I decided to make beeswax soap for Christmas gifts last year. It has been on my list of things I should probably know how to do and when my stepfather, who keeps bees, brought me seven pounds of beeswax from his hives, I thought the time was right.
I started my soap-making adventure with a recipe for beeswax soap from the book, “Beeswax Alchemy”. This book contains directions for making candles, balms and bars, salves, cream and scrubs, soap, and even beeswax art.
You can either acquire your beeswax from a beekeeper, which I was fortunate enough to be related to, or you can buy it online and it comes in handy little balls that are easy to measure and melt. The wax I had was in giant hunks which I sawed off with a bread knife. I do not recommend this method. It’s maddening. Since then I have learned another method which would have saved me a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
First, beeswax becomes brittle when frozen and is much easier to cut. Secondly, and I think I will go this route next time, the wax can be melted and poured onto a large cookie sheet lined with freezer paper. Once hardened, the wax can be broken off into small chunks without sawing at it like a crazed butcher.
You can make soap without beeswax, however, I wanted to use the beeswax I had on hand because the scent is wonderful and it has conditioning properties that I wanted to in my soap. There is a very basic non-beeswax soap recipe found here.
Without lye, there is no soap. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is required to make the chemical reaction that makes soap. Period. I had seen lye in the hardware store for cleaning out drains and thought that there must be a softer, gentler lye available for making soap. To my surprise, the lye I made soap with to give my loved ones was made with the same highly caustic chemical that will burn the eyes out of your head. Since lye is so dangerous, I want to give you some tips:
Measure everything correctly. This is not the time for measuring with your eyes, use a digital scale, it is most accurate. If your lye to fat ratio is off, or you have added too much beeswax you will waste your time because your soap will be sludgy or rubbery.
Once you have added the water to lye, it’s all business. Wear clothing to cover your skin and protective eye-wear.
When the water is added it creates fumes that should not be breathed in. I didn’t know this and I leaned over the pot of lye and took a deep breath. I am still here, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Only use stainless steel. The lye will react badly with other metals. I bought a stainless steel pot that I use only for soap making. I just cannot make mashed potatoes and serve them from the same pot that had a toxic chemical in it. I am just weird that way.
Other equipment you need to make soap
Immersion blender – This is a luxury item. You can mix all your ingredients up with a STAINLESS STEEL whisk, but I have to tell you, this blender made mixing so much faster and easier.
Freezer paper – You can buy large rolls of it and it is essential for lining cardboard if you are making your own rectangular molds. It is also nice to wrap the soap in and tie with twine to give as gifts or just to store for yourself.
Soap molds vs. cardboard – If you use the cardboard and make a box (approximately the size of a bread pan) and line with freezer paper. I bought a silicon soap mold that was the right size. The advantage of a mold is that it will be more durable than cardboard over time and you don’t have to fool with the freezer paper. You can get fancier molds that have lovely designs in them, but I opted for the box shape and cut with a blade for a more homesteader look.
Fragrance – I bought essential oils and used the lemongrass. Any of the essential oils will work great, but I would buy the most concentrated possible so the scent is present. You can combine scents to create something unique, or just use one of them for a distinguishable scent.