way to measure the different ingredients is to reset the scale to zero after each oil is added to the pan.   

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All oils and beeswax have been weighed, and are now melting at a medium to low temperature.  The soap-making process in a nutshell, is that you heat your oils and cool down your lye solution.  When they reach the desired temperature (which can vary depending on the recipe) you combine the oils and lye solution, stir and you get soap! 

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When the oils are almost melted, you can remove them from the heat and they will continue to melt. 

While the oils are melting, you can measure out your water in the pitcher, and weigh the lye in a separate container.   I combine the lye with the water outside, since it makes fumes.  It will also heat up considerably.  This is where you should wear your safety glasses and gloves.  Pour the lye slowly into the water and and mix.  It will be hot and you want it to cool down.  Most recipes call for a temperature of around 100*F, this particular recipe calls for a temperature of 130*F. 

Pour the lye mixture into the melted oils when both reach approximately 130*F.  Stir to mix.  I’m still in the dark ages and I stir my soap, you can mix it with a immersion blender or an electric mixer.  This batch took about 20 minutes to trace.  Which means the oils and lye solution is thoroughly mixed and you will see trailing on top of the soap when you drizzle a spoonful over it. 

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Soap at trace. 

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Pour into desired mold.  This is a 12 qt plastic container.  I can cover this and keep it warm until it is cured enough to un-mold and cut into bars.  That takes a few days.

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I also put some in decorative molds, just for fun.

Castile Soap  from Handmade Soap by Tatyana Hill

5 1/4 oz. beeswax
8 3/4 oz palm oil
8 3/4 oz. coconut oil
2 lb, 12 oz olive oil
9 1/2 oz lye
32 3/4 oz water

Assemble all tools and ingredients beforehand, including your mold(s).  When the soap is ready to pour, it needs to be done immediately.  Allow several hours uninterrupted for this project.

Measure water and lye, combine in a safe place and allow to cool to 130 degrees F.  Measure and melt oils and beeswax.  When fats are melted and reach 130 degrees F and lye has cooled down to 130 degrees F, drizzle lye solution slowly into oils while stirring.  Stir until the soap has a honey-like consistency, about 20 -30 minutes.  When you can drizzle a spoonful of soap on top and visibly see the line it leaves, you have trace.  Pour into mold.  Cover and wrap with towels or blanket and let cure for a week before cutting into bars. 

 This recipe makes about 3 1/2 pounds of soap, and would probably take a small shoe box size plastic container for a mold.  I doubled the batch and used a 12 qt size.

I also keep a notebook for my soap making adventures.  It helps to refer back, and see what additives worked and what didn’t.  Keep track of times, ingredients, cost and yield and if you liked the end product or not.  Sometimes all this information comes in handy for troubleshooting.  I keep a similar book with my canning recipes too, and it really saves time.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2008 8:07 am

    Thanks for posting this soap recipe! I’ve made some cp soaps before, but never found one I really like. This looks like I might just hit the “nail on the head”.

  2. December 8, 2008 8:15 am

    Thanks, I building up my goat herd and then I want to experiment with the milk goat such as soaps. Good photography. 🙂

  3. gina permalink
    December 8, 2008 9:24 am

    Thanks for the tutorial. This is something that has been on my “to do” list for an eon. the notebook tip is great (and I am really wondering why I never thought to do that with my canning. I wouldn’t have to look through a big stack of papers and books each year!)
    I hope to have some time oneday to experiment like this…!

  4. December 8, 2008 10:43 am

    I saw that you use palm oil in your soap and I felt compelled to tell you a bit about how palm oil is cultivated in Indonesia and Malaysia… and why it should be avoided!

    One of the biggest victims of the palm oil industry is the orangutan. The forests of Borneo and Sumatra are the only place where these gentle, intelligent creatures live, and the cultivation of palm oil has directly led to the brutal deaths of thousands of individuals as the industry has expanded. When the forest is cleared, adult orangutans are typically shot on sight. These peaceful, sentient beings are beaten, burned, mutilated, tortured and eaten. Babies are torn off their dying mothers so they can be sold on the black market as illegal pets to wealthy families who see them as status symbols of their own power and prestige.

    Some of the luckier orangutans are confiscated and brought to sanctuaries such as the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, which is now home to approximately 700 orphaned and displaced orangutans in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Many of these orangutans are only weeks old when they arrive, and all of them psychologically traumatized and desperate for their mothers who unfortunately are no longer alive. Nyaru Menteng is managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and run by a remarkable woman named Lone Droscher Nielsen. It is featured on Animal Planet’s series ‘Orangutan Island’.

    To learn more about the crisis facing wild orangutans because of palm oil and see how you can help protect them, please visit the Orangutan Outreach website:

    Thanks for your time and keep up the great work!

    Richard Zimmerman
    Director, Orangutan Outreach
    Reach out and save the orangutans!
    Facebook Cause:

    • marcela roca permalink
      September 28, 2009 3:05 pm

      Hi, loved the work is shown in here. I dont think No one must feel guilty about using palm oil. There are millions and millions of people in hunger, without a job, ad no green terrorist ever wonder to devote their time to humans. Better yet, why dont let the animals live in our cities and we all disappear so they can live so happy eating each other. WE THE PEOPLE are the priority. Besides, Chile has an amazing palm plantations which provide jobs for lots of people, and all over the world are too, farmers who work hard to make possible for us to have palm oil, canola oil, whatever we need.

      Me in particular I suffer from a very bad skin condition, wich is not rare this days. I bless the homemade soap for help me live painless.

      I thank again the information posted on this site, particularly about rancidity and recipes, thats a major detail always remain forgotten.

  5. December 8, 2008 12:18 pm

    Great timing! I am just rendering the tallow from our beef, and I have lard to mix with it. I made soap last year from plain lard, but I just followed the directions on the lye bottle, when I poured it into two seperate molds, for some reason one of them separated. I never found out why. But I am going to be making soap again soon, and as always, your tutorials are clear and show each step. Thank you!

  6. December 8, 2008 2:45 pm

    I only make M&P soap at the moment as I have a “small” around…..but this tutrial was very clear!

    I love home made soaps and balms and bath stuff….

  7. December 8, 2008 6:52 pm

    Thanks! Great post. I’ve never tried making soap but it has been one of those ‘some day’ things. This makes it easier. I love castile soap, too! I have such trouble with allergies to commercial products, you would think I would have made my own by now.

  8. December 8, 2008 7:13 pm

    Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing the recipe and that bee mold is awesome. We too will have pig fat soon and cow fat in the future. I will save a freeze for future use. A soap journal is a good idea.

  9. December 8, 2008 9:04 pm

    I would love to give soap making a try, that is really the reason for the goats. Goats milk soap has always been the plan. Do you ever make your own lye or milk based soaps? Thanks for the great pictures, I think you have inspired me yet again.


  10. December 9, 2008 5:38 am

    Ooooh, looks lovely! I’ll have to give your recipe a try!

  11. December 10, 2008 3:20 pm

    That looks so beautiful. I really must give this a go one of these days! Thanks for the great tutorial. What lovely Xmas presents that would make eh.

  12. December 14, 2008 8:52 am

    Wow, I’ve been reading a lot of your back posts since I haven’t had much puter time last week…excellent posts, as always!! I especially love this one — I just love the smell of beeswax and these ingredients seem simple…plus I like the idea of it sudsing well. Thank you for sharing these skills and thoughts…it makes coming here such a joy and pleasure 🙂

  13. December 15, 2008 11:35 am

    i don’t think i’ll ever be able to use store purchased soap again now that i make my own! there just is no comparison.

    i hear you on people freaking out about using tallow and lard. i suppose they’d rather the fat just got thrown in the garbage.

    great tutorial. 🙂

  14. paulalee permalink
    January 7, 2009 11:52 am

    Hi there!
    Ive been lurking for sometime, and thoroughly enjoying your posts. I too am from the pacific NW. South Puget sound to be exact.
    I was just wondering where you purchase your lye now that red devil is not on the shelf anymore. I am interested in trying out the soap making.

  15. Tami permalink
    June 11, 2009 7:39 am

    My SIL and I are trying to get our stuff together to make soap, but we have a question…we have lye in the granular form. I see in the picture yours is liquid, is the amount we use the same? Will the granular even work? Thanks in advance!! Tami

    • June 11, 2009 7:48 am

      Tami, the picture shows the lye mixture after the lye is added to the water. Measure your lye and water in separate containers and add the lye slowly to water. It will heat rapidly and release fumes, and be almost 200 degrees. I try to do this outside where no one has to breath the fumes. Basically your lye water combination will have to cool down and your fats will have to heat up to meet at about 90 degrees, or for this recipe I think it is 130? I am not looking at the post, just trying to remember… Anyway, have the melted fats and lye/wter solution about the same temp! Happy soap making!

  16. cee permalink
    July 3, 2009 1:41 pm

    I believe the photo of your soap is showing “DOS” (Dreaded Orange Spots) – which is a sign of rancidity.

    • July 3, 2009 4:52 pm

      It could hardly go rancid since it was pretty fresh, I think what you’re seeing is more a sign of my poor photography skills on a dark winter night. I have had my lard and tallow soaps go rancid, but never this recipe. Thanks for the comment!

  17. Ellen permalink
    December 4, 2009 10:18 pm

    Hello, I have a question about making the soap. I made it five days ago and still have it in the plastic mold. It sill seems so soft. How long should I leave it in there before cutting it and getting it out. Also, I did not put wax paper or anything. Do you? It seems like it is going to stick. What do you suggest? Thanks for any help you can give.

    • December 4, 2009 11:09 pm

      Ellen, if it didn’t trace, which shows when you have stirred it enough, it will set up. Sometimes it is hard to get the trace if the temperatures weren’t quite right at the mixing time or if you didn’t mix until trace. This recipe makes a hard soap right away, so something went slightly wrong, maybe in the measurements? Or temperatures, or …

      It should come out of the mold if it is hard enough. When I started making soap, I kept track of each batch in a journal so I would know (hopefully) where I made my mistakes. For me it was when I would get distracted by someone and didn’t do my measuring correctly. Or if I tryed to change the recipe a little. I have had plenty of, strange batches of soap. Some I remelted and stirred some more and then poured them back in the molds. And some became liquid soap 🙂

      oh and the trace will show if you pull out your spoon and dribble a little soap on the top of the mix, if it shows a line or drops that stay on the top of the soap mixture, you have trace, if it doesn’t show you need to stir more.

  18. Ellen permalink
    December 5, 2009 7:55 am

    Thanks for getting back to me so quick. I really don’t know what I did wrong. I waited until I could see the line on top and when I poured it in the molds, the tops look all dribbly like yours. I am so bummed – I was going to give these out next week as gifts. I just tried to get some out and it is soft and stuck to the bottom. Do you use wax paper as a liner or just right into the plastic? And I am sorry to bother you with this but maybe I can salvage this batch by making liquid soap. Any special way you would do that with this recipe of soap? Thanks for all your help!

    • December 5, 2009 8:39 am

      Ellen, I have never used wax paper, the soap shouldn’t stick to the plastic. I am wondering if maybe the lye you used wasn’t strong enough for full saponification? Did you buy lye that was specifically for soap making? Another thing to think about too, is keeping the soap warm for a few days as it cures. Wrapping in blankets and keeping it in a warm place may help next time.

      Be careful handling this soap until it cures, because the lye will still be active. You can grate it into warm water and heat it a little to make the soft soap, stirring until it is dissolved. Start out with small amounts until you find the consistency you want. It still may solidify some on you but at least you will have salvaged the batch.

      I always got right back in the saddle and made another batch when I had a failure – so I didn’t feel so glum 🙂

      • Ellen permalink
        December 5, 2009 12:51 pm

        Sorry if I am bugging you with this. I just don’t know what I would do differently if I did another batch. My lye and olive oil were from Soap Barn, the other ingredients were from Mountain Rose Herbs and I measured everything on a scale. I am hesitant to try again since I live in Alaska and to get all those ingredients up here cost quite a bit. And I had doubled the batch to have enough to give out to a lot of people. Argh! And if the lye is bad, I don’t really have any other options but to order it again from somewhere else – I can’t find it up here.

        I know you can’t really know what I did wrong without being here but I don’t know and I was here. 🙂 I have made soap before so had some idea of what to expect. It is so soft it wouldn’t even need grating. What about melting it down again and just stirring more? Maybe melt to 130 degrees and then try to trace again.

        OK, I am re-reading this and I sound like a big whiner. I guess my plan is to re-melt and try that first and if not make liquid soap and use it for my laundry.

        • December 5, 2009 6:52 pm

          Ellen, you’re not a big whiner! It’s a terrible feeling when a batch of soap doesn’t turn out. I hear you on the expense, and the shipping. It used to be so simple to make soap, now just getting the lye is trial. 😦

          I’m wondering if when you remelt you add a little more melted beeswax to the mixture to help it set? When I make salve, the amount of beeswax can really make a difference between a soft salve and a firm one. Just a thought… .

        • Ellen permalink
          December 6, 2009 8:24 am

          Ok I’ll try that. Have a great Sunday and thanks for taking the time to help me!

  19. March 24, 2011 1:35 am

    I’m SO excited….I started making castile soap a month ago…..then I wanted to do something different!!! I bought tallow from a butcher and melted it all…freezed it an started making soap…and now, and this is the fun part….I rebatch with wonderful fragrances…I wanted to use herbs out of my herb garden, but found that it does’nt look so nice (the color) and I wanted some color…so her in South Africa we live in the country…nobody can sell me supplies… I tried pink powder food colouring and wild berry ess. oil…and I’m so happy…it came out wonderfull…it looks like the herbs react to the lye and does not smell so nice.

  20. Maria permalink
    August 17, 2013 8:47 pm

    Hi there,

    Just saw your post as I am looking for a soap receipe for making soap with long shelf life. Hate DOS! I saw on the picture that you are using Palm Kernel Oil. That is not the same as Palm Oil and has a different SAP value. Just a thought when you plug it into your soap calc. I think it is great that you are using tallow and lard. I totally agree that using all part of the animals and not wasting is a good way to show respect for the animal. It’s a byproduct of our meat industry and an sound environmental alternative to Palm Oil, in my opinion. I use about 20% tallow in some of my soaps and it makes a wonderful soaping oil so it is a pity that people have an aversion to animal fat in soap. Why is it OK to put it into our bodies but not use it on our skin?!? I have never used Palm oil for the reasons that Richard Zimmerman brought up in his post. I find that shea butter works just as well even in higher percentages and makes a nice creamy soap. Thanks for your post!


  21. vicky permalink
    September 27, 2017 11:47 am

    I thought “castile” soap was made with only olive oil (as the oil) and not palm, coconut, beeswax…?

    • October 15, 2017 5:33 am

      Vicky, the recipe is from Handmade Soap by Tatyana Hill, that is what she called it… So technically not really Castille soap but a nice soap anyway no matter what it is called.


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