Soap is such an everyday item that you might not have thought much about how it’s made. But if you want to up your crafting and gift-giving game, learn to make soap at home. You can also build beautiful handmade soaps into a luxurious, destressing self-care practice.
You’ll need a few special supplies and ingredients, but once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll want to keep experimenting with scents, colors, and textures. Get ready for some rub-a-dub fun in the tub, and learn how to make soap from scratch.
Soap Making Supplies
Making soap requires several basic supplies, some of which are important for your safety, so don’t skip any of them. You’ll also want to buy new supplies to keep specifically for soap-making, rather than using the same ones you use for food prep.
- Safety glasses
- Long-sleeved clothing
- Digital scales
- Stick blender
- Digital thermometer
- 1 plastic pitcher
- 2 smaller glass bowls
- 3 large plastic bowls
- Measuring spoons
- 2 spatulas
- Soap mold
- Ice/ice-cold water
- A plastic or cardboard box that’s larger than the mold
- Soap cutter or kitchen knife
The specific ingredients you’ll need depend on the kind you’re wanting to make and the scent you’d like it to have. The following is a common ingredient list for making basic cold process soap.
Water for soapmaking needs to be as pure as possible, so distilled water is best.
Lye is the chemical sodium hydroxide (sometimes potassium hydroxide) that comes in the form of flakes, pellets, microbeads, coarse powder, or solution. It’s essential for making soap. If a “soap” doesn’t contain lye, then it’s actually a detergent. Lye is usually available from hardware stores.
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Castor oil
- Rose clay
- Kaolin clay
- Fragrance oil of your choice
Get Your Soap Started
Soap Making: How to Make Your Own Handmade Soap
Types of Soap You Can Make
There are so many different types of soap ready for you to DIY. Here are a few of our favorites.
Soaps can be scented with a wide range of ingredients, including fruit extracts, herbs and spices, and essential oils.
Soy soap doesn’t include animal fats, so it’s a great option if you’re aiming for a fully vegan lifestyle.
Some types of fragrances can irritate sensitive skin, so if you’re in this camp, making unscented soap is a better option. Unscented soaps needn’t be boring, though, as they can be decorated beautifully. Learn how to make unscented soap yourself to give your skin a break.
Exfoliating soaps contain a scratchy or abrasive substance like salt or coffee grounds to treat dry, rough, or flaking skin.
Glycerin soaps are translucent, very moisturizing, and plant-based. Because of their transparency, you can add decorations, such as dried flowers, into them.
Coconut soap is good for dry skin because it’s made from hydrating coconut oil and milk. You can also add real strands of coconut flesh or husk for exfoliation.
How to Make Soap
The general principles of soap making are similar no matter what type of soap you’d like to make, but the ingredients and the quantities might differ. The following instructions are for making a basic cold process soap that yields about nine bars of soap.
Step 1: Put on the Safety Gear
Put on your long-sleeved top, safety gloves, and goggles.
Step 2: Measure the Distilled Water and Lye
Measure out 9 ounces of distilled water into the plastic pitcher. Measure out 4.56 ounces of lye in a small glass bowl. Carefully mix the lye into the water, stirring with a plastic spatula until the lye has dissolved. Fumes are produced at this stage, so don’t breathe them in, and preferably work in a well-ventilated space.
Place the plastic pitcher with the water and lye mix into an ice-water bath—i.e., a larger plastic bowl filled with very cold water. Put this to one side.
Step 3: Measure and Melt the Hard Oils
In a large plastic bowl, measure out 9.6 ounces of coconut oil and 6.4 ounces of palm oil. These can go into the same container. Microwave the oils in 30-second intervals until they’ve melted.
Step 4: Measure the Liquid Oils
Measure out 12.8 ounces of olive oil, 1.6 ounces of castor oil, and 1.6 ounces of sweet almond oil. Put them into the same container.
Step 5: Mix the Oils Together
Pour the two containers of oil together into one container.
Step 6: Take the Temperatures of the Oil Mixture and the Lye Mixture
Using a digital thermometer, take the temperatures of both the oil mixture and the lye and water mixture. Both need to be between 80℉ and 90℉. They can be up to 120℉, but each mixture needs to be within 10 degrees of each other. The lye mixture heats up a lot on its own (hence the need for an ice bath). If you need the oils to heat up to match the temperature of the lye, place the container of mixed oils in the microwave for a few seconds at a time.
Step 7: Measure the Fragrance Oil
Measure out 2 ounces of fragrance oil in a small glass bowl.
Step 8: Mix the Clays into the Combined Oil
Measure out 2 tablespoons of kaolin clay powder and 1 teaspoon of rose clay powder (the latter is a nice-to-have rather than totally necessary). Place them in the container with the oils and mix with a stick blender to get a smooth consistency.
Step 9: Combine Oil and Lye Mixtures
Put your safety goggles back on. Carefully pour the lye mixture into the oil mixture. Mix with the stick blender and continue mixing until it reaches “trace”. This means that when you lift the blender out of the mixture, you can see one of the mixtures sitting on top of the other, slightly separated. This can take between 30 seconds and five minutes.
Step 10: Add the Fragrance Oil
Pour the fragrance oil into the mixture and stir.
Step 11: Pour into the Soap Mold
Carefully pour the mixture into the mold. This can be one big block that you’ll cut up later into individual pieces, or smaller individual molds. Texture the top of the soap in the mold, if you like, by creating waves or lines with a spoon or fork.
Step 12: Leave the Soap to Harden
Place the mold under an upturned box for 24 hours, to harden.
Step 13: Remove From the Mold and Cut
At the end of the hardening process, the soap is safe to touch without gloves. Carefully remove the soap from the mold. You can use a special soap cutter or just a regular kitchen knife to cut the soap.
Step 14: Cure for 4-6 Weeks
The soap isn’t quite ready to use yet. Place it on a plate or tray and put it away somewhere cool and dark for 4-6 weeks, to cure. Excess water will evaporate from the soap, making it stronger and longer-lasting.
Lather Up Today
After successfully making some basic soap, you can easily get more creative with your soapmaking, trying out different scents, colors, decorations, and shapes. As long as you follow the most important safety measures and steps, you can get quite creative with how your soaps look and smell. Turn your own bathroom into a luscious retreat and gift your soaps at birthdays and holidays, too. Enjoy!
Follow Along Step by Step
Basic Cold Process Soap Making