Monday, November 11, 2013

Make Your Own Gardener's Soap

By Erika Zambello
I am a soap addict. I love soap’s colors, scents, and endless diversity of shapes and textures. With all this variety, I had always felt that soap was too complicated to make at home. Luckily for me, on a visit to the Duke Gardens’ volunteer Garden Guild I learned how surprisingly simple and natural the process can really be. Guild member Theo Roddy showed me a few easy steps to make my very own “Sarah’s Garden Soap,” one of many nature-themed items you can find at the Garden Guild Craft Sale on Nov. 16 (see more sale preview photos here).

“The beauty of the soap is in the glycerin, which makes your skin soft,” Roddy tells me, “and the loofah inside the soap acts as an exfoliant and scrubs any garden dirt off your skin.”

Here’s how it’s done. 

1. Assemble the materials: glycerin, soap colorant, soap scent, loofah sponges, roughly 6 inches of PVC pipe, 1 pipe cap, serrated knife or saw, panty hose, and a small block of wood. You can find the glycerin, soap colorant and scent, and loofah sponges at any major craft store. If you want to really embed yourself in the process, you can also grow the loofah in your own garden. The PVC pipe and cap are available at hardware stores and are normally sold adjacent to each other.

2. Place the pipe cap on one end of the PVC pipe. Cut the glycerin into chunks and place 3 cups of the chunks into a microwavable container. Heat them in the microwave for one to two minutes at a time, stirring the glycerin at each interval. You do not want the glycerin to boil, so as it continues to melt, reduce the microwave’s intensity or the time increments. You can also heat the glycerin in a mini crockpot or a double boiler. Once it’s melted, you can add your dye and scent. This step is optional, but if you do add them, Roddy warns, “a little goes a long way.”

3. Place the loofah inside the pipe. Slowly pour the melted soap, with or without scent and colorant, into the PVC pipe until it reaches the top or near the top. Let it sit for 24 hours so it can harden. Then remove the cap from the PVC pipe and push the soap up from the bottom until it sticks out of the opposite end of the pipe. When the soap has emerged about 1 inch (or whatever thickness you desire for your soap), use a saw or a serrated knife to cut the soap straight across.

Your cut piece of soap may be jagged. To smooth the edges, take a pair of panty hose, slip a block of wood inside them and use the wood-backed hose to sand down the soap’s edges until it reaches your desired smoothness. Repeat until you have used all the soap in the PVC pipe. Remember to let the newly made soap breathe for several weeks before placing in a container, plastic sleeve or airtight holder, as moisture in the soap will cause spots to form on the surface, which affects the soap's appearance.

If your time is too tight for soap-making, or you want to try using loofah-soap first, consider heading to the Garden Guild Craft Sale on Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. In addition to the soap, the sale will feature holiday ornaments, gourd birdhouses, jewelry, stationery, knitted goods and other nature-focused gifts. Admission is free, and parking is free until 1 p.m. 

If you’d like to see more of what to expect at the sale, please stay tuned to this blog for more photos later in the week. For information about other classes and events at Duke Gardens, please go to

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Columnist Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of theEnvironment. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea putting the loofah inside the soap! I recently purchased some dirt-scented oil and this will make the perfect combination for my version of Gardener's Soap.

    I have plenty of oil so if you are interested, I'd be happy to share.