Looking to take your first steps in soap making? What great idea! Use our homemade soap recipe and How to make homemade soap bars for beginners tutorial to guide through the basics of this great technique.
Natural beauty is becoming more and more popular as consumers start to care more about what goes into their cosmetics and where these ingredients come from. Our homemade soap recipe is palm oil free and vegan so you can ensure your soap is ethical as well as being homemade. Learning how to make soap at home also helps cut packaging so its a step towards becoming plastic free!
Learning how to make soap at home means you can choose your favourite fragrances, too! Once you get to grips with how to make homemade soap bars for beginners, you can grow your skills by adding colour, marbling and augmenting with natural exfoliants too. Ready to get started? Let’s explore how to make soap at home.
Main image © Irina Krolevetc
What are the ingredients for homemade soap?
All soap is made by combining fats with lye. You can use all kind of different fats, and you can add other things to the soap to improve its moisturising properties, like goat milk powder or banana, or add oats and grains for exfoliation – but the basis of all soap will be a mixture of fat and lye.
Lye is the old fashioned word for sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda. To make soap, you mix the sodium hydroxide with water. This is an exothermic chemical reaction, which means it makes heat and can be quite violent. It can also give you chemical burns, so you need to take some precautions when working with sodium hydroxide. Wear gloves on your hands and cover your eyes with goggles to protect yourself from splashes. You also need to ensure you add the sodium hydroxide to water when mixing your lye, and don’t add the water to the sodium hydroxide.
In our recipe, we have opted to use olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter as our fats. We have used shea butter in our homemade soap recipe as opposed to palm oil, as there are some bad environmental practices used in the production of a lot of palm oil – and shea butter is a lovely moisturising alternative!
We are also adding grapefruit seed extract to our homemade soap recipe. This serves as an antioxidant to make your soap store better, and will reduce the time you need to get your soap to trace in your homemade soap which is great for beginners. It is optional though – you can leave it out and you will still be able to make soap, it just may take a little longer.
Even when you are learning how to make homemade soap bars for beginners, we think its nice to have a lovely perfume in your soap! So we are adding an essential oil to bring a touch of luxury to our homemade soap recipe. It is much safer as a beginner to use essential oils rather than perfumes and other fragrances, as many contain alcohol and other things that can mess up your homemade soap recipe. So stick with essential oils to keep things simple while you are learning, or leave it out for an unscented soap.
Here is our video guide to How to make soap at home. If you prefer written instructions and photographs for you how to make soap at home walkthrough, you’ll find this below the video
Homemade soap recipe: how to make bar soap step by step
The quantities in this homemade soap recipe will make about 1kg of soap
- 25g sodium hydroxide
- 450g olive oil
- 450g coconut oil (hard variety)
- 70g shea butter (refined)
- 20g essential oil (optional)
- 2.5g grapefruit seed extract (optional)
- 340g of cold water
Thanks to The Soap Kitchen for providing us with the ingredients we need for this tutorial.
You Will Need
- Sodium hydroxide (25g)
- Olive oii (450g)
- Coconut Oil (450g)
- Shea butter (70g)
- Essential oil (20g), Optional
- Grapefruit seed extract, Optional
- Water (340g), Cold
plus 2-3 weeks curing
We’re starting this how to make homemade soap bars for beginners tutorial by preparing our soap mould. This does not need to be fancy – we are using a small cardboard box lined with baking paper. The important bit is that your lining does not have any tears or holes that the liquid soap can leak out through before it sets. This technique lets you form your paper into the same shapes as your box without cutting it.
Start by folding in both side of your baking paper so that the piece is the width as your box. Then place the folded piece in your box, and use your fingers to gently ease it down towards the bottom so that it sits centrally inside the box. Run your finger along the bottom edges so you get a light indent on the paper where the two opposite edges need to be. Remove the paper from the box and fold along those indents.
Take the outside corner of the paper and lift it up towards the fold line so that the flap opens up to give you a big triangle sitting across the fold line. You want to do this with each of the four corners of your baking paper sheet, lifting the corner up and across to the fold line to create a triangle shape. Once you’ve folded all 4 corners, open out your baking paper, and put it back inside the box – the folds have created a perfect lining shape! Trim and secure your lining with tape to make sure it stays in place.
It’s time to prepare our lye, so put on your gloves and eye protection. Put the cold water into a large jug and add the lye powder to the water in the jug. Stir the lye until it has dissolved. After a short time, you’ll see the lye start to lightly steam as it gets hot. Leave the lye to cool while you prepare your fats.
The olive oil we are using in this How to make soap at home tutorial is already a liquid, but we need to melt the solid fats – the shea butter and the coconut oil – before we mix it with the lye solution. Heat them together gently on the hob. Take care not to get them too hot. You can stop heating when there are a few small solid lumps left and leave them to melt in the residual heat of the melted oils.
Pour your melted oils into your olive and and stir briefly. You want to combine your oils with your lye when they are a similar temperature. In this beginner homemade soap recipe, you can do this by touching the outside of the plastic jug and the outside of your pan of oils, and seeing if the temperatures feel similar, or test them with thermometers if you have them. In more complicated homemade soap recipes, the temperature you mix them together is more important, but here they only need to be within about 10C of each other. If one is a lot hotter than the other, reduce the temperature by stirring, or standing the vessel in a tub of cold water.
When the temperatures are matching up, pour the lye solution into the oil mixture and mix. We are using a whisk, but you can use a stick blender if you prefer. You’ll see the mixture start to go cloudy very quickly – this shows that the saponification reaction which makes the soap is starting to happen.
Keep mixing, keeping an eye on the consistency of the mixture. You are trying to get it to a stage called trace. This is when liquid dripped from the whisk onto the surface does not instantly disappear, but leaves a light mark on the surface of the liquid. You can see it in this picture above the red whisk – like a back to front question mark. It is only visible for about a second before it disappears . Depending on the temperature and other conditions, it can take quite a while to get to trace, but keep mixing and testing every 15 seconds or so until you see it. Once you see the trace, quickly add your essential oils if you are using them, and mix in briefly.
Pour the soap mixture into your prepared soap mould. Take care that you don’t overfill the mould, or get any soup going under the lining paper. If you are not sure about volumes, it’s a good idea to have a spare mould prepared and ready to go, so you can make sure you pour the liquid soap before it sets. Cover the top of your mould – we are using the lid to the box – and cover the whole thing with an old towel or blanket to keep the temperature consistent and leave it to set. Small batches like this should be ready to cut in about 24 hours.
Once the soap has set, remove it from the mould, peel off the lining paper and cut it into bars. Cheese cutting wires are a good tool for this if you have one, but a kitchen knife will do fine if you don’t.
Lay your cut bars out and leave to cure for about 3 weeks. It’s good to use a lightly absorbant paper under your soap to help catch any moisture that may sweat out of the bars. We are using brown paper. Once fully cured, you can package your soap by wrapping in brown paper, too.
Best make your own soap kits to buy
If you are interested in how to make soap bars at home for beginners, but are a bit put off by the lye, you can try a make your own soap kit. These usually come with a melt and pour soap base, where the work with the lye has been done for you. These homemade soap kits are good if you want to get hold of professional moulds or to add more extras to your homemade soap. Buying a kit can take a lot of the guesswork and the strong chemicals out of how to make soap at home. Why not try one of these make your own soap kits to practice poring, shaping and personalising and build up to trying out our homemade soap recipe?
Loofah homemade soap kit
Exfolaite as you clean with this clever Make your own soap kit from Genie Soaps, which comes with everything you need and instructions for how to make two homemade soap bars – complete with a slice of loofah inside! The kit comes with a melt and pour base, where the work with lye has been done for you, so it is much safer, as well as soap moulds, essential oils, natural colour and loofah slices.
Ecofriendly homemade soap kit
Ooooh, just look at that beautifully decorated soap! This homemade soap kit comes with the moulds you need to make your own beautiful bars like this, with an ecofriendly and vegan kit. You get a soap mould with a melt and pour soap base, natural colour and essential oils to make 3 bars of homemade soap.
Orange and cinnamon homemade soap kit
Here’s a good homemade soap kit for those of you wanting to explore adding organic extras to your homemade soap. This kit comes with the dried ingredient, soap base, colour and oils you need to make five mini soap bars, as well as two different silicone soap moulds to experiment with.
More natural beauty to try
If you enjoyed our how to make soap at home tutorial, we have lots of other natural beauty projects for you to try. Take a look at our how to make bath bombs project and our how to make reusable cotton pads tutorial. You might also enjoy our best candle making kits article, or keep going with your plastic free journey with the help of our How to make beeswax wraps project.
If you’re interested in soap making and more handmade beauty products, you can download a digital edition of Handmade Beauty & Home magazine, 132 pages of practical advice, expert interviews and DIY projects from Zinio. Find the magazine on Zinio.