Natural Soap Colorants - How to Color Your Homemade Soap Naturally

Updated on April 11, 2016
Farmer Rachel profile image

Rachel is a soap making, wine brewing small farmer in Minnesota, running One23 Farm with her husband, a dozen sheep, and blue heeler dog.

Homemade soap colored naturally

Top row L-R: Pumpkin puree, Coffee, Milk Bottom row L-R: Kaolin Rose Clay, Kelp powder, Cinnamon
Top row L-R: Pumpkin puree, Coffee, Milk Bottom row L-R: Kaolin Rose Clay, Kelp powder, Cinnamon | Source

Why use artificial products to color your homemade soap?

If you’re new to soap making, or just want to refresh yourself, you should study up a bit about making soap at home.

There are lots of soap colorants available for sale out there on the World Wide Web. I sometimes find myself staring enviously at photos of brightly colored soap on soap-supply websites, only to find that the colorants used are artificial.

Wait a minute now… Why would I go to the trouble of making my own soap if I was going to add artificial ingredients to it? That would be like putting sulfites in home made wine.

Faced with the problem of wanting beautiful looking and smelling soap without having to add artificial colorants or lab-made fragrance oils, I have been on a very serious search for natural methods to make cool soap. Afterall, people have been making soap for centuries and centuries - someone must have figured this out! After research and experimentation, here’s what I’ve come up with.

Safety Warning!

When working with lye, please wear goggles, rubber gloves, and long pants and sleeves. Lye is very caustic and it will burn you. Keep vinegar handy and douse any stray lye with it - this will neutralize the lye and turn it into a harmless salt (but not table salt!).

I used whole cow's milk in this recipe - this is how it looks when you dissolve lye in it.
I used whole cow's milk in this recipe - this is how it looks when you dissolve lye in it. | Source
Freeze about one quarter of the milk, coffee, or tea before mixing the lye. I like to use ice cubes - makes things more simple!
Freeze about one quarter of the milk, coffee, or tea before mixing the lye. I like to use ice cubes - makes things more simple! | Source

Soap colored with milk

Milk soap
Milk soap | Source

Using Milk, Coffee, or Tea to Dissolve Lye

Before I explain this, I have to say that when using something other than pure, cold water to dissolve lye crystals, you must be extra careful. Milk, for instance, when mixed with lye can cause a pretty interesting reaction… that’s kind of dangerous. Please heed my safety precautions before trying any of this yourself.

Making “milk soap”

This is a great way to get a nice soft brown color to your soap. To use milk (or anything other than water) to dissolve lye, you have to do a couple extra things. Make sure you know how much water your recipe calls for. If it calls for 12 ounces of water, then you will use 12 ounces of milk instead. I suggest whole milk (why not?) and lots of people really like goat milk, which is another option.

Freeze about one-quarter of the milk, and keep the rest of it as cold as possible, which means leaving it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Fill your sink with ice water and stand the container that you will use to make the solution in the ice water. Careful how you do this – you don’t want it to fall over!

Put the cold milk in the container. Measure out your lye according to your recipe. Slowly, very slowly, gradually, add lye to the milk, stirring all the while. The temperature of the solution will rise and the milk will turn brown. Add some lye, stir, and wait. Repeat, always allowing the solution to cool off a bit in between adding lye.

Add the frozen milk. This will help reduce the temperature. Get all of your lye in there without letting the mixture bubble over, stir until the lye dissolves completely, and you have been successful! You can then add the lye solution to your oils as you would with any other recipe.

Using Coffee or Tea

As with using milk, the coffee or tea should be ice cold. You should use a container that is standing in ice water, either in a sink, bathtub or bucket. Follow the same instructions that I gave for using milk, being cautious and careful about how you add your lye.

Coffee will color your soap, well, coffee-colored! Unfortunately, I can’t detect any lingering coffee smell in mine.

Green tea will color your soap a lovely green. I would imagine that black tea, or herbal tea that is some other color, would lend that color to the soap. Experiment and have fun! And be careful with the lye! (Can you tell I’ve given myself a couple lye burns? Not fun!)


Soap colored with coffee

Coffee soap!
Coffee soap! | Source
My standard soap recipe usually produces a white bar. This time I colored it gently with lemon balm.
My standard soap recipe usually produces a white bar. This time I colored it gently with lemon balm. | Source

Using Herbs to Color Soap - Infusion

The method I’ve used to add herbs to soap recipes for the purpose of coloring is called infusion. Basically, I heat a small portion of my soap-making oils or fats 6 to 10 hours ahead of time and steep the herbs in the oil. Olive oil is a highly recommended infusion oil, though I have used vegetable shortening with no problems.

I put the herbs directly into the hot oil, stir, and wait. This is a home made attempt at infusing oil with a specific herb. The other benefit is that the aroma of the herb will typically be present in your finished soap product.

I use a small pot on my stove top for infusion, and keep the heat on very low. I also frequently turn the heat off, cover the pot with a lid, and let the mixture kind of “hang out” for a while. Then I turn the heat back on, repeat, and go about my business.

If you’re going to infuse oils, you shouldn’t do so unless you can keep an eye on it. Remember that soap making oils like lard, shortening, cooking oils, etc., can cause grease fires, so don’t leave your hot oil-herb mixture unattended for too long!

Some herbs I’ve successfully colored soap with:

Spearmint – Gives a pale yellow
Peppermint – Yellow-green
Lemon balm – Creamy yellow
Comfrey – Green

I’ve read that these herbs and plants can also be used to color soap:

Basil (ground finely) - Green (do not infuse - add at trace!)
Cinnamon – A very nice brown (does not have to be infused – add at trace!)
Comfrey root – Brown
Elderberry – Brown
Mace Powder – Orange (add at trace!)
Annatto seed – Yellow
Beet root – Red/pink (depending on how much infusion you add)

For added aroma, add your favorite herbs, dried and ground or chopped, to your soap when it reaches trace.

How much clay do I add to my soap recipe?

You should add about 2 teaspoons of clay for every pound of oil in your recipe. It's okay to deviate a little bit from that recommendation, but know that too much clay could ruin your soap by making it "clay-ey"; too little clay may not produce the desired color.

Rose clay soap

Source

Using Clay to Color Soap

Clay is another natural remedy for boring white bars of home made soap. This isn’t exactly the same type of clay that is used in pottery, but a specialty item that you can purchase from any soap supply source.

Some popular clays used in soap making include:

Rose clay – Light pink to brick red
Sea clay – Grey-green
Bentonite – Light green or green-grey

There are three basic options for adding clay to your soap recipe. First, you can add the clay to your lye solution. Because the clay is inert, it won’t affect the reaction of the lye; however, the more you mess with your lye solution, the more likely you are to spill it or splash it on yourself, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this method.

Clay can be added directed to your oils after you have heated them. Stir the clay in slowly and make sure it is mixed thoroughly. After you have mixed the clay into your oils, you can proceed with your soap recipe as usual.

You can also add clay to soap after you have added the lye. Don’t wait for trace to mix in the clay, or you’ll risk not incorporating it thoroughly. Instead, add the clay directly after you add your lye solution.

For a more complicated (and really cool) swirl affect, try this: Right after you have added the lye solution to your oils and stirred just enough to get everything mixed together, spoon out a small portion of the soap mixture. Add the clay to this small portion and mix the clay in completely. You will have to work at the appropriate speed to make sure the larger portion reaches trace before or when the small portion does; when the larger portion of soap mixture reaches trace, add the smaller colored portion and swirl it in as desired.


The soap on the left is my standard recipe, uncolored. You can see the subtle difference in the soap on the right, colored with bergamot tea.
The soap on the left is my standard recipe, uncolored. You can see the subtle difference in the soap on the right, colored with bergamot tea. | Source

Using Tea (in another way) to Color Soap

I have also successfully used tea bags to both color and scent soap. Besides using cold tea to dissolve the lye, you can also use the tea bags themselves as a sort of infusion. My experiences are with Earl Grey (bergamot) and mint tea.

Bergamot-based teas give soap a creamy color, and the aroma of the bergamot is present in the soap in a very unoffensive way. You can just smell it without being overwhelmed.

Mint tea also gives soap a nice, brown creamy color, and the plus is that the minty aroma lingers a bit.

To use tea to color soap, I use the same method that I use to infuse oils with herbs. If you think about it, a tea bag is really just filled with dried plants. No difference!

Heat a little bit of one of your oils (olive oil works great for an infusion) and steep the tea bags in the oils. I use what seems like an excessive number of tea bags. My advice is to add tea bags until you think you’ve gone overboard, then add a handful more.

Use the same method that I described to infuse herbs. Stirring, heating, turning off the heat, turning the heat back on, etc.

I realize that using tea to color soap could start to become expensive, but I think it’s worth it. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether my recipe is for a 2-pound or 5-pound batch of soap – I use the same amount of infused oil, and I haven’t seen a difference in color in the final product.

It appears to me that any and all types of tea can be used to color soap. Some colors will change during the chemical reaction that turns oil and fat into soap; some will stay true. That’s all part of the fun of making something on your own – if it’s home made, it’s going to be unique, and you get to have a blast experimenting with new things.

So be brave in your home made soap experiments, and happy soaping!


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Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 

        3 years ago

        Coffee flavored goat soap for me! Wonderful. Vote up.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 years ago from USA

        Useful and inspiring for crafters. I like the idea of herbal soaps. I'd love to try this, but I'm not sure where to start. I've never made soap.

      • Suzie HQ profile image

        Suzanne Ridgeway 

        5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

        Hi Rachel,

        What a fantastic hub, I love all your suggestions for natural colors to natural soaps. I would love to link this to a hub of mine on making bar soap into body wash if i may? Voted up, Awesome, Useful, shared, pinned!

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        ignugent - Always nice to hear from you, thanks for your comment!

      • profile image

        ignugent17 

        6 years ago

        I really liked it. Thank you very much this is very useful. I will read again your hub about homemade soap.

        Have a good day!

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        Sherry - Thanks so much! I love making soap, and I agree that the rustic, natual look is best :)

      • Sherry Hewins profile image

        Sherry Hewins 

        6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        I love the rough and rustic look of this soap. They are just beautiful. Voted up and shared.

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        Dolores - Okay, here's the difference: The bergamot in Earl Grey tea comes from the bergamot orange, also commonly called "bergamot," which is NOT the same as the herb commonly called "bee balm" (although the bee balm herb is also commonly called "bergamot") Makes perfect sense, right? ;)

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        Dolores - As far as I know, bergamot and bee balm are the same plant, just different names. I should check the latin name for bergamot to be sure...

      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        6 years ago from East Coast, United States

        Adding cocoa along with the coffee (cocoa added at trace) makes a nice, dark colored soap. And a question - is bergamot the same thing as bee balm or does it just smell similar?

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        Dolores - I use dried basil. In fact, I dry all the herbs I use because I read somewhere that fresh herbs could cause rancidity in soap. ? Not sure if this is actually true, but I use dry, anyway. Cocoa, what a good idea! Does the cocoa do anything strange when you wash with the soap? Thanks for reading and commenting, always nice to hear from you! :)

      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        6 years ago from East Coast, United States

        When I first started making soap and reading about coloring agents, one of the better sites suggested using ground crayons. So I tried it, after all they are nontoxic. But the colors were a bit much. I prefer the soft natural colors that you have suggested. In my patchouli, I use coffee and a bit of cocoa for a real dark colored bar.

        When you use basil, do you use dried or fresh?

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        Angela - You should give soap making a try, if you get the chance! It's really not a difficult process, and I really love washing with soap that I've made. Just one more way to remove the artificial from our 21st century lives! Thanks for reading and voting :)

      • Angela Blair profile image

        Angela Blair 

        6 years ago from Central Texas

        I've never tried soap making but may give it a whirl this winter when things slow down a bit -- thanks to your great Hub! Best/Sis

      • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        greeneryday - Thanks for the comment and votes :) I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

      • greeneryday profile image

        greeneryday 

        6 years ago from Some tropical country

        Interesting way to add color to you soap in a most natural ways, thanks for sharing, voted up for interesting...

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