How to Make Easy Homemade Coconut Oil Soap
A Beginner's DIY
This is a super-simple homemade soap recipe that is ideal for beginners. The oils used, coconut oil and castor oil, are readily available (at Walmart), and you probably have the molds and colorants I've suggested in your kitchen. Lye is readily available at many hardware stores, in the drain-cleaner section, but be sure to get a drain cleaner that is labeled "100% lye." Several brands of drain cleaner are 100% lye, but most are not. Ask the store manager for help if you can't find what you need. Some hardware stores carry pure lye, but do not stock it on the shelf. If you can't find lye locally, it can be ordered online.
Super-Easy Coconut Oil Soap Recipe
This very simple recipe is for making cold-process coconut oil soap. It makes a three-pound batch of beautiful gift-quality soap that will produce ten to twelve bars, depending on how thick you decide to slice them.
Coconut oil soap has excellent cleansing properties, lathers well, and smells nice, even if you decide to leave it unscented. The castor oil acts as a moisturizer and bubble booster, and adds creaminess to it.
- 30 ounces coconut oil
- 3 ounces castor oil
- 4.7 ounces lye
- 10.9 ounces water
- 2 ounces fragrance oil (or 1 ounce essential oil)
10 Step Procedure:
1. Set out prepared molds. I suggest using two quart-size milk or cream cartons. The recipe will make enough soap to fill about one and one-half of these.
2. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan and weigh out 30 ounces on your kitchen scale. Weigh castor oil, lye, and water separately on the kitchen scale and have each ready to go in a separate container.
3. You might want to open the caps of the fragrance oil or essential oil bottles, to make sure they won’t be hard to open when you’re ready to add them to it. Some have an extra stopper in the bottle that could take some time to remove, so you will want to remove these now.
4. Mix the lye solution, adding the lye to the water and mixing to dissolve. Let cool to about 80° F.
5. Pour the melted coconut oil and castor oil into a large crock pot, ceramic bowl, or stainless steel pot. (Or mix in the same pot that was used to melt the oil, if it is a stainless steel pot, or a crock pot.) Let cool to room temperature, or about 80° F,
6. Slowly add the lye solution to the oils and mix with a stick blender. Both the oils and the lye solution should be warm (about 76°-80°) but not hot.
7. Continue mixing until it reaches a light “trace.” It will have a thin pudding-like consistency, and when the mixture is dribbled onto the surface it leaves a visible trail, or “trace.” This is the time to add color and fragrance if you have decided to use them.
8. When it reaches a light trace and color and fragrance have been added, it is ready to pour into the molds.
9. Let the finished soap harden overnight. You can unmold after 12-18 hours. If you used milk-carton molds, you can simply tear off the milk carton.
10. Use a long, sharp stainless-steel knife to cut it into bars.
- Since this is a cold-process soap, allow it to cure for four weeks before using. If you are eager to try out your own, it should be safe to use 48 hours after unmolding. Most soapmakers trim a little (about 1/4 inch) off of the ends of the loaves since ends tend to have imperfections, and these end pieces are nice for testing it before it's fully cured.
- You will probably be in love with your soap even before it has had time to cure, but the quality it improves during the cure.
- To cure it, lay the bars on a shelf or wooden rack and turn them every few days so that all sides are exposed to the air.
Why Make Your Own?
- If you check out the prices of pure homemade lye soap at health-food stores, you will probably go into shock! Perhaps the nicest thing about homemade lye soap is that it allows you to make a high-quality product inexpensively, using high-quality fats and oils--even organic oils, if you don't mind the extra expense.
- It is actually quick and easy to make, and even your first (or maybe second) effort at making it will produce a product that is far superior to store-bought.
- The reason for this: Most commercial "soaps" are not soap. The reason they are labeled "beauty bars" or "body bars" is because they do not meet the legal definition of soap. Have a look at the ingredients label. Commercial "soaps" are actually a conglomeration of detergents and other chemical additives that are very drying to the skin. Some ingredients cause allergic reactions in sensitive people.
- Many home soap-makers have stories of how their real, homemade soap cured a friend or relative's skin problems. Eczema and sun allergy will often be "cured" simply by switching to homemade soap, for example. But what's really going on here is that the commercial detergent bars are the underlying cause of some skin problems. What's really effected the "cure" is discontinuing their use--switching to a product that doesn't harm the skin or cause allergic reactions.
- You will probably notice how much better your homemade version feels on your skin the first time you shower with it. And you'll notice this even though this is a very simple recipe, and not even specially formulated with fancy or highly conditioning oils and other ingredients. Once you've mastered basic soap-making, you can move on to formulating soaps that will make your skin think it's gone to heaven. And even this simple soap may make you fall over in the shower from the delicious feel!
The Two Main Methods
- There are two main methods for making homemade soap: hot process and cold process. The main advantage to making hot-process soap is that it does not have to cure as long before you can use it. Hot process soaps, on the other hand, can be used almost immediately; the usual recommendation is to wait three days before using.
- Why? Cold process soaps are poured into the molds before saponification is complete. Saponification is the chemical process in which lye reacts with fat to produce it. With cold-process soaps, the chemical reaction between the lye and the fat is not complete when it is poured into the mold. It still contains free lye that has not yet reacted with the fats or oils to make it, and this lye can burn the skin. While the chemical reaction that converts all the lye into it has usually been completed by 48 hours after unmolding and cutting it, and should be safe to use, curing time to assure a well-hardened bar is about four weeks.
- With hot process soaps, the chemical reaction in which the lye and fat combine to become soap is completed — or very nearly completed — during the cooking process, so that little or no lye remains. It can be used almost immediately and requires a shorter curing time to assure hardness.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Hot-Process
- About the only real advantage to hot-process soap is that it can be used almost immediately. If you are making it to sell, this is a distinct advantage. You don’t need a lot of lead time.
- One disadvantage of hot-process soapmaking is that it is more painstaking and takes more skill and experience. Temperature can be critical, and care must be taken to avoid over-cooking or under-cooking. Cooking time and temperature is influenced by ingredients, and the skill and experience you bring to your soap-making may be recipe-specific.
- Another disadvantage is that hot process soaps are often harder to mold — and without careful attention, it can harden up too quickly during cooking. It’s harder to get hot process soaps to come out pretty, even if all you’re really hoping for is to slice a nice, even rectangular bar of soap from a batch molded in a milk carton.
- On the other hand, there are hot-process soap makers who can do literally anything with a bar of soap that a cold-process soapmaker can do. You probably can too, if you are willing to watch the videos and master the techniques. But cold process is easier for the beginner.
- But don't let me discourage you from hot-process soap making. I am a cold-process gal, myself, and I have never mastered hot process, though I do occasionally make hot-process soap for particular recipes.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Cold-Process
- For cold-process soap, the fat or oil is heated only slightly (to 76°-80°—just enough to melt lard or coconut oil). In cold process, no additional heat is applied after the lye is added.
- Cold-process soap is poured into mold as soon as it reaches a pudding-like consistency, called “trace.” We say that it has reached “trace” when your stick blender or spoon leaves a visible trail across the surface of it.
- Pouring it into molds at this very soft stage means that it molds easily, and the finished soap is much less likely to have imperfections. Cold-process soaps lend themselves pouring into the most elaborate and detailed soap molds, allowing you to produce a bar of soap that is a regular work of art. Or, if your tastes do not lean so much to the Rococo, cold-process soaps produce perfect bars just by cutting with a sharp knife or molding in simple molds.
- Cold-process soaps need to cure for at least four weeks to ensure the bars are hard enough to last well in the shower. Normally, it is safe to use after only 48 hours, since saponification should be complete by that time--meaning no unreacted lye (which could burn skin) remains in it. But the time required for saponification to be complete can vary, so it might be best to wait three or four days to be sure, if you want to try soap before it's cured. It's also good to remember that soap quality improves greatly with curing.
Using fragrance oils or essential oils to homemade soaps adds a whole new creative dimension to your product.
Fragrance Oils Versus Essential Oils
- What’s the difference between fragrance oils and essential oils? Well, for the purpose of home soap-making one difference is that essential oils can usually be purchased at your local health food store, whereas fragrance oils, while far cheaper, are usually available only online. Is online shopping for fragrance oils for your first or early attempts at soap-making worthwhile? If you are unable to find lye locally and must order it online, it could be well worthwhile to browse through the supply company's website and check out their offerings of fragrance oils. If you're paying for shipping of the lye anyway, it can be more economical to order a fragrance oil or two online than to purchase essential oils at the health food store.
- Apart from cost, here are the differences: Essential oils are natural substances distilled or extracted from plants. An essential oil may contain 50-500 different naturally occurring chemicals.
- Fragrance oils are manufactured scents often designed to mimic a natural scent. Even if you choose to use fragrance oils — which are far less expensive than essential oils — you can make a product that is safer than most commercial products, partly because most commercial "soaps" are not soap at all, but a mixture of detergents and other chemicals, and partly because you can choose phthalate-free fragrance oils.
- Which is the best choice? Soaps scented with fragrance oils will hold their scent for a year or more. Sadly, though a few essential oils are long-lasting. When scented with essential oils may lose their fragrance after a couple of months. Two long-lasting essential oils are lavender and patchouli. Citrus essential oils are notorious for not "sticking" in soap, although the "folded" citrus essential oils are said to work. (I haven't tried the folded essential oils yet.)
- Fragrance oils are, in most cases, far less expensive than essential oils. However, some essential oils are available at reasonable prices.
- For scenting soap, I use 1 ounce per pound of oils.
- Most authorities will tell you that you should purchase special colorings intended for your product.
- In other words, the conventional wisdom is that it is not a good idea to give in to the urge to color your homemade soaps with food coloring—which you probably have sitting on the pantry shelf.
- There are two reasons why you are not supposed to use food coloring. One is the concern that the food coloring in it could stain skin or bath linens. The other is that food coloring may change color in contact with the lye in it, thus resulting in a “surprise” color that you may find unpleasing.
- On the other hand, those who have tried using food coloring (that would be me) find that when very small amounts are used to lightly color it, there is no problem with it staining skin or bath linens. If you plan to sell your product, you should know that food coloring is not FDA approved for use in soap.
- Red or yellow food coloring seem to be unaffected by contact with lye, so there will be no surprises. Blue food coloring will tend to turn purple in contact with lye.
- If you are a beginner at soap making, I see no harm in experimenting with lightly coloring homemade soaps with food coloring—at least until you are ready to go shopping for real soap colorants.
Where To Order Supplies
Soap supply companies with a good reputation are:
If you have decided to order online, check out soap-stable micas for coloring soap. Mica colorants are preferred by many soapmakers. If you would like to go the whole hog and save money by buying soaping oils in quantity, the best source of oils is Soaperschoice.com, which sells soaping oils in 7-pound bottles, and cocoa butter and other butters in 10-pound blocks. Buying in these amounts can reduce your unit cost dramatically.
Supplies and Precautions to Take
Here are the items you’ll need for soap-making:
- A large, deep stainless steel, glass, or ceramic container for mixing it, such as a crock pot, large ceramic bowl, or stainless steel pot
- Kitchen scale
- Safety goggles for eye protection.
- Rubber gloves
- A glass or ceramic container for weighing the lye
- A glass or ceramic container for mixing lye and water, such as a quart-size canning jar
- Stick blender
- Stainless steel or wooden spoon
- Rubber scraper
- Sharp stainless-steel knife
- Soap mold
- There is no need to purchase expensive soap molds or head down to the woodshop to build a soap mold for your first batch—or ever, as far as that goes. Many items that you have on hand work well as soap molds.
- The easiest of all molds is well washed quart-size milk or cream cartons. They don’t need to be lined with anything. They are ready to use with no other preparation than fully opening the tops and washing well. After it has solidified, you can unmold by simply tearing away the milk carton.
- Other containers that require lining with freezer paper, plastic wrap, or a plastic trash bag include Pringles cans, Velveeta boxes, and other cardboard boxes. If you use these, make sure there are no holes in the lining material.
- Once it has solidified in such simple molds, it can be cut into bars.
Precautions When Using Lye:
- While soap-making is not exactly rocket science, the lye that is used in soap-making is highly corrosive and will burn if it comes in contact with your skin. You don’t want it to splash into your eyes, either. When lye is mixed with water, it gives off harmful fumes that you should avoid inhaling.
- Because lye is so corrosive, it is recommended that the utensils that you use for soap-making be used only for that purpose. This includes your cookpot or crock pot, stick blender, bowls, spoons, and rubber scrapers. You may want to pick up these items at a thrift store.
- Lye will burn skin, wood, plastic, clothing, Teflon, and aluminum. Don’t let it come in contact with such items. Glass containers will slowly degrade from repeated contact with lye and can eventually shatter spontaneously, which is not a good outcome if the glass container if full of lye solution. Materials that can safely come in contact with lye are stainless steel, rubber, Pyrex glass, and ceramic. Use utensils made only of these materials.
- It is recommended that you use a stick blender to mix the oil and lye together. Because the business end of the stick blender is submerged during use, there is less problem with the mixture getting splashed around. Using an electric mixer is NOT a good idea. The mixture will splash everywhere and can damage the surfaces it lands on.
- Be sure to wear rubber gloves and long sleeves while mixing soap. It is also important to wear eye protection. Soap can splash around more than you would think, and the tiniest flecks will burn exposed skin. Be particularly careful about using safety goggles for eye protection.
- If you get raw soap on your skin, wash it off immediately with LOTS of plain water. Many soap makers keep a bowl of vinegar handy for neutralizing the lye if small amounts of soap splash on the skin.
- When I have had lye burns, in almost every single instance it was because raw soap got on my clothes. That is, I got a little raw soap on the ends of sleeves, and because I didn't notice, it remained in contact with my skin for quite awhile. So you should be alert to soap getting on your clothes, and change out of them as soon as possible if this happens.
Pour Lye Into Water
- Avoid breathing the fumes produced when lye is mixed with water. I usually give the lye water a good stir, move the empty container I used to weigh the dry lye to the sink, give the lye water another good stir, and leave the room. The lye solution can be mixed outdoors, if possible--or with the windows open for ventilation. The lye water stops fuming after a few minutes, and it needs no further attention until it has cooled. Let it cool to about 80°, the same temperature as the melted oils.
- Before you proceed, make sure the lye is well dissolved in the water and there are no undissolved lye crystals.
Ready To Move Ahead with Soap Making?
- Soap recipes are fine for beginners — although more experienced soap makers can be a bit snobby on this point, and are apt to bemoan the beginner's desire for a "recipe."
- So what's up with that? Soap making is both a science and an art. You can make some pretty good soap with someone's recipe — although experienced soap makers always caution the beginner to "run every recipe through SoapCalc." This is because some recipes are just wrong. Many others are just unsatisfactory, for one reason or another.
- And, ultimately, a soap maker formulates his/her own recipes. Why would you want to do that? Well, because, with experience, you begin to realize that your skin--and your friends' and relatives' skin--requires a particular formulation. Maybe their dry or sensitive skin would benefit from a higher superfat or gentle and emollient oils and butters.
- If you join soap making groups on Facebook--which I highly recommend--you can read and join in soap makers' discussions of the finer points of making a really, really good bar of soap. You will sometimes read comments such as, "I like my linoleic and linolenic numbers to total at least 15%."
- The way to formulate your own recipes is to become familiar with SoapCalc.net, or one of the other online lye calculators. Some people like Brambleberry's, some like any of several others. I think most like SoapCalc best.
- Below is a screenshot of the above recipe for coconut oil soap. It's fun to go to SoapCalc.net and check out the properties of soaps made with different combinations of oils. SoapCalc allows you to select your superfat percentage and your water-to-oil percentage as well.
- Notice that this coconut oil recipe has a 20% superfat. This unusually high number is never used except for 100%, or nearly 100%, coconut oil soaps.
- The online lye calculators are what will enable you to graduate from making soap from a recipe to formulating your own recipes. Joining soap making groups will provide invaluable information and advice on this.