Did anyone else panic buy anything super weird during lockdown? My panic buy was all the ingredients and equipment I would need to make all the soap and body care products my family could ever need.
I realize now this was wholly unnecessary, but when I saw the empty soap shelf at my grocery store, my brain (which is already riddled with anxiety) decided in no uncertain terms that this was something I could no longer leave up to the mercy of supply chains. I needed to be able to make this particular essential myself.
The leap to soapmaking wasn’t a big one for me. Last summer I made the decision that I wanted to try making my own deodorant, lotion bars, and lip balm in an effort to reduce our plastic waste. I didn’t get around to making most of what I planned (in fact, all I made was a DIY deodorant that did not work). So I had a lot of ingredients on hand already.
My goal is to have a “go-to” recipe for each item we use. This includes everything from soap (hand, body, face, dish), lotion and moisturizers, lip balm, shampoo and conditioner, shaving cream or soap, exfoliating scrubs (body, face, feet), makeup remover, deodorant, beard oil for my husband, bubble bath for my bath-hating toddler, and paw balm for my snow-loving dog. Currently I have small amounts of a lot of ingredients to try, but ideally having a set of recipes will allow me to streamline the ingredients I have on hand so that I can buy them in bulk. This reduces packaging, not to mention the environmental impacts of shipping.
When we moved into our house a few years ago, I was running a yarn-dyeing business, and was looking to move the operation out of my kitchen and into a dedicated space in the basement. My father-in-law built me a workbench with a countertop, and we had electric outlets and a sink installed. I quit dyeing yarn after I had a baby, and now I’ll use this space for making soap and body products. The only issue is the ventilation isn’t great down there, so I’ll have to wear a respirator. I think that tradeoff is more than reasonable if it means I can keep lye out of my kitchen, away from curious kids and dogs.
Ingredients I have on hand for making soap and body products
Many of these ingredients I already had around the house from cooking, cleaning, and food preservation. The vast majority of them can be found in grocery, drug, or department stores. The others are readily available online.
These are used as the basis of almost all body products: soap, lotion, lip balm, creams, scrubs, deodorant, hair products, shaving cream, makeup remover. They are also used to dilute essential oils and “carry” them onto your skin. There are many, many carrier oils available, but I chose these because they are either available in the grocery store, or (in the case of castor and jojoba) they feature heavily in many soap and body recipes. They all have slightly different benefits and drawbacks. I have the following:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Vitamin E oil
- Liquid coconut oil
- Castor oil
- Jojoba oil
Used in soap, lotion, lip balm, deodorant, and shaving cream, among others. They nourish and moisturize skin, and can add hardness to soap.
- Cocoa butter
- Shea butter
Used in lip balm, lotions and moisturizers, and some hair styling products. They add texture and solid consistency to lip balms while moisturizing and nourishing.
- Candelilla wax (vegan)
In addition to thickening things like lotion, these particular items also serve as active ingredients in homemade deodorant,
- Arrowroot powder
Also in this category is stearic acid. Stearic acid is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in certain oils and butters, but can be added directly to recipes in need of thickening, or, in the case of soap, hardening.
Sodium hydroxide (Lye)
This is the active ingredient in solid soaps. You can’t make cold- or hot-process soap without it.
Used in a variety of products, including soap, toners, and lotions. It draws moisture to and cleanses skin, while helping increase the absorbency of other ingredients.
Used in products (other than soap) that have both oil and water as ingredients. Oil and water don’t mix on their own, and they need the help of an emulsifier.
Used in soap, bath bombs, hand cream, and lotion. It doesn’t add any impurities to whatever you’re making. It’s water, and that’s it.
Used in deodorant and bath bombs.
Used in bath bombs. I have a huge bag of this from my yarn-dyeing days.
A preservative used in products that contain water (aside from soap, which has a pH level that does not require a preservative). There are a wide range of preservatives available, but I chose this one because I was already placing an order with Brambleberry (not an affiliate link), and Optiphen covers the largest range of pH levels of the preservatives that they carry.
Plant extracts that contain the concentrated fragrance of the plant itself. These naturally adds scent to products. They are potent, and should be used with caution. They are pricey, so I want to note that I’ve been collecting the essential oils I have for quite a while. I use them in cleaning products that I make, and whenever I’m at a store I tend to grab a new one to try it out. Going forward, though, I do plan to research the brand before I buy from them to make sure they’re reputable.
Ingredients I plan to add to my collection
Potassium hydroxide (lye)
Just like sodium hydroxide, but this is used to make liquid soap rather than solid.
Helps make soaps lather, and adds hardness to them.
Can make soaps creamy and it’s good for all skin types.
Among other benefits, like anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, it controls excess oil, so I plan to use it in toner.
Since lye can be dangerous, I got separate equipment for things that touch lye versus things that don’t. If a bowl or spatula is used for lye, it shouldn’t be used for anything else. I have a separate container just for storing that equipment so I don’t confuse them.
Pots – one for making soap, one to use with mason jars as a double boiler for body products
Induction burner – I need a heat source since I’m not working on my kitchen stove
Several silicone spatulas
Measuring cups and spoons
Kitchen scale – for measuring ingredients accurately
Several mixing bowls, both glass and stainless steel – stainless steel is preferable for creating lye mixtures because it gets very hot very quickly, which can cause glass to shatter
Hand blender – for soap only
Candy thermometer – one for lye, one for everything else; when you make soap it’s helpful to have two so you can check the temperaturess on your lye and your oils at the same time
Lip balm tubes
Molds – one loaf mold for soap, with cutters; individual bar molds (silicone), bath bomb sphere molds
For my next trick, I will start actually making these things. Stay tuned!