How to make soap naturally colored with activated charcoal and decorated with cypress cedar leaves. An easy charcoal soap recipe suitable for the beginner.
Last year as I was perusing soap at the Ballard Farmers Market I came across some rather interesting ‘Man Soap’. It was chunky, scented with sage and pine, and immediately got my attention. What I loved most about it was the shape, color, and leaf decoration and I couldn’t wait to try making my own. This charcoal soap recipe is my take on it with a simple fragrance blend that both men and women will like. In fact, it’s probably my new favorite! Cedarwood and Lemongrass.
The natural colorant in this soap is activated charcoal. It’s the same powdered charcoal that you take in supplements and can tint soap blue to lack, depending on how much you use. It doesn’t stain your bath or skin and some say that it might help with removing skin impurities and helping with acne.
Charcoal Soap Recipe
12oz / 350g batch — makes 3 bars
Read this free 4-part natural soapmaking series
Special Equipment needed
Made with creamy Shea and Cocoa Butters
This recipe will make three chunky bars if you pour the batch into a regular 40-44 oz silicone loaf mold. The activated charcoal that you add to the liquid oils will give the finished bars a pleasing blue-grey color but if you want it to be darker feel free to double the amount. After curing, the bars will be hard, the lather fluffy, and the lashings of shea and cocoa butter make the soap super moisturising.
How to Make Soap
If you’ve not made natural soap before, I highly recommend you have a read of my free 4-part natural soapmaking series. It will help you to understand the directions below a lot better. The steps laid out are very similar to the method described in part 4 of the series, with the addition of charcoal into the liquid oils and the cypress cedar leaves for decoration.
Let’s make some charcoal soap
Safety first! Make sure to be wearing closed-toe shoes, long sleeves, eye protection (goggles), and latex or washing-up gloves. You’ll be working with Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) and splashing a bit on your skin isn’t the most pleasant of experiences. To learn more about lye and lye safety read this piece on the equipment and safety needed for soapmaking.
You also need to have all of your ingredients measured and your work surface organised. Open a window for ventilation, close doors on pets and children, and have everything you need layed out:
- Sodium hydroxide and water measured into heat-proof containers: glass, pyrex, or polypropylene plastic
- Solid oils measured into a small stainless steel pan.
- Liquid oils measured into a bowl
- Charcoal measured out
- Mold set out and ready. You’ll also need a light towel so have that ready too.
- Stick blender plugged in and ready
- Digital thermometer out
- Utensils laid out: stainless steel spoon for stirring the lye solution, a small fine-mesh strainer, and a flexible spatula
- Fragrance and extras at the ready: essential oil, grapefruit seed extract, and cedar leaves
- Read all of the directions thoroughly before making your soap.
Step 1: Make the Lye Solution
Wearing eye and hand protection (goggles & gloves) and in a well-ventilated place, pour the lye crystals into the water. The water should be measured out into a heat-proof plastic jug. Stir well with a stainless steel spoon until fully dissolved, trying not to breathe in the steam. Place the jug of lye solution in a small basin of water to cool down. The water gets super hot when you mix in the lye! I usually fill my sink with water and place the jug in there.
Step 2: Melt the Solid Oils
Place all of the solid oils into a pan and place it on the stove. Begin melting them at the lowest heat setting.
Step 3: Blend the Charcoal into the Liquid Oils
Blend the charcoal powder into a little of the sunflower oil with a milk frother or spoon. When there are no lumps left, pour it into the rest of the liquid oils and stir well.
Step 4: Mix the Melted Oil with the Liquid
When the solid oils have just finished melting, take the pan off the heat and mix in the charcoal tinted liquid oil. Pour the tinted oil through a mesh strainer to ensure you catch any chunks of charcoal that weren’t completely mixed in.
Stir and take the oil’s temperature — I mixed my soap at 125°F / 52°C. You can comfortably mix yours when the oils are between 110°F and 130°F. The warmer the oils, the more intense the color will be though.
Step 5: Mix the Lye Solution into the Oils
When the oils are at the temperature you want, it’s time to mix in the lye solution. You need to take its temperature too and it should be within ten degrees (plus or minus) of the temperature of the oil. If you’re adding the optional Sodium Lactate (to make the soap harder) then stir it into the lye solution when it’s below 130°F / 54°C. Pour the lye solution through the mesh strainer and into the pan of oils.
Step 6: Bring the charcoal Soap to ‘Trace’
When the lye and oils combine properly, they ‘Saponify’ and become soap. You use a stick (immersion) blender to help this process and you know you’ve succeeded when your oils and lye solution begins to thicken up like in the photo below. You do this by alternating stirring with gentle pulsing, always keeping the head of the blender submerged in the soap batter.
Step 7: Mix in the Fragrance & Pour
When your soap has hit ‘Trace’, stir in the essential oils and optional Grapefruit Seed Extract. The former is your fragrance and the GSE helps to prolong shelf-life in a natural way — it’s an antioxidant rather than a preservative. When fully mixed in, pour your soap batter into molds, place your optional cedar leaves on top. Wherever the leaves touch the soap, the leaves will darken to almost black. If you want the leaves to stay green you’ll need to press them into the soap after it’s been chopped into bars.
Now cover the soap lightly with a towel. The towel shouldn’t touch the soap and its purpose is to keep the soap warm which helps with creating a consistent color.
Step 8: Unmold, Cut, & Cure your charcoal soap
You leave your soap in the mold for at least 24 hours and if you used Sodium Lactate the soap will be hard after that time. If you didn’t, the soap will have hardened but it will still be soft around the edges — the soap might stick to the mold when you try to push it out. Best wait a few days before trying and/or pop the mold into the freezer for half an hour beforehand.
Once out of the mold, cut the loaf into bars, and cure for 4-6 weeks before using. All this means is to set the soap in an airy place out of the way, and out of direct sunlight. It needs the time for allowing the water content to evaporate out and for the bars to fully harden. For full instructions on how to cure handmade soap head over here
I’m sure that you and any of the recipients of this soap will be pleased with the end product. It smells woodsy yet fresh and has a natural blue-grey tint. Best of all, you’ve made it all by yourself!