First Look: Hot Process Soap

I’m not sure what piqued my interest in soapmaking, but it was just that. The whole process seemed difficult and fascinating, but I knew it was something the average DIYer could handle. One night, I picked up the book “Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing, Natural Skin Care Soaps” to learn a little more about the subject. This led to late-night binges of YouTube tutorials and more reading. I wonder if this is how most people get the spark to try something new?

I purchased a few soap-making books including David Fisher – The Complete Photo Guide to Soap Making, Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing, Natural Skin Care Soaps, Soap Crafting – Step-by-Step Techniques for Making 31 Unique Cold-Process Soaps, and a few others. These books helped me better understand the process and get me to the starting line. So – I asked the kiddo if they wanted to learn to make soap. The answer was “Yes”, so I began ordering supplies and picking-up kitchenware to dedicate to the cause.

There are two main processes to make soap: hot-process and cold-process. We decided to start with hot-process soap instead of cold-process because it seemed easier. Hot-process soap becomes usable (fully cured) in a few days. Cold-process on the other hand, takes months to cure. The curing time with hot process is much faster (1-2 weeks vs. 4-6 weeks for cold process) because you literally “cook” the soap though most of the curing stages. Heating the mixture accelerates the saponification (a fancy chemistry term for turning fats and oils into soap) process. Because you need to cook and stir the mixture, you will want to have a crock-pot and other utensils strictly dedicated to making soap. Eventually, we’ll try cold-process, but we didn’t want to wait to test our product!

Here are the items I bought to get started:

Oils (Fats)
Palm Oil (Buy from a participant with the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO))
Coconut Oil
Castor Oil
Olive Oil
Sweet Almond Oil

Essential Oils
Lavender Essential Oil
Tea Tree Essential Oil

Other Ingredients
Plain Greek Yogurt
Lavender Buds
Activated Carbon (the chunkier version of activated charcoal). See notes or you can buy Activated Charcoal.

Immersion Blender
Soap Mold (32oz)
Soap Cutters
Digital Scale
Digital Thermometer
Measuring Cups

Soap is much like kombucha in that you can tweak the recipes to suit your style and tastes. It is best to stick to a recipe until you really understand how the ingredients work. Once you understand how it all goes together, feel free to get creative! The recipe below is what I used. It will fill a 32oz mold and is 5% superfat (superfat refers to the small percent of extra oil that is not saponified because there is not enough lye to change it to soap. Having superfats will ensure your soap is lye free and mild).

Ingredient Mesurments:
Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) 130.31g / 4.60oz
Water Total: 299.38g / 10.56oz **reserve 20% of the water for later use
Castor Oil 36.29g / 1.28oz / 4.0 %
Coconut Oil (76 degrees) 290.30g / 10.24oz / 2.0%
Olive Oil 272.16g / 9.60oz / 30.0%
Palm Oil 272.16g / 9.60oz / 30.0%
Sweet Almond Oil 36.29g / 1.28oz  / 4.0%
Lavender Essential Oil 0.5oz
Tea Tree Essential Oil 0.5oz
Activated Charcoal 1 tbsp
Greek Yogurt 1 tbsp
Sodium Lactate 3% weight to oils. 27.22g / 0.96oz

**Note:For this recipe we will be splitting our water.
Reserve 20% of the water for later use in the recipe : 59.8g / 2.11oz.
80% of the water will go into our lye solution: 239.58g /  8.45oz

Activated charcoal was priced at $3-$4/oz. online plus shipping. If that seems high to you here’s a pro tip – Go to a pet store and buy activated carbon (it is the same thing as activated charcoal). This is a bit more solid than what you would buy in powder form, so you will want to grind it down to a powder. I used an old coffee bean grinder, sifted and repeated. A mortar and pestle would also work. The process is a little messy and I would recommend using a dust mask to reduce the chance of inhaling charcoal powder.

Our hot-process method became a mix information from several sources.  There are a few important safety rules you need to observe when making soap:

  1. ALWAYS be careful when working with Lye and use gloves and safety goggles.
  2. ALWAYS add lye to water. Never add water to lye.
  3. Work in a well-ventilated area when mixing lye. We used the oven hood to mix our lye under, along with turning on the ceiling fan, and opening the kitchen window. You may also choose to mix your lye outside.
  4. Keep children and pets away of the area you are mixing lye. Also, keep Vinegar on hand in case of spills.

Now, onto the process.

Hot-Process Method

  1. Set-up your work area.
  2. Put down a barrier to protect your counter from spills. This can be cardboard, newspaper, plastic sheeting, etc…
  3. Set-up crock-pot and turn to LOW.
  4. Set-up emulsion blender, measuring cups, mixing bowl, scale, etc…
  5. Measure and melt each oil.
  6. Combine all melted oils into the same mixing bowl. Be sure to tare your scale before each new measurement.
  7. Add melted oils to crock-pot.
  8. When the oils reach 100°F, measure out lye and water. Set aside 20% of the water at this time.
  9. Add lye to water (the 80%) stirring until the mixture is clear. Set solution aside and allow to cool to 130°F.
  10. When the lye has cooled to 130°F, add the Sodium Lactate to the lye solution from step 9.
  11. Check temperature of the oils in crock pot. They should be approximately 130°F. When at approximately 130°F, add the lye and sodium lactate solution to the crockpot.
  12. Blend with an emulsion blender for about 10 minutes, until we had a light/medium trace

**To learn more about trace visit this article at Soap Queen.

  1. Once trace was achieved, cover crock-pot with plastic wrap and then set the lid on-top.
  2. Cook for 20 minutes on LOW, keeping a close eye on the crock-pot to make sure it does not overflow.
  3. Check consistency of soap after 20 minutes. At this stage called the separation stage it should look similar to custard around the edges and oil in the middle.
  4. Stir and cover with plastic wrap and lid. Cook another 20 minutes.
  5. Check the consistency of the soap. This time it should resemble applesauce. This is the time to monitor your soap the most to make sure it does not rise out of the crock-pot.
  6. Repeat step 16.
  7. Check the consistency of the soap. It should look similar to vaseline and mashed potatoes.
  8. Test the pH, stir lightly, turn off the heat, and allow to cool below 180°F.
  9. Once cooled, add the 20% water initially set aside and 1 Tbsp of Plain Greek Yogurt. Mix until combined.

Next we add the scent. For this recipe, split the soap in the crock-pot in half. You can use 2 mixing bowls to accomplish this.

  1. Bowl #1 – Add 1 oz. of lavender essential oil. Mix until combined.
  2. Bowl #2 – Added .5 oz Tea Tree Oil and 1 Tbs. (more if you want it darker) of activated charcoal. Mix until combined.
  3. Pour lavender scented soap to the mold. Then, pour the tea tree and charcoal soap on top.
  4. Give the mold a few taps on the table.
  5. If you would like, press some dried lavender buds or other décor on top of soap.
  6. Allow soap to sit for 24 hours before unmolding.
  7. Cut the soap. We used a crinkle cutter.
  8. Evenly space the soap bars on a piece of wax paper and left them cure for 1-2 weeks to allow the soap to harden.
  9. Flip and rotate the soap bars daily.

That’s it!

References and Helpful Links we used
David Fisher – The Complete Photo Guide to Soap Making
Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing, Natural Skin Care Soaps
Soap Crafting – Step-by-Step Techniques for Making 31 Unique Cold-Process Soaps

Summer Squash & Onions

When the kiddo and I were in the grocery store I asked “What do you want for dinner”, the reply was “Squash and Onions with Pork Chops”. I do not know many people that make squash and onions. Growing up only my mom and maybe one or two of my aunts made this side-dish. My mom still makes it, especially when squash is in season. I always though of this as more of a southern disk till Road To Homesteading’s co-author Crystal told me they make it a bunch when they have a garden full of squash or zucchini.

This side dish is simple and delicious. The lovely sweet flavors from yellow crookneck squash really come out when cooked in a pan. You can also use zucchini or a mix of squash and zucchini if you have both on hand.

  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion sliced
  • 1-2 lbs Yellow Summer Squash or Zucchini sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon Salt
  1. Cut up onion and squash

  2. In a skillet melt the butter and add olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Combine the onions and squash in the skillet.
  4. Stir and cook until the onions are slightly translucent. About 10 minutes
  5. Add pepper and salt to taste.
  6. Reduce heat to and continue to cook until the squash is soft and tender. About 10 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and serve.

**Cooking time can vary, especially if you use more or less of onion or squash, along with the size of your slices.

Foraging & Cooking Amber Jelly Mushrooms

**Disclaimer: Before eating any wild mushroom (or any new foraged item) check guides, spore print on species with look-a-likes, and be 100% certain of what you are eating. If you are at all unsure, do not eat it. As with any new food, be on the look-out for allergic reactions. Try a small amount the first time through. Allergic reactions can happen, even if something is known to be edible. **

It was a cool and cloudy afternoon when my friend Bob, his oldest daughter and I set off deep into the forest in search of the elusive amber jelly roll mushroom (Exida recisa). Armed with field guides, we began our search.

Okay, okay – so maybe it was more Bob’s yard at the homestead than a forest, and maybe it only took us a few minutes to wander over by an old oak tree in his yard, but you get the idea.

We found a mess of what appeared to be amber jelly roll mushrooms on fallen branches beneath an old oak tree. We consulted the Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic to confirm identification, but it was not listed in this guide. When foraging for mushrooms it is imperative to confirm identification. There is no room for error even if the mushroom is distinctive and easy to ID, which is why we brought a second field guide to the party – Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. Here we found the amber jelly mushroom listed and could check off the identifying characteristics:

  • Size: small (1-4 cm in width)
  • Color: yellowish-brown or reddish-brown to purple
  • Texture: somewhat gelatinous
  • Growth pattern and location: growing in clusters on hardwood branches and sticks.

It fit the bill. Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada describes the amber jelly roll mushroom as a small (1-4 cm wide) yellowish-brown, reddish-brown to purple colored mushroom with a somewhat gelatinous texture. It is known to grow in clusters on hardwood branches and sticks. Even though this mushroom did not show up in the Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, they seem to be fairly common in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I have seen them many times on hikes throughout the state.

At first glance, the amber jelly roll does look like something you’d want to eat, but this species is edible, like many of the jelly mushrooms. You’ll often find other jelly mushrooms used in Asian cuisine (think soups). Neither Bob or I had tried eating this odd-looking mushroom before, but that was changing today.
We gathered a few handfuls of fungi and carried them back to the house. We soaked them in water and rinsed them clean to remove any bugs or debris. We tasted the fresh mushroom. It was less than exciting – rather bland with a texture on the rubbery side.

We sautéed the mushrooms for about 15 minutes, with some Asian inspired flavors, and we decided to add them to the venison meatballs with homemade sauce and noodles Bob was making for dinner. The blandness of the mushroom worked in its favor, and absorbed the flavors we sautéed them in. The mushroom still retained some of its rubbery texture.

I was really indifferent to the mushrooms raw flavor; though it did hold the added flavors we cooked them in. I really didn’t care much for the texture of the mushroom, but would likely give it another try the future, may be added to a soup or broth which might allow the texture to be less rubbery.

  • 2-3 oz Amber Jelly Mushrooms
  • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 tsp Soy Sauce
  • ½ tsp Rice Vinegar
  • ½ tsp minced Garlic
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes to taste
  1. On medium heat, heat up a pan with the Sesame Oil.
  2. Add the mushrooms, some minced garlic.
  3. Sautéed the mushrooms and Garlic for about 10 minutes
  4. Add in Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar, Salt, and Red Pepper Flakes.
  5. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.

References Books:

Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada
Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic
The Mushroom Cookbook: A Guide to Edible Wild and Cultivated Mushrooms
Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-kitchen Guide

DIY Natural All-Purpose Cleaner

People often think it is difficult or time consuming to make their own Do it Yourself (DIY) cleaning supplies. I’m here to tell you – This is a myth!

This DIY natural all-purpose cleaner will take you around 5 minutes to make. This includes 4 minutes to gather your ingredients and clean your bottle and about 1 minute to toss it all in a bottle and shake! This recipe relies on vinegar and essential oils to naturally loosen grime to clean and freshen all surfaces. I’ve used this on glass, ceramic, tile, plastics, stainless steel, etc… It is gentle and effective.

If you’re new to using essential oils, the start-up cost may be a little daunting. Fear not! There are reasonably priced mid-level starter-kits out there that may put you out $30-40. Pricey – yes – but your starter-kit essential oils will result in so many bottles of cleaner that you will wonder why you waited so long to make DIY cleaners and will never spend $4 on a bottle of commercial cleaner again. I have not done the math, but given you only need 1-3 drops of each essential oil and a couple tablespoons of vinegar for each bottle of cleaner, the cost per bottle is probably around $0.50 cents.

Feel free to stop reading after the recipe, but if you would like a more in depth review of the ingredients, and why they make this a solid All-Purpose cleaner, keep reading!

Ingredients List:

Buy Essential Oils


  1. If bottle is not new, clean it out. It does not need to be sterile, but a good scrub with soap and hot water is encouraged.
  2. Fill bottle with water adequate room to add vinegar and prevent splash-back. I use filtered tap water. You may use unfiltered tap, distilled, whatever. Just add water.
  3. Add essential oils
  4. Top off bottle with water
  5. Shake!
  6. Success!

Store in a cool, dark place for best shelf-life.

Disclaimer: I have not tested the shelf life of this product beyond 3 months. I use it almost daily and almost always end up making a new bottle monthly. I imagine it should keep upwards of 6-12 months, but if in doubt (it smells weird, looks weird, or there is mold), throw it out.

If you’d like to make and use Citrus Peel Vinegar:

Citrus Peel Vinegar – Literally just that. Take a glass jar and fill with lime, lemon, or orange peels (mix and match if you’d like). Fill to the top with of white, distilled vinegar. Allow to soak. The peels will look super ugly after about a week, but the vinegar itself will stay preserved and usable for well over a year.

Now, for the curious readers:

If you would like a little more substance behind the recipe, we get to the science behind the spray. We’ll start with a few definitions to keep you from glazing over or wondering “Wait, isn’t this all natural?”. I assure you it is, but the natural world runs on chemistry. We are chemistry. The world is chemistry. It’s pretty awesome.

Disclaimer: The information presented below is regarding the properties of the ingredients only. Please be aware that I have not run lab tests (though I would love to do some agar testing on this recipe – that may be a future post) on this cleaner and make no claims that this will prevent, cure, or otherwise magically protect anyone from anything. This is DIY natural cleaner, not commercial. In my personal use, this has cleaned better than any other natural and commercial all-purpose cleaner, which is why I’m sharing this recipe with you lovely folks. 

Key Terms:

Acetic Acid – A characteristic constituent in the vinegar humans eat. Most vinegars consist of 4% to 8% acetic acid. The rest is water. Vinegars are a weak acid, a 2-4.5 on the pH scale.
**Linalool – Naturally occurring compound found in the oil of citrus peel and some flowering plants. This ingredient can cause skin irritation or allergy in high concentrations. If you or your loved ones are sensitive to citrus skin, swap out the orange essential oil.
pH – Power + H, H being the elemental symbol for Hydrogen. The pH scale is used to specify how acidic or basic (alkaline) a solution is. The scale ranges from 0-14. A solution is acidic from 0 to less than7, and basic (alkaline) when greater 7 to 14. A pH 7 is neutral.
Phenol – An often-fragrant organic compound often found in garlic, green tea, grapes, olive oil.
Terpene – A fragrant organic compound produced by some plants, insects, etc…

Ingredients List in Depth:

The ingredients included have been shown in numerous studies to inhibit the growth of a number of bacteria and viruses including those that contribute to food-poisoning and urinary tract infections, and some also have anti-inflammatory and anti-biofilm properties.

**Lemon essential oil – Derived from the peel of the lemon fruit (Citrus limon). If using lemon essential oil instead of lemongrass, please see the orange essential oil listing below for details. They are very similar, and both contain linalool as an active component.

Lemongrass essential oil – Derived from the culinary herb commonly known as lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). Lemongrass oil has been shown to inhibit the growth of several strains of streptococci and lactobacilli bateria. In laboratory studies, it was shown to significantly reduce the number of viable cells and reduced the bacteria’s ability to stick to surfaces.

**Orange essential oil – Also called Sweet Orange essential oil. Commonly derived from the peel of the orange fruit (Citrus sinensis). One major component of orange essential oil is linalool. Linalool is an aromatic terpene, which oxidizes (i.e. smells) when exposed to air. Linalool has been shown to be an effective anti-bacterial component inhibiting the growth of Listeria monocytogenes (nasty bacteria causing Listeriosis) and Bacillus cereus (can be a cause of diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting). As orange essential oil contains linalool, it does have a risk of skin irritation or allergy in higher concentrations. If you or your loved ones are sensitive to products containing linalool, swap this essential oil for another on the list or skip it. The concentration is incredibly low in this spray, but you know yourself and your family better than I do. If irritation occurs, discontinue use.

Oregano essential oil – Derived from the culinary herb commonly known as oregano (Origanum vulgare). Oregano essential oil contains a naturally occurring phenol; Carvacol. Carvacol, like Thymol, has been clinically shown to inhibit the growth of several strands of Salmonella and other lactic acid bacteria and E.coli.

Rosemary essential oil – Derived from the culinary herb commonly known as rosemary (Rosemariunus officinalis L.). Rosemary essential oil has been shown to have an antimicrobial effect against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and other bacterial strains.

Tea Tree essential oil – Derived from the Melaleuca tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). This tree is native to Australia but is also an invasive species commonly found in south Florida. Tea tree oil has been used to treat everything from acne and dandruff to inflammation. The data tends to support the long-held beliefs that tea tree oil is useful as an antimicrobial and in treating inflammation. Some studies show tea tree oil significantly inhibits the growth of the flu virus; however, more studies would be fantastic to support this.

Thyme essential oil – Derived from the culinary herb commonly known as thyme (Thymus vulgaris). to contain a naturally occurring phenol called Thymol. Thymol, a major component in thyme essential oil, has been shown to inhibit the growth of several strands of salmonella and other lactic acid bacteria, and uropathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Vinegar – Vinegar is essential to add to the cleaner. It lowers the overall pH of the formula, which is a good thing! It makes the spray slightly acidic, which amplifies the active properties in the essential oils. Aside from that, vinegar has been used as a disinfectant for thousands of years. The acetic acid in vinegar is an efficient disinfectant. It can effectively kill the bacteria known to cause tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) when allowed to soak for 30 minutes at 6% acetic acid concentration.


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Bråred, J., P. Forsström, A. M. Wennberg, A. T. Karlberg, and M. Matura. “Air Oxidation Increases Skin Irritation from Fragrance Terpenes.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. January 2009. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Burt, S. “Essential Oils: Their Antibacterial Properties and Potential Applications in Foods–a Review.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. August 01, 2004. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Carson, C. F., K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. January 2006. Accessed January 07, 2019.

“Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.” Plant Management in Florida Waters. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Cortesia, C., C. Vilcheze, A. Bernut, W. Contreras, K. Gomez, J. de Waard, W. Jacobs Jr., L. Kremer, and H. Takiff. “Acetic Acid, the Active Component of Vinegar is an Effective Tuberculocidal Disinfectant.” mBio. March-April 2014. Accessed January 07, 2019.

“Definition of PH.” Chemicool. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Fisher, K., and C. A. Phillips. “The Effect of Lemon, Orange and Bergamot Essential Oils and Their Components on the Survival of Campylobacter Jejuni, Escherichia Coli O157, Listeria Monocytogenes, Bacillus Cereus and Staphylococcus Aureus in Vitro and in Food Systems.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. December 2006. Accessed January 07, 2019. “Bacillus Cereus.” August 24, 2009. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Garozzo, A., R. Timpanaro, A. Stivala, G. Bisignano, and A. Castro. “Activity of Melaleuca Alternifolia (tea Tree) Oil on Influenza Virus A/PR/8: Study on the Mechanism of Action.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. January 2011. Accessed January 07, 2019.

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Johnston, C, and C. A. Gass. “Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect.” MedGenMed. May 2006. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Lee, J. H., Y. G. Kim, and J. Lee. “Carvacrol-rich Oregano Oil and Thymol-rich Thyme Red Oil Inhibit Biofilm Formation and the Virulence of Uropathogenic Escherichia Coli.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. December 2017. Accessed January 07, 2019.

“Listeria (Listeriosis) | Listeria | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Oliveira, M. A., A. C. Borges, F. L. Brighenti, M. J. Salvador, A. V. Gontijo, and C. Y. Koga-Ito. “Cymbopogon Citratus Essential Oil: Effect on Polymicrobial Caries-related Biofilm with Low Cytotoxicity.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. November 06, 2017. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Ozogul, Y., E. Kuley, Y. Ucar, and F. Ozogul. “Antimicrobial Impacts of Essential Oils on Food Borne-Pathogens.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Salehi, B., A. P. Mishra, I. Shukla, M. Sharifi-Rad, M. D. Contreras, A. Segura-Carretero, H. Fathi, N. N. Nasrabadi, F. Kobarfard, and J. Sharifi-Rad. “Thymol, Thyme, and Other Plant Sources: Health and Potential Uses.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. September 2018. Accessed January 07, 2019.