Adding Natural Color to Homemade Soap

I cured these soaps with natural colors. Back row: Lemon zest, annatto seed-coffee, cucumber-lime. Middle row: Paprika-rosemary, blackberry-mint, carrot-rosemary. Front row: Spinach-seaweed.

If you’ve tried your hand at homemade soap, you know there’s an art to the science. Using different oils and clays in different amounts, you can control texture, lather and moisturizing properties. Once you’ve got the hang of the basics, the fun really begins. It’s time to add color.

Not long ago, I shared a basic soap recipe here at Made + Remade. It’s a good “all purpose” soap, but it admittedly lacks visual flair. Sure, your hands are clean, but it’s not much to look at resting on the edge of the sink. Adding color to soap is an easy way to give a splash of style to the basin in a practical way. This week we played with colors in handmade soap starting with that basic recipe and adding a variety of potential colorants. Some great. Some not so great. All fun.

Experimenting With Natural Dyes

There are commercially available dyes that can be used to color soap, but part of the appeal of making my own is the feeling that it is a natural product. Depending on the color you’re looking for, herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables or their peels, leafy greens or even flowers can be used to color soap, although the results are not always predictable.

Probably the easiest way to deliver color into the soap is by infusing olive oil to be used in the soap. Using a slow cooker and simmering for 4-5 hours, paprika or annatto seed will infuse the oil with orange tones, spinach or seaweed will create shades of green, and carrots or lemon peels will yield yellows. When experimenting, start with a couple of tablespoons of your color provider per pint of oil and adjust as needed. The oil can then be used in the soap without adjusting the recipe.

Some ingredients that bring natural color can be added directly or pureed and used in place of water (cucumber is a good example), but take care when adding lye to anything other than distilled water — always wear protective gear when making soap and add lye slowly to ensure it reacts favorably. Ground or powdered spices can be added in small amounts in the last stages of blending the soap. Adding texture or speckled color can be accomplished with a combination of approaches. I may infuse oil with lemon peels and then add zest to the soap after reaching “trace” state to give soap a citrus double whammy.

Natural Color: Less is More

Sounds lovely (and it is), but it can be  hard to predict the results when trying new ingredients. The high pH during saponification can do strange things. Sometimes in a good way (fresh lemon peel can turn red). Sometimes not so much (too many blueberries in an attempt turned to muck). Err to using smaller amounts. Sometimes the color won’t blossom until the soap begins to cure, and going overboard with added ingredients can affect the consistency of the finished product. Adding herbs or leaves can tend toward muted browning. If you are adding ingredients meant to provide both color and texture, add them sparingly, blended in after the “trace.”

Want to try your hand? Here are a few suggestions for bringing color to your handmade soap.

Herbs, spices and produce can be used to add colors to handmade soap.

Yellows and golds: Turmeric, carrots, curry, saffron, annatto seed

Greens: Spinach, seaweed, cucumber, sage

Oranges: Paprika (use sparingly), pumpkin, tomato

Browns and beiges: Coffee, tea, cocoa powder, cloves

Purples: Red sandalwood, blackberries, black walnut hull

Intrigued by natural dyes? Check out these other posts on Made + Remade: Making Natural Wood Stains, Dyeing Fabric With Turmeric, Using Coffee as a Dye. If you want a step-by-step guide for making your own soap, see the gallery below.

One Response

  1. This really answered my problem, Thank you!I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.

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About Mick Telkamp 

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A former Midwesterner living in North Carolina, I write about my adventures in backyard chicken-keeping and suburban homesteading over at HGTVGardens, and my exploits in the culture of Southern cooking ...

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