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Soap Making 101: The Only Tutorial You Will Ever Need

homemade soap  Photo by Tabitha Mort from Pexels

Making your own soaps can be a very fun and rewarding process. Not only do you get to choose exactly what ingredients go in them, you also get to make them according to your personal needs. Many store bought items include ingredients that can be harmful to us or the environment in one way or another. In this tutorial I’ve included a couple of useful charts and two soap recipes: everything you need to get started in soap making.

Basic Ingredients that are Unsafe to Use

In order for commercially available products to be profitable, companies must sometimes use synthetic materials that have a long shelf life and can be mass produced at a low rate. Products with an unnaturally long shelf life can be detrimental because they don’t break down easily and cause issues in the organisms that absorb them, but can’t utilize them properly. The only way to be completely sure your products are safe to use is to make them yourself.

Surfactants. Surfactants are what make different products lather with suds. Soap suds don’t occur much naturally, and is often the result of a chemical agent. Surfactants aren’t typically harmful to humans, but they can be toxic to aquatic life given the quantity of soap being washed down the drain every day. In large quantities they can work their way into the food chain and ultimately damage enzyme activity in animals and humans. It’s better to avoid such products.

Preservatives. Soaps and shampoos don’t normally come with expiration dates. That’s because they’re full of preservatives to prevent the growth of yeast, mold, and bacteria. But the problem is they don’t break down easily and they accumulate very rapidly. Once they work their way into the food chain, preservatives can have a range of toxicity problems for both humans and the environment because they’re designed to kill things, including healthy bacteria.

Fragrance. The term fragrance, aka parfum, is often used as an umbrella term for all kinds of chemicals (at least 3,000) to sneak into your products. About 95% of chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum. Unfortunately, many of these have been linked to cancer.

Triclosan. This chemical is most often found in antibacterial soap. Recent studies have found that triclosan actually promotes the growth of bacteria resistant to antibiotic cleansers. It also creates dioxin, a carcinogen that has been found in high levels in human breast milk. Dioxins have disruptive effects on the endocrine system and negatively affect thyroid functions. It’s also the primary toxic component of Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

Parabens. These ingredients are estrogen mimickers—meaning that once applied to the skin, they enter the bloodstream, and the body mistakes them for estrogen. When the body thinks there is an abnormally high amount of estrogen present in the bloodstream, it reacts by increasing fat deposits, causing early onset of puberty, and spurring reproductive difficulties in both men and women.

Sulfates. These chemicals are used to produce lather and bubbles in soap. Some common sulfates are SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate). Sulfates strip the skin of its natural oils and increase penetration of the skin’s surface. They are also irritants for people with sensitive skin or eczema.When used in toothpaste, it can cause canker sores for some people.

Phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are classified as endocrine disrupting compounds and have been linked to a variety of health issues including birth defects. Exposure to phthalates has been linked to changes in genital formation, early puberty, type 2 diabetes, and behavioral problems in humans. Unfortunately, more than 470 million pounds of phthalates are produced each year, and they can be found in a wide range of products from soft plastics and pesticides, to wallpaper and cosmetics.

Propylene glycol. Named by the American Contact Dermatitis Society as the 2018 allergen of the year, this petroleum based material is commonly found in foods, cosmetics, fragrances, and pharmaceuticals. Mostly, it’s used as a texturizer and as an emulisfier to prevent ingredients from separating. In large quantities, studies have shown that proplylene glycol can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver, and heart.

Ethanolamines. Ethanolamines are used in cosmetics as an emulsifier, foaming agent, and pH balancer, and have been linked to liver tumors. Legally, ethanolamines can only be used in products intended to be rinsed off, but studies show that even when rinsed, 52-68% of it can still remain on the upper layers of skin, which is a highly absorbent organ. 

Octinoxate. As an inexpensive chemical to produce, octinoxate is commonly used as a sunblocker in sunscreens and other products that offer UV protection. It’s so easily absorbed by the skin that is has been found in urine, blood, and breast milk, and can even carry other chemicals with it. Studies have been done that show octinoxate causes complete bleaching of coral reefs, even at very low concentrations.Many places around these reefs have banned this chemical, among others, and even require biodegradable sunscreens.

Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is another popular ingredient found in at least 80% of UV blocking cosmetics. While it absorbs harmful UV rays, studies show that the skin absorbs it, and can stay in the body for an unknown amount of time. While in the body, oxybenzone mimics hormones and can disrupt the endocrine system, causing endometriosis; a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside of it. The Federal Centers for Disease control and Prevention reported oxybenzone has been found in more than 96% of the U.S. population.

Formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is widely used as a preservative and a bonding agent. It is a natural occurring chemical produced in small amounts by most organisms, but exposure to elevated levels has been linked to cancer. Many preservatives used in cosmetics release formaldehyde as a gas or vapor and can be easily absorbed by the body. Some of these preservatives include: quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol,and glyoxal.

Supplies You’ll Need for Soap Making

Note: any supplies that make contact with lye should be devoted to soap making! Don’t use them for cooking once you’ve used them for soaping! Anything plastic should be dishwasher and microwave safe, and anything metal should not be aluminum or tin. It’s actually best to just stay away from metal and use only plastic, glass, or porcelain bowls.

Mold Tips:
– If you want a more rustic looking hand-cut bar of soap, purchase one of the “loaf” molds rather than the individual cavity molds. If you go the loaf route, you’ll need a sharp knife or soap cutting tool.
– If you don’t want to purchase a mold right away, just devote a 9×12 or 9×9 inch baking pan to soaping, and be sure to line it with parchment before pouring!

Helpful Tips

  • When you’re first learning how to make soap, it’s best to limit yourself to just a couple of additives to begin with. As you become more familiar with making hot process soap, you will be more confident about adding in other techniques.
  • It is crucial that you measuring accurately. Inaccurate measurements can produce lye or oil heavy soaps which you will have to throw out. Make sure you get a good scale….it’s the best investment you can make.

Natural Colorants to Use in Soaps

For colors, it’s best to keep it natural. Some excellent natural colorants to try are powdered herbs, clays, cocoa powder or spices like tumeric or cayenne pepper. There’s no real formula for this, so you’ll have to do a bit of trial and error, but be sure to measure and write down the amount you use. Colors can change slightly during the curing process, so you can’t be sure how vibrant they will be until the cure time is over.

Natural Exfoliants to Use in Soaps

For exfoliants, add as much or as little as you want. Use high concentrations for a coarse foot exfoliant and lower concentrations for a gentle facial exfoliant. Seeds, oatmeal, cocao nibs, ground walnuts, and salt make excellent ingredients. 

Lye Solution Instructions

In order to make soap, oils must emulsify (combine) with lye, which begins the saponification process. Saponification is the chemical process of soap making that involves an exothermic (heat releasing) reaction between lye and a fat (usually oils). Lye soap is often thought of as unpleasant because too much lye was used in the formula and remained in the bar of soap to irritate and burn the skin. But soap cannot be made without using lye, and when made correctly, none will remain in the bar of soap.

During this process it’s important to make safety a top priority. There are 2 different types of lye: Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hyrdoxide (KOH), but we will be working with the former in this instructable.

Sodium hydroxide lye is an inorganic compound commonly found in drain cleaners and is highly caustic, able to burn organic tissue (i.e. the skin). Sodium hydroxide is safe when handled properly, but because lye has the potential to be extremely dangerous, it’s important to take every safety precaution when making soaps

Sodium hydroxide lye is available in various forms, such as flakes, pellets and powder. To make soap, lye is introduced to a liquid like distilled water, although other liquids such as milk, tea, or coffee can be used as well. The liquid dissolves the lye and creates a lye solution. Mixing water and lye creates an exothermic reaction that causes a dramatic temperature increase. Adding lye to room temperature water will cause the water to reach temperatures up to 200°F, and the mixture will create fumes, which should not be inhaled.

Making a lye solution is a simple process, but involves a little math. 

Calculating Lye

Never measure ingredients by volume, such as by cups or tablespoons. Always measure ingredients by weight, such as by pounds, ounces, or grams, and be sure to be uniform with the units of measure for all ingredients. Meaning, consistently measure both the lye and the fats in ounces, or measure both in grams. Avocado oil, which has a sodium hydroxide (NaOH) lye saponification value of 0.1337, will require 0.1337 of an ounce of lye to saponify one ounce of avocado oil. Likewise, 0.1337 of a gram of lye is needed to saponify one gram of avocado oil, and 0.1337 of a pound of lye will saponify one pound of avocado oil.

Water is needed to dissolve the lye and for the hydrolysis (chemical breakdown) of the fats. Using too much water may produce soft soap bars and require extra drying time, or may encourage rancidity. Because of this, the amount of lye determines the amount of water. To calculate the correct amount of water, first you must determine the total amount of lye, then divide that amount by 0.3, and finally, subtract the total amount of lye from the result.

Let me give you an example. To make just over 2 pounds (32 ounces) of avocado oil soap, first you must calculate the amount of lye you’ll need. Take 32oz (avocado oil) and multiply by 0.1337oz (avocado oil’s saponification value) to get 4.28oz. That is the amount of lye you’ll need. 

Next, to calculate the correct amount of water: 4.28oz of lye ÷ 0.3 = 14.27oz, which will be the total weight of the solution (lye and water). Subtract the weight of the lye from the solution (14.27oz − 4.28oz) to get the weight of just the water, which equals 9.99oz of water.

  • (Amount of Fat) × (Saponification Value of the Fat) = (Amount of Lye)

(32oz Avocado Oil) x (0.1337) = (4.28oz Lye)

  • (Amount of Lye) ÷ 0.3 = (Total Weight the Lye Water Solution should be)

(4.28oz Lye) ÷ 0.3  = (14.27oz Lye Water Solution)

  • (Total Weight of Lye Water Solution) − (Amount of Lye) = (Amount of Water Needed)

(14.27oz Lye Water) – (4.28oz Lye) = (9.99oz Water)

Note: After weighing the lye and water, always add the lye to the water; never add water to the lye. Doing it the latter way will cause an unpleasant volcanic-like reaction.

Note: Base oils, aka carrier oils are considered as fats because they contain varying levels of unsaturated fats.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to start making soaps.

Before you get started, it’s a good idea to prepare your mold. If it’s a square mold, you’ll be able to line it with parchment paper pretty easily. Make sure you overlap the edges for easy removal. Using rubber bands to hold the paper down works really well since tape won’t stick to parchment.

Superfatting your Soaps

 Without superfatting, your base oils will be canceled out by your lye solution during saponification. This means many of the wonderful benefits of the oils you used won’t survive the chemical reaction. Superfatting is when your base oil to lye solution ratio is imbalanced enough that a percentage of your oils will remain intact during saponification. This allows your soap to maintain the properties of those oils. If the % of excess fat is too low, you will have a dryer, harsher soap. If it’s too high, your soap will be very moisturizing but will also spoil faster because of the excess oil. It’s good to stay around a 5% to 7% superfatting level. 

This part is easier than it sounds and there are 2 ways to accomplish this. All you need to do is take your original oil measurements and multiply them by 5, 6, or 7%. For example, in the earlier note mentioned, we used 10oz of coconut oil, 11oz of avocado oil, and 11oz of olive oil. So for a superfattening level of 6% we would multiply 10oz × 0.06 to get 0.6oz of coconut oil, 11oz × 0.06 to get 0.66oz of avocado oil, and again 11oz × 0.06 to get another 0.66oz of olive oil. Add these results for a grand total of 1.92oz to achieve a superfatting level of 6% and reap the benefits of your oils.

The second option is to take your total lye amount and multiplying it by 0.95 (5%), 0.94 (6%), or 0.93 (7%). The solution would be your new lye total. Of course, there are lye calculators for this, but it’s better to know all the ins and outs yourself.

The first step is to choose the base oils you want to work with.

The base oils you choose will determine the qualities of your soap. For example, using coconut oil will create a bubbly, cleansing lather and a very hard bar of soap, but too much will make your soap too drying. It’s a good idea to balance out the coconut with a more moisturizing base like jojoba oil. There are many base oils to choose from, but understanding the chemical reaction that produces a quality soap can get complicated. This chart by Nature’s Garden is extremely helpful because it explains the properties of base oils and what qualities they provide to a bar of soap. They also recommend what percentages you should use in soap recipes. For example, it’s suggested that you use no more than 30-35% coconut oil. Using more than that will dry you out. You can create entire recipes using this chart.

Mix your base oils in their dedicated pot and heat them to about 105°F. Be sure to keep the heat on low so you don’t end up burning the oils. Use one of your thermometers to keep watch on the temperature.

*Note: Each base oil has it’s own saponification level, meaning if your 32oz recipe contains 10oz of coconut oil, 11oz of avocado oil, and 11oz of olive oil, you must calculate the amount of lye you need for each to get a total lye amount.

Saponification Value Chart

*Round to the nearest hundredths

Fats & OilsSodium Hydroxide Lye (NaOH)Potassium
Hydroxide Lye (KOH)
Almond Oil 0.13670.1925
Aloe Vera Butter 0.17880.2518
Aloe Vera Oil 0.14210.2001
Apricot Kernel Oil0.13780.1941
Avocado Butter 0.13390.1886
Avocado Oil 0.13370.1883
Babassu Nut Oil 0.17490.2463
Borage Oil0.13390.1886
Candelilla Wax 0.03220.0454
Canola Oil 0.13280.187
Canola Oil, High Oleic
Castor Bean Oil 0.12860.1811
Cherry Kernel Oil 0.13890.1956
Chicken Fat0.13560.191
Cocoa Butter0.13780.1941
Coconut Oil, Refined 76°0.1910.269
Coconut Oil,
Hydrogenated 92°
Coconut Oil, Fractionated/Saturated0.23210.3269
Copha® Vegetable
Corn Oil0.13680.1927
Cottonseed Oil0.13870.1954
Crisco® Vegetable
Emu Oil0.13770.1939
Evening Primrose Oil0.13620.1918
Flaxseed Oil0.13580.1913
Goat Fat0.13820.1946
Goose Fat0.13490.19
Grapeseed Oil0.13210.1861
Hazelnut Oil0.13690.1928
Hempseed Oil0.13590.1914
Jojoba Seed Oil0.06950.0979
Jojoba Seed Liquid Wax0.06950.0979
Karite Butter0.12960.1825
Kremelta® Vegetable
Kukui Nut Oil0.13510.1903
Linseed Oil0.13580.1913
Macadamia Nut Oil0.13910.1959
Mango Butter0.1360.191
Milk Fat0.15990.2252
Mink Oil0.14030.1976
Monoï de Tahiti Oil0.17960.253
Neem Tree Oil0.13720.1932
Olive Oil0.13530.1906
Ostrich Oil0.13850.1951
Palm Kernel Oil0.17770.2503
Palm Oil0.1420.2
Peach Kernel Oil0.13610.1917
Peanut Oil0.13670.1925
Pine Rosin0.12980.182
Pumpkin Seed Oil0.13890.1956
Rapeseed Oil0.13280.187
Rice Bran Oil0.12840.1808
Safflower Oil, High
Linoleic Acid
Safflower Oil, High Oleic
Sesame Seed Oil0.13360.1882
Shea Butter0.12960.1825
Soybean Oil0.13590.1914
Soybean Oil, 27.5%
Stearic Acid,
Stearic Acid,
Sunflower Seed Oil0.13580.1913
Sunflower Seed Oil, High Oleic Acid0.13510.1903
Tallow, Beef0.14190.1999
Tallow, Deer0.13820.1946
Tallow, Sheep0.13840.1949
Tamanu Seed Oil0.14370.2024
Tiaré Flower Oil0.17960.253
Walnut Oil0.13490.19
Wheat Germ Oil0.13190.1858

The second step is to create your lye water mixture using the calculations above. Lye can be very dangerous, so be sure to take caution.

Wear Proper Safety Gear. When working with lye, wearing protective safety gear is a must. This includes eye goggles, gloves, long sleeves and long pants. Covering your skin helps protect it from spills or drops of lye solution. You may also like to wear a surgical mask to avoid breathing any fumes.

Mix Lye in an Appropriate Place. The area where you mix your lye solution should have good ventilation to avoid breathing lye fumes. If weather allows, mixing your lye solution outside will get you the best ventilation possible. When indoors, open a few windows and turn on a fan. Air filters could be useful if you have one or don’t mind investing in one. In addition to ventilation, it’s important to make sure kids, pets and other distractions and tripping hazards are out of the house or don’t have access to your soaping space.

Add Lye to Water, Never Water to Lye! When mixing water and lye the first step is to weigh the correct amounts into separate containers. Once you have the correct amounts for your recipe, the lye should be slowly added to the water. NEVER add water to lye! Doing so can cause the lye to erupt, out of the container and may cause serious damage. You might be seriously burned or end up with lye on surfaces where it could cause problems later.

Use an Appropriate Mixing Container. It’s important to mix your lye solution in a durable and safe container. The container should be a heat-resistant plastic, glass, or ceramic. Mixing lye solution in a metal container isn’t recommended for two reasons. One, because the lye solution gets incredibly hot. Two, because lye and certain metals produce a hazardous reaction. Sodium hydroxide and aluminum produce hydrogen gases, which can be extremely dangerous. Lye also reacts with tin. To be on the safe side, avoid metal containers entirely. If using glass, make sure your container is extremely sturdy. Choose a container that is large enough to catch any splashes as you stir. For added safety, mix your lye and water over a sink in case of any spills.

Store Lye Appropriately. While waiting for the lye solution to cool to suitable soaping temperatures, make sure your container is clearly labeled and move it to a safe place to ensure nobody touches or tampers with the solution. The container of lye should always be kept out of reach of children.

If You Get Lye on Your Skin. If lye comes in contact with your skin or eyes, first remove any contaminated clothing, then flush immediately with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention. If inhaled, move to fresh air.

Do not try to rinse lye with vinegar. Although they do cancel each other out, adding vinegar (an acid) to lye (a base) creates a chemical reaction that initially releases more heat. Just use water so not to cause yourself any further pain.

Although vinegar should not be used to treat lye burns on skin, it can be used in the cleanup process. A quick spray and wipe of your workspace with some vinegar will neutralize any lye dust that may have gotten on the surface.

Now that you have mixed your lye solution, it’s time to combine your materials. 

During the entire soap making process, it’s important to wear your safety gear. This is because the lye solution still has the potential to irritate the skin..

For the next part, you need to wait for the oils and the lye to reach the same temperature, preferably somewhere around 100º–110ºF. They don’t have to be exactly the same, but should at least be within three or four degrees of each other. For the oils, they can be reheated, or cooled by simply turning off the crock pot or removing them from the stove. Ideally, you’ll be adjusting the temperature of the oils and not the lye. Remember that the lye solution will naturally create an exothermic reaction and reach about 200°F, so you just need to wait for it to cool. Use your second thermometer for this. If by chance the lye solution needs to be warmed, place it in a hot water bath.

Once the oil and lye solution are the same temperature, slowly pour a thin stream of the lye solution into the pot of oils and whisk/stick blender to stir the mixture. You’re looking for the mixture to be fully emulsified, that is, completely mixed with no signs of separation. Maintain a steady stirring motion, not so fast as to splash but fast enough to keep the mixture in constant motion. The idea is to get the oil, lye, and water molecules to combine to make soap. If you’re using a stick blender, pulse for a few seconds then stir for a few seconds, and repeat.

Make sure to stir all areas of the pot thoroughly. The mixture will turn creamy and opaque, then will thicken and begin to trace. Trace happens when there is a prominent trail left behind your stirring movements.

There are two methods to soap making: hot process and cold process.

Both methods are largely the same, except hot process cures faster because it requires you to apply heat in order for the water content to evaporate quicker. Cold process foregoes the heating method, but requires a much longer cure time (4-6 weeks).

This is the step where hot process and cold process soap making differ.

If you’re using the cold process method, once you’ve reached trace, you can stir in your essential oils. We’ll get back to this step once we cover the hot process method.

Hot Process

After you’ve stirred to trace, if you plan to make the soap one color, you can add the colorant now. If you want to make a swirl of color or layers, add later. No colors are fine as well.

Once the soap reaches a full trace, it’s time to cook the mixture. Though we are using crock pot you can essentially do the same thing using your oven. 

Put the lid on the crock pot and leave it to cook on low for a while. If you want to use the oven instead of the crock-pot, heat the oven to it’s lowest setting. No higher than 170°F. Place the soap in an oven proof container that has lots of extra room and follow the same instructions as below.

The soap will heat up and start to bubble around the edges of the crock pot. Keep an eye on the soap and stir it down gently only if it starts to bubble over.

The mix will begin to take on a clear Vaseline like look. Once the whole mix has this look, you can test it to see if it is done by taking a small sample of the soap and rub it between your fingers. It should have a waxy feel. Further test the soap by touching it to your tongue, if it ‘zaps’ it’s not done.

The intensity of the zap will vary. If the soap is lye heavy, you won’t have to wonder whether you got a zap. It is a sensation like a static shock that is unmistakable and immediate. If there is a slight trace of excess lye, the sensation will be more of a mild tingle.

 Keep cooking until it no longer ‘zaps’. This zapping is because lye is a conductive material, and once it’s all gone so is the conductive reaction.

Now is the time to add in any dried herbs, scents, or exfoliants, to your soap mixture.

Next, mix in any dried herbs or exfoliants you’d like. You will have to work fast while mixing since the soap will cool quickly. 

Once the soap has cooled a bit, you can mix in the essential oils. Make sure to cool the soap to a temperature below the essential oil’s flash point. Flash point is the temperature that the essential oil will vaporize. If it is added at too high a temperature, you may destroy the oils. 5-10% of your base oil amount is a good (but not concrete) method for knowing how much essential oil to use. For example, if our recipe called for a base oil total of 32oz, then you should add 1.6 – 3.2oz of essential oils to the mix. Of course, there are so many variations of essential oils, so you may have to experiment a bit to find the right amount for you.

Essential Oil Flash Point Chart

Anise (Aniseed)
124-126 °F
Eucalyptus (Radiata) 118-120 °F   Myrrh 135-137 °F
Basil 123-125 °FFennel 137-139 °FNeroli (Portugal)
129-131 °F
Bay Laurel 125-127 °FFrankincense
138-140 °F
Niaouli 129-131 °F
Benzoin 135-137 °FGalbanum 137-139 °FNutmeg 130-132 °F
Bergamot 132-134 °FGeranium 119-121 °FOrange (Sweet)
134-136 °F
Birch (Sweet)
124-126 °F
Ginger 145-147 °FOregano 131-133 °F
Black Pepper
138-140 °F
Grapefruit 123-125 °FPalmarosa 122-124 °F
Cajeput 123-125 °FHelichrysum
127-129 °F
Peppermint 132-134 °F
Camphor (White)
128-130 °F
Hyssop 127-129 °FPetitgrain 119-121 °F
Carrot Seed 128-130 °FLavender (English)
130-132 °F
Pine (Scotch) 124-126 °F
Chamomile (German) 125-127 °FLavender (Spanish)
128-130 °F
Ravensara 134-136 °F
Chamomile (Roman)
110-112 °F
Lavender (Spike)
128-130 °F
Rosemary 125-127 °F
Cinnamon Leaf
115-117 °F
Lemon 113-115 °FSandalwood
131-133 °F
Coriander 132-134 °FLemongrass 133-135 °FTangerine
Cypress 144-146 °FLime 132-134 °FTea Tree
121-123 °F
Elemi 122-124 °FMandarin (Green)
130-132 °F
Thyme 123-125 °F
Eucalyptus (Citriodora)
125-127 °F
Manuka 138-140 °FYarrow 121-123 °F
Eucalyptus (Globulus)
130-132 °F
Melissa 110-112 °FYlang Ylang

Finally, it’s time for molding your soap. Hot process soap is a lot different than cold process when it comes to molding. It doesn’t pour. It is thick, gooey and must be quickly scooped into the mold.

If you want to make a swirl of color or make colored layers, now is the time. Divide some soap and color one half separately. Add it to your mold and mix into the pattern you’d like. Make sure the soap is of a thick pudding like consistency so that the colors don’t run. If you want one solid color, no need to divide.

Now leave it alone for a while. It can take up to 48 hours to cool down and harden enough to remove from the mold. Cover it with a towel for insulation and protection.

Once that is done, remove the soap from the mold and take off the parchment paper. You can cut the soap into bars now. Once you have cut the soap into bars, they can either be used immediately or be cured for a few days. The longer the cure, the milder the soap and the better it lathers. Place the soaps in a single layer on a tray or flat surface lined with paper towels and store in a dry, cool, dark place until you’re ready to use.

Cold Process

This method has a shorter prep time than the hot process, but has a longer cure time (3-6 weeks). This is how long it takes for the water content to completely evaporate, resulting in a harder, longer lasting bar of soap. The cure time can be disheartening, but a long cure produces the best quality soap. Technically, you can use your soap after 2 days, but it will be very soft and probably fall apart in the shower.

Continuing where we left off, you’ve now bought your soap to trace and it’s time to personalize it.

How thick of a trace you take your soap to depends on what you plan on doing with it. If you’re just pouring it into a mold, it doesn’t need to be thick at all. If you want to suspend dried herbs or exfoliants in it, you’ll have to bring it to a thickness that will be able to do just that. If you want swirls or layers of colors, it will also have to be pretty thick – enough that the different colors won’t combine. You’ll be looking for a trace with the consistency of pudding for those sorts of things. Coloring with swirls or layers will require you to divide the soap in parts, color each individual section on their own, and place them in the mold according to how you’d like.

Colorants, exfoliants, and such accessories are the last ingredients to go into your soap. As you’re creating your original recipes, always remember to write down the exact amounts of everything you’re using. When you create that perfect batch of soap you’ll want to be able to replicate it.

Now it’s time to mold. Pour the soap into your mold, cover, and insulate with an old towel. Leave the mold where it won’t be disturbed for 24 hours.

After 24 hours your soap should be firm enough to cut. Using the parchment paper overhang, pull the soap out of the mold and cut into appropriately sized bars.

Place the bars somewhere cool and dry, where they’ll get enough air circulation, and wait for at least three weeks to allow extra moisture evaporate out. The longer the cure time, the harder the bar will be, and the longer it will last once you start using it. The scent will also mellow out a bit. Some scents last better than others, but they’ll all fade to some extent.

Clean Up

After you’re done making your batch of soap, it’s time to consider clean up. Because the lye could still irritate the skin, leave your gloves on while washing any soaping dishes. I recommend wiping out any excess soap with vinegar, then washing your dishes in the sink with hot water and grease-cutting soap.

Homemade Soap Recipes

charcoal soap photo by

Charcoal & Eucalyptus Detox Soap

Lye Portion

  • 9.5oz Distilled Water
  • 4.1oz Lye (at 6% superfat)

Base Oils Portion (31.8oz Total)

  • 8.5oz Shea Butter
  • 8.5oz Hemp Seed Oil
  • 6.4oz Coconut Oil
  • 4.2oz Jojoba Oil
  • 4.2oz Grapeseed Oil

At Trace

  • 3g Activated Charcoal
  • 12g Eucalyptus Essential Oil


  • Follow standard soap making instructions. Let saponify in the mold for 24 hours before slicing and curing for at least 3 weeks (unless you used the hot process method).
Honey lavender soap photo by

Honey Bee Pollen Soap

Lye Portion

  • 8.5oz Distilled Water
  • 3.7oz Lye (at 6% superfat)

Base Oil Portion (34oz Total)

  • 8.5oz Beeswax
  • 8.5oz Hemp Seed Oil
  • 4.2oz Coconut Oil
  • 6.4oz Jojoba Oil
  • 6.4oz Castor Oil

At Trace

  • 4 tbsp Bee Pollen Powder
  • 4 tbsp Honey
  • 28g Lavender Essential Oil


  • Follow standard soap making instructions. Let saponify in the mold for 24 hours before slicing and curing for at least 3 weeks (unless you used the hot process method).

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