Lather Up! Learn to Make Soap at Home

Soap is the result of a chemical reaction called saponification, when a fat is combined with a powerful alkali. The process has been around since the time of the ancient Babylonians, who boiled wood ashes and animal fats together to produce a crude soap used for cleaning wool and cotton. As the centuries passed and across many cultures, ranging from the ancient Egyptians and Romans to developing European countries, the process became more sophisticated, eventually producing a result refined enough to use not just for the cleaning of textiles and pottery, but for bathing as well. Bar soaps were first produced commercially during the Industrial Revolution and the art of making soap at home, once a common chore, faded into novelty.

Although the practice of making soap by hand has become less common, it has its advantages. Many commercial soaps produced today use a variety of artificial colors, scents and other additives. Making soap at home using natural ingredients can produce soap that’s rich in the skin-moisturizing glycerin often lacking in commercial soap. Making soap by hand also means that those with allergies can avoid irritants and that ingredients can be customized, balancing oils and tailoring scent and abrasives to suit every preference.

Want to try your hand at making soap at home? This recipe for basic hand soap is a good place to start. Different oils have different value when producing soap. Olive oil is a gentle moisturizer, coconut oil adds lather, and palm oil hardens well. Once you’ve tried your hand at the process, you can begin to explore adjusting oils or adding scents or texture with herbs or essential oils. Bear in mind that soapmaking is both art and science, and straying too far from the balance of fat to alkali may lead to undesired results. Inexperienced soapmakers should become comfortable with proven recipes before experimentation.

After you try making soap, check out our other recipes for DIY cleaners for everything from laundry to floors in the “Cleaning Tips” section of DIYNetwork.com.

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Step 1

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Gather ingredients and tools. Be aware that lye (Sodium hydroxide) is extremely caustic. Gloves, long sleeves, protective eyewear and a well-ventilated workspace are recommended when making soap.

Step 2

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Measure ingredients by weight instead of volume for consistent results.

Step 3

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In a plastic or pyrex container, slowly add 3 ounces of lye to 7 ounces of distilled water (taking care not to splash), and stir using a wooden or stainless steel spoon to combine.

Step 4

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Temperature will rise quickly once lye and water have been combined, perhaps as high as 200 degrees. Let rest and allow to cool while preparing oil.

Step 5

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Combine 10 ounces olive oil, 6 ounces palm oil and 5 ounces coconut oil in a deep pot and stir over low heat to combine. Once temperature reaches 100-110 degrees, remove from heat.

Step 6

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When lye solution has cooled to between 100 and 110 degrees, slowly add to oil. If oil has cooled to below 100 degrees, reheat before mixing.

Step 7

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Stirring by hand or using a stick blender, mix soap until it becomes thick and opaque. Stirring by hand, this may take up to 45 minutes. Using a stick blender, 2-3 minutes.

Step 8

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When trails of soap drizzled from your spoon or stick blender remain visible on the surface, desired consistency has been reached. This state is known as “trace”.

Step 9

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Pour soap into a small cardboard box lined with a trash bag or parchment paper. The size of the box will dictate the thickness of the completed bar soap. Cover box with a piece of cardboard and allow to rest 24-36 hours until soap is firm and can be cut.

Step 10

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Remove hardened soap from box and cut into bars. Once cut, store bars in a cool, dry place to cure for 4 to 5 weeks before using. Do not use soap before it has finished curing, as lye will still be active and may irritate your skin.

Materials

  • 3 oz  lye
  • 7 oz distilled water
  • 10 oz olive oil
  • 6 oz palm oil
  • 5 oz coconut oil
  • Small cardboard box
  • Trash bag

Tools

  • Measuring cup
  • Pyrex or plastic container
  • Thermometer
  • Scale
  • Pot
  • Wooden or stainless steel spoon
  • Stick blender (optional)
  • Gloves and protective eyewear
About Mick Telkamp 

35Posts

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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14 Responses

  1. pete. razis says:

    can you reheat home made soap after it is set to add other ingredients that you forgot to put in thanks a lot.

  2. Jen says:

    Please do not use palm oil. The natural habitats of orangutans and tigers are being destroyed to make palm oil.

  3. J Nielsen says:

    My hubby has bio-diesel maker and the by-product is glycerin. Is this a soap already? How can I use it to make either a liquid soap or a bar soap? It is amber colored.

  4. nikole says:

    will this recipe damage my silicone molds?

  5. cifran says:

    When can yoou add the dried herbs.

  6. Keli M. says:

    You can get lye, otherwise known as sodium hydroxide, at online stores specializing in soapmaking. I use Brambleberry.com, but there are plenty of other ones out there. You will need to fill out a release form when purchasing lye – I believe lye is an ingredient used in making meth as well (or something like that, anyway). Do NOT use some of the toilet bowl cleaners that contain lye, as the other ingredients will render the lye less than useful for soaping.

    • J Nielsen says:

      Hi, I posted a comment on the homemade soap recipe and wanted to know how I can use a by-product glycerin (amber- colored liquid) that comes from bio-diesel making. It is pure and clear. I don't understand if this is an additive to soap or if it is already a soap….

      • Guest says:

        You can use it in soap as another additive or add rose water and mix with glycerin to make glycerin rosewater. Make sure it is distilled so there are no impurities in the product.

  7. Soto says:

    Same question: any recommendation where we can get all these ingredients for reasonable price but still good quality?

  8. vjp says:

    Where we can get iye

  9. Jenn says:

    Any suggestions for scenting? I've seen some places say essential oils, but want to make sure won't mess up chemicals.

    • micktelkamp says:

      Hi Jenn,
      Essential oils are a great way to scent your soap. Add them as your soap begins to trace. How much depends on personal preference and which essential oil is used, but a good rule of thumb is about 2% of the volume of the recipe. Good luck!

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