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Using our homemade olive oil soap

Posted by on Tuesday 12 April 2011 in making, soap | 9 comments

Last week, we started using our homemade olive oil soap.

You might remember I spent A MILLION HOURS waiting for the damn thing to trace back in February but didn’t think it would work because it was sloppy in the moulds for a few days. Then it started to solidify and I did a happy dance.

So, anyway, after a few more weeks of curing/drying, we started using it last week. I went with one of the 100% olive oil ones, not the one-third olive oil, two-thirds other veg oils (more on those later when we try them).

I was really paranoid at first – worried it would be too caustic or something – so made sure to scrap off the bits of white powder (soda ash) from the edges, rather than just washing it off. Cavitch’s troubleshooting guide says to beware of “excessive” white powder as that can indicate too much lye or hard water has been used – but I don’t think my white powder was “excessive”, just some.

The soap is very pale – almost pure white. Apparently the better quality of olive oil, the paler the resulting soap. My olive oil (which came from Netto) claimed to be extra virgin so this fits. It has quite a neutral smell – slightly olive oil-ish but nowhere near as strong as the olive oil I started with. It’s pretty hard now and doesn’t lather much at all – but that’s expected with pure olive oil soap and the latter isn’t a huge problem as it’s not like we’ll be using it as shaving soap or anything like that.

So anyway, the verdict. It feels nice to use – smooth and silky, and no alkaline burns at all – always a good thing in a soap ;). Because of the play and stuff last week, I haven’t actually got my hands that dirty since we started using the soap so can’t comment on the actual cleaning properties but it leaves my skin feeling clean – and … not “squeaky”. I don’t know how to describe it but whenever I usually use normal bar soap, my skin feels “squeaky” afterwards – presumably either dryness or some sort of residue. That isn’t a problem with our olive oil soap – even when I washed them five times in a row to double-triple-quintiple check that it wasn’t too caustic (yes, really overly paranoid).

As I said explained in my last soap post, we’re not interested in pretty or pleasantly perfumed soaps – we want them to clean us, be long lasting, to have an inoffensive smell, create minimal waste and be frugal. The hardness of this soap means it doesn’t turn to mush in the soap dish and the only waste produced were two plastic bottles (which can be recycled – but one of which was actually reused as a soap mould first).

As for the frugalness, I had used this recipe and method which called for 1 litre of olive oil, 126g of caustic soda and 300g of water. I paid £2.52 for the olive oil from Netto, about £1.50 (I’ve lost the receipt!) for 500g of caustic soda from Wilkinsons (so about 38p for the amount I used) and tap water (which is effectively free), so the consumables cost around £2.90 for the batch. (I did buy a pan and steel dish to use too – but they’ll be used again for soap making and other non-foody pursuits (such as dyeing) so I considered them a general craft supply costs rather than including them in these figures.)

Weighing it just now, I’ve got around 1050g of dried, ready-to-use soap – or 35p per 125g bar — my bars differ in sizes (from about 50g, for the ones from the fruit tray mould – as seen in the pictures – to about 125g for ones shaped in an old mini roaster tray) but that’s the size of a bar of Oliva soap, which is the 100% olive oil soap we’d used previously, so is a good comparison. Oliva usually costs about £1 a bar.

All in all, I’m glad I tried it and I’m very happy with the result – but it was a bit of a faff. I think I did the right thing by processing two loads of soap on the same day so made economies of scale re: faffiness. Hopefully the soap we’ve got now will last us about a year – I’d happily do it once every six months or a year but I couldn’t be bothered doing it much more frequently than that.


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  1. Chiot's Run

    Great breakdown and info. I’ve always thought about trying to make soap – but it’s one of those areas I’m happy to support other small locals who do it. I just haven’t found the time to do it. It would be a great winter activity though, seems like a great experiment.

    I wonder if this would work for homemade laundry soap?

  2. Attila

    Thanks for that and the link. I’ve been wanting to make soap for ages, found a good tutorial and then lost it!

  3. Rachel

    I’m thinking of trying pure olive oil next time, so it’s good to hear yours has worked well. I’m totally with you on the caustic soda paranoia, too – not worth taking chances with that stuff!

  4. Colleen

    Thank you for this post and the previous one when you made the soap. I have been curious to find out how it worked out. I am inclined to agree with you that the savings may not be worth all the faffing about and I appreciate that you went to the time and expense to work that our for us so I didn’t have to do it myself. I will likely just continue to find soap that comes in multiples in recyclable cardboard boxes (rather than plastic packaged stuff) and be doen with the idea of making it myself.

  5. sara

    Thanks for this post,we have been looking into it..i want to do some as me and the tots have very sensitive skin..i avoid soap like the plague..hubby is at a loose end next wk so i’ll be asking him to do it for me..i’m busy next wk lol..besides he has more patience than me..
    take care

  6. Claire

    Thanks for the run down :-) I buy handmade olive oil soap from the farmers market. A bar will last us a month in the shower. It costs less than the pears transparent soap I used to favour so I’m not in any great hurry to make my own soap except out of curiosity of the process.

  7. louisa

    Hi guys,

    Just an update on the lathering first: we’ve discovered it lathers a lot more if you use a body puff/scrubber thing or a hairy person to create some friction!

    Chiot’s Run: I’ve used the (roughly shredded) offcuts of my olive and veg oil soaps as laundry soap – not really done any serious testing though so can’t really say how well it worked. Will experiment and let you know :)

    Attila: that was the simplest recipe I could find – hope it works for you :)

    Rachel: I was happy with the 100% olive oil one but am on the look out for other stuff-from-supermarket recipes so let me know if you spot any!

    Colleen: glad my experience was useful for you too :)

    sara: olive oil soap is supposed to be good for sensitive skin as it moisturises but allows the skin to breath at the same time. We don’t have sensitive skin so I can’t comment on it but my mum does and I’m going to get her to try it – will update on that.

    Claire: Sounds like you’ve got a good deal at the farmers market – I’d probably stick with that too!

  8. tarka

    Hi Louisa,
    I’m really interested in making this but have struggled to find the caustic soda/lye – so I was really interested to read that you bought yours at Wilkinsons! Do you recall what section it was in? I’ve hunted on their website but haven’t found it. Thank you!

    • louisa

      Hi tarka,

      I can’t find it on their website either but in the shop, it was on the aisle with all the random harsh cleaners (like drain cleaners). I remember having to spend ages looking for it then feeling really silly when it was pointed out as it was directly in front of me with “CAUSTIC SODA” written on the bottle in big letters. It was in a white bottle with a blue label iirc. Hope you manage to find it!

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