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How to Make an Eco-Friendly Solid Homemade Dish Soap Bar

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Liquid dish soap does a fine job of cleaning dishes, but I cringe every time I have to buy a plastic bottle full of soap. I had an epiphany about homemade dish soap several months ago, and I’ve been experimenting. If — like me — you’re trying to cut back on single-use plastic, this solid dish soap might be just the solution you’ve been looking for.

Check out these DIY dishwasher soap tablets, too!

solid dish soap recipe in a bowl

How I wash dishes by hand

My dishwashing method has changed over time. I grew up in a house without a dishwasher. For our dish washing duties, we filled the kitchen sink with hot water and bubbles and then stacked dishes in the sink. As we washed each plate or cup, the water in the sink got colder, less bubbly, and dirtier. If you wash dishes like this, you know what I’m talking about.

When we moved to Hawaii, I began seeing a method of washing dishes that I’d never seen before. Imagine — such a simple chore, but done completely differently in another part of the world! I’ve completely converted to this method for hand washing dishes.

Instead of filling a big sink, I now fill a medium-size bowl with hot water. None of the dirty dishes go into the water, so the water always stays clean. To wash each dish, I dip a dish rag or sponge into the hot water and then squeeze on a bit of dish soap. The suds transfer to each dirty dish as I clean it, getting sudsy and clean. I repeat this with all of my dirty dishes, wetting the sponge and recharging it with dish soap as necessary.

This method works beautifully, but there’s still the question of the plastic bottle. Not to mention that store bought dish soap uses some harsh ingredients.

A vintage solution: solid homemade dish soap

Then I remembered my mom telling me that my Grandma used to make tallow bars to wash laundry. Instead of the powder or liquid that we use today, she’d cut off a piece of the soap bar and toss it into the washing machine with the dirty clothes. This made me wonder about using a solid homemade dish soap bar. Why not?

Before I made up a solid homemade dish soap specific for that purpose, I wanted to try the idea. I set a bar of homemade soap in a shallow bowl and began using it instead of liquid soap. It worked perfectly well! The dishes came out clean and my sponge was suitably sudsy. The only trouble with this method was that the soap did get quite soft in the bowl. This told me that I needed a harder bar.

Love the idea of a solid dish soap bar but not quite ready to make your own? The folks over at Etee have you covered with these vegan dish soap bars!

I started poking around the internet for a recipe without much luck — have I invented something totally new?? Further searching left me looking for a laundry soap bar and I landed on my friend Jan’s recipe. (By the way, I credit Jan for giving me the confidence to start making my own soap. Check out her Soapmaking ebook collection here.)

Jan’s recipe is made with pure coconut oil. I didn’t have enough coconut oil on hand, so I used a soap calculator to figure out how to use half coconut oil and half tallow. And instead of forming this recipe into bars, I poured the batter into shallow bowls that I picked up at the thrift store.

homemade dish soap in a bowl

I ordered a handmade sponge — like this one — from Etsy. But on my list of projects to try is one of these homemade reusable sponges.

Note: I’ve had a LOT of people ask about using alternative oils. If you need instructions for making a vegan soap block, scroll to the notes section of the recipe at the bottom of this page for the appropriate measurements. Or, you can purchase a vegan soap block here.

Making a solid dish soap bar

Like other bar soaps, this recipe requires the use of lye. Lye is caustic, so you’ll need to use caution, but please don’t let this scare you away from making it, since it’s really not difficult! 

Begin by pouring the lye into the water. (Never pour water into lye.) Stir carefully. Combining the water and lye will create a chemical reaction and the water will become VERY hot.

Meanwhile, melt the oils in a saucepan. When the lye mixture and oils are both about 100ºF, add the lye to the oils in the saucepan. Mix until the soap reaches trace. This is easiest when done with an immersion blender. You can stir by hand but it will require a lot of stirring! 

What is trace?

Soapmakers use the term trace” to describe the consistency of the soap batter when it’s ready to be poured into molds. When the soap begins to look like cooked custard and holds its shape across the top, you’ve achieved trace. There’s not an exact science to this. The level of trace can range from light (thinner) to heavy (thicker). Mixing the batter until it reaches heavy trace allows for layering soap of different colors, since it holds its shape to support additional layers.

4 images showing the process of making a solid dish soap bar

Pour the soap batter into a mold. I like using a shallow bowl for this dish soap recipe, but you could also pour it into a larger mold and cut it into bars. 

Let the soap cure for a minimum of two weeks before using. If you’ve opted to use one large mold, now is the time to cut it into dish soap bars.

Using this homemade dish soap

I keep the bowl of hard soap right next to my sink. If I’m washing a lot of dishes, I’ll fill up a container with hot water and dip my sponge in that as I wash. If I just need to clean a few dishes, there’s not even any need to fill a bowl — I just wet the sponge with hot water, then rub it on the hard soap until it begins to foam.

soap suds on a crocheted sponge

When you’re done washing dishes, be sure to drain off any water that may have puddled in the dish. This will extend the life of the soap.

Some notes on soapmaking

Making soap is not difficult, but you really do need to follow some basic safety precautions.

  • Always wear goggles and long sleeves when working with lye.
  • Measure ingredients exactly. You will need a scale in order to make soap at home. There’s no getting around this. 
  • Never pour water into lye; instead, measure the lye into the water.

Soapmaking Success e-course

If you’re ready to dive into soapmaking, check out Jan’s Soapmaking Success e-course! It includes six lessons that will have you making soap like a pro in no time. It includes:

  • Incorporating fruits & veggies
  • Soapmaking with flowers & herbs
  • Using alternative liquids
  • Using natural colorants
  • Simple soap designs
  • Designing soap labels

You should also give Jan’s basic soap bar a try.

solid dish soap recipe in a bowl

★ Did you make this homemade dish soap? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below! ★

solid dish soap recipe in a bowl

Homemade Dish Soap Bar

Yield: 5 bowls
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Curing time: 14 days
Total Time: 14 days 1 hour

Changing up the way you wash dishes by using a solid dish soap bar can substantially reduce the number of plastic bottles you use.

Ingredients

  • 4.45 ounces lye (sodium hydroxide) [Get it here.]
  • 9.96 ounces water
  • 14 ounces beef tallow
  • 14 ounces coconut oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons essential oil, lavender or citrus are great

Instructions

  1. Measure the water into a non-reactive heatproof container.
  2. Carefully pour the lye into the water. (Never pour water into lye.) Stir carefully. Combining the water and lye will create a chemical reaction and the water will become VERY hot.
  3. Set the lye mixture aside. While the lye cools, heat coconut oil and tallow to about 90 to 100°F. The tallow will take longer to melt than the coconut oil. If you achieve the desired temperature before it's completely melted, just turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for a few minutes. The residual heat will melt the tallow all the way. melting oils in a pot
  4. Pour the lye solution into the warm coconut oil and stir by hand briefly. (Note: The lye and oils should both be about 100ºF when you combine them; you may need to allow the lye mixture to cool a bit.)
  5. Use an immersion blender to bring the soap to trace. making soap
  6. Incorporate essential oils. soap at trace
  7. Pour soap into shallow bowls and allow to cure for 2 weeks before using. pouring homemade dish soap into a bowl

Using this solid dish soap

  1. Wet sponge and rub onto soap until suds form.
  2. Use sudsy sponge so thoroughly wash dirty dishes. soap bubbles on a wooden utensil

Notes

  • Always wear safety goggles and long sleeves when making soap. 
  • Never pour water into lye (pour lye into water). 
  • Using lavender, orange, or lemon essential oils gives this homemade cleaner a light fragrance. 

To make a vegan soap block

Follow the instructions above using the following measurements: 

  • 28 ounces coconut oil
  • 11.15 ounces water
  • 4.98 ounces lye

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 5 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g

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using a homemade dish soap bar

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

76 comments… add one
  • Don’t Need To Be Preached At Jul 27, 2019, 10:34 pm

    Screw “eco-friendly”.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 28, 2019, 7:49 am

      This page is probably not for you, then!

      • Sabrina Lawrence Oct 14, 2019, 6:45 am

        Can I add Sodium carbonate to the recipe

        • Kris Bordessa Oct 14, 2019, 4:40 pm

          This recipe has been calculated using the ingredients listed. I wouldn’t add anything without recalculating the ingredients.

      • tammy Mar 3, 2020, 9:06 pm

        so proud of this response..we enjoy your page

  • Mindy Jul 28, 2019, 7:15 am

    Thanks for the inspiration… will make a batch and give it a go!

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 30, 2019, 1:25 pm

      I hope it works well for you!

  • Paddy Aug 3, 2019, 12:07 pm

    Thank so much for sharing this. I can’t wait to try it.

  • Nik Aug 12, 2019, 10:01 am

    I’m confused by step 3. It says to set the lye mixture aside to cool. I didn’t see where it said to heat the mixture in the previous steps. Do I heat the water and then add the lye? Do I heat them together? Am I bringing to a boil or just heating to a certain temp? Other people may know this already and wonder why I would ask, but this will be my first attempt at soap making. I just love this idea!

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 12, 2019, 10:31 am

      Excellent question! I’ll clarify this in the instructions. In short, though: When the lye and water are combined, there’s a chemical reaction and the mixture becomes very hot. You’re right in that there’s no cooking required!

      • Nik Aug 12, 2019, 11:26 am

        Thank you. Now it all makes sense. I’m looking forward to trying this.

      • Deanne Jan 7, 2020, 10:58 am

        Lovely post. I have tallow but it’s not beef it’s sheep tallow do you know if tallow is interchangeable?

        • Kris Bordessa Jan 12, 2020, 12:44 pm

          Sheep tallow should be fine!

        • Wendy Mar 3, 2020, 8:06 pm

          Deanne – your lye calculator should have the different types of tallow listed separately, just choose the correct one, sheep in your instance, when calculating your ingredients

      • Blanca Mar 5, 2020, 4:05 am

        Thanks for this awesome idea! Green and clever. I’m inspired to make some of these soap dishes to give as gifts! How many shallow dishes would you say this makes approximately?

        • Kris Bordessa Mar 10, 2020, 6:20 pm

          Depending on the size of the dish, 4-6.

  • ANN Aug 13, 2019, 4:02 pm

    Would you happen to know the amount of another oil to substitute for the tallow (not palm oil)?

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 13, 2019, 4:17 pm

      You should be able to use all coconut oil, but to be safe, always run changes through a soap calculator: https://www.brambleberry.com/calculator?calcType=lye

      I just did, and the water and lye weights change slightly.

      Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) 4.98 oz
      Ounces of liquid 11.15 oz
      Coconut Oil 28.00 oz

      • Debra Temoche Sep 4, 2019, 4:27 am

        What is your superfat percentage?

        • Kris Bordessa Sep 20, 2019, 12:54 pm

          For a cleaning bar like this, I didn’t want extra fat. (I’m relatively new to soap making, so if you know something I don’t, please share!)

      • Heather Apr 18, 2020, 12:45 pm

        Today marks the third round of this soap. I Love,Love,LOVE this recipe!!! Thank you so very much for posting it. MY nine year old os quite the eco warrior and i made it the first time to avoid plastic. The next I made a triple Bach a few weeks beforehand Xmas and gave out dish soap bars as gifts. Friends who have run out are asking for more so I made another batch today. ❤️

        • Kris Bordessa Apr 18, 2020, 1:12 pm

          This makes me so happy! Thanks for letting me know. (Our friends love it, too!)

  • Samantha Smart Aug 13, 2019, 11:15 pm

    Hi, this looks like an excellent idea. For the vegetarians among us, can we replace the beef tallow with the same amount of coconut oil? I think that’s what you were saying in the post.

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 23, 2019, 2:42 pm

      See Ann’s comment (and my response) above.

  • AJ Aug 17, 2019, 7:19 am

    Thanks I’m going to try this. Do you have a recipe for laundry soap?

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 23, 2019, 2:39 pm

      There’s a recipe for laundry soap in my forthcoming book!

  • Heather Aug 25, 2019, 7:59 am

    That is a very cool looking sponge, did you make it or buy it? I think a bowl of soap and sponge prepped in a pretty ribbon will make great gifts!

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 25, 2019, 12:31 pm

      Love that gift idea! I got those sponges from an Etsy seller: http://tidd.ly/8b525112

    • Donna West-Yordanov Nov 2, 2019, 5:42 am

      I’ve always wanted to try and make soap…but using lye freaks me out!! I know..when I make my first batch.. I’ll get over it !!

      • Kris Bordessa Nov 7, 2019, 7:41 pm

        You will love it when you get over it. I do!

      • Tessa Zundel Dec 10, 2019, 12:48 pm

        Jan Berry, the soap maker Kris talks about in this article, just came out with a melt and pour soap making book. Look for it on Amazon. It makes soap making so much easier because you don’t have to mess with the lye processing at all when you buy soap base for these recipes.

  • Chelsea Sep 5, 2019, 8:47 pm

    Hello! I love this idea! I have a friend who would try it if it’s vegan. Would you happen to know a good substitute for tallow? Or if a fat was added along with a soap “hardener”? I’m still going to make this but just thought I’d ask. Thanks!

  • Chelsea Sep 5, 2019, 8:49 pm

    I just saw someone already asked my question. Sorry about that!

  • Mary Sep 12, 2019, 3:57 pm

    Can you just use coconut oil for this recipe instead of a mix of tallow and coconut oil? Will it work just as good on dishes?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 13, 2019, 5:18 am

      Wee my comment above. I”m going to try this next time, because so many people have asked!

      • Kathinj Sep 20, 2019, 10:24 pm

        Could you add some washing soda into this at all to get cleaner dishes.

        • Kris Bordessa Sep 21, 2019, 4:34 pm

          I’m not sure how the soap recipe would react to having washing soda added.

    • Chelsea Oct 19, 2019, 3:54 pm

      I’ve used just coconut oil and it worked awesomely well!

  • Ashlae Sep 19, 2019, 5:24 pm

    Is there possibly a vegan alternative to the beef tallow?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 20, 2019, 12:43 pm

      See my comment above. There’s been enough interest in this, though, that next time I make it I’ll do a vegan version!

  • Carolyn Gayle Oct 3, 2019, 3:10 pm

    Can I use lard instead of beef tallow? I could use coconut oil (As comments above), but I want to try it this way.

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 5, 2019, 2:28 pm

      Please see the above comments and plug your proposed ingredients into the soap calculator.

  • Jerilyn Ingram Oct 10, 2019, 12:06 am

    Do you really use 2 tablespoons of essential oils? That seems like a huge amount!

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 10, 2019, 4:29 pm

      Yes, that’s accurate. The aroma dissipates quite a bit in the soap. You could certainly use less if you like, though.

  • AuntyMFlammatory Oct 20, 2019, 5:28 pm

    Great recipe. I’ll try it soon. Just wanted to comment on your sink. I had one very much like it when my adult son was a child. I loved that sink. Great for all sorts of projects that don’t work so well on modern counter tops.

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 31, 2019, 8:05 pm

      There’s a long sad story that goes with this sink. It’s a *new sink, replacing a beautiful old cast iron one that was damaged beyond repair by a “refinisher.” I like this one, but LOVED the cast iron vintage one!

    • Sissy Dec 10, 2019, 3:13 pm

      Hi can I use palm oil instead of coconut oil for the vegan recipe

      • Kris Bordessa Dec 12, 2019, 4:30 pm

        I’m not sure what the weight would be on that as it varies oil by oil. You’d need to use a lye calculator. I’m not sure that palm oil is the best substitute for coconut oil for vegans, though, unless you’re using a (somewhat obscure) sustainably sourced option. (Deforestation due to the harvest is decimating the orangutan population.)

  • JOANNA Nov 11, 2019, 11:16 pm

    Hello Kris! You’re heaven-sent. Thank you for this!

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 13, 2019, 7:23 am

      I hope you love it!

  • Lisa Dec 4, 2019, 5:46 am

    Thanks Kris! I make my own dish soap, too. However, I make big solid blocks and keep one next to the sink on a cedar soap deck that my husband made. I love your idea of pouring it into a bowl, although I wonder if it would get soggy? (In our house we do LOTS of dishes, as there is 14 of us!)

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 6, 2019, 7:59 am

      So far, no. We just make sure not to leave water sitting on top of the soap.

  • Nancy Dec 9, 2019, 12:18 pm

    Can’t wait to try this. Would this recipe work as bars instead of pouring into bowls?

  • Cinzia Bennett Dec 9, 2019, 3:09 pm

    Hello Kris, thank you for this great post! I am getting the ingredients together to give this a go :o) My daughter already had some tallon (rendered) in her fridge, but not enough, so I bought beef fat from the butcher to make up the difference. My question is: should I render the fat before adding it to the already rendered one? Will there be any residual after rendering? If yes, should this be removed? Never attempted making soap before so very ignorant about it all. Hoping to read from you soon, cheers Cinzia

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 9, 2019, 3:36 pm

      Yes, beef fat will not work the same as tallow. Here’s an instructional on how to render the fat to make tallow: https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/02/how-to-render-beef-tallow.html.

      • Cinzia Bennett Dec 9, 2019, 5:52 pm

        Thank you so much! As it turned out I did have enough tallow for the recipe. Just made it and it looks great… can’t wait for the two weeks to go by

  • Christine Dalziel Dec 16, 2019, 5:53 pm

    I’ve been making soap for years but I never ever thought of pouring it into a bowl for dishes. I’ve tried using homemade soap in place of dish detergent and it wasn’t very satisfactory. The water got cloudy and yucky fast. But I do believe this method would work wonderfully even with my hard, hard water. Thanks, Kris, for the inspiration.

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 17, 2019, 9:08 am

      Chris, I’m curious to hear how it goes, both with the hard water and changing the habit of filling a sink with suds to using a soapy rag/sponge!

  • Jessica Holiday Dec 18, 2019, 12:00 pm

    Thanks for posting this recipe. Lately I have been trying to eliminate as much single use plastic as possible. I have never made soap and am interested in where you source your lye and fats from. Have you been able to find any in non-plastic containers? I’ve looked around a little bit and am having trouble finding anything. Please let me know.

    Thank you!
    Jessica

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 18, 2019, 12:12 pm

      I sourced the tallow for this locally and it came in a Mason jar. I’ve not found lye that doesn’t come in plastic. It’s hard enough to come by as it is. One plastic container (I’ve had jars and bags) of lye makes a LOT of soap, though, so I’m still using less plastic. It’s always a balance, right??

  • Nancy Jan 2, 2020, 4:37 pm

    Could this recipe be made using individual soap moulds or poured into a large mould and cut into bars?
    Thanks

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 3, 2020, 8:36 am

      Of course!

  • Courtney Feb 4, 2020, 10:07 am

    I have a couple questions,
    1st, do you only need to wait 2 weeks for this soap to cure? Usually its around 4-6 weeks. Maybe because the ingredient list is so short?
    2nd, I LOVE the idea of putting the soap into a shallow bowl but does that make the soap disintegrate faster than if it was in block form sitting on a drying rack?
    Thank you for your inspiration and your knowledge!

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 6, 2020, 7:24 am

      I won’t *hurt to wait longer, certainly. I tried it after the 2 weeks because I’m impatient and I wasn’t using it on my body. And you could totally make this as a block instead.

  • Colleen Gallagher Feb 9, 2020, 9:31 am

    I am very impressed with both your ideas. First, the idea of using a small separate bowl of clean water and not putting dishes into that bowl.
    Second, the bar soap for dishes.
    Thank you for sharing these ideas.
    How much soap do you get out of this recipe?

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 9, 2020, 7:42 pm

      It depends a bit on the containers you use. I tried a batch with 6″ clay saucers, and I ended up with about 5.

  • Suzanne Mar 3, 2020, 3:25 am

    Hi I would love to give this a try as I am trying to be more environmentally friendly but I am concerned that the lye sounds quite toxic, is it only toxic until it’s mixed or am I better sticking to eco products, really love the idea of blocks.

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 3, 2020, 8:00 am

      Lye needs to be used with caution, yes. But it’s required to make soap, no way around it. There is no lye in the end product, though, as it’s eliminated during the saponification process.

  • Linda Jun 4, 2020, 1:55 pm

    Sounds like a great idea. I usually use a dishpan and put the dishes in it but I’m going to try your method. As wonderful as it is about trying to reduce plastic, remember that water is also a precious commodity. I hope that those of us washing dishes by hand are conscientious about water usage as well and don’t leave the water running while the dishes are being cleaned. Turn the water off between washing and rinsing, or wash a few dishes then rinse them.

  • K Aug 9, 2020, 5:10 am

    Coconut oil is terrible for drains!

    • Julia Oct 24, 2020, 12:54 pm

      The coconut oil saponifies and is not oil any more after that process. So…

  • Julia Hempstead Oct 24, 2020, 12:53 pm

    I have made this several times now, and I LOVE it. Thanks for sharing the recipe with us!

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 26, 2020, 12:13 pm

      I’m so glad!

  • Cassandra Lynn Nov 12, 2020, 5:31 pm

    I have some nice bars that I made last year that are very similar to this recipe. I used it for handwashing laundry for a few months when I washer was broken. Worked great! In the kitchen, I have noticed that bar dish soap tends to leave a slight haze on glasses and such. For rinsing my dishes, I use a small dish tub of hot water with 1-2 Tbsp white vinegar in it. No more haze, spots or anything! (and I let my dishes drip dry )

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