Make this Christmas soap recipe with festive swirls of madder root and minerals and candy cane scented peppermint essential oil.
With the holidays right around the corner, you might be thinking about making handmade gifts. Soap is always a great option since it can be pretty and festive and practical too! This Christmas soap recipe is even more fun because it smells like candy canes and is swirled with festive colors. You’ll use a simple ‘In the Pot Swirl’ technique, along with soap colorants, to achieve the main swirl pattern. Then you finish off the tops with an even easier linear pattern that you create with a chopstick.
This Christmas soap recipe is palm-oil free and nearly completely natural. Essential oil gives the scent and madder root is a plant extract that has a pink color. The other soap colors used are nature-identical minerals for red and green, the same types of colors used in mineral make-up.
Christmas Soap Recipe with an In the Pot Swirl
Swirling cold-process soap can look very easy but there are quite a few tips to ensure success. There’s slightly more distilled water in this recipe than I usually use, and the reason is to slow down trace. However, the more water you use in a soap recipe, the higher the chance of your soap developing soda ash. Keep that in mind and follow the steps in the recipe that help you avoid that issue.
This recipe is also high in olive oil, though it’s not as slow-moving as extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). Pomace olive oil gives a much lighter final color to your bars and doesn’t interfere with the soap colorants. You can of course use EVOO for this recipe but the white areas will be more of an off-white to light yellow.
You also create the main pattern of this soap using the ‘In the Pot Swirl’ technique. It’s one of the easier swirled soap techniques, and less work than the one in my Festive Swirled Honey Soap Recipe. It involves making the main soap batch, dividing it, and coloring parts of it green and red. There are two colors that I use for the red — red iron oxide and madder root. On its own, the oxide has a rusty red color and the madder brightens it up. You then mix the three colors of soap batter together in a specific way, then pour them in a loaf mold. The way you add the colors, how you stir, and how you pour will all affect the final pattern.
Christmas Soap Fragrance
Though there are many Christmas soap fragrances available, most of them are perfumes and not natural. I try to use natural scents instead, which is why I stick with essential oils. Fortunately, one of the most known Christmas scents is the simple peppermint of candy canes. It works beautifully in this recipe and peppermint is also one of the least expensive essential oils. I also have a Simple Peppermint Soap Recipe that doesn’t involve swirling, if you’d like to try making that one first.
Once you’ve made your Christmas soap, and have allowed it to cure for a month, use these eco-friendly ways to wrap soap as gifts. I can promise that your festive handmade soap will be a hit as stocking fillers or as part of gift sets. They also make great smaller gifts to give to friends and colleagues. The main recipe creates about ten bars but if you have a larger mold, feel free to scale the recipe up.
Beginner Soap Recipes
For a swirled soap recipe, this one is pretty easy, but it’s still an intermediate to advanced cold-process soap recipe. If you’ve never made soap from scratch before I’d recommend you begin with simpler soaps first such as the Natural Cinnamon Soap or these Easy Soap Recipes first. Understanding the different stages of trace is important for success and to get a beautiful swirl throughout your bars. I also have a complete Soap Making for Beginners series below that you can read through, and many small 1-lb beginner recipes for you to try.
- Intro to Soap Ingredients
- Soap Making Equipment & Safety
- Beginner Soap Recipes
- The Cold-Process Soap Making Process
Christmas Soap Recipe with Festive Swirls
- Stainless steel pan for melting the solid oils
- Three rubber spatulas for stirring and scraping
- Skewer or chopstick
- A piece of cardboard, or board, that can sit on top of your mold.
Add after Trace
To prevent Soda Ash
- Rubbing alcohol (99% Isopropyl Alcohol) in a spray bottle
The Soap Making Process
- When I make basic handmade soap I think of the process as four main parts: lye solution, solid oils, liquid oils, and everything that happens at 'trace'. Trace is when your oils and lye solution emulsifies and kicks off the saponification phase. When swirling soap, or creating some sort of pattern, there's an additional fifth step that happens after trace. In this recipe, that fifth step will involve creating an 'In the Pot Swirl' and finishing the top of the loaf with a simple linear pattern.
Prepare your Soap Making Station
- Ensure that your kitchen workspace is clean and set up with all of your tools, ingredients, and equipment. Please also prepare yourself by wearing long sleeves, closed-toe shoes, goggles, and plastic gloves. Soap making is fun but also chemistry so you need to work safely.
- Using a digital kitchen scale, measure the solid oils into the pan, the liquid oils into a jug, the sodium hydroxide (lye) into a jug, and the distilled water into the heat-proof jug.
- Measure the madder root powder and red iron oxide into a jug with one teaspoon of olive oil. Using a rubber spatula, mix the powder into the oil at the bottom of the jug. Smoosh and scrape the powders until they are fully mixed in and no particles can be seen. If particles are left unmixed at this point, they can show up as blobs in your final bars. Clean the spatula of any particles of color but reserve it for use with this color.
- Measure the chromium green oxide into a jug with one teaspoon of olive oil. Using a new rubber spatula, mix the powder into the oil at the bottom of the jug. Smoosh and scrape the oxide until it's fully mixed in and no particles can be seen. Clean the spatula of any particles of color but reserve it for use with this color.
Make the Lye Solution
- Work in an area with good ventilation when mixing the lye and water together. There will be steam and heat in this step so be cautious. Don't breathe in the steam and ensure the lye solution doesn't get on your skin. If it does, rinse it with water thoroughly.
- Pour the lye into the water and then mix with a stainless steel spoon until the lye crystals are fully dissolved.
- Set the lye solution aside to cool — I like to set the jug in a basin (or sink) shallowly filled with cold water to speed up the process. Take its temperature with a digital thermometer. You're aiming for it to be around 100°F (38°C). It will be much hotter than that initially but keep coming back to stir and take its temperature.
Melt the Solid Oils
- Place the pan of solid oils on the hob and turn it on to the lowest heat setting. It will melt quicker than you expect, so stay with the pan, moving the oil around in the pan to help speed up melting. When there are a few small pieces of solid oil still floating, take the pan off the heat and set it on a potholder. They'll melt with the residual heat and a few stirs of your spoon/spatula.
Add the liquid oils
- Pour the liquid oils into the pan of melted oils. To minimize air bubbles getting in, try pouring the liquid oils onto a clean spatula held over the pan of oils. Use the spatula to get every last drop out of the jug then stir the oils together gently.
- Take the temperature of the mixed oils. You're aiming for around the same temperature as the lye solution, but they can be a few degrees higher or lower.
Bringing the Ingredients to 'Trace'
- When the temperatures are right, carefully place the head of the immersion blender (stick blender) into the oils. Insert it at an angle so that any air inside the head can escape as you submerge the head. Air trapped inside the head will create air pockets in your soap. Sometimes small, sometimes annoyingly large.
- Pour the lye solution through the sieve and into the pan of oils. If you can aim for the slow stream of lye solution to hit a spoon or the side of the immersion blender then it will also help to minimize air bubbles.
- Stir the contents of the pan gently, using the immersion blender as a spoon. Then bring it into the center of the pan and hold it against the bottom of the pan. Not moving the immersion blender, pulse for a couple of seconds. Then gently stir. Keep repeating this pulse then stir process until the soap thickens to a very light trace. You'll see just the faintest trace marks on the surface of the soap. Stop blending, tap off the immersion blender's head, and put it aside. You will not use it again.
- Add the peppermint essential oil and gently stir with a spatula until completely mixed in.
Mixing the Colors
- Place the jug with the red color on the digital scale, tare the scale if necessary, and measure 1/4 of the soap batter in. That will be about 270 g (9.52 oz). With the spatula, gently stir the soap batter into the color until completely mixed in.
- Place the jug with the green color on the digital scale, tare the scale if necessary, and measure 1/4 of the soap batter in. That will be about 270 g (9.52 oz). With the spatula, gently stir the soap batter into the color until completely mixed in.
- Pour the rest of the uncolored soap batter into another jug. It can be the same jug that you measured the liquid oils into or a clean one.
In the Pot Swirl
- What you do next will create the swirl in your soap and the video at the bottom will help you understand the process. You also should work quickly and efficiently, meaning don't dawdle but don't rush.
- Place the jug filled with uncolored soap in front of you. You will be pouring the colored soap into it at four different spots. Think of the circular shape as a clock — red will go in at twelve and six o'clock and green at three and nine o'clock.
- To get the colored soap to plunge all the way to the bottom of the uncolored (important for good swirls), pour it in from high up — a foot to eighteen inches from above the jug. Use only about eighty to ninety percent of the colored soap batters, setting the rest aside to create the top design later.
- The next part is crucial. Insert a clean spatula into the jug of soap batter at 12 o'clock. Dip it in all the way to the bottom. Next, stir in one clean circular movement around the clock, and when you get back to 12, pull the spatula out. Do not stir any more than this or the colors will muddle.
- Place the loaf mold in front of you — the one that I'm using has a cavity sized 8×3.5×2.5". Next, pour the soap batter in. Choose a spot on one end of the mold and pour the batter at that spot only until the mold is at least half-filled. You can continue filling from that one spot after or move the pour around a little after as shown in the video.When completely filled, gently lift and tap the mold to settle the soap and to help release any air bubbles.
Creating the Top Design
- The top design on the bars is much easier to create than you'd think. The first step is to drizzle the remaining colored soap on top. First one color, then a layer of the other. You could repeat this a few times if you wish.
- Gently tap the mold again to settle it, and clean the edges of the mold if necessary.
- Beginning on one end, insert a chopstick or skewer just under the surface of the drizzled soap. No more than that or you can muddle the main swirl. Move the stick across in one stroke, slide it the tiniest bit over and then move in back in a stroke going the opposite way. Keep repeating until you reach the other side of the mold. Gently tap the mold to settle it again.
Ensuring good color
- There are a few things you need to do next to ensure that your soap's colors are vibrant and that they aren't marred by soda ash. That's a powdery white residue that forms on the soap when lye and water interact with the air. It's harmless but can look unprofessional.
- First, thoroughly spray the top of the soap with rubbing alcohol (99% Isopropyl Alcohol). Then cover the top of the mold with a piece of cardboard or board. It should not touch the soap.
- Next, you want to make sure that the soap gels, an effect caused by keeping the soap from cooling too quickly. That steady warmth and slower cooling make colors more vibrant. Taking steps to ensure your soap gels will also make sure that you don't get a partial gel, a darker circular part on the innermost part of the soap loaf.
- If your silicone mold has a wooden case that goes along with it, then perfect. Put the mold inside (if it's not in already), place the wood board on top and leave it.
- If you don't have a wooden box, I advise you to oven process the soap. Being that this is a Christmas soap recipe can mean that you're making the soap in autumn when the house is a bit cooler than usual and the typical wrapping of the mold in a towel won't be as effective in gelling soap.
- Turn the oven on to it's lowest setting for just a couple of minutes. Though, with my convection oven, it only takes a minute to warm up. Then turn the oven off.Next, gently swaddle the soap mold, with its cardboard/wood lid, in a towel. Cover it completely then place it all in the oven together. This is a relatively small batch of soap so the towel helps to keep it warm, even in the warmed oven. Now, close the oven door and leave the soap inside for a full day, or until it's room temperature. You can take it out afterward and place it on the counter.
- Leave the soap in its mold for 48 hours — it needs this amount of time for the majority of saponification to complete and to firm up. After this point, the soap will be the consistency of cheddar and you can cut it into bars of the size you wish. A ruler helps here if you want bars all of the same size.
- Next, find someplace in the house that's safe from animals and kids and that is airy and out of direct sunlight. Lay a piece of baking paper down and space your bars of soap out over it. You should leave your soap there for six weeks to allow excess water to evaporate out of your soap and for them to fully harden up. This is called curing soap.
- When fully cured, you can begin using the soap and gifting it to others. Try these creative and eco-friendly ways to package soap for holiday gifts.
- Once made and cured, your soap can have a shelf-life of up to two years. Check the oil bottles and ingredients that you're using though — the closest best-by date of any of them is the best-by date of your soap.