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Making Soap: A Simple How-To for a Basic Bar

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Want to learn how to make soap at home? It’s not nearly as difficult as you might be imagining! While most homemade soap recipes do require using lye, if you can measure and pour cake ingredients, you can make soap, too!

Love making DIY bath products? Try these homemade bath bombs!

homemade soap in a pale green pottery dish with lavender flower

My friend Jan, The Nerdy Farm Wife, has a book called Simple & Natural Soapmaking that’s filled to the brim with homemade soap recipes. She’s here to teach us all how to embrace the idea of making soap at home! (Be sure to check out Jan’s newest book, Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps, too!)

Making soap at home is a fun and satisfying DIY project. And better yet, making soap at home is not difficult. If you can follow directions and measure ingredients, you can make soap. It’s like making cake, except with safety gear. If homemade soap is something you’re interested in adding to your skill set, Jan’s 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, I jumped at the chance to have her share her expertise here.

How to make soap at home

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, follow the instructions 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.

Never change a soap recipe without running it through a lye calculator first.

Related: Non-Toxic Sunscreen

honey on a wooden honey dipper

Related: DIY Bug Bite Relief (from Jan’s first book!)

While this is a basic soap recipe for home makers, you can change it up by adding one or more of the following add-ins, 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.

Related: Natural Mosquito Repellent

making soap -- slicing it with knife

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Basic soap bar

Basic soap bar

This recipe for homemade soap is a great one for beginners and can be modified to include extra ingredients for a special bar.

Ingredients

Lye Solution

  • 9 oz 255 g distilled water
  • 3.95 oz 112 g sodium hydroxide (lye)

Oils/Fats

  • 14.5 oz 411 g olive oil
  • 7.5 oz 213 g coconut oil
  • 6 oz 170 g tallow or lard (*or substitute)

Instructions

Step 1: Make the Lye Solution

  1. Wearing protective gloves and eyewear, carefully stir the lye (sodium hydroxide) into the distilled until dissolved.
  2. Work in an area with good ventilation and be careful not to breathe in the fumes.
  3. 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

  1. 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.

Step 3: Mixing

  1. 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. making soap - getting to trace with immersion blender
  2. 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. making soap - getting to trace with immersion blender
  3. If you plan to add honey and oats (see notes), blend them in well at this stage. making soap - getting to trace with immersion blender

Step 4: Pour in Mold

  1. Pour the soap batter into your soap mold. Cover lightly with wax or freezer paper, then a towel or light blanket for insulation.
  2. Peek at the soap every so often; if it starts developing a crack, uncover and move to a cooler location.

Step 5: Cut and Cure

  1. 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. block of homemade soap
  2. 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. block of homemade soap

Notes

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.

Be sure to try your new soapmaking skills to make this homemade dish soap, too!

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

Did you make this recipe?

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Want to learn more?

Simple Natural SoapmakingThis 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 learn more about how to make soap at home, be sure to check out Jan’s 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.

Be sure to check out Jan’s newest book, Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps, too!

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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.

10 comments… add one
  • RayK Aug 13, 2017, 9:36 pm

    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 Aug 31, 2017, 8:52 pm

    Hi, I am new to soapmaking and want to ask: I put the grams of the oils in soapcalc.net, 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 Sep 1, 2017, 2:44 pm

      Hi Krista! I usually use the lye calculator at Majestic Mountain Sage (https://www.thesage.com/calcs/LyeCalc.html). 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 Sep 2, 2017, 11:39 pm

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

      • Kris Bordessa Dec 18, 2017, 11:48 am

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

        • Frugal Farmer Nov 6, 2018, 1:53 pm

          I have been making melt and pout soap and wanted to make a lard soap. I asked many and was told to not make a 5 lb. loaf. I’m stubborn and made a 5 lb. wooden mold. You showed me the numbers I need for your soap and I did a calculation for straight lard soap as well and have both sets of numbers. ( I will make (2) 5 lb. batches. Thank you so much you taught me a lot in a short amount of time.

          • Kris Bordessa Nov 7, 2018, 11:52 am

            Glad this was useful!

  • ahmed Jun 10, 2018, 2:28 am

    really it is informative

  • Colleen Aug 10, 2019, 10:07 am

    Curious though..wouldn’t the lye contaminate the water in rivers and lakes, oceans, etc? Is lye a natural product?

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 10, 2019, 10:30 am

      With the exception of glycerin soap, all bar soap is made with lye. Without it, there’d be no soap. The lye is “used up” in the saponification process of soap making, turning the oil into soap. As long as it’s made properly, there shouldn’t be any lye remaining.

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