Why make soap?

To put it simply, the majority of mass produced bars that you'll find in the supermarket are not soap, but synthetic detergent bars that 'cleanse' by harshly stripping away the skin's protective oils. Furthermore, commercially made soaps have salts and chemicals added to remove the naturally created glycerine. This is removed from the bars to be sold to cosmetics, resulting in a bar that will make your skin dry and irritated.

Many of the products you can buy will be sold on claims of the healing power of Aloe Vera, or cleansing essential oils. But, take a look at the ingredients list. You'll probably struggle to find the essential oils (which should have Latin names). Expect to find cheap substitutes, and a whole store cupboard of chemicals.

Home made soaps can be tailored for your own skin type, and are free from the harsh chemicals added to mass produced bars. Patchouli essential oil may sound wonderful. But, if you have dry skin, then it really isn't for you. In fact, if you have dry skin you should be skipping the soap step in your skin care routine, and be using gentle cleansers and moisturisers. My point is simple: You have more control over what you are putting on your face and body.


You can't make soap without Lye aka Sodium Hydroxide (6N NaOH) aka Mr. Eats Flesh For Breakfast. Those of you that have seen Fight Club will know not to mess with this stuff; However, the movie cheats with science a little. In reality Edward Norton's hand wouldn't have only been burnt where Brad Pitt's saliva was. If you get Lye on your skin, then you'll know it. First comes the itching, then you'll have about ten seconds before burning. Once you feel the itching you need to get the stuff off; However, here's where the problem comes in. Some sources, like the sodium hydroxide node, say use running water. Other sources say wash your hands with the vinegar to neutralise the PH and then wash with water. A third set of sources say that you should have a water/vinegar mixture prepared (20% vinegar) to use. Now, I'm not gonna say this is right and that is wrong. Just don't get the damn stuff on your skin in the first place. If it happens try your luck. How wrong can you go?...

With the above information in mind:

If swallowed Lye can (and probably will) be fatal. Keep lye in a locked cabinet in a clearly marked bottle. Drinking lye/water is like drinking liquid fire. If someone ingests lye/water, do not induce vomiting. Some books say that you shouldn't try to treat the victim, Just to phone the emergency room immediately. Other sources (here, for example) tell you to make them drink lots of water and/or milk as well as phoning the emergency room.

Fumes are produced from lye/water. The majority of these will happen within the first two minutes of contact. You should be in a well ventilated space (outside preferable) and avoid these fumes at all costs. If there's nothing stopping you walking five metres away from the pot then do it. But, always watch it and have everyone else around is aware of what's going on. Communication is vital.

Some people are extremely sensitive to fumes that come from the lye/water and the stirring container. With prolonged contact, fumes can burn the eyes and skin of sensitive people. If you make soap in large amounts and afterward your face feels "sun burned", chances are it was caused by fumes.

when making soap you need to mix lye with water. Always add the lye to the water. Never the other way around. If water is added to lye, then the reaction will be very dangerous. So, once more - always add the lye to the water, and add it slowly.

Still interested?
...maybe a little more so?

Different soaps for different folks.

Everyone has different skin. We even have different skin types on different parts of our bodies. Faces need different care than bodies, and as such we shouldn't use one type of soap on ourselves, let alone one type of soap for different people.

There are four basic steps to skin care: exfoliating, cleansing, toning and moisturising. There are many people who do not use soap on their faces; Nevertheless, it is possible for you to make high percentage glycerine bars via soap making, and this is considered to be a very good cleanser. It also has the added advantage of adding moisture to the skin.

Different facial skin types.

You need to know your skin type, so you can apply products which will actually be beneficial to you; However, you should be aware that your skin type can and will change at different points in your life. This can be for a variety of reasons: diet, environment, age etc. You should be prepared to respond quickly when this happens.

The basic facial skin types are as follows:

  • Dry Skin.
    Dry skin tends to be sensitive, delicate and susceptible to fine lines and flaking. If you have this skin type you will find that it can feel taut across the face: particularly after cleansing. Choose a gentle cleansing method and moisturise - This is a must. You should never use soap on dry skin. Alcohol, exposure to the sun, wind and central heating will exacerbate this skin type.

Herbs that are suitable for dry skin include:
Marsh Mallow,

Essential Oils that are suitable for dry skin include:

  • Normal Skin.
    Soft, smooth, supple, safe. If you have normal skin you should have a healthy glow, and not be prone to eruptions. Regular cleansing and a light moisturiser is all that you need to keep your skin clear and healthy; However, normal skin is prone to becoming more dry as you grow older.
  • Herbs that are suitable for normal skin include:
    Marsh Mallow,

    Essential Oils that are suitable for normal skin include:

  • Oily Skin.
    This skin tends to be shiny, and often has open pores. It is prone to blackheads due to a sebum build up from these over active pores. The main advantage of oily skin is that it tends to wrinkle far less than dry skin, due to the oil and grease moisturisation. You need a thorough, but gentle cleanser to keep the pores clear and remove the sebum build up. Astringent toners may also be useful.

    Herbs that are suitable for oily skin include:
    Witch Hazel,
    Lemon Grass.

    Essential Oils that are suitable for oily skin include:

  • Combination Skin.
    Your face may have an oily section. Usually the T-zone panel: Forehead/Nose, and it may also include the chin. You will also have areas of drier skin. This gives you a few options: You either treat the center panel as oily skin, and use a different care routine for the drier areas, or use products that are balancing and recommended for normal skin.

    Balancing herbs include:

    Essential Oils include:
    Ylang Ylang,

  • Problem Skin.
    Often, but not always oily, prone to blackheads, acne and spots. The major factors here are diet, and cleansing. If the acne is severe, consult a professional therapist of natural medicines to get the best results.

    Antiseptic and healing herbs include:

    Essential Oils include:
    Tea Tree,

    The use of clays and deep cleansing can also be beneficial.

  • Sensitive Skin.
    Usually dry, prone to flaking, redness, itching, allergic reactions and broken capillaries. Exposure to strong sunlight and drinking alcohol will make things worse. You need to cleanse gently, and use soothing and cooling moisturisers. Avoid the use of exfoliants, astringent toners, products containing alcohol or fragrance. (good luck)

    Soothing and anti-inflammatory herbs include:
    Marsh Mallow.

    Essential Oils include:

  • Mature Skin.
    With age, the skin loses elasticity and its ability to retain moisture. The emphasis on caring for mature skin is nourishing and moisturising to reduce sagging, fine lines and wrinkles.

    Regenerative herbs suitable for mature skin include:
    Marsh Mallow,

    Essential Oils include:
    Olibanum (Frankincense),

  • Different types of soap.

    As you will see later. Soap is basically made by mixing lye with fat and/or oil. You can make different types of soap by adjusting what fat you use, mixing different fats, altering the ratios of lye to fat, adding other ingredients etc.

    You probably only need two different soap types at a time. One body soap and one face soap. Basic recipes will be outlined later, in which you can add the relevant essential oils for your skin type. You may wish to include other things in your soap, like dried flowers, or finely diced pieces of fruit, for exfoliation. But, this will mean that your soap has a fairly short shelf life, whereas 'pure' soap bars get better with age.


    • Obviously, don't use any of your soap making equipment for food preparation. Eating lye is no fun. Mark the equipment and lock it away.
    • Lye will eat through most materials. You should only use stainless steel, plastic, enamel and/or heat resistant glass equipment, and don't make soap on those prized work surfaces, Work in an isolated room where people won't/ can't keep coming in and out.

    Equipment you'll probably need:

    Mold Making.

    About the only thing in the equipment list that you can make at home. Basically, you can use anything, so long as you can line it with plastic sheeting. This is important because you'll pull on this later to get the soap out of the mold. However, there is an alternative. If your mold would be too fiddly to apply plastic sheeting to (like an ice cube tray), you can simply rub Petroleum Jelly, vegetable shortenings or another lubricant inside.

    My personal favourite mold right now is a piece of square guttering I found. I have sealed up the ends and it creates a large rectangular loaf that can be easily cut into good sized bars.

    Lye To Fat Calculations.

    When making soap, it is vastly important to be able to calculate how much lye you will need in your recipe. This MUST be precise. If you over calculate then you'll end up with unreacted lye in the soap, if you under calculate (recommended) You will end up with a small percentage of unreacted fat in the final bar. Different Fats have different saponfication values, and as such, need different amounts of lye to convert them into soap. The more fat in the final product, the softer the soap becomes and the shorter the shelf life. I advise leaving 5%-9% in your first batch of soap, then take it from there. You may prefer superfatted soap, it depends on your skin type and personal preference.

    The internet houses plenty of free "Lye to Fat calculators".

    Search and Ye Shall Find.


    To colour, you need to remove a small amount of soap at the trace stage. Add the colour to this small amount of caustic soap, and then pour that back into the stock pot. Stir for one minute and then get it into the mold before it goes hard in the pot.

    You can colour your soap naturally using small amounts (1/2 teaspoon per 1lb of soap) of:

    • Cayenne Pepper; salmon,
    • Cinnamon Powder; beige,
    • Cocoa Powder; coffee/brown,
    • Curry Powder; yellow, peach,
    • Paprika; peach,
    • Turmeric; golden yellow,
    • Dark Cooking Chocolate; brown,
    • Liquid Chlorophyll; light green.

    Alternatively, you can use oxides and cosmetic pigments. But, use minute quantities or you'll be scrubbing the sides of your bath to get the stain off.

    Wax chips also work. They're designed for candle making, but can be used with degrees of success in soap making.

    Wax Crayons are cheap and good, but not all of the colours work. Remember, you're working into a small amount first, so it doesn't matter if it goes horribly wrong.

    Finally, soap colourings, these are good for re-batches of bad soap, but they have a tendency to get removed during the saponification process.


    Adding essential oils to your soap, will not only improve their effects on your skin, it was also replace the rather unpleasant smell that 'pure' soap has. You can effectively mix essential oils, but you need to understand that not all scents mix well together. There are three layers of scent: the top note, the middle note and the base note. These 'notes' are used to define the strength and substance of a specific scent. Top notes are the ones you will smell first, but they are fleeting. Middle notes provide a solid central smell, whilst the base notes act as a fixative and are arguably the most sensual of the three. As a rule of thumb, middle notes should make up 70% of the final fragrance.

    Don't go crazy when putting essential oils into your soap, they're powerful, and they cost a lot. Try getting used to them - put up to 10 drops into a bath just before you get in. Or steam your face with one drop in a bowl of hot water. You will soon realise just how strong they are, and remember: too much on the skin can be damaging.

    Top notes:
    Bergamot, cajuput, caraway, citronella, cumin, eucalyptus, grapefruit, lemon, lemongrass, lime, mandarin, niaouli, orange.

    Top to middle notes:
    Basil, cardamom, coriander, fennel, ho leaf, lavender, peppermint, petitgrain, pine needle, rosemary, rosewood, tea-tree.

    Middle notes:
    Camomile, carrot seed, clary sage, geranium, ginger, juniper, marjoram, melissa, myrtle, nutmeg, palmarosa, turpentine, thyme.

    Middle to base notes:
    Black pepper, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, neroli, rose, ylang ylang.

    Base notes:
    Benzoin, cedarwood, cinnamon leaf, clove, myrrh, patchouli, rockrose (ciste/labdanum), sandalwood, vetiver.

    General Ingredients.

    • at least 98% lye:
      Check the packaging. Liquid lye is no good, lye mixed with other things (including metal!) is no good. It should be either flakes or granules. In the UK you may find it sold under the name "caustic soda". Often found in the drain cleaning section of DIY shops.

    • Fats / Oils:
      Different fats and oils have different qualities. You can mix different fats and / or oils for different results.
    • Fats/Oils you can use in soap making:

      Almond Oil (Sweet), Apricot Kernal Oil, Arachis Oil, Avocado Oil, Babassu Oil, Beef Hoof Oil, Beef Tallow, Bees Wax (white), Brazil Nut Oil, Butterfat- cow, Butterfat, goat, Camellia Oil, Canola Oil, Castor Oil, Chicken Fat, Chinese Bean Oil, Cocoa Butter, Coconut Oil, Cod-liver Oil, Coffee-seed Oil, Colza Oil, Corn Oil, Cottonseed oil, Crisco/Veg Shortening, Earthnut Oil, Emu Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Florence Oil (aka Olive), Gigely Tree Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Hazelnut Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, Java, Cotton Oil, JoJoba Oil, Kapok Oil, Karite Butter (shea), Katchung Oil, Kukui Nut Oil, Lanolin (wool fat), Lard, Linseed Oil, Loccu Oil, Macadamia Oil, Maize Oil, Mink Oil, Mustard Oil, Neat's Foot Oil, Neem Oil, Niger-seed Oil, Nutmeg Butter, Olium Olivate, Olive Oil, Palm Butter, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Oil, Peanut Oil, Perilla Oil, Poppyseed Oil, Pumpkinseed oil, Ramic Oil, Rape Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Ricinus Oil, Safflower Oil, Sesame Seed Oil, Shea Butter, Shortening (veg), Soybean Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, Sweet Oil, Deer Tallow, Beef Tallow, Mutton Tallow, Vegetable Tallow, Goat Tallow, Teal/Teel/Til Oil, Theobroma Oil, Tung Oil, Walnut Oil, Wheatgerm Oil, Wool fat (lanolin).

    • Essential oils.
    • Distilled or soft water.
    • Colurants.

    Basic Instructions.

    There are two different ways to make soap. A hot process and cold process. I'm going to explain the cold process, because you should not be attempting the hot process unless you are an advanced soap maker. Furthermore the only benefit it adds is that the soap doesn't need to cure, and is thus ready quicker.

    1. Do your sums and work out how much lye, fat/oil and water you will need. Put the lye into a container and the distilled water in another. Now slowly add the lye to the water and stir until it's dissolved. Be careful not to splash and also not to breathe in the fumes. If needs be you can add the lye and leave it whilst the majority of fumes escape, then stir the lye in.

  • Put the lye/water solution into a cold water bath to lower its temperature. Prepare the molds. Make sure you have a big enough mold, or multiple molds for the soap you are about to make. Line them with plastic, or grease them up with petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening.
  • Put the oils into the stock pot and heat them until they melt. You will need to get the lye/water solution and the melted oil/fat to the same temperature before mixing them. Again this is about trial and error. Most websites say between 100-150° F. This will require you to lower the temperature of the lye by putting it in a cool water bath, and raising the temperature of the oil by putting it in a warm bath.
  • Put the thermometer(/s) into the oil and lye/water mixtures. Keep checking until they are at the same temperature.
  • Slowly add the lye/water solution to the oils in the stock pot, stirring continuously. Use a spoon to start, then once it's been added completely switch to the stick blender.
  • It's come to my attention that using a hand blender can be pretty dangerous. You don't want lye flying around the room at high speeds. Maybe it's best to work up to this, soap can also be stirred to get to the trace stage, just be warned that it might take a while.

  • The mixture will thicken. Keep blending. In time you will see tracks, or 'trace' in the mixture. This is when the majority of the reaction has taken place. You can add the essential oils/herbs of your choice. You may choose to scoop a small amount of the mixture out, add the colorants and oils to this and then add that back into the stock pot.
  • Blend for a short while longer to mix the new additions into the mixture evenly.
  • Add the mixture to the mold. Cover with a lid and wrap in old blankets/towels and place in an undisturbed area for 18 hours.
  • Remove the blankets and lid and leave the soap in the mold for another 12 hours.
  • Now remove the soap from the mold, cut it into bars, using a blunt knife, or dental floss, and leave for at least another 2 weeks. The longer it cures the harder and milder the soap becomes.
  • Test the pH of the bar of soap. The nearer to 7 is it the better. Below is a table of the pH's of major soap brands, so you get an idea what PH is acceptable.
    Soap         / pH 
    Camay        / 9.5
    Dial         / 9.5
    Dove         / 7.0
    Irish Spring / 9.5
    Ivory        / 9.5
    Lever 2000   / 9.0
    Palmolive    / 10.0
    Zest         / 10.0

    Soap makers in general say they don’t use soaps with a pH over 9. However, the table above shows that 10 is fine. To get a truly neutral pH soap like ‘Dove’, you'd have to run your cured soap through a rebatch operation and mix in boric acid to lower the soap's naturally high pH. This is worse for your skin than the naturally high pH.


    It seems silly to list lots of soap recipes. The internet is flooded with them, and frankly, it's less fun than making your own. I have listed one beginners recipe, but will devote the rest of this subheading to the effects of different oils/fats.

    Mild olive oil soap. (Makes 8 lbs.)

    • 24 oz. olive oil.
    • 24 oz. coconut oil.
    • 38 oz. vegetable shortening. (Crisco)
    • 12 oz. lye.
    • 32 oz. distilled water.
    • 3-4 oz. any essential or fragrance oil.

    Apricot kernel oil – a luxurious oil which adds a conditioning asset to soap. Use it in moderation.

    Castor oil – a small percentage of this oil adds a great lather with added conditioning properties.

    Cocoa butter – a special oil that conditions, aids good lather while making a hard bar of soap.

    Coconut oil – adds a good lather with lovely bubbles in a hard bar.

    Grapeseed oil – a great conditioning addition to a recipe, but too much will make for a soft soap.

    Lard – is conditioning while making a harder bar of soap than most vegetable oil soaps and has good lather.

    Macadamia Nut oil - a nutty scented oil that will add conditioning properties to your soap.

    Olive oil – a wonderful oil that can be used alone or in combination recipes. An all olive oil soap takes much longer to cure than a mixed oil recipe but can result in a bar as hard and lasting as one with animal oil components.

    Palm oil – makes an excellent addition to soap for hardness and conditioning capabilities with lovely lather.

    Shea Butter – a conditioning oil that makes a good hard bar with a nice lather.

    Sweet Almond oil – a wonderful conditioning oil in moderate proportions.

    Tallow – makes a harder bar of soap than most all-vegetable soaps.

    If you're using any other oils/fats in your soap, then you should either make a small batch to see the results, or look it up elsewhere.

    Additional Information.

    Diet was mentioned under the oily skin section, but I assumed you skipped this part and looked only at your skin type. Diet is vastly important. No matter how well you care for your skin on the outside, eating food which doesn't give your body the minerals and vitamins it needs will affect the quality of skin. Eat well, Feel well, Look well.


    • http://www.abundascents.com/soap.html
    • http://www.zetatalk.com/shelter/tshlt05d.htm
    • http://www.shands.org/health/information/article/002487.htm
    • http://www.eaudrey.com/supplies.htm
    • http://gaylor-web.com/soap/required.html
    • http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/soapmaking.htm
    • http://www.thesage.com/calcs/lyecalc2.php
    • http://www.cedarvale.net/soapcatagories/lyecalculator.htm
    • http://www.millennium-ark.net/News_Files/Soap/Lye_Fat_Table.html
    • Neals Yard: Recipes for Natural Beauty
    • http://members.aol.com/oelaineo/directions.html
    • http://www.greensense.com/ZENDA.HTM
    • http://www.colebrothers.com/soap/
    • http://www.pvsoap.com/instructionsforcoldprocess.htm