How to make tallow soap using tallow with a dash of coconut oil and castor oil. This is a cold process and zero-waste soap recipe that makes use of drippings from cooked meat and includes instructions on how to render fat. The bars are pure white, creamy, nourishing, and gentle on your skin.
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Though I generally make soap recipes that are completely Vegan, I’m not Vegan or even vegetarian. I wholeheartedly support local farms, especially when the produce and meat come from small farms that use sustainable methods. One of these farms is a short drive away from us, and last year, we bought half of a grass-fed rare-breed lamb (6-month-old animal). It was absolutely delicious! We also love that through our purchase, we’re supporting such an important part of our local food network. As we worked our way through the joints, I also collected the drippings. This is the fat that melted from the meat as it slowly cooked. A lot came off, and before I knew it, I had enough to make a batch of soap. This recipe is the result!
Soap making is the process of transforming oils and fats into soap through a process called saponification. This transformation is a natural chemical reaction caused by a caustic material that we know of as lye or sodium hydroxide. During the process, the lye breaks the fats/oils apart on a molecular level. Then they recombine with the lye into a new and completely skin-safe compound that we call soap.
We’ve been making soap for thousands of years, but it’s still a mystery as to how humans discovered it. One theory is that we learned it by chance when animal fat dripped down into wet wood ashes in a fire and, through happy accident, turned into a kind of soap. This is just a theory, though. Regardless, one of the first soaps that we would have made and used would have been with animal fat. Tallow and lard are the kinds of fats that we would have had easily available.
Benefits of Tallow Soap
We still make animal fat soap to this day, and for very good reason. Tallow creates bars that are hard, with a creamy lather that’s gentle on the skin. Beef tallow is the most popular for soap making, in part due to accessibility – you can buy it in blocks in many supermarkets. Sheep tallow, on the other hand, has a fatty acid profile that makes it a bit better at cleansing and more bubbly than beef.
The fatty acid profiles of the different tallows are similar, but it’s beef tallow and sheep tallow that are most favored in soapmaking. Most likely because it’s relatively easy to source those two as opposed to fat from deer and goats. Unrendered fat can also be a waste product and relatively inexpensive to source if you buy it from a butcher. If you raise livestock, you can render the fat from your animals and then put it to good use in soap and other recipes. Waste not, want not.
Tallow Soap Making
Making soap with animal fat is not much different than using other oils like shea butter and olive oil. One main difference that I’ve found is that melted tallow begins resolidifying at a warmer temperature than most vegetable-based hard oils. That means that it’s best to make soap at a higher temperature, and I found that 125°F (52°C) worked well with this recipe. Soap at too low of a temperature and false trace might be an issue. I also found that this is a really slow-moving soap recipe. Meaning that it took a lot longer to come to trace than my other soap recipes.
Tallow soap creates a naturally creamy but flat lather which is why I’ve boosted this recipe with a touch of coconut oil and castor oil. Coconut oil helps create a fluffy lather, while castor oil helps keep the lather stable. Pure tallow soap recipes are great, but they’re much improved if other oils are added to the recipe. If you’d like to make a pure tallow soap recipe, you’ll find one in 4 Things to Know About Tallow Soapmaking, along with another tallow recipe that uses olive oil.
Animal Products in Skincare
If you have honeybees or raise livestock, then you can have a lot of milk, fat, honey, and beeswax to use in soap and skincare. I have a few more recipes that you can try out, including Goats Milk Soap, Honey & Beeswax Soap, and Beeswax Furniture Polish. Please be aware, though, that the products you make with animal products will be nourishing, natural, and wonderful, but they won’t be Vegan. However, if you eat meat or drink milk, there shouldn’t be any problem with using animal products on your skin. It’s not gross, either – that’s just what modern disconnected culture has taught us. I know that many homesteaders use tallow to make balms and skin creams too.
Using animal products can also be a sustainable way to support the environment and food production. If you choose to use fat, milk, and other products sourced from animals raised in a sustainable way, it supports land regeneration and the future of organic food production – both vegetables and meat. Lastly, rendering and using animal fat reduces wastage and create nourishing bars for very little money. It’s usually sold cheaply at most butcher shops.
Types of Tallow for Soapmaking
As mentioned previously, there are quite a few types of tallow that you can use in soapmaking. In the soap calculator I use, there’s beef, goat, sheep, deer, and BEAR. I’m not completely sure what makes one rendered animal fat tallow versus another animal fat, pork fat, being called lard. It could be due to the hardness of tallow at room temperature in comparison to how soft lard is.
When it comes to all of the different types of tallows, they can be used interchangeably in soap recipes. Goat, sheep, deer, and bear all have very similar SAP values, so no further adjustment is necessary. Beef tallow needs a little more lye to transform into soap, though. In case you’re wondering, no, I wouldn’t recommend that you use lard to replace the tallow in this recipe. It has a similar lye amount requirement but has completely different soap properties.
Rendering Animal Fat
Most people begin with pure fat that has been trimmed from joints and render it specifically for making soap. If you’d like to learn how to do that, there are other articles that you might want to read. Though this is the first time that I’ve rendered animal fat, it was very easy to do with collected lamb drippings.
Lamb fat tends to be in a layer on the outside of the meat, and melts off quite easily. After slow-cooking a leg of lamb, there’s a veritable puddle of fat in the roasting tin. The lamb, in each case, was cooked at a relatively low heat in the oven for several hours. After it finished, I collected the drippings in Mason jars to save up. I only used salt to season the meat, but I don’t see any big issues if you use spices or herbs. Keep in mind that it wouldn’t affect the soap recipe but may affect the scent. Then after we’d gone through all the lamb in the freezer, I set aside an afternoon for cleaning the fat.
Cleaning Rendered Tallow
I piled all of the saved fat in a pot and poured about double the amount of water over it. Then I heated the pan on medium until the fat was fully melted, then set the pan aside to cool. The fat rises to the top and eventually solidifies, leaving murky water below that can be discarded. The fat is not fully clean at this point, though. There are a lot of dark bits from the cooking process that float up with it.
Next, I cut and skimmed this fat off and put it in a new pan with about eight cups of fresh water. I heated it again, this time adding 3 TBSP of sea salt to help deodorize the tallow. I brought the pan to a low simmer, held it there for an hour, then strained the liquid through a cheesecloth and into a metal kitchen bowl. The cheesecloth caught the remaining impurities, and once the fat cooled and hardened in the bowl, it was clean.
Sheep tallow has a distinctive scent that the salt can help remove in the cleaning process, but it can leave a slight scent to soap. That’s why I recommend using fragrances in this tallow soap recipe. Peppermint would be a good option, but the blend of rose geranium, lavender, cedarwood, and clary sage works too!
Natural Soapmaking for Beginners
If all that seems like a long process, and you don’t want to render your own tallow, you can buy it instead. I’ve only seen beef tallow in the supermarket, but you might be able to get sheep from a butcher – especially if you live in a region where sheep are raised. If you do opt for beef tallow, keep in mind that you’ll need to use a slightly different lye amount for this recipe. More on that in the notes section.
Now, before we get to the soap recipe, I’d like to check in if you’re a beginner soapmaker. If so, I encourage you to enroll in my Natural Soapmaking for Beginners Online Course. You’ll get up to speed quickly, learn all about soap ingredients and equipment, and be guided through step-by-step soap recipe videos. It will give you the confidence to explore any natural cold-process soap recipe!
Simple Tallow Soap Recipe
- Stainless steel pan
- A bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
Organize Your Workspace
- Before you make this soap recipe, it's safety first. Make sure to be wearing closed-toe shoes, long sleeves, eye protection (goggles), and rubber/latex gloves.
- Pre-measure the ingredients and ensure that your work surface is organized with all the tools and equipment you'll need. Open a window for ventilation, keep pets and kids in another room, and have everything you need prepared.
Create the Lye Solution
- Work in a well-ventilated area – near an open window or outside– and ensure that your goggles and gloves are on. Pour the lye into the distilled water and stir well. Steam, fumes, and heat are the product of water and lye interacting. Be prepared, and don't breathe in the fumes.
- Place the steaming lye solution someplace safe to cool. I tend to set it in cold water in the sink. Cool to 125°F (52°C).
Melt the Oils
- Melt all the oils (tallow, coconut, and castor) together on low heat. When just a few pieces of solid oil are floating in the pan, turn off the heat and move the pan to a potholder. Stir with your spatula until it's fully melted. If necessary, scrape the sides of the pan down to make sure all of the oils melt.
- Take the melted oil's temperature. You're aiming to bring it down to about 125°F (52°C). This soap recipe's temperature is higher than others since tallow has a higher melting point than many other oils.
Bring the Soap Ingredients to Trace
- When the temperature of the lye solution and oils are both around 125°F (52°C), you can mix them together. They don't have to be exactly that temperature but around ten degrees of it, and on the warmer side if possible. Gently pour the lye solution into the pan of warm oils.
- Next, bring the soap to a light trace using an immersion blender (also called a stick blender). Dip the immersion blender into the pan, and ensure that the head is always submerged through the process. While it's turned off, you can use it as a spoon, but for small batches like this, keep the immersion blender stationary when it's on. This is for safety since it will help stop splattering and reduce air bubbles in your final bars.
- Alternate stirring the ingredients and giving a few short pulses. This is a slow-moving soap recipe and will take longer to come to trace than other soap recipes. Be patient and gentle, and keep pulsing and stirring.
- The soap batter has reached a light trace once it's thickened to the consistency of warm custard. A dribble dripped over the surface from the immersion blender will leave a thin trace, or drizzle, before sinking back down.
Stir in the Essential Oil
- Although optional, essential oils can help disguise any remaining scent of tallow in your soap. Stir them in now, at light trace. The blend has deep and medium notes that are both beautiful and strong. After stirring them in, the soap batter will probably be thicker still and like pudding in consistency.
- Next, pour the soap batter into the mold(s). Once the soap batter is in, you can add a texture to the tops of the bars if you wish. With the ones in the photos, I swirled a skewer in tight circles back and forth along the soap.
- Leave the soap to cool and harden in the cavity molds for two days*. For cavity molds, leave them on a kitchen worktop at room temperature. If you opt for a loaf mold, you may want to pop it in the refrigerator overnight to stop a partial gel from forming in the middle. If you're new to soapmaking, this means that it will help the soap remain pure white.
Cure the Soap
- After two days, pop the soap bars out of the cavity molds. At this point, nearly all of the lye will be saponified, and it will be safer to handle the soap. They will be firm, creamy white, and quite lovely in their simplicity.
- Now you will need to cure the soap. Curing is a necessary step for all cold-process soap recipes, and it's a process that requires at least four weeks of waiting. The soap finishes saponification during the cure time, and excess water evaporates from the bars. Another thing that happens is that the crystalline structure of soap forms. The latter cannot be hurried up and is essential for a good, gentle soap.
- Cure the tallow soap on a layer of grease-proof paper in an out-of-the-way low-humidity place. It should be airy, out of direct sunlight, and away from curious pets and kiddos. Leave them there for a whole month before using the bars.
- Once made, the soap will have a shelf-life of up to two years. The shelf life is dependent on the exact ingredients you used, though — look on all of the backs of the bottles, and the closest date is your soap's best-by date.
- Beef tallow soap – 62 g (2.19 oz) lye
- Goat tallow soap – no change in the lye amount
- Deer tallow soap – no change in the lye amount
- Bear tallow soap – no change in the lye amount