I started making DIY natural soap about a month ago, just experimenting with oils and soap bases in my kitchen, and you know what? I totally LOVE it!
It turns out the making natural soap in your kitchen is actually super easy and really fun.
So now that I've clearly expressed my opinion that DIY natural soap is kind of the best thing ever, and I want to make about 6 dozen bars every single night....
...let's get on to some tech details.
2 Ways to Make Handmade All Natural Soap: Hot Process Soap v. Cold Process Soap
The difference between hot process soap and cold process soap is basically what it sounds like: heat.
Cold process soap takes about 1-2 hours initially and then an additional 4-6 weeks before you should use or gift it.
You need to let your soap "cure" (i.e. sit and turn into soap) for at least 2 days before all the lye has turned into soap (more on that below). And it takes another 4-6 weeks before all the extra water evaporates and your soap is hard enough that it won't fall apart in the shower.
Hot process soap takes more prep time, but it can be used of gifted after curing for about 24 hours.
My favourite way to make soap is to hot process it with a crock pot because it gets the soap into my hands quickly, and the crock pot does a lot of the work.
Both hot process and cold process soap generate a LOT of heat (as a result of the lye reacting with the water), but only hot process soap uses additional heat to speed up the chemical reaction.
Why is there lye in my soap? The truth about sodium hydroxide...
Chemically, lye is sodium hydroxide, a caustic alkali. It can eat holes in fabric and skin and cause severe reactions with other chemicals.
So why is it in your soap?
The truth is that using sodium hydroxide is the ONLY way you - or anyone else - can make soap. Even natural, certified organic soap with no synthetic chemicals must use sodium hydroxide.
That is because soap is an alkali mixed with fats. When combined, a process called saponification happens, creating soap. This is what makes soap soap.
As long as you handle the lye properly when making your soap, it's actually completely harmless.
Table salt, after all, is sodium plus chloride: both very dangerous alone, but completely harmless and even edible when combined.
Why is sodium hydroxide harmless in soap?
When mixed with water and oils, the sodium hydroxide acts as a "reagent", turning the oils into soap, and it completely disappears in the process.
Once your soap has cured, as long as you've mixed it properly, there will be no sodium hydroxide left.
Melt & Pour v. Made from Scratch
All soaps are made with lye. There's really no way around it.
However, if you want to avoid handling the lye yourself, you can use a melt and pour soap base.
The biggest downside that I've found with using a melt & pour base is that you can't control the individual ingredients. There may be preservatives and other synthetic chemicals (like SLS, BHT, PEG-compounds, etc., etc.) that you don't want in your soap.
Once you get used to handling lye, it's really not that difficult and there were FAR fewer (in fact...none) explosions than I expected at first.
My absolutely FAVOURITE way to make handmade natural soap is to use olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, lye, and water. The lye will get completely turned into soap, so there will be none left in the finished product. And then you get to control completely what goes in your soap and on your body.
Basic DIY Natural Soap Recipe: Hot Process & Made from Scratch
This basic DIY natural soap recipe will allow you to make just about any basic soap.
What I love, love, love, about this recipe is that you can add a dash of spices, oxides, or mica (for colour), and your favourite essential oils, and get a whole range of wildly different soaps.
Yield = roughly 2 lb of soap.
Ingredients & Materials
- 10.5 ounces olive pomace oil
- 5.25 ounces palm oil
- 5.25 ounces coconut oil
- 2.8 ounces lye
- 6.5fl oz filtered water (note: tap water often works fine, but trace minerals could affect the quality of your soap)
- essentials oils of your choosing
- spices, micas, or oxides for colour
- a digital scale to measure ingredients
- a crock pot
- cups for measuring water, oil, and lye
- safety goggles and gloves for handling lye
- metal spoons
- a metal or glass bowl
- an immersion blender
- a soap mould (I just lined the box that my immersion blender came in with parchment paper and...tada! 4 lb soap mould.)
- Make sure that your work area is clean, well ventilated, and that there are no children around.
- Measure olive, palm, and coconut oil, and add them to your crock pot.
- Set the crock pot to high and heat the oils.
- Measure the lye and the water in 2 separate cups. (Make sure that you are using your safety gear, as lye is poisonous if ingested, and can burn exposed skin.)
- Add the lye to the water (NEVER add water to lye) and mix with a metal spoon. I like to do this step outside on the back deck.
- Wait for your lye+ water mixture to cool. Once it is clear, instead of cloudy, then it is ready to add to the oil mixture (typically takes about 5-10 minutes).
- Once your oils have reached around 120-130 degrees F, slowly pour the water + lye mixture into the oils.
- Use a metal or wooden spoon to mix the water + lye and oils together in the crock pot. Then use an immersion blender for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture is opaque and starts to thicken.
- Cover and keep the crock pot on low. Check every 15 minutes or so.
- Your soap mixture will start to boil and bubble on the sides first. After about 35-55 minutes (depending on crock pot), it will thicken enough that the entire surface is bubbly and the sides have collapsed in.
- This is when you can add your essential oils, spices, mica or oxides, etc.
- Quickly and carefully scoop out your soap mixture and pour into your mould.
- Cover with parchment paper and let sit in a cool, dry place for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, you can pop your soap out of the mould and it will be ready to use or gift.
Some Super Simple Add Ins to Make Ah-MAZING DIY Natural Soap
- Add lavender and rosemary essential oils (about 1-2 tsp per 2 lb of soap).
- Add a tsp of cocoa powder mixed with a few drops of olive oil plus 1-2 tsp of cinnamon essential oil for a chocolate cinnamon soap.
- Add fresh coffee grounds to make an exfoliating coffee bar.