You think making soap is complicated, right? Not really. I don’t know why I was so daunted by the idea of making soap. It’s not as difficult as I’d expected. Yes, it involves more effort than my usual recipes, but this basic soap bar recipe just requires some common sense. So if you’ve got time and common sense, you’ve got this.
This post shares how to make a basic fragrance-free soap. You can use this as a base to add your own fragrance and colour as you please. I have purposely chosen affordable oils for this recipe, since it is a formulation for beginners who have never made soap before. That way, if you do mess up, at least it won’t cost you a fortune compared to if you decided to start with extra virgin olive oil, for example! I’ve even included step-by-step photos that’ll guide you to your bubbly bliss.
After a bit of practice, I’m sure you will also be whipping up soap in less than half an hour. If not, then you can attend one of my soap-making classes. You can sign-up to be notified about the next workshop here. No spam, I promise! Before we lather up, let me deal with a few FAQs…
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, caustic soda / lye is dangerous. By itself, it should never come into contact with skin, eyes or your lungs…nothing besides your kitchen and bathroom drains! This is why you need to be extra careful when working with it in the soap making process. Unfortunately, it is absolutely necessary to make soap. The reaction between lye and oil is what causes saponification (i.e. soap). Most importantly:
Once lye reacts with oil it results in glycerine and soap, which is natural and completely safe. So the reaction looks something like this:
Oil + Base (lye solution) —–> Glycerol + Salt (soap).
For those of you that don’t know, “lye” is the term referred to when caustic soda is mixed with water (it is a solution).
- Wear long sleeves to prevent any chemical burns if the mixture splashes.
- Wear safety gloves.
- Wear protective eyewear to protect your eyes from possible splashes.
- Do not touch, inhale or ingest caustic soda. Store it far out of reach of children and pets.
- When you add caustic soda to water (step 2 in recipe):
- Do it slowly.
- Always add caustic soda to water, and never the other way around.
- Do this step outdoors away from children and pets.
- Do not inhale or let the lye fumes get into your eyes.
- Do not touch the lye solution.
- Do not leave the solution unattended, because it will look like water.
- Be careful when carrying the solution back indoors, because the bowl will be very hot. So wear oven mits to carry the hot bowl, if necessary. Be careful not to trip. Walk slowly.
- It is safe to bring the solution back indoors when it becomes clear, like water, and the fumes have dissipated.
- If your skin comes into contact with the lye or soap mixture:
- Don't panic.
- Immediately wash the area thoroughly with cold water.
- Then wipe the area with white vinegar to neutralize the lye.
If you do touch it, you will first feel an itch, which then starts to feel like a burn. When you feel the itch, rinse with water, and then vinegar.
- Have white vinegar around at all times. It will neutralize the lye. Wipe counter tops or whatever the mixture touches with vinegar.
- Before washing your utensils with dish washing soap, first rinse them with water and then wipe with a cloth that is soaked in white vinegar, or rinse in a vinegar solution (just fill the sink with water and add about a cup of vinegar – rinse in there). Then wash with dish washing liquid as usual.
You can use the same pots and equipment to cook and to make soap, but you must ensure that you clean everything properly and that all your equipment is stainless steel. I personally don't have separate equipment for soap-making, and I use the same pots to make soap and soup. I do have a separate blender though. It is obviously ideal if you can afford to have separate equipment, but it's not absolutely necessary.
How you must wash all your equipment before cooking with it after soap-making:
- Rinse all your equipment thoroughly in cold water;
- Then rinse or wipe your equipment in a vinegar solution to neutralize any lye (eg. fill the sink halfway with water and add about 1-2 cups of vinegar, or wipe with a cloth that is soaked in white vinegar);
- Then you can wash your equipment with dish washing liquid as you would normally wash your dishes. Now your equipment is ready to use for cooking.
A special note about blenders: Some blenders are not completely sealed where the blade compartment is, and they allow food to get stuck behind the blade etc. If your blender is not properly sealed, DO NOT use the same blender for cooking and soap-making. You will get soap in your soup.
Well, of course you can. The only reason to make your own soap is to save cost and customise, especially if you want organic soap (just make sure you use organic oils and additives). Just be cautious and always read the ingredients when you buy, as many retail soaps include unwanted and unnatural additives. This soap recipe only uses what is absolutely required to make soap, nothing added. All the rest is up to you.
Soap Bar Recipe (With Step-By-Step Photos)
This makes about 1.5 litres of soap, which is roughly 15 bars. That’s enough to last one person six months or more!
This recipe has been formulated to be used on your skin. It is bubbly, yet moisturising. Although you can use it for other cleaning purposes, it is best used for skincare. If you are looking for a tough, cleansing bar for dishes and laundry, I recommend using my multipurpose soap bar recipe.
Cost & Shelf Life
Cost price: R3.76 per 100g soap bar, or R56,50 for the entire 1.5kg batch (in 2019, based on the best retail prices I’ve found).
Lasted me about: 2 weeks using every day (one bar).
Shelf life: 2 years if stored away from direct sunlight.
Long curing time: One week is not necessarily a long time, but when you’ve just made your first batch of soap, you will obviously be eager to try it out, so one week may seem like forever. This recipe uses the room temperature/ cold process (CP) method, but if you’d like to cut the curing time substantially, then you may want to consider the hot process (HP) method. You can use HP soap immediately, whereas you must wait at least one week before you can use CP soap. However, the HP method requires you to be much more precise with temperatures, you need a crock pot/ slow cooker and the method is much longer (2 hours to the mould step). Whereas, the cold process method is very quick (less than 30 minutes to the mould step), but the curing stage is longer.
Cherry on Top
- Customizable: You can completely customize this soap recipe. You can use any essential oils or fragrance oils, colouring and textures.
- Save money: You can make natural soap in bulk, and save the cost of purchasing it all the time. Natural soap is expensive to buy.
- Friendly soap: This soap is super friendly. It’s eco-friendly, grey-water friendly, septic tank friendly, aquatic life friendly. It only contains what you need in a soap bar.
- Caustic soda: is also known as sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which most people know as drain cleaner. It is a highly alkaline substance (pH 14) used to dissolve fats in drains, and saponify oils into soap. Although it is a hazardous chemical, in the soap-making process it is necessary to convert all oil into soap. When measured accurately, there will be zero caustic soda in your final soap bar. The final products of the chemical reaction are sodium salt, glycerine and soap. This is why it is safe in natural soap, but it should be used with caution. i.e. Water + Caustic Soda + Oil —> Salt + Soap + Glycerine. (buy here)
- Coconut oil: is used to create a hard, cleansing bar of soap with good lather. Since all the oil turns to soap in the chemical reaction, I recommend using the cheapest and most refined coconut oil. Remember, it also washes down the drain anyway. (buy here)
- Sunflower oil: is used to create a moisturising and gentle bar of soap.
Let me know how your soap making journey goes in the comments below. I’d also love to know what additives you’ve chosen to use, so please share. Photos are welcome too 🙂