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Simple & Natural Soapmaking: Create 100% Pure and Beautiful Soaps with The Nerdy Farm Wife's Easy Recipes and Techniques

Simple & Natural Soapmaking: Create 100% Pure and Beautiful Soaps with The Nerdy Farm Wife's Easy Recipes and Techniques

by Jan Berry
Simple & Natural Soapmaking: Create 100% Pure and Beautiful Soaps with The Nerdy Farm Wife's Easy Recipes and Techniques

Simple & Natural Soapmaking: Create 100% Pure and Beautiful Soaps with The Nerdy Farm Wife's Easy Recipes and Techniques

by Jan Berry


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Create Fabulous Modern Soaps The Truly Natural, Eco-Friendly Way

With this new comprehensive guide, herbalist Jan Berry offers everything the modern-day enthusiast needs to make incredible botanical soaps. Beginners can join in the sudsy fun with detailed tutorials and step-by-step photographs for making traditional cold-process soap and the more modern hot-process method with a slow cooker. Jan presents 50 easy, unique soap recipes with ingredients and scents inspired by the herb garden, veggie garden, farm, forest and more. Sample soap recipes you won’t want to miss are Lavender Milk Bath Bars, Sweet Honey & Shea Layers Soap, Creamy Avocado Soap, Citrus Breeze Brine Bars, Mountain Man Beard & Body Bars and Classic Cedarwood & Coconut Milk Shave Soap. Featured resources are Jan’s handy guides to common soapmaking essential oils and their properties, oil and milk infusions with healing herbs and easy decoration techniques. The book also contains Jan’s highly anticipated natural colorants gallery showcasing more than 50 soaps that span the rainbow. Soap crafters of all levels will enjoy referencing this book for years to come.

*All recipes are sustainably palm-free!*

Expand your herbal product collection with these other books in Jan Berry's bestselling series:
- Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps (newly released!)
- The Big Book of Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home (coming April 2020, available for pre-order now)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781624143847
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 08/08/2017
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 119,375
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 8.95(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Jan Berry is the soapmaker and herbalist behind The Nerdy Farm Wife. She’s also the author of 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home. Jan lives on a small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her husband and two teenagers, where she enjoys gardening, crafting pretty herbal concoctions, caring for a menagerie of farm animals and, of course, soapmaking.

Read an Excerpt


Part 1

Getting Started Making Simple Natural Soaps

Besides being a practical DIY skill to know, soapmaking is also a fun way to express yourself creatively. It's a hobby that produces a useful item that never fails to be welcomed by family and friends. Virtually everyone loves a good bar of handmade soap!

One of the most outstanding attributes of handcrafted soap is that it's kinder to your skin than most store-bought bars. When you make your own soap from scratch, glycerin, a natural byproduct of soapmaking, is distributed throughout each bar. Glycerin is highly beneficial and helps keep skin supple and moisturized. The companies that produce commercially made soap separate out the glycerin and sell it as a manufacturing commodity, which is one reason why those with sensitive skin may find store-bought soaps drying.

If you have allergies, fragrance sensitivities or certain ingredients you avoid for ethical or religious reasons, then making your own soap from scratch is the ideal way to make sure nothing harmful or unwanted gets on your skin.

When you're the one in charge of the entire soapmaking process from start to finish, you can know with full certainty that your family and friends are getting the purest and best product you can provide.


A few generations ago, our great-great–grandmothers made their own lye, called potash, using wood ashes and water. They combined this highly caustic substance with fat rendered from butchered animals and boiled the mixture over an outdoor fire for many hours until a soft soap was formed. While this resulted in a truly natural soap, it was also difficult to control the quality of the final product.

These days, we have manufactured substitutes to replace that wood-ash solution. Sodium hydroxide, also called caustic soda or lye, is used to create solid bars of soap, while potassium hydroxide is used to make liquid soaps. With these standardized ingredients, the guesswork has been removed and modern soapmakers can reliably produce batch after batch of gentle, balanced soap.

Many crafty types find themselves interested in making their own soaps, but are concerned about handling lye. They often wonder if it's possible to make soap without it.

The short answer to this question is no. By definition, soap is what you end up with when fats and oils are combined with a highly caustic solution, no matter if it's our great-grandmother's potash or our modern-day sodium hydroxide.

When lye meets oils and fats, a chemical reaction occurs that changes both substances. Once that reaction is complete, you no longer have oils or lye; you've created soap! If made correctly, no lye is left in the final product. It's all used up and transformed on a molecular level during the process of converting the oils into soap.

By checking the label of your favorite store-bought soaps, you'll see that most are made using this method as well. You're likely to find words like sodium cocoate or sodium tallowate in the ingredient list. Those are just fancy ways of describing coconut oil or tallow (animal fat) that has reacted with sodium hydroxide (lye). Sometimes, labels may list ingredients such as saponified coconut oil or saponified olive oil. Saponified is another way to describe oils or fats that have been turned into soap after being exposed to lye.

If your favorite commercially produced soap doesn't list anything like that on the label, then it's likely made with one or more lather-producing synthetic detergents, such as sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate, instead.


If you decide to venture into soapmaking, follow standard safety precautions to help reduce the risk of serious harm. Like other household chemicals, lye can be dangerous if handled improperly, but you will rarely encounter issues if you work in a thoughtful and careful manner.

Lye should be used only by responsible adults. Never use it around children or pets.

Wear safety goggles, long sleeves and gloves during soap-making sessions. Lye solution and fresh soap batter can cause serious damage to your eyes and painful burns on your skin. If this happens, rinse repeatedly with generous amounts of cold water for several minutes. Seek medical attention promptly for eye contact and large burns.

Sodium hydroxide is available in pellets, granules or flakes. All work equally well to make soap, though extra care is needed when working with flakes, as they tend to emit powder into the air that can be breathed in, irritating the lungs more easily. If dry lye spills on a surface in your work area, carefully brush off as much as you can, then wipe over the area with a damp cloth several times.

Always pour lye slowly into water that's room temperature or colder. By adding water to dry lye or pouring lye into hot water you risk overheating and producing a volcano effect. For this reason, it's a good idea to mix the lye solution in your kitchen sink. If any accidents occur, they will be contained and much easier to clean up than a countertop spill.

Avoid breathing in fumes. When lye is first mixed with water, it will form strong fumes. Work in a well-ventilated area such as outdoors, in front of a window or under an exhaust fan. Turn your head away as you stir. If you find yourself sensitive to the fumes, consider wearing a respirator.

Clearly label containers intended for mixing and holding lye solution with a skull and crossbones symbol, and when filled, place in a safe location out of reach of children and pets. By doing this, even nonreaders will realize the contents should not be handled or ingested. Just like bleach and other strong household chemicals, lye can be fatal if accidentally swallowed.

Use the proper equipment. Never use aluminum when making soap, as it will combine with lye to form a toxic reaction. Mix your lye solution in a heavy-duty heatproof plastic container (look for recycle symbol number 5 on the bottom) or stainless steel, as glass has the potential to shatter. Stir the lye solution with a heavy-duty silicone or heatproof plastic spatula or spoon. Have separate equipment for measuring and mixing lye and do not reuse them for food preparation.

Remember that these are worst-case scenarios. Soap is made every day by people all over the world without incident. Caution when handling is wise and necessary, but don't allow fear to keep you from trying out a rewarding new pastime.


An important tool for soapmakers, lye calculators are used to determine the exact amount of lye needed to create a balanced bar of soap.

Oils and fats are unique in their individual makeup and require differing amounts of lye (sodium hydroxide) to turn into soap. For example, olive oil requires roughly twice as much lye to saponify (turn into soap) than jojoba oil. If you decided to replace the olive oil in a recipe with jojoba instead and didn't change the lye amount, you may end up with too much lye.

There are several lye calculators available to use for free online and while they vary somewhat in their layout and appearance, they all return reliable results, as far as how much lye you need for the amount of oils in a recipe. You can find a listing of online lye calculators in the resource section in the back of this book.

My preference is to use the one found at for its straightforward simplicity, so that's the one I refer to in the instructions below.


All new-to-you soap recipes, even ones in this book, should be double-checked with a lye calculator before making. Typing and printing errors happen, so taking a quick minute to make sure the recipe is correct will be time well spent.


Go to (my preferred online lye calculator) and click on the link that says Lye Calculator. You'll be presented with a form to fill in.


Select whether you want to work in ounces or grams, double check that the lye type is sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), which is the type of lye needed to make solid bars of soap, then scroll down to the big list of oils.


Input the oils listed in the recipe that you're interested in making. As an example, if the recipe requires 15 ounces (425 g) of olive oil and 5 ounces (142 g) of coconut oil, and you're working in ounces, then input the number 15 inside the box beside olive oil and the number 5 inside the box beside coconut oil. Scroll to the bottom and click the Calculate Lye button.


A new screen will appear with the results, which break down in the following way.

In the Liquids box, the calculator gives a range of liquid to use in your recipe. For our example recipe from step 3, it tells us we need approximately 5 to 8 ounces (142 to 227 g) of liquid. If you use the lower number, your soap will reach trace and set up in the mold more quickly than usual. Sometimes, this is a good thing, such as when making castile soap; other times, the soap batter will move too rapidly to easily work with. The lower range is not recommended for beginners. The higher end of the water range, in this case 8 ounces (227 g), will give you plenty of time for swirls or more intricate details, but will also take longer to reach trace and firm up in soap molds, plus may need a slightly longer cure time to permit excess water to evaporate. The middle of the range, in this case 6.5 ounces (185 g), is a happy medium that should give good results. An even easier way to determine water amount for your recipe is by employing a handy tip learned from Amanda Aaron of the Lovin Soap website (see Resources) and just use twice as much water as lye.

Beside the Liquids box, you'll see a Fats & Oils section that breaks down your recipe's oils into percentages. This is helpful to compare against the recommendations in theSoapmaking Oils and Fats and Their Properties. While those guidelines are suggestions only and shouldn't be taken as gospel, if you see a recipe requiring 85 percent jojoba oil, you'll know there might be an error somewhere.

Right beside Fats & Oils is a lye table. In most cases, you want the lye amount to fall in the 5 to 8 percent range.

Once you've verified that the recipe you're interested in has a safe amount of lye, you're ready to make your soap.


You'll need the following equipment to make soap. While experts aren't in total agreement on the matter, I personally do not recommend using the same tools and containers for both soapmaking and cooking, especially containers used to measure and mix lye and essential oils.

Rubber or latex gloves, goggles and a long-sleeved shirt will keep hands, eyes and arms protected. Do not handle lye, lye solution or raw batter without putting on this important safety gear first. Never get too complacent about safety when it comes to soapmaking, no matter your level of experience and expertise.

Dry lye can be weighed using a small plastic, glass or stainless steel container. You could also use small disposable bathroom cups for this purpose.

The liquid for the lye solution can be weighed in a stainless steel or heavy-duty plastic container with a recycle number 5 symbol on the bottom. Because the lye solution can heat to over 200ºF (93ºC), glass is not recommended, as the quick temperature change can cause it to shatter.

Oils and the lye solution can be mixed together in a medium-sized container or mixing bowl. My local DIY store has heavy-duty 2.5-quart (2.37-L) plastic paint mixing buckets that work perfectly for this purpose. You can also use Pyrex at this point since it won't be directly exposed to the temperature fluctuation of the lye solution. Stainless steel, enamel-lined pots or the ceramic liner that comes with a slow cooker are other options. Don't use aluminum, cast iron or non-stick containers or utensils when making soap as they can react adversely to the lye.

Ingredients should be weighed with an accurate digital scale. I use two different scales, a standard kitchen scale for weighing water, oils and lye and a more precise scale for measuring small amounts of extra additives and essential oils. For years I only owned a digital kitchen scale and it worked just fine. Check your local store that carries kitchen supplies for a reasonably priced scale.

A thermometer is needed for checking oil and lye solution temperatures. A standard candy thermometer, designated for soapmaking only, works well for this purpose. When you're ready to upgrade, a handheld infrared thermometer is much easier to use and well worth the investment. Check your local hardware or DIY store for a reasonably priced infrared thermometer.

An immersion blender, also called a stick blender, speeds up the length of stirring time from hours to mere minutes. Cheaper isn't always better with this purchase since inexpensive motors tend to overheat and need replacing more often.

You'll also need a soap mold to pour the soap batter in. This can be a standard style loaf mold or individual molds. See the following section for more in-depth information on molds.


Each recipe in this book, except the shaving soap here, will yield roughly 2.5 pounds (1.13 kg) of soap.

Most of the soaps were developed and tested using a commonly found regular silicone loaf mold that measures 3.5? × 8? × 2.5? (8.9 × 20.3 × 6.4 cm) and holds up to 44 ounces (1.25 kg) or a homemade wooden mold built with similar dimensions.

Round soaps were made in a silicone two-piece column mold with cavity dimensions of 9¾" (25 cm) length × 2¾? (7 cm) diameter, while specially shaped soaps were made in a variety of individual silicone molds.

If you're anxious to make your first batch of soap, but haven't gotten around to purchasing a mold yet, an empty clean milk carton makes a great starter mold. Simply cut off the carton's top, make a batch of soap and pour it directly into your newly created mold. Allow it to stay in the mold for 24 hours before peeling away the paper.


Vegetable oils and butters, along with animal fats, can all be used for making soap. Over the next few pages, I share some of the more commonly available kinds, plus some suggested usage rates to consider when making substitutions or creating your own recipes. Treat these numbers as general guidelines only and don't be afraid to experiment outside of the lines.


— high in vitamin E and helps to nourish and moisturize dry skin. Use up to 15 to 20 percent in a soap recipe.

APRICOT KERNEL OIL (PRUNUS ARMENIACA) — a nutritious oil, rich in essential fatty acids. It has similar properties as sweet almond oil in a soap recipe, making it a great substitute for those allergic to almonds. Apricot kernel oil is especially good for dry or mature skin. Use up to 15 to 20 percent in a soap recipe.

ARGAN OIL (ARGANIA SPINOSA) — a luxurious oil pressed from argan nuts, rich in antioxidants and valued for its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties in skin care. It's also a popular addition to shampoo bar recipes for its ability to promote healthy hair growth. Use up to or around 10 percent in a soap recipe.

AVOCADO OIL (PERSEA GRATISSIMA) — a rich oil, full of essential fatty acids and carotenoids. Since it's pressed from the fruit, it's a great choice for those with tree nut allergies. While the unrefined version of avocado oil contains more moisturizing compounds, keep in mind that its dark green color may affect how natural colorants look in your soap, enhancing greens, but potentially muddying other shades. Use up to 15 to 20 percent in a soap recipe.

BABASSU OIL (ORBIGNYA OLEIFERA) — a moisturizing and anti-inflammatory solid oil high in lauric acid. It behaves similarly to coconut oil in soap, making it a perfect substitute for those who are allergic to coconuts. While the oil is derived from the babassu palm tree that grows in South America, it should not be confused as a product of the modern palm oil industry that's currently surrounded by many environmental and humanitarian issues. Babassu oil can be used up to or around 30 percent in a soap recipe, though just like coconut oil, it can be drying if used in high amounts.

CASTOR OIL (RICINUS COMMUNIS) — a thick oil high in ricinoleic acid. A small amount, or around 5 to 7 percent, of castor oil can be added to any soap recipe to help boost bubbles. Many shampoo bars contain even higher amounts (around 15 percent) to ensure a satisfactory lathering experience. Some soapmakers report that higher amounts of castor oil causes their soap to feel sticky or tacky, though I've not personally experienced that in amounts up to 15 percent.


Excerpted from "Simple & Natural Soapmaking"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Jan Berry.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 6

Part 1 Getting Started Making Simple Natural Soaps 9

Why We Need Lye & How to Handle It Safely 10

How to Check a Soap Recipe with a Lye Calculator 11

Soapmaking Equipment 12

Soapmaking Oils & Fats & Their Properties 14

Shelf Life of Soap & Extending It 17

How to Read Recipes 17

Cold Process Soap Making Directions 19

How to Convert a Cold Process Recipe into a Hot Process Recipe 22

Tips for Safely Cleaning Up 24

Cutting, Curing & Storing Soaps 24

Part 2 Recipes 27

The Simplest Basics 27

Easiest Ever Castile Soap 29

Beginner's Bastille Soap 30

Creamy Shea Butter Bastille Soap 33

Pure Coconut Oil Bars 34

Old-Fashioned Lye Soap 37

Basic Palm-Free Soap Recipes (3 Customizable Versions) 38

Soaps from the Herb Garden 41

Lavender Chamomile Shampoo & Body Bars 43

Double Mint Tiger Stripe Soap 44

Grandma's Yellow Roses Soap 47

Soothing Comfrey & Aloe Soap 48

Purple Basil & Mint Layers Soap 51

Sunny Dandelion Oatmeal Soap 52

Weedy Greens Jewelweed & Plantain Soap 55

Chamomile Tallow Bars 56

Soaps from the Orchard & Veggie Garden 59

Pumpkin Oatmeal Soap 60

Warm Apple Spice & Ginger Soap 63

Simply Carrot Soap 64

Creamy Avocado Soap 67

Heirloom Tomato Soap 68

Fresh Aloe & Cucumber Soap 71

Sunny Corn Silk & Sunflower Soap 72

Soaps from the Farm 75

Goat Milk Shampoo Bars 76

Lavender Milk Bath Bars 79

Classic Oatmeal, Milk & Honey Soap 80

Vanilla Bean & Egg Yolk Soap 83

Milk Chocolate Mint Soap 84

Cottage Garden Soaps 86

Soaps from the Sea 89

Citrus Breeze Brine Bars 90

Cambrian Blue Cooling Salt Bars 93

Rejuvenating Dead Sea Clay Facial Bars 94

Beach Bum Layered Soap 97

Coconut Milk Shampoo Sticks 98

Sea Salt & Seaweed Soap 101

Soaps from the Apiary 103

Sweet Honey & Shea Layers Soap 105

Propolis & Dandelion Soap 106

Honey & Beeswax Soap 109

Orange Honey Shampoo Bars 110

Bee Pollen & Honey Soap 113

Wild Rosehips & Honey Soap 114

Soaps from the Forest 117

Fir Needle & Mint Shampoo & Body Bars 119

Zesty Juniper Berry & Orange Soap 120

Classic Cedarwood & Coconut Milk Shave Soap 123

Mountain Man Beard, Shampoo & Body Bars 126

Old Fashioned Pine Tar Soap 129

Lumberjack Soap 130

Soaps from the Spa 133

Regenerating French Clay & Yogurt Soap 135

Cucumber & Charcoal Swirl Soap 136

Soothing Red Rooibos & Rhassoul Clay Soap 139

Mocha Coffee Bean Scrub Bars 140

Triple Butter Silk & Agave Soap 143

Part 3 Techniques & Tips to Take Soapmaking to the Next Level 144

Tips for Working With Natural Soap Colorants 145

Photo Gallery of Natural Soap Colorants 146

Essential Oils & Usage Rates in Soap 155

How to Blend Essential Oils 158

Other Natural Soap Ingredients & Additives 161

Using Herbal Infusions to Enrich Soap Recipes 162

Suggested Herbs for Infusions 162

Preparing Herbal Oil Infusions 164

Preparing Herbal Tea Infusions 165

Preparing Herbal Milk Infusions 166

3 Ways to Add Milk to Soap 166

Natural Soap Tops 166

Simple Layers 170

Pencil Line 173

Tiger Stripe 174

In the Pot Swirl 177

Funnel Pour 178

Impression Mats 180

Soap Stamps 181

Part 4 Troubleshooting 182

Common Soapmaking Issues 182

How to Rebatch or Save a Soap 185

Confetti Soap 186

Resources 187

About the Author 188

Acknowledgments 188

Index 189

Customer Reviews

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