“All-natural” experiments: Soaps

This post contains affiliate links of things I have actually purchased and use. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to click on the link, but if you do buy, I get a little kick-back from Amazon. 🙂

A little over 2 years ago I got on an “all natural” product kick. I was already eating a “chemical free” diet, due to my sulfite sensitivity, so it seemed like the next step. I had hopes that making my own would be easier, less expensive, and be just better. There was also the bonus that I wouldn’t be subjecting my body, and my family, to anything potentially toxic, nor would the grey water from my drains contribute to any sort of pollution or toxic buildup on our surrounding land or the farm next door.

I went all out. I made my own laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, stain pre-treater/remover, all-purpose cleaner, scouring powder, hand soap, bar soap, and hair detangler. I tried other things like vinegar for a glass cleaner, dishwasher rinse aid, and fabric softener, the “no-poo” method for my hair, and “oil cleansing” my face.

Fast forward, and only a few of the “natural/chemical free” methods have stuck around.

Bar Soap

I had such romantic images of creating my own beautiful bath soaps! With bits of rose petal or lavender in them. Sweet smelling and skin nourishing. Ahh…it was gonna be great! Besides, I had already been using natural soap made from goat’s milk for years, but that stuff is expensive! I’m industrious. I could make it myself!

And then I looked it up….the whole mixing lye with fat and ratios and protective equipment…it was admittedly more complicated (and a bit scarier) than I had imagined. So I went the “easier” beginner route and ordered some melt-and-pour goat’s milk soap to start out with. I’m pretty sure I ordered a pound from an etsy seller with good reviews.

When I got it, I melted down half of the soap in my makeshift double boiler (a glass bowl set inside a stainless pot with water on the stove). I added some vegetable glycerin (extra moisture,) and some coconut oil (extra moisture and supposed to increase lather), and poured them into my molds. To each mold, I quickly added some scented oils (stir, stir, stir with a toothpick), and topped them with appropriate fun toppers:

  • unscented had rolled oats
  • lavender had lavender flower buds
  • cucumber-mint had poppy seeds
  • orange cream had orange rind bits

I know this all sounds easy and straightforward…but it took hours. and hours. and hours. I don’t really remember why, but it was my first time trying, so it could only get better with practice, right? Besides, I made like a dozen little soaps so I wouldn’t have to do this too often.

I WAS SOOOO EXCITED!! I could hardly wait for them to set so I could use one!

And then I took a shower.

They smelled great. They seemed moisturizing, and the fun little toppers I added were great, gentle exfoliators. But they barely sudsed. And after the shower, there was no pleasant lingering scent, but there was a weird, lingering film on my skin.

I tried to love them. I even melted them all down and added more of the soap base and remolded them. Nope. Even less suds.

Truth be told, I wrapped the remaining pretty little “soaps” in nice paper and added them to the Christmas gift baskets I made for my kids’ teachers and work people. I don’t think I’ll be endeavoring to make bar soap again any time soon…


Liquid Hand Soap

Liquid hand soap has always seemed unreasonably expensive to me. Growing up, my mom just pocketed the soaps from hotels we stayed at when we traveled (“We paid for this, it’s ours to take home”) and they ended up in our sink soap dish, so actually buying special soap just to wash hands was foreign from the start. But faced with my own home reality, and no secret stash of hotel soap, what is there to do? I went back and forth between bar soap leftovers, liquid hand soap, foaming liquid hand soap, dish soap…but never got something I liked to use and was comfortable with. (Yes, I realize we’re only talking washing hands here, but sometimes the little things can throw off your whole day.) So in the midst of my “naturalizing” our home, liquid hand soap seemed like it should be on the list.

And it was a huge success! This is one of the ones that has stuck around because:

  • I like the soap I make better than anything I’ve bought at a store
  • It’s sooooo much cheaper than the store bought stuff
  • It’s actually really quick and easy to make….takes me about 5 minutes to make a batch
  • It feels good on my normally dry skin
  • It actually works. It has taken oil/dirt/grim off my sweetheart’s hands better than some of the cleansers he has that are advertised for that function

There are actual ingredients that have to be bought and mixed together, but they are “natural” ingredients that someone else packaged:

Dr bronnersDr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap

Dr. Bronner’s comes in different “flavors,” but I generally only buy the “baby unscented” because I also use it for other things and want the maximum flexibility in a product as far as gentleness. I also like to customize my own smells to suit my mood, rather than be tied to one for as long as it takes me to use up a bottle. And for those who haven’t tried Dr. Bronner’s, it’s all about dilution! The 32 ounce bottle I have at home has lasted our household at least 6 months, although I really think it’s been longer. I’m sure any liquid castile soap would work, but this is what I buy.

(The link above is to Amazon, but check around. Sometimes you can find it cheaper in a local store, but I’ve also found the price can swing quite a bit on the high side too.)


Xanthan Gum (I use Hodgkin’s Mill)

The original recipe I worked from called for guar gum, but they didn’t carry it at my local grocery store, but they did have xanthan gum. It is a food additive, usually used in gluten free baking as a thickener (also in ice cream and other things). It’s made from fermented simple sugars, “xanthan” referencing the strain of bacteria used, Xanthomonas campestris, so I figured this would work out ok. (It’s only added to give the soap a thicker consistency, so can be left out if you’re ok with a more watery product.) As a bonus, I found I needed less of the powder than called for in the original recipe to get the consistency I wanted, so I’ve only gone through 1 1/2 packets so far with over 7 batches of soap made.

Vegetable Glycerin

This is another product I already had around. I’ve used it for the humidor and alcohol-free tincturing, and at least two other things I can’t think of right now. 🙂 The particular brand above is food and pharmaceutical grade, which made me feel like the purity level and care was there to make it purer somehow…I dunno, just how I think.

A dispenser

You could reuse any old soap dispenser. I had dreams of filling my etsy store, so I bought a box of six from One Dream Design. I liked the look, and the price, and they ended up fitting the threading on old whiskey bottles perfectly and gave me the look I was going for. The two we use regularly in our house have lasted with no issues since I first implemented them at over 2 years ago.

Homemade Moisturizing Liquid Hand Soap

My recipe makes roughly 12 ounces of soap. (I reuse old 35 cl whiskey bottles)

  1. Take your bottle, jar, container of choice, and fill it about 1/3 with the Dr. Bonner’s.
  2. Put about a teaspoon of xanthan gum powder in a small bowl.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup of vegetable glycerin to the powder and whisk until combined without clumps
  4. Pour the xanthan gum/glycerin mixture into about 1 1/2 cups of water and whisk again. It should noticeably thicken a bit, and will continue to thicken a bit more over the next hour
  5. Pour your thickened water into the container, cap, and gently turn to combine

That’s it for basic, unscented (or if you use a “flavored” castile, that scent) hand soap. As I said, it will continue to thicken just a bit, but not so much that the pump can’t handle it. If you do want something thicker, a word of caution: don’t just add the xanthan gum to the container, or add it to water without first mixing it with the glycerin. It will clump horribly (from personal experience)!

For Scented Soap

I add essential and/or scented oils at the end, before capping and turning over. I use very little, like 10-15 drops total because I don’t want it too overwhelming, but add to the strength that you like. Play around with combinations that you like…maybe even combining a few drops in a separate vessel or on a paper towel until you find what you think will work. Get creative and have fun with it!

Some useful properties of things I have used

  • Rosemary EO or scented- antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, natural preservative. Aroma – stimulating, clearing
  • Lavender EO or scented – antibacterial, antifungal, stimulates circulation. Aroma – calming, stress reliever
  • Tea tree EO – antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral. Aroma – bright, stimulating
  • Sage EO or scented – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory. Aroma – stimulating, clearing. Sage itself (usually in tea form) helps to combat over sweating. I use a “natural” lavender-sage deodorant (vs. antiperspirant) and it seems to curb sweating for me. I would assume adding sage essential oil could help with hands that tend to be sweaty or clammy.
  • Rose Geranium oil – Tick repellant
  • Lemon/Orange oil – cuts grease

But there’s a million smells out there, and a dozen ways to capture them. I do suggest cross checking any essential oils for contraindications in your particular family, be it pregnancy, nursing, young children, or animals (i.e. I love the way mint smells, my cat, not so much).

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