I’ve always known that our soaps, detergents, and creams are loaded with lots of chemicals and colors. Sure, my skin would get really dry and irritated and I would slap some cream on to make it go away temporarily. And then I would try another cream, and another. A different body wash, a more “natural” shampoo, a lotion that was made “with olive oil”, “shea butter”, “honey”, “chamomile” and “aloe”.
My firstborn was 2 months old and exclusively breastfed when he was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, a skin condition more commonly known as eczema. I mentioned the fact that he was exclusively breastfed because allegedly breastfed babies have a much smaller chance of getting atopic dermatitis. Allegedly.
He was allergic to the chemicals in his diapers, and the chemicals in his baby soap. I never even used baby wipes. I spent the first year of his life slapping on every natural atopic dermatitis cream I could get my hands on, soaking his cute little thighs in oat baths, and lining all his diapers.
I had long suspected that what was being sold to us as natural wasn’t very natural at all. And that’s how I got into the business of making my own soap.
The recipe I follow is the traditional Greek recipe for olive oil soap, also known as castile soap. It is 100% pure olive oil, without glycerin or any other additives.
Busting the Glycerin Myth
A few words of caution about glycerin. You see, glycerin is quite popular in soap because it supposedly makes our skin moist. Indeed, glycerin is moisture thirsty. It absorbs moisture from the air and makes your skin feel more moisturized. If you’re in in the Amazon forest. What really happens, in most cases, is that glycerin will absorb moisture from your body making your skin feel moisturized at first but then drying it out. Which is why you need more cream, and more lotion, and more moisturizer. Get it?
Busting the Green soap Myth
The first thing you will notice about olive oil soap is that it is not green. That’s because the chemical reaction that is produced when you add lye to the olive oil turns it white. If you spot “natural” green olive oil soap, rest assured there’s been green color added to the mix. Read- not natural. If you see more than 5 ingredients on your bar of “natural” soap, it is not natural. You actually only need 3 ingredients to make real soap. Everything else is fun extras!
Busting the Paragraph-long-ingredient-list-on-soap Myth
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the all-natural business of making soap! I’m here to give you the guidelines, and feel free to go ahead and experiment with the endless possibilities for your very own natural, preservative free soap!
Make your own 100% Natural Olive Oil Soap
2 food thermometers
1 metal pot
1 plastic jug
1 plastic spoon
1 plastic pail
1 hand blender (optional)
Containers for transferring soap mixture
Ingredients for 1kg/2.2lbs of olive oil (not to be confused with liters and fluid ounces!)
1kg of olive oil, but with the smallest percentage of virgin olive oil you can find. If you can get your hands on olive oil sediment you’re in luck!! That’s because olive oil sediment will give you the best suds and the optimum cleaning results
Note– do not use pomace oil.
134gr lye or sodium hydroxide
268 ml distilled water (If you don’t have distilled water on hand, use the analogy 2.5:1 of water to lye)
Lye is a pretty corrosive substance and should not be used around children, so save this activity for when the kids are out of the house ideally! And always remember to only use plastic for lye.
When making the lye solution for soap, sequence is important. First add the distilled water into the plastic jug; then add the lye in small amounts while mixing with a plastic spoon. If you were to add water to the lye you may end up with an undesired cloud of lye dust in the air. And you really don’t want that stuff going anywhere near your nose or your face.
As soon as you add the lye, you will notice the jug of water will get really hot. In fact, it will be close to boiling point. In order to make soap, both the olive oil and the lye solution need to be at an ideal range of 45-48C (113-118F). You can either wait for it to cool off on its own or stick the jug in a cold water bath.
In the meantime, pour the olive oil into a pot and warm it up to 60C (140F) if you’re planning on letting the lye solution cool off naturally, or 50-ish (122F) if you will be using a cold water bath. The point is to get them both to the optimal range at the same time so that you can then mix them. Never heat olive oil above 60C (140F) as it will lose a lot of it beneficial qualities.
Using your thermometers check both solutions to make sure they are in the right range for mixing.
Once they are in the optimal range, transfer the olive oil to a plastic pail. At this point you may also add essential oils such as lavender or tea tree oil, or even a spoonful of honey.
Add the lye solution to the oil and mix using a hand blender or a plastic spoon. As you mix the solution will become less runny and more thick. This is achieved within a few minutes using a hand blender but may take up to 30 minutes when mixing by hand.
You will know your soap is ready when you drip some of the solution on the surface and it leave a visible line.
Use some leftover olive oil from the pot to grease your soap containers. You may use individual silicone or plastic containers, or a big container for a slab of soap which you can then cut into bars. I find that silicone works best because it’s much easier to get the soap out of there once the solution hardens.
Transfer the soap solution from the plastic pail back into the plastic jug you had used for the lye solution. This will make pouring the solution into the prepared containers much easier. Fill up the containers and leave the solution to harden 24-48 hours.
Remove the soap from the containers and if you wish to cut it into smaller bars, now is the time to do this as it is still soft and easy to slice. When handling soap bars at this point, it’s a good idea to be wearing plastic gloves just in case.
Air dry the soap bars for a month. I lay mine out on top of the kitchen cabinets on some kitchen paper. That way none of the kids can’t get to it and it’s completely safe and uncovered. After a month, you may package the soap into a breathable material such as tissue paper or fabric, but never in plastic. This will ensure the optimum quality for your soap which only gets better as time goes by.
Make the most of your Olive Oil Soap
In addition to adding essential oils either for their moisturising, antiseptic, medicinal benefits or simply because they smell great, there’s so many other things you can experiment with!
- Replace the distilled water with chamomile water for its great calming benefits to the skin, as well as antiaging and moisturizing qualities.
- Add brown sugar or salt crystals to the solution, for a soap bar that doubles as a skin scrub.
- Add a spoonful of yogurt or honey to the soap solution for some extra skin love!
- A sprinkle of cinnamon will give your soap an interesting texture and color, and a yummy smell
- Avoid using plants and flowers that don’t dissolve because they will ultimately end up in your drain!
Olive oil soap uses
- You can use the bar as is or you can convert it to liquid for by combining 113gr/4oz of grated soap with 8 cups of near boiling water.
- In liquid form you can use it for washing yourself, your clothes, and your dishes. Olive oil is so mild it is a great moisturizer for atopic skin, or for dry hands. No more chapped hands when doing the dishes in the winter!
- In solid form use it to rub out even the worst of stains on clothes (it gets everything out!!) before putting them in the wash, or as a bar of soap for your hands.
- Natural homemade olive oil soap is a great gift to give your friends and family!