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Smart Soapmaking
The Simple Guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably

Milk Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Making Lovely Milk Soap From Any Animal or Plant Milk

Smart Lotionmaking
The Simple Guide to Making Luxurious Lotions

Castile Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Making Lovely Castile Soap

Cool Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Low-Temp Tricks for Making Soap with Special Ingredients





Castile Soap

(For People and Dogs)

Laundry Soap

Increasing Lather


Projects, Experiments, and Investigations

(and a couple of small mysteries)


For soapmaking directions, if needed, please see one of my books, Smart Soapmaking or Milk Soapmaking. Or use another reputable source of soapmaking directions. The recipes make a 30 ounce batch.



Castile Soap--Why?

Homemade Laundry and Dog Soap--Why?

Ingredients for Homemade Laundry Soap

Grating Soap

Laundry Soap Basic Recipe I

Laundry Soap Basic Recipe II

Dog Soap

Castile Soap Experiments

Castile Soap Made Easy

Castor Oil Variation
KOH Variation
Grated Soap Variation
Laundry Soap Variation

Increasing Lather

What Would I Do?

Soaps from the Past: Laundry the Old Way

Soaps from the Past: Historical Castile Soap


Castile Soap--Why?

Castile is a gentle soap that's perfect for bathing, laundry, pets, and many other uses.

Homemade Laundry and Dog Soap--Why?

Economy is the main reason most people make their own laundry soap--that and control of contents.

Control of contents would be the main reason for making dog soap. However, it's important to avoid the contents that are not good for dogs, and not all handcrafted dog soap recipes do that.


Ingredients for Homemade Laundry Soap

Recommended fats for making laundry soap are coconut oil, tallow, lard, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. The superfatting level is generally agreed to be 0%. Our skin can use the extra oils provided by superfatting. Clothes can't.

With automatic washers, another thing to think about is that lower sudsing is important. In a washing machine, excess suds can cause a problem called "suds lock." The machine has both an inner and an outer tub, and when there is too much sudsing, the two can get linked together by the suds. This puts a huge load on the motor and the drain pump. It's especially likely in a front-loading washer.

So I'd recommend fairly low lather numbers on your formulation. You won't save any money on laundry detergent if you just mess up your washing machine.

If you're using a washboard, of course, this isn't a factor. But a high-lather laundry soap may be difficult to rinse out of your clothes.

Soapmakers have a choice of either bar soap or liquid. Either way, most begin by making a solid soap such as those in the recipes below. If a liquid is desired, the solid soap is grated and dissolved in boiling water, at the rate of approximately 1 cup of water per ounce of soap.

When the soap is dissolved, borax and washing soda are added:

1.8 ounces (51 grams) of borax per ounce of soap
2.2 ounces (60 grams) of washing soda per ounce of soap

The mixture is stirred until the borax and washing soda dissolve. This concentrate is poured into a larger container, and 1 quart of hot water per ounce of soap is added. It is then allowed to sit until it gels, at least overnight.

Stir before using. Use 1/4 cup for each load in a front loading washer, twice that for a top loader.

Solid soap is simply grated and used like laundry detergent. Usually, borax and washing soda are also used in the wash load, in accordance with their manufacturer's quantity directions. Some soapmakers incorporate the borax and washing soda into the soap formulation. Some also use white vinegar in the rinse cycle to remove any soap scurf from the clothes and prevent clogging the machine.

I would use this with warm or hot water in the washing machine, not with cold.

Grating Soap

How do you grate soap, anyway?

I was warned against using my coffee grinder to try to make soap powder, so I didn't.

I decided that soap has a texture similar to Parmesan cheese, so I tried two grating methods that work well for that.

On the right side of the photo are the large granules or small lumps I got by cutting the soap into 1/4 inch cubes and processing them in a food processor with the steel blade.

On the left side of the photo are the fine shreds produced by a medium Microplane grater.

Both were very fast and easy to do. Both will work. The shreds will probably dissolve faster than the lumps.

And both the tools I used are about as far from the old tin graters that used to be given away with laundry soap as an iron spoon is from a stick blender.

Laundry Soap Basic Recipe I

This is the typical, traditional laundry soap made by past generations--an all lard soap with no superfatting.

30 ounces (851 grams) lard
9 ounces (255 grams) water
4.2 ounces (120 grams) lye

Tallow variant: It's possible to use beef tallow, but increase the lye to 4.3 ounces (121 grams) if you do.

Laundry Soap Basic Recipe II

A vegetable=fat soap with approximately the same lather profile as lard soap. I've tested this on a washboard, but not in my washing machine.

25.5 ounces (723 grams) palm oil
4.5 ounces (128 grams) palm kernel oil flakes
9 ounces (255 grams) water
4.4 ounces (125 grans) lye

If you prefer not to use either animal products or palm products, the next best choice is probably 100% olive oil Castile. See recipes below.

"Soap Foam" was a powdered product, supposedly easier to use.

Castile Soap Experiments

Castile Baby Soap Advertisement

I've made excellent Castile soap with the cold process method. I've also made some that fell far short of what I wanted. Most of the soapmakers I know will say the same when the subject comes up.

100% olive oil soaps present some special problems for the soapmaker. One is long time-to-trace. Another is long curing time. A third is scanty, slimy lather.A fourth, possibly related to curing time, is inadequate hardness.

When I decided to "crack the code," I began by buying commercial olive oil soaps as well as handcrafted examples. I wanted to get some idea what I was aiming at. They varied, but at the very least, they all had good lather. Some had denser, more creamy lather than others, but none of them were slimy.

Researching early soaps, I learned that all-vegetable oil soaps developed as luxury soaps, and as far as the record goes, they were made in factories. The manufacturing processes were hot processes, involving prolonged boiling. Marseille soap, also an olive oil product, took about two weeks to make, and it was made with seawater.


This got me thinking. What if I used HP or CPOP for Castile soap?

What if I used salt water? Some sources claim this helps cut the sliminess that plagues Castile lather.

I did more research on what other soapmakers are doing and found those recommendations, along with other ideas
  1. Use 5% castor oil to help with trace and lather
  2. Use 1 teaspoon of sugar per pound of oils to help with trace and lather.
  3. Substitute KOH for 5% of the NaOH. (Courtesy of Curious Soapmaker)
  4. Add a small amount of finished soap to help emulsify the lye and oils. (Also from Curious Soapmaker)
  5. In my experience, some stick blenders handle olive oil soaps better than others.
    See my stick blender review page for more information about this.)

Another idea that occurred to me was that most of my CP soaps contain some hard fats, which I melt and mix with the liquid fats. This means that the entire fat mixture is somewhat warm when I add the lye solution. But I've always made olive oil soaps with room temperature oil. What if I warmed the olive oil slightly to help speed trace?

The recommended amount of salt to add to soap was 1/2 teaspoon per pound of oils, so I decided to try that. And, since hot process is something I haven't explored much, I decided to try CPOP, at least at first.

This gave me a handful of ideas to start with. I tried them in various batches of soap.

They apparently all work. Or possibly, the good results were mostly a product of the hot processing, and the other changes may or may not have helped much. Adding sugar and/or castor oil did make the lather thicker and more stable.

As always, I haven't tested every possibility on a structured, scientific basis. I encourage others to pursue my ideas as well as their own, and contact me if they want to follow up.


Castile Soap Made Easy

Make this in a two-pound log mold. You need a good stick blender for this to really count as "easy." The sugar and salt improve the lather and probably reduce the curing time.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees F (65C)

30 ounces (851 grams) olive oil
9 ounces (255 grams) water
1 teaspoon non-iodized salt, optional
2 teaspoons sugar, optional
3.8 ounces (109 grams) lye (sodium hydroxide)

Dissolve sugar and/or salt in water. Dissolve lye in water.
Heat olive oil to about 110 degrees F (43C).
Add lye to olive oil and blend to trace.
Pour into mold, cover, and oven process for two hours. Turn off heat and leave mold in oven until it comes to room temperature.
Unmold and slice soap.
Let the soap cure for at least two weeks.

Castor Oil Variation

Use 28.5 ounces (808 g) of olive oil and 1.5 ounces (43 g) of castor oil. Lye and water amounts are unchanged. Salt and/or sugar are optional.
This variation may take longer to set and harden. It's not a "purist's Castile" according to modern soapmaking standards, although soaps labeled as Castile contained vegetable oils other than olive from a rather early date. This variation produces more bubbly lather than pure olive oil soap would probably have.

KOH Variation

For the 3.8 ounces (109 g) of sodium hydroxide, substitute 3.7 ounces (104 g) of sodium hydroxide and .3 ounces (8.4 g) of potassium hydroxide. Sugar and/or salt may be used. CPOP as above. The soap will be much softer when the CPOP process is complete, but will harden as it cools. I thought this was the most successful of my Castile soaps, although they were all good. This version lathers better than soap made with all NaOH, because KOH produces a more soluble soap--which is why it's used for liquid soap.

Grated Soap Variation

I added .18 ounces (5 g) of finely grated Castile soap to the water, and stirred gently until it was dissolved. Then added the lye and proceded per the recipe, except that I didn't heat the olive oil, since I wanted to see if the grated soap would make the soap trace faster by itself.

The grated soap speeded trace up--a lot. But there was a disadvantage. The lye solution was opaque and contained granules. I stirred long enough to be satisfied that the granules were soap, not lye. But this is one soap that should be tested thoroughly with pH papers after oven processing, to make sure it doesn't have specks of lye in it.

When I first sliced the loaf, I could see traces of the grated soap, but they disappeared as the soap cured.

Laundry Soap Variation

For laundry soap, you want 0% superfatting, so increase the lye to 4.1 ounces (115 grams). Don't use sugar, salt, or castor oil.

Dog Soap Variation

The recipe is superfatted at 5%. If your dog's skin is dry, increase the superfatting.You can increase to as high as 8%.


Increasing Lather

In ordinary soaps as well as in Castile soap, everyone likes good lather. In addition to the Castor and KOH variations discussed above, here are some ways to increase it.

Lather Boosting Ingredients

Oils--The commonly-used soapmaking fats that boost bubbly lather are coconut, fractionated coconut, palm kernel, babassu, and castor. Creamy lather is increased by many fats, including castor, cocoa butter, most animal fats, olive oil, and wheat germ oil. For a complete table of soapmaking fats and their qualities, courtesy of the SoapCalc web site, click here.

Liquids--Liquids that contain sugars or carbohydrates increase bubbly lather. Some seem to work better than others. Beer is excellent. Milk products are also very helpful. Fruit juices can be helpful. Most of these liquids should be used frozen to prevent the lye from burning the sugars.

Additives--Sugar and similar products such as honey can be used in small amounts to boost bubbly lather. Dissolve in the water or other liquid and freeze.

Crinkle Cutter with Bar of Castile Soap. The ridges improve the lather quite a bit.

Ingredients to Consider Avoiding

Some ingredients are said to decrease lather, although not everyone agrees about this.

Stearic Acid--May increase creamy lather but decrease bubbly.
Beeswax--If more than about 2% of the oils, it may decrease lather.
Titanium Dioxide--Sometimes said to decrease lather. Other soapmakers say it does not.

Surface Texture

A bar of soap with a ridged surface has more surface area than a flat one. This produces better lather. The surface texture lasts longer as the soap is used than I would have expected.

Some single bar molds have strong patterns or ridges on the surface. A block of soap can be cut with a crinkle cutter.


A net or mesh bag will increase lather, because it grates the soap. The best net bags I ever used were made of a fine tulle called English netting. Acrylic or nylon soap saver pouches or sisal bags will also help a soap lather.


Hard water produces poor lather. If you live in an area with hard water, you may get a major improvement by using water softener.

Soap lathers better in warm water than in cold.


What would I do?

So, what would I do if I were making Castile soap for myself?

I'd use the KOH variation with the added salt and sugar.

I'd warm the olive oil before mixing with the other ingredients.

I wouldn't go any farther out of my way to improve time to trace, because my stick blender makes short work of olive oil soap in any case. (But if anyone else tries liquid soap to accelerate trace, I'd love to hear about it!)

I'd CPOP the soap, slice it with a crinkle cutter, and remember to use it in warm water.

When you CPOP soap, remember to keep the windows open. Your oven probably vents into your house, and depending on your sensitivity to fumes, you may be creating an irritating atmosphere.



Dog Soap

Castile soap is gentle, and probably the best choice for dog soap.

Reading articles about handcrafted dog soap, I was puzzled to see that so many recommend the use of essential oils that are also commonly used as dog repellents. I asked my veterinarian about this. Her opinion is that no scent of any kind should be used in a dog soap. Dogs' sense of smell is keener than ours, and many of them are distressed by strong odors that aren't natural to a dog.

She also said that their skin is delicate, and different from ours. The pH of a dog's skin is less acidic than human skin. Individual dogs may have either dry or oily skin. They may also have allergies, fleas, and irritation from licking.

If you make soap for your dog, pay attention to the way the dog responds to it. If it seems to cause irritation or dryness, use higher superfatting in the next batch. The pH for dog soap should be 7 or slightly below.

If a dog has fleas, I believe it's best to consult your veterinarian, rather than try to formulate a home treatment.


Soaps from the Past: Laundry the Old Way



It has been said that laundry machines cause more problems than they solve, by increasing standards of cleanliness to the point where no labor is saved. This is beyond ridiculous. Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century laundry methods were incredibly laborious. First, soap had to be made--and this may actually have involved rendering the fats and making lye from wood ashes. Then the soap was grated, the clothes washed on a washboard in a boiler, rinsed, hung on a line to dry, starched, and ironed with "sad irons," which were heated without electricity. I'd like to see anyone who would trade their washer/dryer and permanent press for that.

It was grueling work, involving bending, scrubbing, and hauling large tubs of very hot water. Women and servants were the designated launderers, and men might be regarded as henpecked or effeminate if they helped, even if the woman was pregnant.

As time went on, some acknowledgement of the misery of current laundry methods crept into advertising. Purchased laundry soaps became available, at first advertised as economical, then, more and more, as labor saving. They were made in flakes or powder, saving the labor of grating. Various ingredients were touted as making the process easier. Advertising showed well-dressed women, completely unruffled, using the product. Or little girls were pictured, happily laundering doll clothes.

Probably, none of these products was much of an improvement on the others.

Very few soapmakers today, if any, would wish to go back to those days. What they want is an economical, practical product they can use in an automatic washer.

Above: Both sides of a Victorian trade card for Pearline Washing Compound.


Below: Trade cards touting the ease of different products. It's fairly safe to guess that none of them lived up to the advertising, as far as effortlessness is concerned. If any product could have made washboard laundry into child's play, there would have been no need for the automatic washing machine to be invented.

19th Century Washboard--Some were wood like this one, many were metal. Washboards for delicate items were made of glass.

Various clothes wringers, from Pacific Hardware and Steel Co.'s 1902 catalog.

The women who used this "sad iron" would have been surprised to know that it's now a decorative collectible."Sad" in this case means heavy, though I doubt anyone felt much joy in ironing with these things.

The irons were heated in a stove or fireplace and got some of their ironing power from sheer weight.The wood handle is detachable.


"Alleged progress abounds in ironies. Why didn't they invent tumble-dry fabrics before they invented the voluminous petticoats women used to wear? But no, it was the other way around. And the more magic fabrics and dryers we have, the fewer clothes we wear..."

Peg Bracken, A Window over the Sink


Soaps from the Past: Historical Castile Soap

Unlike Marseille Soap, Castile was not defined and limited by law. Traditionally made of only vegetable fats, Castile was not limited to olive oil, or to any particular oil. As early as the late Nineteenth Century, advertising trade cards describe "Castile" soap made of other oils. This was described as an advantage, so there must not have been any particular feeling that Castile soap "should" be an olive oil soap, although it almost certainly was originally that.

Because the term has been stretched to cover so many mild, vegetable fat based soaps, it's very difficult to research the development of Castile as an olive oil soap.

The 19th Century advertisement to the left shows that "Castile" could mean any vegetable oil soap. The advertised product, made from cottonseed oil, was probably not very similar to the olive oil Castile soaps of Europe.

It's interesting that this soap is also advertised as a floating soap, and there were others at that time, as well. It came as news to me that Ivory was not the first floating soap.


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