Tips for how to make clay soap in a rainbow of soft, earthy hues, including pink, green, blue, and yellow. Gorgeous shades that are 100% natural! Includes information on what clay is, techniques to naturally color soap with clay, and how clay soap can benefit the skin.
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Of all the natural soap colorants available, clay is one of the most stable and beautiful. It comes in various colors, including yellow, orange, and pink, and adding it to your soap recipes is as easy as pie. This piece focuses on how to naturally color soap with clay, including techniques and types of clay to use in soap. You can use the advice to color practically any hot or cold process soap recipe, either the entire recipe or part of the soap batter, to create swirls and patterns.
Using clay in soapmaking is not only very easy, but the colors are long-lasting as a natural soap colorant. They don’t fade or morph like many plant-based colorants are apt to do. The trick with using clay in soap making is knowing how much you should use and avoiding cracking and lumps. Choosing the right clays and adding them to your recipes in these suggested ways will have you making stunning naturally colored soap in no time!
What is Clay Soap
Clay soap is ordinary bar soap with clay powder added to it. We add clay to soap for a few reasons, but the main reason is that it adds natural colors that look earthy and natural. It can also affect the texture of the lather giving a silky feeling that’s useful for sensitive soaps and shaving soap. Clay also has natural oil-pulling properties, most evident in face masks. Adding clay to soap can make the soap even better at removing impurities from your skin and can be especially good for oily skin types. Different types of clay have a more powerful absorption and expanding ability than others, and I’ll go through that a bit further.
Lastly, soapmakers use clay to help the scent of essential oils last longer in soap. You do this by adding essential oils to powdered clay (usually white kaolin clay) before making soap. This scented clay gets mixed in at trace, and you pour soaps into the molds as usual. Clay absorbs essential oils, and the idea behind this practice is that clay slowly releases the fragrance and stops delicate ones, such as orange essential oil, from fading too quickly.
Clay Color Guide for Soap Making
You can naturally color soap with clay from all over the world, and if you’re lucky, you might even have a source nearby. When using clays at their maximum amount, the final color of your soap will often be the original color of the clay powder. Here are some of the most common clays to use in soap making:
- Beige clay – beige to light brown
- Brazillian black clay – gray to black
- Brazillian purple clay – grayish-purple to purple
- French green clay – soft gray to green color
- Cambrian blue clay – soft gray-blue
- French pink clay (rose clay) – soft pink
- French red clay – reddish-orange color
- Green zeolite clay – gray-green tone
- French yellow clay – shades of muted yellow
- Moroccan red clay – warm brown color to chocolate
Naturally Color Soap with Clay
Natural soap making is an artisan craft focusing on making handmade soap without synthetic ingredients. Synthetics, such as micas and dyes, are tempting to use since they’re often cheap, easy to use, and readily available. Nature-identical oxides fall into this category as well. However, avoiding them and using natural soap additives can make soap safer for sensitive skin and people with allergies and give the soap a better ecological credential. Natural soap can also be kinder to the planet and more desirable to friends, family, and customers.
One of the most exciting aspects of making natural soap is naturally coloring it. There’s a wide range of ingredients to use—plant-based ingredients such as madder root, alkanet root, and calendula petals. Then there’s charcoal for gray, black, and even blue and spices such as paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, and annatto seed. There are dozens of natural soap colorants to use and techniques. Everything from herb infusions, infused oil, juice, purees, and dried plant powders.
However, the easiest and most reliable natural soap colorant is clay. It comes as a dry powder and is the same as those used in face masks. It can be better to get powdered clays from soap making suppliers, though, since they’ll have no extra ingredients and be ideal for soap making. When added to soap, clay particles suspend throughout the bars, often tinting the soap the same color as the clay or a lighter shade. The white-to-cream color of the soap batter blended with the clay can create soft and natural soap colors.
What is Clay, Anyway?
The clay powders we use in soap making are mined from the earth. If you’re a keen gardener, you may have heard of clay soil. It’s technically a fine-grained soil type but often clumps together like potters clay, much to the gardener’s dismay. Clay soil is moisture-retentive soil that contains naturally occurring clay minerals. The clay mineral particles are what we’re after in soap making, and their source is from mined soil and sediments that are processed, dried, and refined. When clay is labeled as French or Brazilian, it indicates the first (or only) place it was found.
Although technically known as hydrous aluminum phyllosilicates, you can think of clays as compacted and decomposed rocks. They come in three types: kaolinite, illite, and smectite (or montmorillonite), and are found all over the planet. Sometimes in significant deposits and sometimes eroded into the soil, adding moisture-retentive properties.
Most clay is naturally white. However, clay can transform into beautiful colors depending on the geology around it and the minerals it contains. French green clay is green due to iron oxide and decomposed plant matter. Brazillian purple clay gets its hue from high levels of magnesium. Cambrian blue clay, mined from only a few places in Russia and Eastern Europe, is a blue-gray clay that owes its color to zinc and plant matter.
There are Three Main Types of Clays
As introduced previously, there are three types of clays: kaolinite, illite, and smectite (or montmorillonite). Kaolinite is a commonly used clay in skincare, especially in the case of ordinary white kaolin clay. It’s non-swelling, silky smooth, and gentle on the skin. That’s why I use it in my soapless cleanser recipe, and it’s the basis of many face masks.
Illite is the most common type of clay, though, and in this group, you’ll find French green clay and French yellow clay. Illite clays are also considered non-swelling, but they’re in between kaolinites and smectites when it comes to their oil-pulling properties.
The smectite group of clays is known for being especially oil-pulling due to its increased properties of absorbing and swelling. Be careful with making soap with this type of clay since it can cause soap to crack or thicken. In the smectite group of clays, you’ll find Rhassoul clay, fuller’s earth, and bentonite clay. Other clays, such as French pink clay, Cambrian blue clay, and Brazillian purple clay, are mixtures of different clays from these three groups.
How Much Clay to Use in Soap Making
There are many types of clay available, and you can confidently use most of them in soap making. Sometimes the color may surprise you, but they’ll mainly tint soap the same shade as the clay in powder form or a little lighter. The general rule to make soap with clay is to use 1 tsp of clay for every 1lb (454 g/ 16 oz) of soaping oils. In other words, if the weight of the main oils, such as coconut oil and olive oil, weighs 2 lbs (908 g / 32 oz), then you can use up to two teaspoons of clay. You could, of course, use less clay than that, but the color will be less vivid.
Although you can try using more than the recommended amount of clay, be aware you may encounter issues. Too much clay can make the soap very thick and difficult to get into molds. It can also impede lather and cause soap to crack. Even if your soap does come out perfectly, its lather could be colored. Not a massive deal as it won’t stain, but if you’re not going for soap with red, pink, or gray lather, keep it in mind.
How to Make Soap with Clay
It’s pretty straightforward to make cold process soap with clay, and you can use it in most soap recipes. Aim to use a light-colored soap recipe for the most beautiful color effect, though. My eco-friendly soap recipe is white and the base for many of the soaps you see in this article. Soap made with yellow oils, such as extra virgin olive oil or cocoa butter, could impact the final color of the soap. Another way to maximize clay’s coloring ability is to ensure that your soap gels. You do this by insulating your soap after it’s molded or by oven processing.
There are two ways to add clay to cold-process soap batter. For single-color soaps, The best way to add clay to your soap is direct to the lye solution at the same time that you melt the solid oils. Spoon it in, stir well, and when it’s time to add the lye solution to the oils, pass it through a mini strainer. It helps to remove any lumps of undissolved clay. Lumps of clay can make their way into your bars and end up as unattractive splotches.
When you add clay to the lye solution, you do not need extra water. It’s best not to water-discount your recipe too much, though. With most of my soap recipes, including clay soap recipes, I use 1.8 to 2 times the amount of lye as the amount of water (by weight). It’s a moderate water discount and helps stop soda ash from forming on the tops of the bars.
Using Clay in Swirl Soap Recipes
If you’d like to use clay to make a swirl soap recipe, then the process is different. Make the soap recipe without any soap colorants initially. When the soap batter has emulsified (the lightest possible trace), separate the soap batter into different containers and add clay to each. You do this by first mixing the clay with three times its amount in distilled water by volume. If you’re adding one teaspoon of clay, mix it with three teaspoons of distilled water. The water can be an extra amount to your recipe but is necessary to stop the clay from clumping or causing the soap to crack. If you’re using smectite clay, I’d even say to use a little more—five times the clay’s amount in water.
Many soapmakers prefer to pre-mix clay with distilled water (with or without essential oil) several hours before making soap. Sometimes up to the night before, even. If you do this, the clay has more time to absorb water and becomes quite smooth and fluid. It also reduces the chance of acceleration because the clay won’t absorb any water from the lye solution. The result of pre-mixing clay with water in advance is a soap batter that behaves and soap bars free of clumps or large specks of clay.
Add Clay to Hot Process Soap
Hot process soap making is a little different from cold process, but you use the same methods for adding clay. When making a single-colored hot process soap recipe, add the clay to the lye solution. For marbled or swirled soap, pre-mix the clay with three times its amount in water. After the cook, divide the soap batter into the premixed clays. Stir thoroughly to ensure that the clay is well incorporated, and pour it into the mold(s).
Using Clay with Other Soap Colorants
Clay is a beautiful natural soap colorant all on its own, but you can successfully combine it with other colorants. I use French green clay alongside powdered sea kelp in my natural seaweed soap recipe. The clay becomes the main soap colorant, and the darker speckles come from the kelp. Dark specks can also be achieved with dried peppermint or poppy seeds. You can purposely use yellow soaping oils combined with clays to make the clay color warmer, too. In my rosemary soap recipe, I use Cambrian blue clay alongside extra virgin olive oil, and the effect is more of a green blue.
Clay Soap Recipes to Try
There’s a world of experimentation and natural ingredients when it comes to soap making. Learn, have fun, and try new things. Push the boundaries and see what you end up with! Clay is a perfectly natural and safe soap additive, and to get started, try out these ideas:
- French Pink Clay Soap Recipe
- Cambrian Blue Clay Soap Recipe
- French Green Clay Soap Recipe
- Moroccan Red Clay Soap Recipe