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How to make Zero Waste homemade soap!

How to turn any old oil into zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap making at its best!

You saw it first on farmstand culture. Find out: what is zero waste homemade soap, when and how to make it yourself. And, if you’re more into learning and watching rather than DIYing, read on for my personal experience with zero-waste soap making. I hope it inspires other positive, natural-lifestyle changes in your every day life.

It all started about a decade ago, before my sister and I had children. We loved the handmade soaps at Sunflower Farm Shop in Orange, Connecticut, and felt inspired to try making our own soap from scratch.

We spent about $100 on materials and equipment to get us started and spent an evening chatting, measuring and mixing up two batches of pure, chemical-free soap. You would never know it was only our first try. Those soaps came out great. My friends and colleagues asked me to make more…for years, but with kids and work and house and school and and and…it was nearly ten years before I made my next batch of handcrafted soap.

Find out how I use any old oils laying around the house to make zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap at its best!

Inspiration hit

Several months ago I looked in the cabinet and noticed a massive vat of expired organic coconut oil. Do you know how expensive those are?

We buy most of our pantry goods at an American wholesale club. Picture a legitimate warehouse, open to the public, with shelves stacked to the ceiling full of giant versions of everyday items.

Laundry detergent the size of a backpack. Whole fillets of king salmon that fill a tray so big, it is hard to carry. The coconut oil they sell is huge, approximately the size of eight normal jars of coconut oil. And, we only used half of our expired coconut oil. Ugh.

I felt annoyed and upset that we wasted the equivalent of a year’s worth of coconut oil. Clearly, we went through a coconut oil phase that faded before the supply ran out. But, when I opened it, the oil smelled fine. I was not about to throw it away. First, I made a coconut-coffee sugar scrub with some of it. A few days later, true inspiration hit…

Zero-waste soap

Back when my sister and I experimented with hand-crafted soap, we created our own recipes using online calculators. With these free calculators, you simply type in different quantities of whatever oils you have, and it tells you exactly how much lye and water you need to make your soap. 

Lye is dangerous but necessary to saponify (i.e. turn fats and oils into soap). Pretty much any natural fat will saponfiy if mixed with liquefied lye. Brilliant!

No need to waste that old coconut oil. It smelled fine and rather than eat it, I can turn it into soap! So I did. Here’s what happened…

My experiment

First, I ordered lye on Amazon. Be careful. Lye is dangerous and scary. It causes permanent burns to bare skin. Kids should never, ever be around lye. Grown-ups are barely trust-worthy around lye.

Then, I awoke our soap-making pots, measuring cups, and thermometers from their decade-long slumber. If you want to make soap, dedicate the materials to soap-making just in case there’s somehow some leftover lye or soap in them. Put labels on your soap-only cups, bowls and spoons. 

Almost there. I had gloves, but still needed a kitchen scale to weigh everything. At the end of the post, I’ll give you all the links to the key materials you need to make zero-waste soap yourself.

Creating zero waste soap recipes

I worked up a recipe for a simple coconut oil and olive oil soap, but since I found a small bottle of really old sweet almond oil, I threw that in, too. It passed my sniff test. If you find random old oils around the house, just measure how much you have and add it to your online soap calculator. Easy. 

Go through your cabinets and pantry and see if you have some old oils hanging around. Then, weigh them on your kitchen scale and enter the amounts you have into an online calculator. Sometimes, soap-makers call them either lye calculators or soap calculators. Same thing.

Here’s a good soap calculator: SoapCalc and here is a round-up post from The Spruce Crafts that mentions five others. Don’t be intimidated. The calculators look complicated at first, but once you start using them, it gets easier. If you really just want a very simple lye calculator for soapmaking, this one by TheSage is easy to use. 

Soap-making process and tips

Here is a recipe and video for cold process soap from Becky’s Homestead that inspired me to add olive oil to my zero waste coconut soap. You don’t have to add other oils. But, I like a softer bar of soap, and as she mentions in the video, coconut oil makes harder bars.

Cold process soap is made without heating the oil and lye mixture over a stove or in a crock pot; that would be hot process soap. As a beginner, I started with cold process soap-making, but it takes longer to cure (i.e. you have to wait a month before you can use your soap). 

Instead of rosemary oil, I used a half ounce of ginger essential oil in my zero waste soap for fragrance (because that’s what I had), and I didn’t add any color. 

Instead of using a mask and fan like Becky, I mixed my lye into the water outside and let it cool outside. I never open lye in the house. It’s personal preference. And, as the lye water cooled, I hid it outside away from kids and animals. 

If this is your first time bringing soap to “trace”, watch a few videos to get a better feel for the pudding-like consistency you need before you can pour your soap into the molds. 

You don’t need a fancy mold. You can use any old plastic container or even an old shoe box. TIP: line the mold with strips of parchment paper before you pour in the soap. Parchment strips make it easier to remove the soap the next day to cut it into bars. 

How to make zero waste homemade soap. DIY soap recipe

My mistake

After my soap hardened, I noticed that the outside dried lighter with some soda ash, and the middle dried darker. It doesn’t really matter. The soap works beautifully. Actually, it’s amazing how simple this soap recipe is, given how well it suds and cleans. However, my soap probably wouldn’t sell well at a farm stand. It’s not perfect. But, I think I understand my mistake.

I blended the lye mixture and oils when they cooled to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it was cold that day. And, I mixed the lye outdoors and left it in the freezing cold. I think it would be better to blend my ingredients at a slightly higher temperature, maybe 110 to 120 degrees. 

Zero waste soap-making materials

You probably already own a mixing spoon, cups and bowls. Here’s a list of the less common materials you need to make your own zero waste soap at home.

Kitchen scale
Thermometer (You need one. I use two.)
Immersion blender (Don’t use this for food if you use it to blend lye into soap.)
Long rubber gloves
Protective eyeglasses

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Thank you for supporting this blog!

Leave us a comment and let us know if you made some soap. What was your experience like?

Do you have old oils laying around the house that would make great zero waste soap? I will be asking my friends and family to bring me theirs!

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DIY coconut sugar scrub feels like you’re on vacation

Three ingredient DIY coconut sugar scrub

What was the first thing I did on vacation? Made this DIY coconut sugar scrub! My all-natural, homemade scrub for face and body uses only three ingredients to keep your skin soft and exfoliated.

Every December my dad, husband, kids and I fly to the Florida Keys. We love the swimming, restaurants, dive bars (this one’s kid friendly), and surprisingly rich history of Key West. Did you know the tiny island has three Civil War era forts? But, sun, fun, salt water, chlorine, a/c and long walks on sandy beaches can dry out your skin. Especially, delicate New Englander skin that has been protected under layers of clothing for three months.

Benefits of a sugar scrub

Sugar scrubs are all-natural and work better than just constantly slathering yourself in store-bought lotions. They can be used in the shower to help lock in all-day moisture. It depends on your skin and climate, but for some people, a sugar scrub in the shower replaces the need for face cream and body lotion. It could be an all-in-one.

My DIY coconut sugar scrub is vacation-themed and uses three simple ingredients you can pick up at the corner drugstore, small market or grocery on the first day of vacation. I did! Since coconut oil is solid at room temperature, you can easily pack these ingredients in a carry-on or pre-make the DIY coconut sugar scrub before you travel.

Most of us have used body lotions without reading the ingredient list. Well, even if we stopped to read the ingredients, would we understand them? I am an avid reader of skin care ingredients, and I am always encountering some chemical or preservative that’s new to me. DIY body scrubs are made with simple ingredients you can pronounce…and probably already have on hand.

Is coconut oil safe?

Great question. If you have never used coconut oil in your skin care routine or are unsure if you have an allergy to it, test a patch of skin before you slather yourself in coconut oil.

For the vast majority of people, coconut oil is safe and wonderful for your skin. However, there are some people who develop a skin allergy to coconut oil. I know several of them personally, which is why I wrote this other post to encourage people to be mindful even when using natural ingredients in their skin care routine. Test before you slather.

Is coconut oil safer than a lotion that’s full of chemicals? I think so. There’s always one person in a group who says something to the effect of “chemicals are delicious” or “I prefer the chemicals.” But, most of the people who spend time at natural lifestyle blogs are not ‘that person’.

Three ingredient DIY coconut sugar scrub

DIY coconut sugar scrub recipe

60% granulated cane sugar
40% unrefined, organic coconut oil
(optional) squeeze of real lime juice

Why am I showing the recipe as a 60:40 ratio of sugar to coconut oil? If you are on vacation, you might not be able to measure exactly. I want to emphasize that it’s more sugar than coconut oil. That’s key to any sugar scrub. It’s usually a lot less oil than people imagine.

Unrefined coconut oil is less processed, which is why I recommend it. With less processing, more of the original properties of the coconut meal are retained, including a bit more of the sweet scent of coconut.

The acid in the citrus adds a little extra exfoliating, helping to clear away old, dead skin cells and bring out fresh cells underneath. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to skip the lime. As always, test your skin’s response before you rub your whole face with the scrub.

Need some ingredients? Want them delivered conveniently to your house while you are out living your life? Consider using my affiliate links for even more convenience. When you click on these links, you support this blog at no additional cost to you:

Safe storage

If you are going to keep a sugar scrub in your shower, please use a plastic container. I know glass is more eco-friendly, but reusing plastic containers is a smart way to store your sugar scrubs in the shower. Glass is dangerous in a tiled bathroom. Broken glass in a shower – with all those tiny, invisible shards – is a nightmare. Be careful.

Any other warnings?

Hummm, I’m guess I’m a cautious person. Just looking out for you.

Let’s review:

1) Test coconut oil on your skin first
2) Use plastic, not glass for safer storage
3) Be careful, the shower floor could get slippery

On that last point, in our old house, my shower floor used to get slippery all the time when I used homemade sugar scrubs. For some reason, my shower floor doesn’t get slippery in our current home. Maybe it’s different tile surfaces?

Either way, be careful to check and see of your shower floor gets slippery from the oil in the sugar scrub. If it does, just put a little soap in your hand and rub it over the floor to clean it a bit after you use the scrub. Warn anyone who might go into the shower after you that the floor could be a bit slippery.

Enjoy your soft skin

In a few quick steps, you’ve made an all-natural DIY coconut sugar scrub that should make an instant difference in your skin.

With daily use, your skin should be softer and better moisturized. And, your wallet should be healthier too. No need to spend any additional money on expensive, store-bought lotions!

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Two common diy skincare ingredients you should think twice about

hand holding coconut oil sugar scrub

Did you ever have an unexpected reaction to a natural ingredient? Probably. People do all the time. The way a person’s system absorbs…or rejects…the compounds it comes in contact with is unique. While natural ingredients are wonderful, they are not risk-free. I can speak from experience. Here are two common diy skincare ingredients that are usually but, not perfectly, safe and how I found out.

It’s not all that surprising that we all process things differently. Think about your own family. You’re genetically related; yet, your Aunt says onions don’t agree with her. Grandpa avoids lactose. Your niece has a nut allergy. Your sister feels great since she’s gone gluten-free. One of your twin cousins is up all night if he drinks coffee, the other can down an espresso and crash on the couch for 12 hours. Or some similar scenario. You’re all processing natural foods differently.

The same is true when it comes to the natural ingredients you rub on your skin.

I mentioned that I had my own experience with this. Yes, me. Even a natural lifestyle blogger had to tone down my usage of a certain essential oil, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Here I am highlighting some of the dangers of two super common all natural ingredients you will see everywhere. Don’t avoid them, just think twice before you use them. Test them on a patch of skin. Be mindful when you use them. Be aware of how your skin reacts and that changes can occur over time.

The first occasionally-allergenic ingredient is…

Coconut oil

Cue the gasps.

The darling of the natural skincare world. Coconut oil is the base ingredient in an unbelievable number of Pintrest skin care pins. It might actually be the most common natural skin care go-to.

Widespread popularity is precisely the reason I am introducing the idea that coconut oil is not 100% fail-safe. The absolute worst time to learn that you are allergic to coconut oil is immediately after you just slathered yourself in a coconut oil body scrub.

Most people will tell you to use coconut oil on your skin and your baby’s skin, and everything is wonderful. Yet, I personally know two people with an allergy to coconut oil.

Coconut oil allergies are uncommon but do occur. They are not the same as tree nut allergies. If you were thinking that you would not be sensitive to coconut oil because you are not allergic to tree nuts, well, it turns out that those two allergies are not related.

What should you do?

The vast majority of people reading this post are not allergic to coconut oil; however, some of you will find that coconut oil clogs your pores or causes mild breakouts. And a few of you will realize overtime that you are so sensitive to coconut oil, it’s probably actually an allergy.

If you are not allergic to coconut oil, consider yourself lucky. It’s a wonderful, mild moisturizer that makes wonderful body scrubs and DIY skincare. If you haven’t tried coconut oil in your everyday skincare routine, test a patch of your skin to be sure you’re not allergic, and then, try my favorite, simple DIY recipe…

My favorite coconut skincare recipe is just unrefined, organic coconut oil mixed with sugar. In a pinch, you can use baking soda as well. If you have lime essential oil or a fresh lemon or lime, squeeze in a few drops. It smells delicious, and citrus and sugar make a natural glycolic acid. You can use this simple, effective coconut scrub on your face and body everyday in the shower. I find that it keeps my skin smoother than any store-bought product.
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Coconut oil with a coconut

Lavender essential oil

Oh this is not going to go over well. What could I possibly have against lavender essential oil? It is the world’s go-to miracle for sleeplessness and healing burns. Yeah, I know. It’s a wonderful oil. It’s gentle enough to be in tons of baby products. I really do like it. But, remember how I mentioned earlier that I had my own unexpected reaction to a natural skin care remedy?

My sister started selling essential oils about five years ago. Click here to visit her essential oils site. She told me a million times I had to try them. She said I’d love them. She couldn’t believe I didn’t already have a cabinet full of essential oils. It’s so up my alley. All true.

She studied the benefits and uses of each essential oil better than she ever studied for a class. She flew with her infant across the country to attend a conference. She was serious. And, she really enjoyed learning about the lesser-known uses for essential oils and sharing those with her friends and family.

DIY skincare warning

Lavender is often used in face oils for anti-aging. It’s a common ingredient in face creams, both DIY and store-bought. One of the lesser-known tips my sister found claimed that you should put a drop of lavender essential oil in your mascara to make your lashes grow long and lush.

I thought it was all great. I added lavender essential oil to my face creams and mascara. It made even the cheapest drug-store mascara smell like a luxury product. And my eyelashes…fell out. The exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.

At first I thought it was a fluke. I did not make the connection between my use of lavender on my face and eyes and the shedding of my eyelashes. To confess, it took me months and several delusional re-tries with the lavender in my creams and mascara to figure it out. But, the same thing kept happening. First, my lashes became patchy. Then, with continued use, I lost 40% of my eyelashes. It was noticeable.

selective focus photo of bottle with cork lid
Photo by Mareefe on

What did I do?

Mascara didn’t do me a whole lot of good when I was missing eyelashes. But, it still took me more than a year to be 100% sure why my eyelashes were falling out. How was I sure? I changed everything about my routine. I stopped using the face cream. And then, I switched to a new mascara, no additives.

My eyelashes slowly started growing back. It turns out, the only thing less attractive than missing eyelashes, is the spikey regrowth.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone will lose their eyelashes if they use lavender in their face products. In fact, you probably won’t, and if you do, it’s not serious…unless you’re an eyelash model, in which case you should put your resume together.

Back to my example of genetically-related people experiencing natural ingredients differently. My sister does not seem to lose her eyelashes when exposed to lavender essential oil. It’s just me. I am the only person I know who ever connected eyelash loss with lavender. Go figure.

Would you like to test fate?

Don’t avoid coconut oil or lavender.

Just don’t take for granted that they are safe because they are natural.

Tips for smart, safer use of natural skincare:
1) Test a patch of skin before you slather yourself
2) Be honest with yourself if you have a reaction (don’t live in disbelief like I did)
3) Pay attention over time because you might develop a reaction

Pick up some ingredients

If you want to make a sugar scrub with coconut oil, you can pick up the ingredients pretty cheaply at the grocery store or buy them on Amazon. I recommend unrefined, organic coconut oil. It is the least processed and preserves more of the natural properties of the fruit. (Yes, coconut is generally considered a fruit.) Use cheap granulated cane sugar. Turbinado aka raw sugar is too rough. If you have baking soda in your kitchen, you can substitute that instead of sugar.

Keep scrolling to use my quick links and have the ingredients shipped directly to your house.

If you have a little extra disposable income, you can try adding in a few drops of lime essential oil. It’s pretty expensive though. You can just squeeze in a drop of lime juice from the real thing. Just warning you, the scent will be absorbed into the coconut oil for the most part.

Lavender essential oil is also a wonderful product. I still use it. I just use it more carefully than I did before.

You might also enjoy this article on why I prefer to use sugar in a scrub rather than coffee grounds.

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What makes us buy so many things we can make easily?

Healing calendula herb infused olive oil in a mason jar

One of my professors told me that when he was a little kid in Pakistan, his mother would grab the olive oil out of the pantry, rub it on his dry skin and send him off to play.

That makes complete sense. Olive oil works well on dry skin, even the cheapest olive oil. Actually, cheap oil would be better because the scent is weaker and won’t leave you smelling like a pressed olive. What does a teaspoon of cheap olive oil cost? So little I can’t do the math in my head. You probably already have it in your pantry, too.

Olive oil as a body lotion:
1) works great
2) convenient
3) inexpensive

And yet, like me, you probably also have a bunch of store-bought moisturizers scattered around your house, car and office. If you’re anything like me, you might pull out your winter coat this year and find hand cream you put in the pocket a year ago. I have so many hand creams, I lose them.

I do buy lots of natural skincare products…and pay through the nose for them. When my kids were born, I spent $20 on a bottle of all-natural baby lotion. It was a pretty big bottle but still. After every bath, I would take a couple of squirts of some insanely expensive tangerine and calendula baby lotion and give the kids a little baby massage before bedtime.

In case it sounded like I was exaggerating about the price…

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Lovely stuff, but really pricey.

Here’s a jar of calendula-infused olive oil I made myself for about a penny. All it took was time because I grew the calendula flowers in my organic garden, but at least I know what’s in the oil.

Healing calendula herb infused olive oil in a mason jar

US consumer spending

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the broadest measure of economic activity. In 2017, real GDP in the US increased by 2.2%; of that, 1.7% came from growth in consumer spending (source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis). In other words, people in the US buy a ton of stuff. Buying all that stuff, even if we don’t need it or just because the ad looked good, is like espresso to our economy.

Two main reasons we buy stuff we should make:
1) We didn’t realize we could
2) The ad looked good.

1) We didn’t realize we could

Until someone stumbles across a blog like mine or gets a friend like me to open up to them, it probably won’t occur to him or her to look around the kitchen or garden or farm stand before going to the convenience store. Plus, you know where the convenience store is. Until a few months ago, you probably didn’t know where this blog was.

Most people would be really confused to get a Secret Santa gift basket labeled, “Experience Spa-like Pampering”, and it’s a bottle of olive oil, a bag of cheap sugar and some vanilla. Are you going to bake me? How is this a spa experience?

Then, you read the Directions, “mix thoroughly and shower together”. Now, that’s really confusing. That’s like stunned-into-silence confusing. (Unless you spend a lot of time on Pintrest, in which case, you immediately envisioned a clear glass jar tied with twine and a little cardboard tag that read “DIY Sugar Scrub”.)

In just a few short generations, modern cultures forgot the uses for common herbs and oils. I did, too. It’s been 20 years of part-time study to learn the stuff I write about in this blog, and I will continue learning as long as I’m able.

What’s worse? We use some really gross stuff because we don’t know much about it. None of this was not covered in eighth grade science. You really don’t want to rub synthetic hormone disruptors on your bare hands. Oh but you have, me too. There are usually several of them in inexpensive lotions to extend the shelf-life (many are banned or restricted in the EU) so you can, I don’t know…find a hand cream in your coat pocket a year later, and it still looks the same.

2) The ad looked good

And here’s why we forgot about all this useful stuff. Marketing.

Most of the time, I think marketing is amazing and powerful. Who am I kidding? Without marketing, there would be zero eyeballs on this blog.

It can get out of hand though. Like anything, as a project explodes and makes big time money (i.e. economic profit), more people are attracted to it. The more competition there is, the more humans will feel pressure to compete, including stretching the truth and cutting costs.

There are only two ways to be successful as a business:
1) differentiate your product
2) compete on cost

I’m going to lump, “someone told me it was amazing” into this category. The ad got them to buy it; therefore, indirectly the ad got you to buy it, too.

Once you’ve used it, if there’s no immediate and obvious negative reaction. You assume it’s fine to keep using. It’s not your fault, you have no way of knowing what’s in that stuff. I’ve done the same thing so many times

How does this relate to farmstand culture?

My hope with this blog is to fill you in on all of these simple, quick tricks I’ve learned to make natural living easier. It is exactly what I do for free for all of my friends.

DIY dry shampoo for brown or auburn hair
DIY dry shampoo for blonde hair
Natural skin and hair care

As you keep up with this blog, you will find more uses and benefits for oils, spices and herbs you probably already have in your pantry or…the ones you can find at the end of your neighbor’s driveway available at a quaint, rustic farm stand.

Anyway, it’s Cyber Monday. Go have a guilt-free blast spending within your means.

Here’s a quick link back to a marketing machine, in case you wanted to see those principles of effective marketing in action.  The only thing I’ve done differently here, is highlighted their handcrafted marketplace, which features small batch crafters: