Bathing in Fat

Well, not really…..

Close to a year ago, I started making my own soap. It started out as a way to reduce or eliminate chemicals in cosmetics. Why go to all the trouble of having an organic garden when what you put on your body is just as important as what you put into your body?

Similar to anything else I’ve tried, I did lots of research on the best homemade soaps and methods. Unfortunately, most of the recipes and trials I reviewed used expensive ingredients that I didn’t really need. I started out using shea butter, cocoa butter and other higher end oils. The resultant soap was all right, but because cost effectiveness is an important attribute to me, I used what I learned from initial batches to try new ingredients.

Thanks to soapcalc, there is a very long list of viable oil options to use in either liquid or bar soap, including animal fat. It doesn’t really matter what kind of fat it is–what matters is the saponification value. That number is extremely important because it determines how much sodium or potassium hydroxide is needed to react with the fat to make soap. My fellow chemistry and science geeks will understand this :-).

Since the type of fat doesn’t matter (as long as the saponification value is known and can be converted to an accurate weight addition for a unique recipe), I can use the fat I skim from homemade bone broth for soap making. Though I eat a plant-based diet, I still incorporate animal byproducts for health reasons. I also have a meat-eating family that creates significant waste from packaged meats. I never throw bones or trimmed fat away before cooking them down for up to 72 hours to make nutritious bone broth. The fat that is separated from chilled bone broth prior to preservation is one of three ingredients in the soap pictured in this blog. The other ingredients are sodium hydroxide and less than a quarter ounce each of lavender and sandalwood essential oils.

If you’re wondering, the time it takes to make almost a dozen bars of soap that will last for months is well under an hour. In fact, it takes about five minutes to weigh the fat, input the info into soapcalc, generate a recipe, and weigh the remaining ingredients. The fat usually takes about ten minutes to heat to roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The sodium hydroxide can be added to the water while the oil/fat is heating. Once the oil reaches the desired temperature, the dissolved sodium hydroxide is added to the oil, along with essential oils, and the ingredients are mixed with a stick blender for 12-15 minutes. The mixture gets poured into molds, covered for 24 hours, and then cures for a couple of weeks. This is NOT a time-consuming exercise and requires less investment than most cooking recipes.

By the way, I realize sodium and potassium hydroxide are man-made chemicals. At some point, I make decisions based on “better alternatives.” For me, knowing what is in my soap, absent of lathering agents and synthetic fragrances that give me migraines, is a better alternative to store bought options. I also have control over how much to make and when, and there is zero packaging waste. Also, by using animal fat, I am upcycling material that would normally be making its way to a landfill to decompose. It’s a win-win even if it’s not a completely “organic” option.

If you’re interested in making your own soap, pursuing a ZeroWaste lifestyle, or just want to try something new, homemade soap making is for you. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of safety when you’re working with the potassium or sodium hydroxide. With a little practice, you’ll be “bathing in fat” and enjoying a cost-effective eco friendly alternative to store bought soap.

©, February 14, 2018


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