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Crafts & DIY Projects · Skincare · How To Make Natural, Homemade Soap From Scratch
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How To Make Natural, Homemade Soap From Scratch

Soapmaking at home allows you to create a fully custom bar of soap – and is surprisingly easy. You’ll combine a mixture of lye and fats (vegetable or animal) to create a thick mixture, then pouring into a mold. A chemical reaction called saponification takes place as the soap mixture cures, resulting in a finished slab of soap.

Why Make Soap at Home?

Soap makers start creating their own blends at home for a variety of reasons. Some want control over the ingredients that come into the home and that the family uses. Others want to use more environmentally friendly products and eliminate both plastic and paper packaging. If you have a family member with sensitive skin, you could create specialty bars of natural soap that pamper delicate skin without the synthetic detergents found in commercial bars.

When you make your own bar soap, you have complete creative and quality control, so you can make whatever you want. You’ll need to master the basic technique (and the steps below will help you do just that), then you can make adjustments to suit your needs.

You’ll learn how to make a natural, homemade soap using an easy, heat-free method. Cold process soapmaking uses a chemical reaction to turn a lye and oil mixture into soap – without cooking or a lot of difficult steps. The result will be several bars of soap and a good overview of the process. If you’d like a hot process soap version, check out our post on how to make soap in a crockpot.

Cold Process Soap

Cold process soap is also referred to as “lye soap” or soap from scratch. This method uses a chemical reaction that happens naturally when you combine an acid (the oils) with an alkaline (the lye). Once the process is complete, there will be no lye in the bars – just long-lasting, great smelling soap.

Soapmaking at Home Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Your soap is truly made from scratch
  • You have complete control over ingredients and what your family uses
  • You can be as creative as you’d like and make blends that are uniquely yours

Cons:

  • You’ll need to work with lye, which is caustic and needs to be handled carefully
  • You need to use the right bowls and equipment for working with lye
  • You need to allow the bars to cure after you make them, for up to 6 weeks.

The Basics Of How To Make Soap

When you make soap from scratch, you have to use lye and fats or oils. You can’t substitute anything else for the lye, or the chemical reaction that makes soap (saponification) won’t happen.

You can find lye online and at some grocery or hardware stores. While lye is a main ingredient in some drain cleaners, you can’t use drain cleaner to make soap. You can only use 100% sodium hydroxide for soap making; any other ingredients will prevent your soap from setting up. You might also want to consider using a lye calculator if varying our suggested ingredients below, which might require changing the amount of lye.

Take precautions when working with lye. You’ll need to wear eye protection that fully covers your eyes and gloves; splashes can burn your skin. Always add lye to water, and never add water to lye (it can cause a fast reaction and splash out if you do so).

Lye will have a strong odor, but this is temporary. Once you combine the oils with the lye, any scent will dissipate. Even though you need lye to make soap, there is no lye present in the finished bar; saponification chemically changes all the lye as the soap cures.

Homemade Soap Making Equipment

Making soap involves caustic ingredients that could damage cooking gear, so be sure to use dedicated equipment just for soap making. You’ll need a non—reactive bowl, spoon, and a mold to make soap. An immersion or stick blender is also handy.

  • Mixing bowls: Choose a tempered glass or stainless-steel bowl; neither of these materials will react with lye. Do not use copper, plastic, aluminum, or coated bowls.
  • Mixing spoon: Use a silicone mixing spoon for best results.
  • Molds: A silicon soap mold or a baking mold can be used for soapmaking.
  • A large canning jar (for melting oils)
  • Newspaper
  • Old towel for insulation
  • Safety goggles and gloves

Soapmaking Additives

You can add botanicals and other items to make your soap special. Add about a tablespoon of additives per pound of soap for best results. Additives include:

  • Dried herbs (lavender, chamomile, lemongrass and more)
  • Clays (bentonite, French Green Clay and more)
  • Colorants (cocoa powder, turmeric, and colors specifically designed for soap – food coloring won’t work for soap making.
  • Essential Oils: Skin-safe essential oils add long-lasting fragrance
  • Misc. additives: Goat milk powder (can accelerate trace), ground oatmeal, salt, ground coffee, etc.

Basic Soap Recipe for Hand and Body

Precise measurements are needed for soapmaking; most recipes call for specific amounts of liquid oils, water, and fragrance in grams. This recipe is made for beginners and ideal for learning. If you enjoy soap making, investing in a small scale will help you concoct your own recipes and follow the ones you find online.

You’ll need:

  • 2/3 cup of coconut oil (coconut produces a hard bar with velvety lather)
  • 2/3 cup olive oil (makes a luxurious and mild bar)
  • 2/3 cup other oil – canola, almond, grapeseed or sunflower oil all work well
  • ¼ cup lye
  • ¾ cup distilled water

DIY Soapmaking Instructions

  1. Cover all surfaces with newspaper before you start, and make sure there are no kids or pets around while you work with lye. You should wear gloves and protective eyewear as well.
  2. Add your oils to the glass container and microwave to liquify them. This can take a minute or more, depending on your microwave. Oils need to be liquid and at room temperature to make soap.  Let the oils cool in the container or bowl as you move on to the next step.
  3. Add your water to the glass container, then sprinkle on the lye you measured out. Never add water to lye – doing this can cause a volcano effect or a spill. Stir the mixture for a moment, then let it sit, it will get hot; this is the chemical reaction between the lye and the water that creates the lye solution.
  4. Pour the lye water into the bowl with the oils and stir gently to combine. Use a stick blender or immersion blender to blend the oils and water together. As you blend, they will come to trace, which is essential for soapmaking. Trace refers to the texture of the mixture. It will look like a thick pudding when you’ve mixed it enough.
  5. Add your fragrance and any additives. Be prepared to work quickly. Some fragrance oils accelerate trace and firm the mixture up too much to pour.
  6. Pour the prepared mixture into your mold. Cover the mold with plastic wrap, then insulate with a towel or blanket. Leave covered and undisturbed for 24 hours. This will also create glycerin for moisturizing.
  7. Remove the soap from the mold and slice into bars.

Cold process soap needs to cure before use. As it cures, the bars will harden up, and you’ll get all the benefits that come from using handmade soap. Most soap cures in 4-6 weeks, and the fragrance may continue to develop and change during this time.

Never Get too Comfortable Working with Lye

Lye is needed to make soap, but both the dry powder and the lye water mixture are extremely caustic – so splashes can be dangerous. You’ll get more comfortable with making soap as you gain experience, but you should never relax your safety precautions when it comes to lye.

Expand your Soaping Horizons

Making soap bars is incredibly rewarding and allows you to fully customize what your family uses in the bath and shower. Once you have mastered the basics of soaping, you’ll be able to experiment with different fats (like shea butter, palm oil, or cocoa butter) and essential oils, creating blends and soaps that are uniquely yours.

Don’t be surprised if your first time isn’t perfect – that first batch is more about learning the process and how soapmaking works than creating a perfect product. Once you get some experience and begin to learn and experiment, the better your soap will get.

How To Make Soap

Jill Nystul
This recipe is made for beginners and ideal for learning.
Prep Time 10 mins
Active Time 20 mins
1 d
Total Time 1 d 30 mins
Cost $15
Yield 1 pound

Equipment

  • Mixing Bowls (tempered glass or stainless-steel)
  • Mixing Spoon (silicone for best results)
  • Molds
  • Canning Jar
  • Newspaper
  • Old Towel
  • Safety Google
  • Gloves

Ingredients
  

  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup other oil canola, almond grapeseed or sunflower oil all work well
  • 1/4 cup lye
  • 3/4 cup distilled water

Instructions
 

  • Cover all surfaces with newspaper before you start, and make sure there are no kids or pets around while you work with lye. You should wear gloves and protective eyewear as well.
  • Add your oils to the glass container and microwave to liquify them. This can take a minute or more, depending on your microwave. Oils need to be liquid and at room temperature to make soap.  Let the oils cool in the container or bowl as you move on to the next step.
  • Add your water to the glass container, then sprinkle on the lye you measured out. Never add water to lye – doing this can cause a volcano effect or a spill. Stir the mixture for a moment, then let it sit, it will get hot; this is the chemical reaction between the lye and the water that creates the lye solution.
  • Pour the lye water into the bowl with the oils and stir gently to combine. Use a stick blender or immersion blender to blend the oils and water together. As you blend, they will come to trace, which is essential for soapmaking. Trace refers to the texture of the mixture. It will look like a thick pudding when you’ve mixed it enough.
  • Add your fragrance and any additives. Be prepared to work quickly. Some fragrance oils accelerate trace and firm the mixture up too much to pour.
  • Pour the prepared mixture into your mold. Cover the mold with plastic wrap, then insulate with a towel or blanket. Leave covered and undisturbed for 24 hours. This will also create glycerin for moisturizing.
  • Remove the soap from the mold and slice into bars.

Notes

Soapmaking Additives
Add about a tablespoon of additives per pound of soap for best results.
  • Dried herbs (lavender, chamomile, lemongrass and more)
  • Clays (bentonite, French Green Clay and more)
  • Colorants (cocoa powder, turmeric, and colors specifically designed for soap – food coloring won’t work for soap making.
  • Essential Oils (Skin-safe essential oils add long-lasting fragrance)
  • Misc. additives: Goat milk powder (can accelerate trace), ground oatmeal, salt, ground coffee, etc.
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    Hi, I’m Jillee!

    I believe we should all love the place we call home and the life we live there. Since 2011, I’ve been dedicated to making One Good Thing by Jillee a reliable and trustworthy resource for modern homemakers navigating the everyday challenges of running a household. Join me as I share homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make life easier so you can enjoy it more!

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