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Homemade Deodorant, Smells Optional

17 June 2013

For those of you who follow the whole homesteading DIY organic intentional living sustainability blagoblogosphere, you probably know that DIY hygiene products are a thing right now.  So while I’m all about DIY everything, and while I’m all about using all organic ingredients in anything that goes in, on, over, or near my body, I actually didn’t get into homemade hygiene products until my sister told me they might help with my skin allergies.  And they did.

Last Christmas, in accordance with the rules of our Restricted Gifting Sibling Pact, the only present I received from my sister was a cup of her homemade deodorant.  It was in a 4 ounce plastic resealable cup, and I melted it by floating the plastic cup in a pot of warm water, then poured the deodorant into an empty brand-name deodorant container I had used.  My sister says she just applies hers by scooping out a bit with her fingertips and rubbing it on her armpits.  She used a slightly modified version of this recipe from Passionate Homemaking.

There are a lot of reasons to use this deodorant instead of commercially manufactured deodorant.  It’s cheaper, healthier (you can eat it, though you may not enjoy that), far more effective, and lasts much longer.  The downsides are that it melts above about 75 degrees and you have to make it yourself, but if you omit the scenting process, that takes all of 5 minutes for a batch that’ll last 3 months.

However, I decided this wasn’t blogworthy (that’s a real word now and you heard it here first) until I’d tried it in the hot Carolina summer while doing my usual manual labor job.  I’m happy to report with certainty that I stink less at the end of the day with this deodorant than commercial deodorant, but I do still stink.   Also, we had to tinker with it.  And tinker we did.

Here’s the basic recipe we used.

  • 6 Tsp coconut oil
  • 1/6 or 1/5 cup baking soda (reduced from original recipe to prevent skin irritation)
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot powder (cornstarch irritates my sister’s skin)
  • herbs for scenting

Note that my sister and I just have particularly sensitive skin.  The amounts in the original recipe would probably be fine for most people.

We used the same basic process as the original recipe, but we added one step, the second step.

  1. Combine baking soda and arrowroot powder.
  2. Melt coconut oil and infuse herbs.
  3. Mix coconut oil with other ingredients.
  4. Solidify in preferred container.

This particular method of infusing herbs into oil is called heat infusion.  There’s another method called cold infusion, and some time this year we will make more using the cold infusion method to compare the two.

In case you were wondering when I’d finally get around to my usual abundance of pictures, here’s the whole process again in detail.

Rosemary and pycnanthemum from my garden, washed and laid out to dry.

I bruised the herbs with a spoon (because I didn’t bring my pestle) to release the smelly oils.

I melted the coconut oil on the lowest possible setting on the stove and let the herbs infuse for 5 hours.  The pycnanthemum and rosemary are in separate batches.  My sister put the rosemary in the oven and the pycnanthemum on the stove to see if the oil behaved any differently, but neither of us could tell a difference.

The coconut oil turns clear and runny after it’s fully melted.  This is about a couple hours into the infusion.  In the case of the rosemary, I used whole sprigs rather than separate needles for easier removal.

After five hours, I turned off the heat, I used whatever I could find around the kitchen to let the herbs drip any clinging oil back into the pot for about half an hour.

Mix the ingredients together!  We made two separate batches for the two infused oils.

This is my old brand-name deodorant container, empty and thoroughly washed.

I put the containers in my fridge for a day, and this is what they looked like after they solidified.

After I used it a few times, it starts to look like normal commercial deodorant, but it sure smells and performs better.

The smell is quite mild, which surprised me.  Pycnanthemum is a very pungent plant, and when I first put on the deodorant, the smell is quite identifiable, but still mild.  After a couple hours, the smell fades, but the deodorant remains effective for as much as three days, depending on how much I’m sweating in that time.  When I use the unscented variety, I smell distinctly of coconut for a few hours.  I thought this would end up being a mix of the two scents, but the infusion process seems to suppress the coconut scent.  Even the rosemary smells only like rosemary and not coconut.  Maybe someone with a more sensitive nose would still detect the coconut.

I’ve read on some blogs that they are able to leave this sitting on the counter, but if I do that, it usually gets pretty goopy and squishy.  My sister has noted the same thing.  Perhaps in a colder or drier climate it can be left out on the counter, but here in the Carolinas it’s best kept refrigerated.

Transferring it to a deodorant container can be tricky.  Depending on the container, it can drip through the screw at the bottom.  Mine does that slightly.  Because of this, once it solidifies, it’s very difficult to turn the screw initially, since it’s dripped all through the screw mechanism.  I’ve discovered a very simple solution to this.  Before my initial use, I take the deodorant out of the fridge and leave it on the counter for 5 minutes.  This is just long enough for it to start to soften and I can turn the screw easily; any longer and it would melt completely and I’d have the same problem all over again.  I adjust it as needed, apply it, then put it back in the fridge.  After this point, I never have trouble turning the screw even while it’s still cold.

After going through the whole process, I notice that infusing the oil actually takes more time and effort than the rest of the entire process combined.  It takes about 5 minutes to put together unscented deodorant, but infusing the oil took 5 hours, with maybe 30-45 minutes of direct effort.

Overall, though, after using scented and unscented homemade deodorant for 6 months, I’m never going back to commercial deodorant.  This is cheaper and better in almost every way, and I don’t mind taking a few minutes four times a year to make some.  The only serious downside is needing to refrigerate it.  I may search for a way to raise the melting point in the future.

There are more images in today’s photo set.


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