Simple Herbal Shampoo Bar Recipe for Naturally Washing Your Hair
How to make herbal shampoo bars with goat milk, nettles, and essential oils using the cold-process soapmaking method. This is a recipe from the Herbal Academy and includes guidance on how to use shampoo bars without ruining your hair.
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One of the most frequent queries I get from both hobby soapmakers and customers is for shampoo bars. It’s a sensitive subject for me, and I’ll get to why I haven’t shared one of my own yet a little further on. The Herbal Academy has just released a brilliant new book though, Botanical Skin Care Recipe Book, and I’ve asked them if I could share their herbal shampoo bar recipe that you’ll find on page 247. The reason is to share a recipe for those who want to try making soap for hair, but also to fill you in on shampoo bars, syndet bars, and how to use them.
The Herbal Academy shampoo bar follows a standard cold-process recipe. It uses coconut oil, olive oil, and a few other easy-to-source base oils. It also uses a nettle infusion, to regulate oil production and goat’s milk to create a creamy and nourishing bar. A herbal blend of essential oils gives scent and scalp-stimulating properties.
What are Shampoo Bars?
Shampoo bars are a solid cleanser that we lather and use to clean our hair. However, the popular shampoo bars that most people have experience with are not real soap. They’re called syndet bars and they are formulated to clean our hair in the same way as liquid shampoo. That means that they’re pH balanced to better match our bodies’ pH. Whether a skincare product is acidic or alkaline matters because if it’s even a little bit off it can disrupt our skin’s acid mantle. What that can mean is irritation and damage to our skin, scalp, and hair.
Real soap has a pH of between 9-11 and is much more alkaline than our skin and hair’s pH of 5-6. That’s why some people find soap controversial on skin. My feeling is that our pores constantly secrete oil, human sebum, and it replenishes the acid mantle of our skin. Still, overuse of soap isn’t great as many of us have found on our hands over the past year!
Hair does not secrete oil though and instead relies on the oil from our scalp to create that protective layer. When we wash that oil off regularly, our hair loses its natural conditioner. That’s why we use a conditioning product after using shampoo.
However, the residue of real soap on our hair also leaves an alkaline pH that dries our hair out. It also causes the shingles on each hair shaft to lift up, rather than lay down to form a shield. That’s why many people who have tried using soap as shampoo have the experience of their hair turning into a tangled mess that feels very dry and uncomfortable. The longer or more color/chemically-treated, your hair is, the worse the problem will be.
Syndet bars vs. Soap bars
Syndet (synthetic detergent) bars are what most people use and love as shampoo bars. They are made of sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium coco sulfate, coco glucoside, and/or other surfactants. You’ll find these ingredients mixed with oils and scent and together they work to pull grime away from skin and hair. Your hair feels like it does after using liquid shampoo and it’s scented by the shampoo bars too. Think of syndet bars as solid versions of our more standard liquid shampoos.
True shampoo bars (like this one) are synthetic pH-balanced cleansing bars. They need less packaging so can be zero-waste, but they are not 100% natural and they are certainly not real soap. Shampoo bars made in the cold-process method, like the below herbal shampoo bar recipe, are much different and need more pre-and-post prep work to avoid them harming your hair. It’s a conundrum for those of us wanting to avoid synthetics!
How to use a Homemade Shampoo Bar
Cold-process shampoo bars aren’t ideal for hair care. Still, there are people who say they have a good experience with them. There are a few reasons for why this may be. Their hair may be short, their skin and hair is naturally oily, and/or they are using products immediately after washing that lower the hair’s pH. They may also be applying something else, such as conditioner or hair oil, that adds back protective oil and moisture.
To avoid damaged hair by using a homemade shampoo bar you can rinse your hair with a dilution of apple cider vinegar immediately after washing it. The usual dilution is 1 tsp apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water. If you use this herbal shampoo bar recipe, I’d suggest that you try it too. Since the soap recipe uses nettles, I’d say that adding the ACV to a cup of warm nettle tea would be the way to go too. It won’t sting, so don’t worry. The idea is that the cider vinegar balances the hair’s pH back to something a bit more acidic. Using a nourishing conditioner after this can soften and replenish the hair even more.
Why am I sharing this Herbal Shampoo Bar
Many people do use soap bars to wash their hair. It’s really hit or miss as to whether your hair will respond well to them, though. If you have color-treated, permed, or curly hair, I do not recommend using soap as shampoo. I know that some people with long hair do use soap as shampoo by putting their hair in a ponytail and trying to wash only the roots. However, soap and that ACV rinse can damage hair in the long run. Longer hair suffers more than shorter since it’s exposed to the regime for longer.
So why am I sharing this recipe? I’m sharing it because there are some people who really do have favorable experiences with soap as shampoo. When the Herbal Academy sent me their Botanical Skincare Recipe Book, I naturally looked through the soap recipes at the end and the shampoo bar caught my eye.
One of the positive things about the Herbal Academy’s shampoo bar recipe is that it has a high superfat. Usually, soap bars have about 5-8% extra oil added in that stays free-floating in the bar. It doesn’t turn into soap and instead leaves adds to a conditioning and gentle bar of soap. This herbal shampoo bar recipe used an incredible almost 16% superfat. What this does is create a milder bar that may leave a bit of that conditioning oil behind.
Herbal Shampoo Bar Recipe
This herbal shampoo bar recipe is a smaller batch size than the one in the book. It’s the perfect size for those wanting to give soap-based shampoo bars a whirl. If you want to make a larger batch, use the toggle in the recipe card to scale the recipe up. The bars are light brown and hard after their cure time.
In addition to the original recipe instructions, I’ve left a few suggestions that I think will help you. One comment pertains to the amount of liquid used to make the lye solution (called the lye water). The other is that I don’t recommend that you insulate the soap after you pour it into molds. More on that below.
The bars also have a very high superfat. It also contributes towards initially soft and sticky bars and reduces the lather. It will still clean though and hopefully, leave some of that conditioning superfat on your hair. You can also use this herbal shampoo bar recipe to create a very mild cleansing bar for your skin.
Nettle & Goat Milk Shampoo Bar Recipe
- Stainless steel pan for melting the oils
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- 173 g Distilled water 6.1 oz
- 2/3 cup fresh nettles or 1/3 cup dried
Goat Milk Slurry*
- 133 g Nettle tea 4.69 oz
- 38 g Goat milk 1.3 oz
To Make the Lye solution
- 57 g Sodium hydroxide 2 oz
- 142 g Coconut oil (refined) 5 oz / 31.25%
- 28 g Shea butter 1 oz / 6.25%
- 156 g Olive oil 5.5 oz / 34.38%
- 71 g Castor oil 2.5 oz / 15.63%
- 57 g Avocado oil 2 oz / 12.5%
Add after trace
- 5 g Rosemary essential oil 0.18 oz / 1 tsp (optional)
- 5 g Eucalyptus Globulus Essential oil 0.18 oz / 1 tsp (optional)
- 1 g Lemon essential oil** 0.04 oz / 1/4 tsp (optional)
- Prepare mold, lining it if necessary.
- Heat distilled water to boiling point. Remove from heat and add fresh or dried nettle. Allow to cool.
- Remove nettle, or strain out powdered nettle.
Make the Goat Milk Slurry
- Measure out the nettle tea and goat milk and put it in the freezer until slushy and almost frozen. Tanya's notes: this took around an hour for me. I checked every fifteen minutes and swirled the liquid around each time so that the mixture would be an even slushy texture.
Melt the Oils
- Weight and combine the olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, avocado oil, and shea butter in a large stainless steel pot. Heat until melted and cool to 90-110 degrees F (32-43 degrees C). Tanya's notes: it's easier to melt the solid oils in the pan then add the liquid oils after the solid oils are melted. Doing this helps keep the overall oil temperature lower.
Make the Lye Water
- Weigh lye. Go outside, and with proper safety gear on, add lye to the goat milk and nettle water mixture [the slurry] stirring until dissolved. 90-110 degrees F (32-43 degrees C).Tanya's notes: I cooled my oils and lye water to 100F (38C) before mixing them together. Also, proper safety gear includes goggles, rubber gloves, an apron, and closed-toe shoes.
Make the Shampoo Bars
- After oils and lye water are cooled, pour lye water into oils and blend with an immersion blender on and off until the mixture reaches light trace. Tanya's notes: I recommend pouring the lye water through a sieve to catch any undissolved bits of lye. Also, this recipe takes a very long time to come to trace, at almost five minutes. If you've never made soap before, please read the full instructions in my eco-friendly soap recipe for a full explanation of the way you use an immersion blender and what trace is. That recipe includes a video for you to watch too.
- Add essential oils and blend until incorporated.Tanya's notes: blend means to stir gently with your spatula. Do not use the immersion blender here.
- Pour into mold, cover, and insulate lightly for 24 hours. Goat milk can cause soap to overheat so watch for any bubbling or splitting. If gel becomes too dark, remove cover.Tanya's notes: I poured this soap into a 1-lb silicone soap mold and insulated it soap as instructed. I did this using a closed shoebox and a towel wrapped around the mold to keep the soap warm. A small plate placed over the top of the soap mold kept the towel from touching the soap. The shoebox helps the soap to fully gel and turn brown. If you leave this milk-based soap only 'lightly' covered with a tea towel, the center of the block would likely gel and the outsides wouldn't. That would leave a dark circular center called partial gel.
- Tanya's Additional Notes: Though I followed the instructions for the recipe, I personally would not recommend insulating soap made with goat milk or any other milk. It can scorch and turn brown since the sugars in milk can heat up (and overheat!) the soap even after you pour it into molds. Instead, soap at a cool temperature, pour the soap batter into the mold(s), and leave it uncovered on the counter. Alternatively, put the soap in the refrigerator to keep the temperature down and the bars white, as I share in my own goat milk soap recipe. I also poured some of this soap into small molds and refrigerated it so that you can see the color difference. The bar that looks a little squished is one that I tried removing from the mold after two days. The other is one that I froze solid before removing from the mold.
- Remove from mold, cut, and cure for 4-6 weeks.Tanya's notes: I removed the block of soap and measured it into six bars 3/4" bars and cut them with a stainless steel kitchen knife. When doing this, make sure that you wear gloves when handling the soap within 48 hours of making it. During this time, the soap will still contain a small amount of lye and can irritate your skin.
- Tanya's additional notes: you will very likely have trouble removing this soap from your mold(s). Due to the full-water amount and high superfat the soap is soft and very sticky after 24 hours, and even after several days. If you run into this issue, you can either wait a week or two to get the soap out or put your soap molds in the freezer until the soap is completely frozen. The soap will then pop out of the molds like ice-cubes and will not affect the soap or its qualities.
Curing and storing your Shampoo Bars
- The Herbal Academy instructions end here, but I'd like to give you a little more guidance on what to do next. Soap needs at least a month if not two months to be ready to use. With this recipe, I'd advise a 6-8 week cure time, just to ensure that excess water evaporates out, the lye and oils complete saponification, and most importantly, soap crystals have a chance to fully form. Because this soap is high in coconut oil, you will need that time for the soap to become mild enough to use. Here are full instructions on how to cure soap.
- Once made, your soap will have a shelf-life of up to two years. Check the oil bottles that you're using though — the closest best-by date is the best-by date of your soap. Store cold-process soap out of direct sunlight but not in a sealed container. Soap sealed in tupperware will sweat and the excess oil in the recipe (the superfat) may go rancid.
- When using soap bars as shampoo, ensure that you finish with an acid rinse to help neutralize the pH of your hair. Follow up with a conditioner of your choice. Leaving these steps out can result in your being very unhappy with the texture of your hair.
Botanical Soapmaking Inspiration
If you’d like even more natural skincare and soapmaking inspiration, I’d recommend the Botanical Skincare Recipe Book. It includes lots of lovely recipes that you can make at home, including lotions, bath bombs, and more. Though the recipes are brief, there’s information at the beginning on the principles of making salves, skincare, and soap. For even more inspiration here on Lovely Greens, check out:
- Natural Chamomile Soap Recipe
- Rosemary & Cambrian Blue Clay Soap Recipe
- Six Ways to Make Herb-Infused Oil for Skincare and Salves
- Homemade Dish Soap for the Zero-Waste Home
I love making cold process shampoo bars and everyone I give them to raves about them. Problem is I have found that these bars strip the color out of my hair sooner than my hair color appointments. Can this be fixed somehow? The recipe is from a long time trusted source and uses “good oils” for hair. Help please.
Can you use something else besides coconut oil?
Can i ask how many grams does it weigh on each bar? thank u :)
pense tu que du lait de riz peu etre bien pour les cheveux ? j ai tester des savons au chaudron ou en saf surgraissage a 6 % mes cheveuse supporte bien mais je ne fais pas d apres shampooing mais j ai pas trouver encore la bonne recette donc je vais tester la tienne sinonje fais au sci mais meme avec 30% je trouve que ca asseche les cheveux merci
“Hello do you think rice milk can be good for hair? I have tested soaps in a cauldron or in saf with 6% overgreasing my hair tolerates it well but I don’t do after shampoo but I haven’t found the right recipe yet so I’m going to test yours otherwise I’ll do it with scissors but even with 30% I think it dries out my hair thank you”
Hello! I’ve shared this recipe from the Herbal Academy book to help people to make cold-process shampoo bars if they wish. My opinion of them is very low though since they turn my hair into a horrible mess immediately after using them. Dry, brittle, and terribly tangled. Some people have good experiences with cp shampoo bars, and some don’t, and it’s a bit of a heated topic. If you don’t, I’d recommend that you stop using them since they can truly ruin your hair. If you’re looking for a plastic-free option, try buying or making syndet bars. They aren’t considered natural but they clean hair without damaging it. Rice milk will not help any shampoo bar recipe to be less damaging to hair.
Hi. I have a nut allergy. Do you think I could substitute cocunut oil with Babassu oil? Could I also substitute mango butter or cocoa butter for shea butter?
Hi Lisa and anyone else reading, nut allergies that people have when eating nuts don’t often result in a person having a reaction to nut oil in skincare. The way I understand it is that the digestion of the proteins in nuts is the main cause of nut allergies, whereas oil has very little (or no) protein in it and is not digested. However, I have a piece on how to customize and change a soap recipe if you’d like to alter this one or any other.
hello and thank you very much for sharing this recipe. I would like to ask if you know if these bars will work well for areas with super hard water like mine. This has been my issue forever, since I tried my first cold process shampoo bar in 2015. I appreciate your comments.
Hi Rosa, you can make any soap recipe suitable for hard water (and reducing soap scum) by adding citric acid to the recipe. Citric acid works as a chelator, and the amount you add to most soap recipes is 1.5% of the weight of the main soaping oils (that’s about 7g for a 454g batch). You will also need to add a little extra lye to the recipe too since citric acid will use some of it up. Multiply the amount of citric acid that you use by 0.624 and you’ll get the amount of extra lye you need to add to the recipe. Add both this extra lye and the citric acid to the lye solution and make the recipe as normal. Learn a little more about using citric acid as a chelator in my dish soap recipe, which uses citric acid to reduce soap scum on dishes.
thank you so much for replying to my question ! I will try this and let you know how it turns out, I am sure it’s going to be great !
When using coconut milk as a replacement for goat milk, do you need to bring it to a specific temperature when adding it at trace? Should it be added once trace has been reached (same time as essential oils) or when the lye solution is added to the oils and the emulsification process begins (before trace is reached)? I’m excited to try this with coconut milk! Thank you.
Hi Anne Marie, you can add it at the same time as the lye solution, or after soap reaches a light trace. No need to adjust the temperature :)
Thank you for sharing this! Would it be ok to use coconut milk instead of goat’s milk? I know that oils can change the recipe, but would a change in the kind of milk make a difference?
Hiya! You can use a coconut milk replacement without the recipe changing. However, it might be better to add the coconut milk at trace (or at the same time as the lye solution), rather than mixing it in with the lye. Coconut milk is a great vegan alternative to milk soaps! The bars are creamy and nourishing and the coconut milk can increase the fluffy lather.
I cant wait to try this recipe. I want to have a supply of soaps to give as gifts for Christmas time. Would it be ok if I switched nettles tea for Neem powder?
If you want to add neem powder, mix about a teaspoon of neem into a Tablespoon of distilled water (reserved from the amount needed for the lye water). Stir it in with the essential oils :)
Salve Tanya! Grazie mille per i tuoi consigli e le tue ricette super. Una domanda in merito al shampoo bar. Sarebbe possibile corregere il ph cioè abbassare ai livelli piu bassi piu viccino al ph naturale della pelle?
Grazie tante in anticipo!
Google translation: Hello Tanya! Thank you so much for your super tips and recipes. A question about the shampoo bar. Would it be possible to correct the pH, i.e. lower it to the lowest levels closest to the natural pH of the skin?
Thanks a lot in advance
Hi Varfi and to answer your question, no, you unfortunately can’t change the pH of soap. That’s why most shampoo bars are made from synthetics.
Thank you for this information !
Thank you for this!
In the ingredient list, did you mean 2/3 cup fresh nettles (I think that was the measurement, I don’t have it in front of me) or the other tsp measurement was a dried nettles option?
It’s 1/3 cup dried nettles. When working with fresh vs dried plant material, you’d use half the amount dried as you would fresh.
Dear Tanya ,thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insights,,,I have a question please,which oil can I use instead of the avocado ? oil? Can I use olive oil instead ? And the goat milk can be replaced by something else ? Thank you and all the very best , love moksha ?
Hi Moksha, when you are changing the oils in a soap recipe, even for oils that give a similar effect/qualities, the amount of lye will change. If you change avocado oil for, say, sweet almond oil, then use the soapcalc to figure out the new lye amount. Here’s how to change and customize a soap recipe.