Myth: Clogs pores, bad for your skin


Myth:  Bad for the Environment


Tallow (animal fats) have been used for centuries in soap-making.  The benefits are a super-lathering soap that is good for your skin, and doesn't use detergents found in most commercial soaps.

These myths arose from the old-fashioned way of gathering the lye, using animal fats and the curing time.  Old soap was used up fast so they were crude soaps.   Soap has been made from a variety of processes for roughly 6000 years.  The Babylonians used soap medicinally and the earliest recipe was dated about 2800 B.C.E.  The soap we are accustomed to as bar soap was started around the 19th century.   The type that the Babylonians made (from animal fats, wood ash and rain water) was more of a crude sludgy substance placed on skin ailments and used in washing wounds (didn't particularly smell good either).   For industry it was used for washing wool for textiles.  Making soap was shared via trade and exploration.  The Ancient Egyptians adopted the same process about 1550 B.C.E. and can be found in the Ebers Papyrus.  This in-turn was shared with the Romans that had previously used pumice and sand to wash with.

The way Tallow-based Soap is made today has been refined and understood through Science (Alchemy).

Cold-process vs. Hot-process: 

Cold-process requires more precision in measuring than working by instinct.  It takes longer to cure but produces a mild soap that is good for your skin.  The longer it ages, the harder it gets which allows the soap to last longer.

* Hot-process doesn't require precise measurements and goes through various stages while heating.  Most of the water is evaporated during the cooking process and saponification occurs immediately so you can use the soap right away.   It's just a softer bar so it's used up faster.

The soap is super-fatted, in that the excess oils are left behind in the soap and not consumed by the Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) which is better for your skin.  You can also harvest glycerine from a batch, which tends to be a bit milder for super-sensitive skin types.

Basic Tallow-based Recipes include Oils (Fats), Caustic Materials and Water as a catalyst.

A basic Tallow-Soap Recipe:

  • 64 oz tallow (8 cups)
  • 24 fluid oz soft water (3 cups)
  • 8.5 oz lye (1.06 cups)

As a no-brain process here's what I do:

1.  Heat the fats in a pan on Medium-low heat. (95 degrees, no higher than 110)

2.  Heat water also on Medium-low heat. (95 degrees, no higher than 110)

3.  Measure out Lye and Soft water in separate plastic containers (do not use metal)

Always add your Lye to the Water, not Water to the Lye (say this in your head Water to Lye you die!) and stir with a plastic spoon until it's clear. 

It will be a chemical reaction with fumes, so don't breath it.  It's toxic.  Do this under your stove fan or outside.

4.  Add your melted fats & water into a pyrex or stainless steel bowl.  Stir in lye solution slowly while stirring.    You can stir by hand but it will take forever to Trace (tracing occurs when the fats and lye have emulsified. The liquid turns into a pudding).  I use an electric hand mixer.  It goes a lot faster.  You can however stir with a spoon until trace occurs.  To check, lift your spoon out of the bowl and allow the liquid from the spoon to fall back into the bowl. If it it's thick and falls like a line, you've achieved Trace.

5.  Once you have Trace, you can add essential oils for fragrance and medicinal qualities.  You can color your soap using soap dye but a short cut is to just use half a crayola crayon (which is just paraffin wax and color pigment).  You can pre-melt to liquid by placing a piece of aluminum foil in the oven, place your crayon in the center.  Melt on a low heat 150-200 degrees.  When it liquefies, pour into your traced soap.

6.  Pour into molds.  I use a plastic container with a lid but you can cover your soap mold with plastic or foil.  The idea is to maintain the heat so Saponification completes (takes 48 hours).

Your soap is techinically safe to use after 48 hours but curing it ensures a harder milder soap.  The water evaporates over time 3-6 weeks is recommended for animal fat curing.  After about 6 weeks, I release from the mold and allow the air to get beneath it and let it dry over night.  You can cut into bars and package.  The process continues even with your wrapped soap.  As it cures and ages, the harder and milder it gets!


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The animal fats she is using require trimming (less fats).  Most butchers will sell animal fats by the pound with no meat to trim off.

Another option is to buy Lard:

I've used this brand.  You can get two large batches of soap from one bucket.

Using lard produces a slightly softer bar than using tallow by the pound.  It just means it will be used up faster, it's no better or worse for your skin.

You can even use cooking margarine (such as Planta brand) or Crisco for soap, again just a slightly softer bar.

Here's some photos of making the Lye Water.

1.  Gather soft water (rain water)

2.  Collect Wood Ash (hardwoods only)

3.  The container for the ash should have a hole drilled at the bottom.  Cover with rocks and some grass.  Add your ash.  

4.  Pour boiled soft water over the ash, allow to drip slowly into a secondary container.  I'm using an old drum, pop corn container and a bucket with a plastic bag.

The lye solution will drip slowly into the bucket.  This will take a while and may take several pours.

Once you have your lye, use gloves.  You don't want to get this on your skin.

I pull out the plastic bag full of lye water and set aside.  Then use an old pillow case to filter.  

Pour your lye water into the pillowcase to filter out sediment.  Once you have that, you can filter further by using a funnel and coffee filters.  It won't be 'clear' by any means but it should be transparent and not look like mud.  If you don't have a funnel, you can make one out of an old water bottle.

Store lye water in a plastic container until you're ready to use it.

1.4 cups of lye

3.3 cups (soft) water

8 cups fats

7 Teaspoons Essential Oil

Basic Soap

I forgot to mention, (because I myself got side-tracked and goofed) that after 24 hours, you want to release your large soap batch from the mold while it's still soft.  This is the time when you cut into individual bars.  

It was an out of sight, out of mind thing.  I forgot to do this and it had been a week, so the soap is hardened by this point.  It makes the cutting into clean bars, a near impossibility.  I cut mine into large (albeit rough) bars.  The shattered portions, I mixed with a 1/2 cup of soft water in a pan on med-low heat and made liquid soap for my hand-soap dispensers.  

The saponification process is complete after 48 hours but curing ensures a nice lather.  This batch came out rather nicely, and smells like Ivory soap.

I was asked to post the measurements for a small batch.

Here's a no-fail recipe

10 oz tallow (1 cup)
1.4 oz lye (.18 Cup)
3.3 oz water (.41 cup)

100* for fats and lye

You can freeze it, and cut into bars in 24 hours.  

You can also split the batch in half, color separately and make a swirly bar.

Age: 2 months

I did a rebatch over the weekend and it came out great.  Photos Here

I cut into small cubes and threw them in a slow cooker.

  • Cooked on High Heat 30 minutes, stirring every so often
  • Added soft-oils (about 1/4 cup), whipped
  • Added 1/2 cup soft water
  • Added colorants, herbs and scent

As a re-batch saponification was already complete, so the soap is ready for use right away.  I'm allowing the bars to cure a bit longer for a deeper lather.  When you add additional liquids and oils, it's best to allow this to evaporate. 

Here's a re-batch I made using a slow-cooker.  I cooked for about an hour and a half, stirring every 20 mins or so.  I whipped it with my electric mixer before adding color/herbs and pouring into molds.

Cut already made soap into small cubes

Add 1/2 cup soft water

Additional fats & fragrance can be added also, just bear in mind the more moisture you add the longer it takes to cure.

I added Purple Verbena and Yarrow Flower to the first batch (Yellow toned soap) and simply colorants to the second (Blue toned soap).  Nothing fancy, I just used food-coloring.


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