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How to make Zero Waste homemade soap!

How to turn any old oil into zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap making at its best!

You saw it first on farmstand culture. Find out: what is zero waste homemade soap, when and how to make it yourself. And, if you’re more into learning and watching rather than DIYing, read on for my personal experience with zero-waste soap making. I hope it inspires other positive, natural-lifestyle changes in your every day life.

It all started about a decade ago, before my sister and I had children. We loved the handmade soaps at Sunflower Farm Shop in Orange, Connecticut, and felt inspired to try making our own soap from scratch.

We spent about $100 on materials and equipment to get us started and spent an evening chatting, measuring and mixing up two batches of pure, chemical-free soap. You would never know it was only our first try. Those soaps came out great. My friends and colleagues asked me to make more…for years, but with kids and work and house and school and and and…it was nearly ten years before I made my next batch of handcrafted soap.

Find out how I use any old oils laying around the house to make zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap at its best!

Inspiration hit

Several months ago I looked in the cabinet and noticed a massive vat of expired organic coconut oil. Do you know how expensive those are?

We buy most of our pantry goods at an American wholesale club. Picture a legitimate warehouse, open to the public, with shelves stacked to the ceiling full of giant versions of everyday items.

Laundry detergent the size of a backpack. Whole fillets of king salmon that fill a tray so big, it is hard to carry. The coconut oil they sell is huge, approximately the size of eight normal jars of coconut oil. And, we only used half of our expired coconut oil. Ugh.

I felt annoyed and upset that we wasted the equivalent of a year’s worth of coconut oil. Clearly, we went through a coconut oil phase that faded before the supply ran out. But, when I opened it, the oil smelled fine. I was not about to throw it away. First, I made a coconut-coffee sugar scrub with some of it. A few days later, true inspiration hit…

Zero-waste soap

Back when my sister and I experimented with hand-crafted soap, we created our own recipes using online calculators. With these free calculators, you simply type in different quantities of whatever oils you have, and it tells you exactly how much lye and water you need to make your soap. 

Lye is dangerous but necessary to saponify (i.e. turn fats and oils into soap). Pretty much any natural fat will saponfiy if mixed with liquefied lye. Brilliant!

No need to waste that old coconut oil. It smelled fine and rather than eat it, I can turn it into soap! So I did. Here’s what happened…

My experiment

First, I ordered lye on Amazon. Be careful. Lye is dangerous and scary. It causes permanent burns to bare skin. Kids should never, ever be around lye. Grown-ups are barely trust-worthy around lye.

Then, I awoke our soap-making pots, measuring cups, and thermometers from their decade-long slumber. If you want to make soap, dedicate the materials to soap-making just in case there’s somehow some leftover lye or soap in them. Put labels on your soap-only cups, bowls and spoons. 

Almost there. I had gloves, but still needed a kitchen scale to weigh everything. At the end of the post, I’ll give you all the links to the key materials you need to make zero-waste soap yourself.

Creating zero waste soap recipes

I worked up a recipe for a simple coconut oil and olive oil soap, but since I found a small bottle of really old sweet almond oil, I threw that in, too. It passed my sniff test. If you find random old oils around the house, just measure how much you have and add it to your online soap calculator. Easy. 

Go through your cabinets and pantry and see if you have some old oils hanging around. Then, weigh them on your kitchen scale and enter the amounts you have into an online calculator. Sometimes, soap-makers call them either lye calculators or soap calculators. Same thing.

Here’s a good soap calculator: SoapCalc and here is a round-up post from The Spruce Crafts that mentions five others. Don’t be intimidated. The calculators look complicated at first, but once you start using them, it gets easier. If you really just want a very simple lye calculator for soapmaking, this one by TheSage is easy to use. 

Soap-making process and tips

Here is a recipe and video for cold process soap from Becky’s Homestead that inspired me to add olive oil to my zero waste coconut soap. You don’t have to add other oils. But, I like a softer bar of soap, and as she mentions in the video, coconut oil makes harder bars.

Cold process soap is made without heating the oil and lye mixture over a stove or in a crock pot; that would be hot process soap. As a beginner, I started with cold process soap-making, but it takes longer to cure (i.e. you have to wait a month before you can use your soap). 

Instead of rosemary oil, I used a half ounce of ginger essential oil in my zero waste soap for fragrance (because that’s what I had), and I didn’t add any color. 

Instead of using a mask and fan like Becky, I mixed my lye into the water outside and let it cool outside. I never open lye in the house. It’s personal preference. And, as the lye water cooled, I hid it outside away from kids and animals. 

If this is your first time bringing soap to “trace”, watch a few videos to get a better feel for the pudding-like consistency you need before you can pour your soap into the molds. 

You don’t need a fancy mold. You can use any old plastic container or even an old shoe box. TIP: line the mold with strips of parchment paper before you pour in the soap. Parchment strips make it easier to remove the soap the next day to cut it into bars. 

How to make zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap recipe

My mistake

After my soap hardened, I noticed that the outside dried lighter with some soda ash, and the middle dried darker. It doesn’t really matter. The soap works beautifully. Actually, it’s amazing how simple this soap recipe is, given how well it suds and cleans. However, my soap probably wouldn’t sell well at a farm stand. It’s not perfect. But, I think I understand my mistake.

I blended the lye mixture and oils when they cooled to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it was cold that day. And, I mixed the lye outdoors and left it in the freezing cold. I think it would be better to blend my ingredients at a slightly higher temperature, maybe 110 to 120 degrees. 

Zero waste soap-making materials

You probably already own a mixing spoon, cups and bowls. Here’s a list of the less common materials you need to make your own zero waste soap at home.

Kitchen scale
Thermometer (You need one. I use two.)
Immersion blender (Don’t use this for food if you use it to blend lye into soap.)
Long rubber gloves
Protective eyeglasses

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Leave us a comment and let us know if you made some soap. What was your experience like?

Do you have old oils laying around the house that would make great zero waste soap? I will be asking my friends and family to bring me theirs!

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Tips for Hot Process Soap Making Beginners

Once. I admit it. I bought all the stuff, designated a hand mixer and a stainless steel pot, and made soap from scratch with my sister, just once. Now the soap-making equipment sits in my basement. But, after reading this post on hot process soap making, I’m starting to feel inspired to get another batch going. It’s really a fun bonding experience, as long as you have patience. Homemade soap takes about a month to cure before you can use it. We did not use a crockpot, but I really like the idea. A professional soap maker on Twitter assures me she uses a crockpot. It’s not cheating.

Check out this pressed article from Natural Beauty Workshop for more about hot process soap. Source: Tips for Hot Process Soap Making Beginners

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Top 5 handmade soaps – inexpensive!

Top 5 Handmade Soaps on Amazon Handmade Marketplace

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I searched the Amazon Handmade Marketplace for their Top 5 bestselling handmade soaps. Why? I am a huge fan of hand-processed soaps. There are a million soaps out there. No, probably 100 million. A billion? But, handmade soap with farm-fresh ingredients and vibrant essential oils is a simple luxury.

Consider adding a handmade soap to a holiday gift as a special little something extra. A bar would look really classic taped to the top of a gift wrapped in a natural twine or satin ribbon.

View and shop the Top 5 Bestselling Handmade Soaps from Amazon's Handmade Marketplace

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Top 5 Bestselling Hand-processed Soaps

November 2018



Be sure to catch my next Handmade Bestsellers list!
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Leave a comment and let us know, which handmade soap catches your eye?

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Best 5 items at the Lizzie’s Corner farmers market stand

October 9, 2018

All summer I tried and failed to make it over to the Seymour Farmers Market behind the historic Seymour Congregational Church about 25 minutes drive from New Haven, Connecticut. You should see it. Ok, I should take some pictures so you can see it. There’s a powerful terraced waterfall in the Naugatuck River across the street. The church itself is tall and white, a true classic New England meeting house of worship.

The farmers market is only a half mile from the 18th century preserved Seymour Antiques district. When you walk down the streets in the district, you can feel what it was like to take the same stroll 100 years ago. The buildings have hardly changed, including the little gem that houses Lizzie’s Corner, a handcrafted and specialty gifts shop.

On Tuesday afternoons, the curators at Lizzie’s select some of their finest goods and set up a display at the Seymour Farmers Market. Here are my top picks from Lizzie’s Corner.

Goat Boy Goat’s Milk Soaps

Homemade goat milk soap

It’s enough to make you wish you could get a breath of these fresh scents through the phone or computer screen right now. Goatboy Soaps started 17 years ago. The handcrafted products are produced in small batches using fresh goat’s milk. There is goat’s milk soap in my shower right now. It’s so soothing.

#4 Vintage bottles re-imagined

Vintage bottles repurposed into do-it-yourself inspirational quote decor

A charming home craft turned into a business, these are Bookworm Bottles. Decorating with vintage items is a win-win. Your house looks like a designer planned it, and these old bottles get a new chance at life. The littlest ones would be so cute at a wedding. The warm brown bottles would be beautiful down the center of your table paired with candlesticks and vases of cut twigs or greens from your backyard.

#3 Elderberry apple shots

Elderberry apple shots

Oh stop, you can make gummies with these. Or cocktails. Or shoot some non-alcoholic Elderberry Apple Shots as they’re intended, as part of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy, Tiffany, not boozy. You’ve already read the ingredient list, more or less: elderberries and apple cider vinegar. Both are organic and produced by the small farm that makes the shots, Fat Stone Farm.

#2 Swedish dishcloths

Swedish washcloths

Swedish dishcloths aka eco-friendly cleaning cloths are really starting to pop up in shops, and it’s wonderful! They are all-natural, last for 6-9 months and then biodegrade. Mine will go into the compost bin someday. Google trends shows searches for “swedish dishcloth” started to increase in June 2016. I first saw them in the gift shop at a nature center in Cape Cod. My first one is still going strong after three months. You can machine wash them, but I just put mine in the dishwasher sometimes. They don’t stink like sponges. I’m going to do a whole article on these because I use and love them. In the meantime, see what all the fuss is about. You don’t need a 10-pack, just pick up a few to start.

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#1 Homebrew maple syrup

Pure New England Maple Syrup

When it’s time for comfort food and the warm smell of cool-weather baking, enter organic, local maple syrup. In New England, it’s popular to drizzle some maple syrup over sliced, baked acorn squash, another farm stand favorite. My kids and I make pancakes from our own modified recipe almost every weekend. My little daughter licks the plate clean of maple syrup if you don’t stop her. Ahh, childhood.

Have you seen the original Farmstand5 from Cape Cod?
Fancy’s Farm Stand, Orleans, MA