How To Make Soap: DIY Natural Homemade Soap Recipe & Guide

Post Image

Soap is thousands of years old. The modern soap bars we know and love were invented sometime in the 19th century, and they remain immensely popular to this day. But even before that, companies and individuals were making soap from a variety of materials and substances. This post is about how to make soap -- a DIY natural homemade soap recipe and guide.

This is not a definitive guide by any means. Some people like their soaps exotic and otherworldly. It could be that you personally find little to no value in plant fats, vegetable oils, or natural alkaline substances. Those are the basic ingredients of conventional soap. Let’s take a closer look.

Natural Soap Making Explained 

Before going into how to make natural soap, it is best to define what “natural” means. For some, natural could mean no artificial/synthesized ingredients or fragrances. For others, it would be an organic soap which purely takes advantage of things which come out of the ground as they are. And for others still, it could mean a homemade natural soap only -- strictly made by hand -- which has not been marred by the clutches of industry.

The soaps above could all be considered natural. It’s a matter of perspective and it will differ. Whether it comes from the supermarket aisle, the drugstore, or straight from the farmers market -- some ingredients will be considered purer, no matter what. In that, I am including things like olive oil, shea butter, epsom salt, and similar wonders of nature.

Natural soap-making is a process known to mankind for many thousands of years. Over time, people have gotten seriously good at it. Some of the methods and techniques may have developed, but many modern soap-makers still consider the process to be an artful one.

Natural Soap Colorants Breakdown 

Birds eye view of spoons filled with spices.

Assortment of natural colorants and exfoliants.

Some soaps have a very dark hue to them. Their colors are often emboldened and made more pronounced by artificial means. This is a natural soap colorants breakdown, but it won’t encompass everything. Here’s what there is to know about natural colorants: just because it comes from nature, doesn’t make it automatically compatible. To some extent, it’s trial and error, and if you feel like experimenting, just do it.

What works best in the soap-making process? First, you can’t go wrong with tried and true classics like henna, paprika, cocoa powder, and turmeric. Coffee, cinnamon, and beet powder are other good choices. Some colorants have more than visually-pleasing attributes, and can also serve to enrich your experience. For example, adding poppy seeds or cloves to your soap will help to exfoliate as you use it.

Take caution, because some ingredients may cause irritation. Those who have sensitive skin would want to consider avoiding ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, or paprika. Also, avoid most fresh fruits and veggies, and plant material in general. It looks great at first, all alive and fresh. But unless the material is ground into a fine essence and properly kept, the color will quickly fade.

Leaves and stems and flowers often look nice, and seemingly they’re a logical addition. But often they don’t deliver, and nowadays many plant-additions are in the form of essential oils.

Essential Oils For Soap Making

Birds eye view of essential oil bottles and flowers.

Bottles of essential oils.

Essential oils are some of the most potent natural substances in the world. Whether for soap-making, or any other aspect of health, wellness, and personal hygiene -- plant-based volatile oils have something to say about it. When considering essential oils for soap-making, it’s important to purchase 100% pure oil. When first starting out, avoid blends or inferior products which only contain oil.

There are some very popular choices out there for soaps. Lavender, lemon, peppermint, and cedarwood are but a few examples. Essential oil soap will not retain the full properties of the oil you choose, but it may provide the soap with an extra kick of health and vitality. Depending on the nature of the oil you choose, some of those attributes may survive the soap-making process, but others will fade.

There is a big difference between essential oils and fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are synthetic, and so for some people, they are off the table right from the beginning.

What Is Lye & How To Make Lye Soap

Lye is the household name of sodium hydroxide. I mentioned earlier that soap requires an alkaline (aka basic) substance for the saponification, and lye is one of the more popular choices. The rule of thumb with alkaline is that all alkaline substances are basic, but not all basic substances are alkaline. When using lye for soap-making, be sure to use 100% lye and not a product or substance that contains lye.

There are different methods and techniques suggesting how to make lye. If you want to DIY the lye itself, you can boil certain ashes in water. Once the ashes settle, what is left on the top of the pot or pan is liquid lye. Lye can also be produced by using ordinary table salt. I am not a chemist, so I can’t fully understand the processes that these substances undergo. But what you end up with, if you do it properly, is lye.

DIY Lye Soap Recipe 

The rule of thumb is that the fats you use and the lye you use -- both must reach the same temperature, and then be mixed together. This is the basic essence of lye soap. In this recipe, the method used will be the cold process method. There are other ways to produce soap, but this recipe is the most “entry-level” method, which can also be found elsewhere online.

NOTE -- Lye can be extremely dangerous. Use adequate protection at all times, and make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area.

Ingredients

100% lye

Distilled water

Oil(s)

Molds for the soap batter

Rod or stick blender

A bowl for the batter

Stirrer or spatula

A measuring cup

Spoon

Thermometer

Crinkle cutter of some kind (an ordinary cutting knife is not recommended)

Method

Measure 5 oz of distilled water and 2 oz of lye. Add the lye to the water, slowly. Stir the mixture gently, watching out for fumes. Let the mixture cool a little bit, as it can get very hot. Measure out 15 oz of oil(s) -- single oil or combination. In order to match temperatures, heat up the oils in a microwave oven. Check the temperatures of the two liquids (lye and oil). When they are within 10 degrees of each other, add the lye water to the oil and stir gently. Blend and stir your mixture, until it begins to solidify and leave a liquidy residue on the blender you’re using. Pour the mixture into your molds and cover with saran wrap. Leave for 24 hours before taking the soap of its mold. Cure (let sit) for 4 to 6 weeks. If your mixture was measured out properly, there will be no lye residue in the finished product.

How To Make Soap Without Lye

Making soap without lye is possible, but you will need to acquire a soap base. In other words, a giant block of soap. There are ones made of plant sources, and others made from animal sources. Depending on your skin type, you may want to go for one or the other.

Chop the soap base into large cubes, melt it using a microwave or a low-heat double-boiler. When it is melted, add any plant extracts, essential oils, and fragrances. The measurements should be 15 drops of essential oil and a pinch of herbs or plant material per half a pound of base.

Mix it all in a bowl, and pour into soap molds. After a few hours, your soap will be solid and good to go.

DIY Natural Bar Soap Recipe 

Hand holding bar of soap.

Hand holding soap bar.

The two methods I’ve laid out can form a kind of basis for many DIY soaps. You choose your method, your ingredients, your plant material, your essential oils, your colors, and then you get down to it.

People see the word “natural” in all kinds of ways, as I mentioned earlier. If your natural bar soap has to be free of any and all animal material, or absolutely not produced in any way in a factory, then your ingredients will change accordingly. There is no consensus on what constitutes natural soap.

Any one of these DIY methods could be useful, depending on you and your personal definition of natural ingredients. To get that nice “bar soap” look, all you need is the proper molds and/or cutter. Once the soap is solid (and cured, if applicable) you can cut it up however you want. Alternatively, you can pour the batter into bar-shaped molds.

DIY Natural Hand Soap Recipe 

For a DIY hand soap, the instructions are pretty much the same. A natural antibacterial soap can be made from a soap base. Using the melt and pour method, add carrier oils or essential oils which possess antibacterial properties. Under this category of antibacterial, you can find tea tree oil, olive, coconut, peppermint, eucalyptus, and others. 

Add the oils to the mix, but make sure to measure it out properly. Those with sensitive skin might want to use a more mild oil, and not one which could potentially cause the skin to react in a negative way. Many times, commercial hand soap has a high pH level due to its alkaline nature. For a soap that’s more gentle on the hands, lower the pH of your natural hand soap by adding something more acidic to the mix.

DIY Foaming Hand Soap Recipe 

Hand holding a bubble.

Foaming hand soap creates bubbles and suds.

Ordinary liquid hand soap will not foam, usually because it is too thick. However, getting your soap to foam is easy. Add a mixture of soap and water to a foam dispenser. Follow that up with a small amount of dish soap and a few drops of an essential oil of your choice. This is done to loosen the soap and make it thinner so it can foam. Tailor the soap to your needs, and once you reach the right consistency for you, pop the top of the dispenser back on and you’re done. 

DIY Natural Dish Soap Recipe 

A DIY dish soap is always a seriously popular item, especially with those who wash their dishes by hand. Many recipes call for distilled white vinegar, solid or liquid castile soap, or baking soda -- take care not to use all three together, though. 

Those ingredients are highly concentrated and potent, so use with caution. Natural though they may be, they can still cause harm if misused. Distilled water is used a lot in these soap-making processes because it is the purest. Although rainwater has its place -- and is also natural -- it picks up different things on its way down from the rain clouds. It starts off pure but ends up a tad impure by the time it reaches the surface.

A good DIY dish soap will not only clean your dishes but also keep your hands from harm. Depending on your ingredients and skin type, your hands could even benefit from the dishwashing experience!

DIY Dishwasher Soap Recipe 

For a dishwashing machine, you can use baking soda coupled with crystal salt or packets of lemon-drink crystals. Combined with a few drops of ordinary dish soap, you now have a DIY dishwasher soap. The ratio should be ⅔ baking soda, ⅓ salt, plus a few drops of dish soap. There are also different DIY recipes for creating actual tabs, similar to the kind you might purchase at the store, which include borax, baking soda, salt, and essential oil.

Whether you decide to go for tabs or liquid, it’s a matter of convenience. A DIY dishwasher soap can end up being cheaper than what you might get at the supermarket. It’s definitely worth a shot if natural is your thing.

Should you find that your dishes are coming out clean and sparkly, you’ll know you’ve got a good recipe. If necessary, for dirtier dishes, add a few more drops of dish soap to the mix.

DIY Laundry Soap Recipe 

Hands holding folded laundry.

Woman holding fresh folded laundry.

Making your own laundry detergent can save you time and money. We’ve discussed the pros and cons of soap nuts in a different article, and right now I want to focus on another method.

The way to prepare a basic laundry detergent is similar to the dishwashing detergent. Use a bar of natural castile soap, washing soda, and borax. These three ingredients can come together to make a powerful laundry powder. If you have no washing soda, use baking soda (although it is weaker).

Ingredients

⅖ washing soda

⅖ borax

⅕ grated soap

Mix together, keep in a closed container, and store in a dry and cool area. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of the powder for regular washes. 

It is important to remember that gentleness is key, so start off with smaller amounts in your washer’s loader. These are clothes and fabrics we’re talking about, not dishes. There are delicates, there are whites, and so on. Because of this, you need to exercise caution. Consider running a few test washes on clothing or fabric which you can afford to experiment with and potentially lose.

Another important factor is the actual water which is being run through your washing machine. In the case of hard water, the minerals in the water could interact with the DIY laundry powder. This could lead to real damage to your clothes.

I know -- it sounds like a hassle, and to top it off there are things which may go wrong in the process. Indeed, that’s a possibility. There is a ton of criticism aimed towards these types of DIY techniques and methods. However, once you get it right -- and this is true to more than laundry -- you’ll be able to save considerable amounts of energy, money, and time while keeping your clothes fresh and clean.

One last note on this type of detergent or powder:

Natural DIY methods of cleaning -- be they for dishes, clothes, teeth, or surfaces -- are not all automatically great, and they don’t automatically fit everyone’s needs. Anyone who says otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.

Conclusion

Have you ever been to a soap store? It smells amazing. There are so many options and ingredients at our disposal, and some people get seriously creative in the process. In this article, I’ve only scratched the surface of what soap-making is. Like I said, professionals and laypeople alike still think of it as a craft and an art form.

Making your own soaps can be a lot of fun. With some methods, like the ones that don’t require lye, your kids (or pets!) can even help you out and play a real role in the homemade soap-making story. Don’t be afraid of the chemistry involved, just use caution where applicable. Soap or no soap -- staying safe and healthy is paramount.