How to Make Homemade Liquid Shampoo Using Liz Ardlady's Famous Shampoo Bar Recipe
Real Soap Shampoos
I began making homemade shampoo around three years ago and was delighted with the improvement in my hair. I found that it made my hair feel as soft and silky as it did when I was ten years old.
The reason why many people prefer a "real soap" shampoo (and body soap) is because most commercial shampoos, liquid soaps, and bar soaps are "detergent bars" that strip your skin, scalp, and hair of oils. They can cause excessive drying of skin and scalp, resulting in scaly skin and dandruff, plus many contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which is an allergen for some people, and many contain harmful phthalates.
My earliest homesmade shampoo recipe was made by grating 100% olive oil soap, whirling it in a blender with either distilled water or rosewater, and adding canned coconut milk to supply a touch of coconut oil for moisturizing. This was great stuff, and I didn't notice spoilage even stored at room temperature, but any concoction made with milks, hydrosols (like rosewater), or even distilled water will spoil after awhile, even refrigerated, and such combinations can be full of bacteria, even if they have no tell-tale smell or bad appearance.
My coconut-milk liquid shampoo is easy to make — you don't need to be a soapmaker to whip up a batch. Here is the easy recipe.
But if you are a soapmaker, the next step is to make a shampoo bar. Shampoo bars are a type of bar soap that is specially formulated to work well on hair.
Most of us, regardless of whether we make our own soap, know that neither homemade nor commercial bar soaps work very well on hair. They seem to work okay for some people, and men especially can have success using any old bar of soap for shampoo, but most of us find that ordinary bar soaps leave our hair dull and gummy.
However, it's possible to make a homemade bar soap with only from all-natural oils and butters (along with lye and water) that leave your hair silky and shiny, and keeps your scalp healthy and free of debris. You just need the right formula!
This is why I was delighted to discover Liz Ardlady's shampoo bar recipe. Liz has freely shared her recipe — along with all the research she has done to develop her formula — on her blog and in many soap making groups. The blog explains why she chose particular oils and butters to use for hair. Her shampoo bar formula is so good it has made her a bit of a celebrity among soap makers. So my next step in making a great shampoo was Liz's recipe.
After I had used Liz's shampoo bar recipe for a year or so, I became interested in making liquid soap and thought, "Why not make a liquid shampoo using Liz's formula?"
It turns out that Liz's shampoo bar formula can easily be adapted to make an absolutely lovely liquid soap! It makes up into a liquid soap that is a perfectly clear, pale amber.
Note: For some people (like me) natural soap shampoos produce outstanding results immediately. Many other people have problems with these shampoos. See the sidebar to understand the cause of these problems and what to do about them.
How To Use Natural Shampoo Bars, Liquid Shampoo, & Conditioner
Many people find that their hair does not easily adjust to natural shampoo.
Hair may seem excessively oily after use. But there are fixes for this problem. There are two reasons why hair may not respond well to natural shampoo. The most common is that long use of commercial products results in a heavy build-up of silicone residues in the hair. Using a natural shampoo will gradually remove silicone residues, but as these residues are drawn out of the hair, they will tend to glop together and give the hair an oily feel.
Some people — especially men, who usually do not heavily condition their hair — find that natural shampoo gives wonderful results immediately. (By wonderful results, I mean hair that feels the way it did when you were ten years old.)
Once all the silicones have been removed, using natural shampoo results in hair that is silky soft and healthy, but this can take time. While some people have immediate good results, others (with heavily conditioned hair) may find it takes up to six weeks to free hair of silicones.
There are ways to speed this process. Hair may be clarified more rapidly by working a mixture of 1 cup water and one tablespoon baking soda through the hair before washing. It can also help to rinse the hair with 1-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, after washing, to remove oils. You may also have good results by using a clarifying shampoo before using natural shampoo.
Clarifying may have to be done repeatedly before all silicones are removed—and they will never be removed if you put them back by using a commercial conditioner containing silicones after using natural shampoo. It's best to rinse hair either with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with water, or use a natural silicone-free conditioner.
The second reason is that, for some people, problems are caused because commercial shampoos — which are really detergents — are very drying, so that the scalp has adapted by producing an excessive amount of oil to compensate. The hair will eventually adapt — stop producing excess oil — with continued use of natural shampoo. Rinsing hair with diluted apple cider vinegar after shampooing will help remove excess oils from the hair, and promote a healthy scalp.
How to Make Liquid Shampoo
A liquid soap recipe — or even a bar soap recipe — may be daunting if you have never made your own soap. But for soap makers with even a little experience, liquid soap is easy with a recipe. (Where you get into trouble with liquid soap is when you start formulating your own recipe.) And if you have some experience at soap making, there is a good chance you have most of the necessary ingredients on hand and know where to get any you don't have.
The main difference between bar soap and liquid soap is that bar soap is made with a different kind of lye. Bar soap is made with sodium hydroxide (NaOH), and liquid soap is made with potassium hydroxide (KOH). You can buy KOH from many online suppliers. One of these is Brambleberry. It is a little expensive, but one bottle of this stuff, kept carefully sealed away from air, will make gallons of liquid soap. Another difference is that most liquid soaps also contain glycerin. This is because liquid soap cannot be superfatted more than just a hair, and the glycerin helps take the place of superfatting to provide moisturization.
Yet another difference is that liquid soapmaking uses a different process. Some people consider it more trouble than making bar soap, but most of the extra steps are merely a matter of waiting —hours upon hours of waiting. So it's really not much different than making a pot-roast in the crock pot versus the oven — which most of us consider a convenience, rather than an inconvenience. Anyway, liquid soapmaking is not only rewarding but fun — and pretty easy.
I've made this liquid soap recipe many times over the past couple of years. It's almost foolproof.
As with making any soap, be sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Closed-toed shoes are also a good idea. If you get lye, lye solution, or raw soap on your skin, flush with cold water immediately. (I have a little scar on my nose that looks like a dimple, from where a drop of raw soap hit my nose and I neglected it too long.) You should not have problems handling lye if you stay focused and remember to always handle it with care.
- Crock Pot
- Digital Scale — preferably one that will weigh both ounces and grams
- Stick Blener
- Plastic Wrap
- Rubber Scraper
- Two Quart Jars, or One Half-Gallon Jar, with lids
The Oils, Butter, and Glycerin combination that is melted together in the crock pot on medium heat.
- 8 Ounces Canola Oil
- 5.3 Ounces Coconut Oil
- 1.1 Ounces Castor Oil
- 0.8 Ounces Mango Butter
- 0.8 OuncesSunflower Oil
- 4 Ounces Glycerin
The Lye Solution, mixed separately and set aside till oils are melted.
- 6 Ounces Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
- 3.9 Ounces KOH
The Superfat Portion of the recipe, which is added after the liquid soap paste reaches vaseline stage.
- 0.5 Ounces Argan Oil (or other superfat oil of your choice), after cook
- 1 Tablespoon Liquid Lecithin
The Water Portion of the recipe, which is added after the cook and the addition of the superfat.
- 30 ounces distilled water
Fragrance and preservative, which are added after some cooling.
- 0.2 Ounces Germall Plus (or 5.7 grams--or round up to 6 grams, if your scale doesn't do tenths of a gram) — can be added when the temperature is under 176° F. The suggested usage rate for Germall Plus is 0.1% to 0.5%. For 60 ounces of finished product, you can use anywhere from 0.06 ounces to 0.3 ounces. It is best to weigh this out in grams, since the amount is very small. So the suggested amount in grams will be 1.7 grams to 8.5 grams. I've suggested 6 grams because that's more or less in the middle of that range.
- 0.5 Ounces Essential Oil (or 14 grams) — best added when finished soap is still somewhat warm
Makes 60 ounces of liquid shampoo.
Weighing and Mixing
- Weigh oils, mango butter, and glycerin and put them in a crockpot. Heat until melted at medium heat.
- Weight out 6 ounces of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in a plastic container. The container should be big enough that it is only about 1/4 to 1/3 full with 6 ounces of ACV in it. (You will want a good amount of head space.) In a separate plastic container, weigh out 3.9 ounces of potassium hydroxide (KOH). Using a stainless steel or plastic spoon, mix KOH with ACV.
- This mixture will get very hot, bubble up and make popping and spitting sounds, but it will quickly settle down. How much stirring is sufficient? I usually give it a quick but thorough stir when I first mix in the lye. Then I carry the container I used to weigh the lye to the sink, rinse it out thoroughly, and set it on the rack to dry. Then I give the solution another quick stir. Then I leave the room to get away from the fumes.
- When the oils are melted and the lye solution has cleared, add the lye solution to the melted oils in the crock pot. Leave the crock pot on medium throughout the rest of the soapmaking process.
- Using a stick blender, stick-blend the oil and lye solution mixture to trace. ("Trace" is when soap thickens enough to leave a visible trail when a bit of soap is drizzled over the surface of the raw soap.) For me, this soap comes to trace in about 10 minutes of stick-blending in "bursts." (Don't run your stick-blender continuously. You will burn up the motor.)
- Cover the crock pot with plastic wrap, so it is air-tight, and leave it on medium.
- During this stage, the soap is cooked, stirring and stick-blending every 15 minutes or so, until it reaches "vaseline stage." Your soap is at vaseline stage when it becomes shiny and translucent — almost transparent, but not quite — so that it looks somewhat like vaseline.
- How long does this take? The time involved can be weirdly variable, even using the same identical recipe. Normally soap will reach vaseline stage after an hour. Sometimes it will take an hour-and-a-half. Once, when I had the crock pot on high, it came to vaseline stage in the time it took me to go to the euphemism — in other words, in about ten minutes. It is okay to have the crock pot on high during the cook, if you want. Just keep a closer eye on it. Or leave it on medium so you don't have to watch it as closely.
- During the cook, remove the plastic wrap and stick-blend and/or stir with a rubber scraper every 15 minutes or so, and replace the plastic wrap.
What to do if Your Soap Paste "Zaps" at Vaseline Stage
- I have never had this recipe "zap" at vaseline stage. It is possible that it could, even if you measured correctly, because the SAP values of oils used to calculate the amount of lye needed for saponification are variable — though normally not by much.
- If your soap "zaps" at vaseline stage, you can do one of two things. My suggestion would be to ignore it--or let the soap cook a little longer and re-test for "zap." Maybe it just needs more cooking. Another reason to ignore "zap" is, you will be adding your superfat momentarily, which should resolve the problem. The resulting liquid soap will be somewhat lower in superfat than planned, and that is okay.
- Alternatively, if you want to be OCD about it, you could add about 0.1 ounces of canola oil to the soap, stick-blend it in, cook some more and re-test for "zap." If it still "zaps," add another 0.1 ounces canola oil and repeat. I mention this approach more or less rhetorically. I have never had this happen.
Adding the Superfat
- When the soap has reached the vaseline stage, zap test it. You do this by touching your tongue to a dab of the soap. Some people say soap that has not completely saponified "zaps" like an electrical shock. I find it just tastes like lye instead of tasting like soap. The lye taste is unmistakable and very acrid. You will know.
- See sidebar for what to do if you soap "zaps" at vaseline stage.
- When your liquid soap (technically, liquid soap paste) reaches vaseline stage, it is "soap." It should contain no unreacted lye. This means that if a superfat is added at this point, it will not react with lye to become soap, but will remain in the soap as a free oil, some of which will remain on your hair when you shampoo with the finished soap. So you want to choose a superfat that you feel will benefit your hair. I've chosen argan oil for this recipe, but there is no need to run out and buy argan oil. (Some avid soapmakers will have this on hand, though most people don't.)
- Liz Ardlady, in her shampoo bar formula, suggests using olive oil for the superfat. I have used safflower oil and red palm oil for the superfat in shampoo recipes. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure it makes any difference which superfat you use. If you have no argan oil on hand, just use something else--perhaps after researching hair benefits of various oils, or perhaps after not researching this.
- Whichever superfat oil you choose, thoroughly mix 0.5 ounces of this oil with 1 tablespoon liquid lecithin in a small cup and add this to your soap, which is still in the crock pot. Stir and stick-blend until thoroughly mixed in.
- As a side note, I am not sure the liquid lecithin is strictly necessary. It's just something I've always done. I do it because lecithin is a natural emulsifier, and I have the "notion" that it helps prevent the superfat oil from separating from the finished liquid soap. Theoretically, this tiny percent (less than 1%) of superfat should not separate in the finished soap. I.e., you will have 60 ounces of finished soap, and 1% of 60 ounces is 0.6 ounces, so 0.5 ounces superfat is less than 1%. So I don't think you'll have a problem if you omit the liquid lecithin.
- Leave the crock pot on medium, and keep your plastic wrap handy.
- You finished soap paste is now ready for dilution.
- Weigh out 30 ounce of distilled water on your digital scale and add this to the crock pot of soap paste. Go ahead and just dump it all in at once. Stir a bit. (It will not mix together much.) Cover your crock pot tightly with plastic wrap and allow the soap to continue cooking on medium heat for another hour or two. After an hour or two, you will be able to see that it is progressing, and you may want to stir every hour or so.
- Soap paste takes quite a long time to completely dissolve in water--generally 15-24 hours.
- Here is my approach to dealing with this long wait for complete dilution: After your soap paste has cooked in the distilled water for an hour or two and is progressing nicely, turn off the crock pot and go to bed for the night, or go out shopping for the day, or just otherwise forget about it for a good ten hours or longer. (It works out nicely if you have initiated dilution right around bedtime.) Be sure the crock pot remains tightly covered with plastic wrap.
- When you arise in the morning after a nice 10-hour nap, check your soap. You will notice that most of the soap paste is dissolved. Use a rubber scraper to stir it a bit. Usually, there is a bunch paste stuck to the bottom.
- Now you can turn your crock pot back on medium, replace the plastic wrap, and allow the liquid soap to continue dissolving with the aid of a little heat. My notes from my last batch indicate that I got up in the morning and checked the soap at 7:30 am, gave it a stir, and turned the crock pot back on medium. Dilution was complete after about four more hours of heating (and occasional stirring with a rubber scraper) on medium. Since I added the distilled water at 9:00 pm the night before, this means that dilution took 14 1/2 hours--with the crock pot turned off most of the time.
- There are two reasons to do it this way. One of them is that it's just easier on your nerves to turn off the crock pot and forget it. The other is that a lot of heating is detrimental to delicate oils. The only delicate oil that is still in this mixture is the superfat, but long heating may result in a shorter shelf-life for your finished shampoo.
- Actually, now that I think of it, it might be wise to never heat the soap-paste/water mixture at all, and just let it sit for however long it takes to dissolve. (I will do this next time.)
- About the only thing that can go wrong with this soap (that I can think of) is that sometimes the finished liquid soap will have a "skin" on top. If there is a "skin" on the surface of the liquid soap, this means you need to add more distilled water. The only way you will need to add more distilled water to this recipe is if you have been remiss about keeping the soap covered with plastic wrap. The purpose of the plastic wrap is to prevent water loss through evaporation. As I said before, this recipe is almost fool-proof.
- Once the soap paste is completely dissolved, you will have a clear, pale amber colored liquid soap that it specially formulated for hair!
Adding Fragrance and Preservative
- It is best to add a preservative to liquid soap or liquid shampoo.
- If you would rather not use a preservative, it would be best to pour out some of the shampoo for use in the shower and keep the rest refrigerated until you need a refill. Liquid soaps and shampoos seem to keep for quite a long time at room temperature, but it would be best not to take chances--especially if you are selling your product.
- Use Germall Plus for the preservative in this shampoo. It is available from wholesalesuppliesplus.com. Germall Plus can be added when the soap temperature is under 122° F.
- When adding fragrance to shampoos, whether they are shampoo bars or liquid shampoos, be sure to use only essential oils! Do NOT use fragrance oils. In my early days of making shampoo bars, I learned the hard way that the fragrance oils that you dream of putting on your hair, so you can trail clouds of wildflower honey and coconut mango are VERY bad for your scalp and hair. After a few uses, a shampoo containing fragrance oils will turn your scalp scaly and crusty. Bad juju.
- There are many essential oils that are good for the hair and scalp. Since this is a big subject, I will leave researching essential oil benefits to you. Many people like rosemary essential oil, because it strengthens hair and it also helps somewhat to detangle hair. I find the scent of rosemary a little too medicinal for my tastes. My preferred essential oils for scenting shampoo (and conditioner) are ylang-ylang and bergamot, or ylang-ylang mixed with a little orange or bergamot essential oils. Many people like cedarwood essential oil, lavender essential oil, or a cedar-lavender blend. Some people may like patchouli. Geranium can be very nice, if you go easy on it or blend it with a more gentle scent; it can be a little intense.
- The best time to add essential oils to your finished liquid soap is when it is still a little warm, and this is also a good time to add the preservative. I think the recommended temperature for blending in the essential oil is around 100°, though the exact temperature is not critical. It's just best if the soap is still a little warm.
- Using a rubber scraper, mix in 0.5 ounces of your preferred essential oil, and 0.6 ounces of Optiphen ND, if you are using it. You may want to switch your scale to grams and weigh out 14 grams of essential oil and 17 grams of Optiphen ND, so that your measurement is very precise for these ingredients. When using a preservative, you don't want a speck more than is necessary, and you would be surprised how much difference it can make if your essential oil is closer to 0.6 ounces than 0.5 ounces. It's good to have a decent level of uniformity in your product, especially if you plan to sell some of it.
- I've found that 0.5 ounces is just about the right amount of fragrance for a 60-ounce batch of soap. Liquid soaps, shampoos, and conditioners require less fragrance than bar soap. Trust me, 0.5 ounces of essential oil is plenty, and some may find it too strong. In fact, you may want to back this amount off if you are using a stronger essential oil, such as rosemary or geranium.
- Mix in the essential oil and preservative (if used) thoroughly. Soap may turn a little cloudy when you add the Optiphen ND and/or the essential oil, but the cloudiness will dissipate quickly.
- Some essential oils make liquid soap turn "runny." There are things you can do about this, such as adding about an ounce of the saturated salt solution to the liquid soap, but they don't always work, and I don't feel they are worth the bother. Ylang-ylang is notorious for making liquid soap runny--and it does not respond at all to the addition of salt water--but ylang-ylang is one of those fragrances that is worth it. Having used liquid shampoo for a couple of years, I have gotten used to its somewhat thinner texture, and I don't consider it an issue.
- Now you are ready to transfer the soap to a couple of quart jars, or to one half-gallon jar, for sequestering. Let the soap cool a bit first, if it is on the warm side.
- Sequestering is a very big word for a very small process. Put your soap in a large jar — or two large jars, if you don't have a half-gallon jar — and let it sit for 7-10 days. This resting phase allows liquid soap to mellow and develop the desired mildness. I'm told that sometimes impurities will settle out onto the bottom of the jar, and the settling of the impurities will allow you to pour the "good" soap off the "lees," but I have literally never seen any impurities settle out of this or any other liquid soap I've ever made.
- Sequestering is also a good idea, in case anything has gone wrong. You may want to keep an eye on clarity and watch for separation — though neither of these should happen if you've followed this recipe carefully.
- Obviously, bottling is easy. Bottles should be nice and clean. When you are re-using a container, some people like to rinse the clean container with isopropyl alcohol and let it dry before filling with product, to eliminate germs.
- For liquid shampoos, I prefer a pump bottle. Show in the top picture is Wal-Mart's inexpensive 12-ounce pump bottle for $2, including tax. But there are lots of other containers out there that you may like better.
- If you don't choose to use a preservative, you may want to fill a bottle for immediate use and set aside a jar or two of the remaining liquid shampoo in the refrigerator for later refills.
How About a Conditioner to Go With Your Liquid Shampoo?
- Now that you have a screamingly elegant liquid shampoo, scented with a gorgeous fragrance, you will not want to follow up with a commercial conditioner that smells like oven cleaner mixed with cat piss. (Commercial conditioners will also tend to defeat the process of switching to natural soap-shampoo, by clogging your hair with silicones.) You will probably want your conditioner to be natural and sweet smelling too, though many people don't bother with this, and just use a vinegar or lemon-juice rinse.
- Since soap-shampoos are higher in pH than commercial shampoos, some people feel you should rinse your hair with diluted apple cider vinegar after shampooing to restore your hair's pH. Then you need to rinse the heck out of your hair to get rid of the vinegar smell.
- But after two years or so of using soap-shampoos without bothering with the vinegar rinse, my impression is that this is a non-issue. Your hair may be different. One of the difficulties in formulating soap shampoos is that there is so much variation in people's hair that it is hard to come up with a "one size fits all" shampoo.
- So, though I don't really like a vinegar rinse, I do like to use conditioner.
- Luckily, Liz Ardlady also has offered the world a really great and very simple conditioner recipe. It is made by simply warming a mixture of BTMS and distilled water and stick-blending to emulsification. It is extremely fast and easy to make. BTMS-50 is sold by the pound by companies such as Brambleberry. It is fairly inexpensive — though it may seem pricey with shipping thrown in. But one pound of BTMS-50 will make about 30 pounds of conditioner, so there's that. I love this conditioner. It's the only one I ever use. It can be scented with about 1% (or less) of the essential oil of your choice, and (if desired) you can add 1% Optiphen ND as a preservative.
- You can find Liz's conditioner recipe here.