Making Soap: A Simple How to for a Basic Bar 6

Making soap at home is a fun and satisfying DIY project. And better yet, making soap is not difficult. If you can follow directions and measure ingredients, you can make soap. It’s like making cake, except with safety gear.

homemade soap in green pottery with lavender sprigs

My friend Jan, The Nerdy Farm Wife, has a brand new book out filled to the brim with homemade soap recipes. It’s called Simple & Natural Soapmaking.

If making soap is something you’re interested in adding to your skill set, this book needs to be on your bookshelf.

Jan offered to share a basic soap recipe with my readers and since making soap is something I know a lot of you would like to delve into — as I would — I jumped at the chance to have her share her expertise here.

This post may contain affiliate links; I'll earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.

Making soap: How to make a basic bar

This basic soap recipe will create around eight bars of unscented natural soap with a creamy lather that gently cleanses all skin types.

If you’d like to further enrich your homemade soap with honey, oats or milk powder, be sure to check out the Tips & Substitutions section below.

When making soap, oils, fats and liquids should all be measured by weight and not volume. You need an accurate scale for making soap.

A recipe for making soap


Yield: 2.5 lbs/1.13 kg

Lye Solution

9 oz (255 g) distilled water

3.95 oz (112 g) sodium hydroxide (lye)


14.5 oz (411 g) olive oil

7.5 oz (213 g) coconut oil

6 oz (170 g) tallow or lard (*or substitute)

Tips & Substitutions

* To replace tallow or lard, try using 4 oz of cocoa (or kokum) butter plus 2 oz of sunflower (or sweet almond) oil. The lye amount will stay within an acceptable amount and won’t need to be changed.

One or more of the following add-ins can be included in the soap recipe, keeping in mind that the natural sugars in honey and milk powder can cause the soap’s final color to darken somewhat.

  • ½ tbsp powdered milk (cow, goat, coconut), stir into the oils before adding the cooled lye solution
  • 1 tbsp finely ground oats, stirred into the soap before pouring into the mold
  • 1 tsp honey diluted with 1 tsp water, stirred into the soap before pouring into the mold

The batch shown uses a repurposed empty milk carton as a soap mold, but a Crafter’s Choice regular silicone loaf mold will also fit the size of this recipe perfectly.


Step 1: Make the Lye Solution

Wearing protective gloves and eyewear, carefully stir the lye (sodium hydroxide) into the distilled until dissolved.

Work in an area with good ventilation and be careful not to breathe in the fumes.

The lye solution will get very hot, so set it aside to cool for about 30 or 40 minutes or until the temperature drops to around 100 to 110°F (38 to 43°C).

Step 2: Prepare the Oils

Gently heat the coconut oil and tallow (or lard) on low heat until melted. When the solid oils are melted, take the pan off the heat and pour into the olive oil.

This helps cool down the melted oil/fat, while warming up the room temperature oil. If you want to add powdered milk to your soap, blend it into the oils at this point.

making soap - getting to trace with immersion blender

Step 3: Mixing

Pour the cooled lye solution into the warm oils.

Using a combination of hand stirring and an immersion blender, also called a stick blender, stir the soap batter until it thickens and reaches trace.

Trace is when the soap has thickened enough so when you drizzle a small amount of the batter across the surface, it will leave a fleeting, but visible imprint or “trace” before sinking back in.

Trace can take anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes, depending on how warm your ingredients are and how much you stir.

If you plan to add honey and oats, blend them in well at this stage.

making soap in milk carton

Step 4: Pour in Mold

Pour the soap batter into your soap mold.

Cover lightly with wax or freezer paper, then a towel or light blanket for insulation.

Peek at the soap every so often; if it starts developing a crack, uncover and move to a cooler location.

making soap - taking out of milk carton

Step 5: Cut & Cure

Keep the soap in the mold for one to two days, or until it’s easy to remove, then slice it into bars when it’s firm enough not to stick to your cutting tool.

Cure on coated cooling racks or sheets of wax paper for about four weeks before using.

The soap is safe to touch without gloves 48 hours after making, but it needs the extra time to allow excess moisture to evaporate out so the bars are harder and longer lasting.

making soap -- slicing it with knife

Want more homemade soap recipes?

This is, as Jan says, a basic recipe for making soap. I love how she spells out each step, making this such a doable project.

If you try this and decide you want to delve into more soapmaking be sure to check out Jan’s new book, Simple & Natural Soapmaking.

It features 50 soap recipes, and is full of detailed tutorials and step-by-step photographs, as well as a guide to natural colorants.



Making soap at home is a fun and satisfying DIY project. And better yet, making soap is not difficult. If you can follow directions and measure ingredients, you can make soap. It's like making cake, except with safety gear. Give this recipe a try and dig into more homemade soap recipes with Simple Natural Soapmaking.

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6 thoughts on “Making Soap: A Simple How to for a Basic Bar

  • RayK

    For safety reasons, all soap recipes should be verified with a soap calculator to make sure that the recipe is at the very least lye neutral; super fatting is preferable. There are a number of soap calculators online.

  • Krista

    Hi, I am new to soapmaking and want to ask: I put the grams of the oils in, but i received different amount of water – 300 ml, instead of 255… I’ve tried to make “10 % super fat”, the amount of water remained 300, just the lye amount decreased to 105… or something. Here i want to ask is there eny different soap calculator, and also is the amount of the water different if we will make HP or CP? Also – if it is different – how i have to calculate how much water to lye it must be, on order to make good HP or CP soaps? Thank you!

    • Jan - The Nerdy Farm Wife

      Hi Krista! I usually use the lye calculator at Majestic Mountain Sage ( It gives a suggested range of water – picking an amount near the middle of the range is usually a good guideline for cold process. (Example: If it suggests 7 to 10 oz, try 8.5 oz water.) Virtually all of my recipes are superfatted at 5% or 6%, I wouldn’t really go much higher or you could end up with a too soft/oily soap that takes a long time to cure. (Exceptions are pure coconut oil soap or salt bars – they can go as high as 20%!)

      Soapcalc has a default number set at 38% water (it’s the #3 spot on their calculator, it says “Water as % of Oils”). This number is fairly high for cold process soaps. However, when you’re making hot process soaps, it’s a great number to go with, as the higher amount of water will help keep the soap from drying out as it cooks.

      Many soapmakers find that reducing the water amount (also called water discounting) helps palm-free soaps like this one reach trace faster and set up in the mold quicker. You can definitely use the default amount of 38% on SoapCalc, but if you do, I recommend adding sodium lactate or 1 tsp of salt to the lye solution so the soap is able to harden up in the mold sooner. Alternatively, you can change the number on the calculator so it’s lower – instead of 38%, try 33% (or a little lower) and I think you may find your soap enjoyable to work with.

      The more batches of soap you make, the more you’ll get a feel for how much water you like to use. Oils and lye should be precise, but water amount is VERY flexible! Some soapers like less water, while others like a full amount. The wonderful thing about soapmaking is that there’s room for all sorts of variations like that, and you can still make a wonderful soap! 🙂

      • Krista

        Thank you, Jan! I didn’t know that! Now i understand why my palm free soaps are going so fast 🙂

      • Kris Bordessa Post author

        Somehow I totally missed this response. Thanks for chiming in, Jan!