At Starseeds, we're embracing the spirit of Plastic Free July with fun and creative ways to go zero waste. So we've asked herbalist and hormone expert Natasha Richardson to take us through how to make natural and eco-friendly soap, to help your bathroom become a little more sustainable, and leave your skin feeling and smelling beautiful.
Soap making is an alchemical process where ingredients you normally wouldn’t dream of bathing with are transformed into the wonderful smelling soap bars we all know and love. At the most fundamental level soaps are made of 3 ingredients; oil/fat, lye and water. Anything else added is for personal taste and purpose of the soap. For instance, you may wish to add essential oils for their healing properties or milks for their soothing textures.
Because a chemical reaction occurs in soap making it’s important to take the proper precautionary steps (if you're concerned about the lye, have a read of the science behind lye and soap here).
- Always work in a well ventilated area
- Always wear protective clothing including gloves, mask and goggles.
- Always follow the instructions to avoid injury
So now the health and safety bits are out of the way, let's get soap making!
My current favourite natural and eco-friendly recipe:
- Oil – Virgin Olive oil 33 oz
- Lye – Caustic soda 4.2 oz
- Water – bottled spring water 10.9 oz
- Sea salt 1tbsp
Sexy additions (it’s more precise to weigh liquids than it is to measure them by ml, especially when being combined with a solid, which is why it’s all in ounces):
- Orange essential oil 1 oz
- Frankincense essential oil 1 oz
Equipment you will need:
- Goggles/eye protection
- Rubber gloves
- A plastic measuring jug
- A glass pyrex bowl
- A deep cooking pot
- A hand blender
- A mould (we use a non-stick loaf tin lined with parchment for ease of removal).
- Some cardboard to make a triangular “house” over your mould
- A tea towel
- 99% surgical spirit in a spritzer bottle
It’s best if you purchase new versions of each of these and preserve them just for soap making because caustic soda debris isn’t something you want to be accidentally eating. If you do find yourself spilling caustic soda over the counter tops, try to clean it away without water to begin with, as it will react with it. Once it looks like it has gone you can use a slightly damp cloth to be absolutely sure it’s clean.
How-To Steps To Make Natural, Eco-Friendly Soap
Step 1. Add the sea salt to the water and stir until dissolved.
Step 2. In a glass bowl, add the caustic soda to the water (never the other way around!) and stir gently. This will start to heat up dramatically as the two react so be careful. It’ll also start to release a gas that is harmful when inhaled so be sure to open all your windows. Set the mix aside till it becomes clear.
Step 3. Measure your olive oil into your big cooking pan.
Step 4. Once the lye-water has reached less than 57 °C (or you can hold the glass bowl comfortably in your hands) it is ready to use.
Step 5. Immerse your hand blender in the oil and slowly pour the lye-water into the oil whilst mixing. Blend this until you can see the two liquids have gone creamy and the blend is thick enough that when you move through, it leaves a trace behind.
Step 6. Slowly add the essential oils and blend that in too.
Step 7. Pour this into the mould until it is approximately three-quarters full. For our mould we use a loaf tin lined with parchment.
Step 8. Spray the top of the soaps with surgical spirit to prevent the tops going a cloudy white colour. Let them sit like this for 48 to 72 hours before taking out of their mould. They will solidify in that time but may still be sticky to touch.
Step 9. After the soap comes out of its mould you can slice them up into bars. Once you’ve done this, the bars need to be left to cure for 3 to 5 weeks. If you use them before then, there is the potential risk that not all the caustic soda has reacted with the oil and water, which can mean bad things for your skin. So be patient. It’s worth it!
Natasha Richardson is a medical herbalist helping people have better periods through natural products and education. She has been helping her patients with problems such as infertility, period pain, PMS, endometriosis, fibroids and PCOS since 2010. Visit her website Forage Botanicals and follow her on Instagram.