Indigo Soap Recipe for Natural Blue Soap
Two ways to use indigo powder to create natural blue soap. Indigo is an excellent natural soap colorant for blues that range from pale blue to deep denim. Includes an introduction to the differences between blue and green indigo powder in soapmaking.
This page may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Naturally coloring handmade soap is like layering magic over magic. The soapmaking process in itself is pretty amazing but using leaves, roots, flowers, and clay to tint your bars stunning hues is a whole other ball game. I share plenty of natural soap coloring ideas here on Lovely Greens, but one that I’m really excited about is this indigo soap recipe. Recipe isn’t quite the word for it though since it’s really two methods that you can use to create naturally blue soap. Methods that you could use for almost any natural soap recipe. I also introduce a third way to create a unique blue shade by using two different types of indigo.
The instructions below are for cold-process soap recipes. You could use any light-colored soap recipe of your choice, but do avoid using those high in golden or dark-colored oils. The color of those ingredients may tint your soap greenish. Also, have care that you use true plant-based indigo to naturally color soap. Synthetic indigo is much more common but is not safe to use in soap or personal care products.
Natural Blue Soap Recipe
I first introduced you to making a natural blue soap in my woad soap recipe. Though the soap woad creates is a lovely natural denim color, you need a lot more powder and the final color is less vibrant than if you used indigo. Woad soap has a softer hue that I love and that definitely has its place. This indigo soap recipe will give you much deeper shades, including a rich denim blue and a baby blue.
Used both on the skin and in dyeing fibers, woad (Isatis tinctoria) and indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) are safe dye plants with a long history of use. Both are rich in a compound called indigotin and how humans learned to extract it from leaves boggles my mind. That’s because extracting it from green leaves yourself can be a lengthy, complicated, and messy process. Fortunately, we can purchase ready-to-use powder that’s ideal for dyeing cloth, to use in artwork, and to naturally color soap.
For natural blue soap, I’ve begun with indigo powder purchased from a natural textile dyer. A tiny amount of this deep blue powder goes a long way, and beware, it can be messy! One of my plastic jugs is still blue from using it. To get the darker blue soap in the photo above, I added indigo during the soapmaking process. To get the lighter blue soap, I first infused the indigo in liquid oil for six weeks.
Indigo is a Natural Dye Plant
There are many species of plant that we commonly call indigo, but the one I’m using is Indigofera tinctoria. When working with plants, or plant-based materials, it’s important to always identify it by its Latin name rather than a common one. That’s especially true when it comes to using them on or in our bodies.
If you’d like to try growing and using homegrown indigo, know that its home is in the tropics. That means that you need to have a humid and hot climate or be able to mimic those conditions with a polytunnel or greenhouse. Indigo is a perennial broadleaf evergreen that can grow six feet (2 m) tall, in the right place, and with the right care. It has beautiful pink flowers and Teresinha Roberts of Wildcolours recommends harvesting leaves just before they open. She also says that you might not be able to harvest from your plants until they’re at the end of their second year of growth and at that time you should only take half or less of the leaves.
How to use Indigo in Soap Recipes
Creating natural blue soap with indigo is relatively easy, and there are a few ways to do it. The easiest way is to mix a small amount of indigo powder into part of your liquid oil in a soap recipe. You can then stir that blue oil in at trace and pour the blue soap batter into the mold. If you ensure that the soap fully gels, then the color will be much more intense. When I say a small amount, it means less than 1/2 tsp per pound (454g) of your main soapmaking oils and it’s best to pour the colored oil through a sieve to remove any clumps. Use more than that and your bars will be very dark blue but the lather will also be blue and could stain your bathtub or washcloths. Clumps of indigo will freckle your soap and may come off while you wash.
To get an even more intense color, don’t wait to add the indigo at trace. Mix the powder with the sodium hydroxide then make your lye solution with it as usual. You will notice a pungent scent when you make your lye solution with indigo but that scent doesn’t last in the bars. Adding indigo to the lye solution seems by far to be the most popular method that soapmakers use. The color is more vivid, but the downside is that all of your soap will be the same deep color. I love simple soap designs so that’s fine by me, but if you wanted to add swirls or layers to your batch, you might want the first method.
Two More Ways to use Indigo in Soap
Another way that soapmakers use indigo is by making an indigo reduction. In a stainless steel pan, add one Tablespoon of indigo powder to half a cup of distilled water. Bring to a boil and reduce by half, or until the liquid has the consistency of ink. Add this reduction by the drop, at trace, until you get the color you want.
The last method is to use indigo to naturally tint the liquid oil portion of your soap recipe blue. Then you use that colored oil to make your soap as usual. Again, gelling any indigo soap will intensify the color. More on that further below.
Why is my Indigo Powder Green?
Indigo isn’t widely used as a natural soap colorant but it is used for two other reasons — to dye cloth blue and to dye hair black. You can get a hold of pure indigo in either sector but you’ll notice that the two look completely different. The indigo purchased for hair dyeing is green! Not exactly what a lot of people expect when they order it for soapmaking. Green indigo powder is simply the dried and crushed leaves of the indigo plant. You can use it together with henna to tint hair black, but it will not color your soap blue. Instead, it can tint soap a greenish-tan color that reminds me of dead sea clay powder.
Deep blue indigo powder is what you need to naturally color soap blue. This indigo comes from the same plant as the green indigo but is soaked in water, fermented, and treated with lime to bring out that brilliant blue hue. You can see the entire traditional process of creating blue indigo from leaves here. The outcome of the process is a paste that can be dried and pulsed into powder. Though it is possible to ferment green indigo powder to create blue, I’ve not tried it. I understand that it can be messy and complicated though, and the results (by first-timers at least) aren’t always successful.
Use both Green and Blue Indigo in Soapmaking
I wasn’t able to find any photos of what green indigo soap looked like, so had a go at making my own. The photo you see above has the result of that test batch at left. To achieve that greenish-gray shade I mixed 1 tsp of green indigo into part of the olive oil for that 1-lb soap recipe. I added it at trace and oven-processed it to ensure it gelled. It came out of the mold that color and has retained that shade now for well over a month. Not everyone will like the color but I certainly do! It’s a modern and elegant neutral shade that I think would work well for my neem soap recipe.
It got me thinking too. What would happen if I mixed the green indigo with the blue? The result is the third soap (from the left) in the photo below. It creates a lovely sage-blue that again seems very modern and natural. An earthier blue compared to the blues achieved with just indigo. For the sage-blue soap below, I made a 1-lb batch of my eco-friendly soap recipe (I used this recipe for all of the indigo soap batches). At trace, I added 1/2 tsp of green indigo and 1/8 tsp blue indigo that I’d mixed into a Tablespoon of the reserved pomace olive oil.
Indigo Soap Recipe
Let’s get to using indigo to make clean blue shades though. That deep blue you see above and the pale baby blue next to it. Both use approximately the same amount of indigo to make, and the darker blue one has tiny specks throughout. The pale blue bar has no specks, so that’s also something to keep in mind if you’d like to make indigo soap. The methods for each are below and keep in mind that some soapmakers have reported the color of their indigo soap fading over time. Others don’t seem to have this issue. It’s purely speculation, but it likely has to do with the quality of the indigo.
Indigo Soap Recipe (lye-solution method)
- Stainless steel pan for melting the solid oils
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- 63 g Sodium hydroxide 2.22 oz
- 113 g Distilled water 3.99 oz
- 1/4 tsp Indigo powder blue indigo
- 114 g Coconut oil (refined) 4.01 oz
- 91 g Shea butter 3.21 oz
- 227 g Olive oil 8.02 oz (light colored olive oil)
- 23 g Castor oil 0.8 oz
- Prepare your workstation with your tools and equipment. Put on rubber gloves, eye protection, and an apron. Carefully pre-measure the ingredients. The solid oils into the pan, the liquid oils into a jug, the water into another heat-proof jug, and the lye in another container.
- Stir the indigo into the dry lye crystals. Indigo doesn't disperse very well in water and you'll notice that after the next step. Mixing the indigo with the lye at this point will help with clumping though.
- Next, dissolve the lye (Sodium hydroxide) crystals in water. In an airy place, outdoors is best, pour the lye crystals into the water and stir well. There will be a lot of heat and steam so be careful. Try not to breathe it in. Leave outside in a safe place, or in a shallow basin of water to cool.
- Melt the solid oils in a stainless steel pan on very low heat. When melted, remove from the heat and set on a potholder. Pour in the liquid oils. If you have the olive and castor oils in the same container, stir them together first before pouring into the pan. Castor oil is pretty sticky and it's easier to pour when mixed with a lighter oil.
- Measure the temperatures of the indigo lye-water and the oils. You should aim to cool them to about 110-120°F / 43-49°C.
- Add the indigo lye solution to the pan of oils. To avoid creating air bubbles, pour the lye solution against the side of your stick blender or a spatula. This slow and steady pouring method is what soapmakers do to create professional-looking bars with fewer imperfections.
- Dip your immersion blender into the pan and with it turned off, stir the mixture. Next, bring it to the center of the pan, and with both your hands, hold it on the bottom of the pan and blitz it for just a couple of seconds. Turn it off and stir the soap batter, using the blender as a spoon. Repeat until the mixture thickens up to 'Trace'. This is when the batter leaves a distinguishable trail on the surface. The consistency will be like thin custard.
- Working quickly, pour the soap into the mold. Give it a tap to settle it. I'm using the six-cavity silicone mold listed in the equipment list for this recipe. Feel free to use another of your choice though.
- Ensure your soap gels to get a truly vivid blue soap. With smallish silicone cavity molds it's a little trickier to gel soap than in loaf or larger molds. What I do is place the mold on a thick wooden cutting board (it's advisable to protect the wood with a layer of grease-proof paper). Then I put it in the oven at 170°F / 77°C and keep it at that temperature for at least half an hour, if not a full hour. I judge the time by having a peek every now and again and checking to see that the soap batter turns a dark color throughout. After that, I'll turn the oven off and leave the soap inside overnight.
- The next day, take the soap out of the oven and set someplace to rest for another day. Once 48 hours have passed, pop the soap out of the mold.
- Cure the bars for 28 days. Curing means leaving the bars spaced out on a protected surface out of direct sunlight and in an airy place. This allows the extra water content to fully evaporate out. Here are full instructions on how to cure soap.
Making Indigo Soap with Infused Oil
To make pale blue bars of indigo soap I used a different method. While indigo isn’t particularly water-soluble, it will infuse into liquid carrier oils. All of the pomace olive oil I used to make this batch was infused with indigo and the lovely turquoise color you see in the spoon. To make indigo-infused oil, I combined 1/2 tsp indigo with 17.6 oz / 500g pomace olive oil. Pomace olive oil is important since it’s lighter in color than extra virgin and so won’t interfere with the final color. I left the glass jar in a dim place and gave it a shake every few days. I did this for a month before making the soap.
To make indigo soap with infused oil, don’t shake the jar of oil on the soapmaking day. Instead, gently pour off the amount of oil you need, leaving the indigo sediment at the bottom of the jar. Make your batch of soap (this is the recipe I used), as usual, replacing the ordinary olive oil in the recipe for the indigo-infused oil. Though you could use just a partial replacement, go for it and replace all of it if you wish. Also, ensure that the soap gels if you want to get the best color.
More Ideas for Naturally Coloring Cold Process Soap
- Himalayan Rhubarb Soap Recipe (Red)
- Calendula Soap Recipe (Yellow)
- Annatto Seed Soap Recipe (Orange)
- Alkanet Soap Recipe (Purple)
I tried this, according to directions, but my soap is not the blue as pictured. It is more blue-grey. Yes, I have real indigo powder. ???
Indigo from different sources may have different strengths — it’s a matter of how well the plants grew in a particular year and the quality of the indigo.
Really enjoyed this article as I’d really like to make a blue soap and cambrian blue clay seems impossible to get hold of. I’m getting really conflicting information on whether indigo powder is permitted for use in UK soap making – I wonder if you have any thoughts on that?
Hi Helen, I’ve heard that there’s one company that will offer cosmetic safety assessments that include indigo in soap recipes. Unfortunately, I don’t know which one it is! I know that the Soap Kitchen sells indigo for soapmaking and offers assessments so it might be worth getting in touch.
Hello. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe! It will be my first time making soap. If I’d like to add lavender and peppermint essential oils for fragrance, how much should I add? Thank you!
Hi Annie, for a 1-lb soap batch I recommend 1.5 tsp lavender essential oil and 1/2 tsp peppermint essential oil. I have more information on essential oils for soap making if you’d like to learn more :)
Sorry i precise that the indigo i found in France is from the plant La persicaire à indigo. This is not the tropical one but this is a intense blue as well, natural and from biological culture.
Thank you so much for your article, this is so interesting and well said, all explained. Thank you for sharing.
I will try this week-end a soap recipe with a french natural indigo. I found an indigo tincturia blu in Provence, and they make what they call a Blue Maya (it is a pigment with kaolin clay white and their indigo, so this is ready for the soap making). it is a beautiful turquoise the blu maya. I am sure it will make a good blue soap.
Have you ever tried colouring soap with Jagua Powder?
I’ve not but imagine that you could get a lovely blue with it as well!
I make my own soap with the following oils/butters
extra virgin olive oil
My soap turns out yellow/cream/brown colored. Do you think it is just the EVOO that is altering the color, or are there some other of these oils that could be doing it? I would love to try the indigo powder but want to make sure it turns out blue not green.
Hi Jordan, which vegetable is your vegetable oil made out of? If an oil is labeled as that, always read the ingredients since it will usually be a blend of two or more oils (such as canola, palm, and soybean). It may be the culprit, but EVOO also causes soap to turn a slight creamy-yellow color — at least initially. If you’ve made castile soap before, you’ll know that it eventually lightens up. Unrefined shea butter is also a creamy color that could affect the color of your soap.
I was not lucky with my indigo experiment, I used 1/2tsp PPO but it morphed after cutting from emerald green to totally plain beige colour. No green or blue in the end. The supplier said I should use more but did not suggest how much. What would be the maximum usage PPO you would recommend? Thank you ?
Hi Zdenka and it sounds like you’ve used green indigo, rather than blue indigo. There’s information and photos showing the difference in this piece, so have a look to see.
Wow I can not wait to try this! I have purchased woad and indigo dye powder from DekelDyes and will get started the moment it arrives, thank you!
Hi! I love this recipe, but I’ve got a question… would it stain, for example blonde hair/towels/the shower? I’ve read the blue indigo is usually used for colouring the hair. Thank you!
Green indigo is used for dyeing hair (explained in the piece ⬆). Don’t worry though — this soap won’t dye any part of you blue :)
Love all your recipes; thanks so much for sharing them!!
I bought my indigo powder from MAIWA.COM if that helps anyone.
I was wondering if you have used indigo flowers or leaves for colouring your soap.
We have some indigofera growing on our property and it is flowering at the moment and I would like to try it.
Do you have any suggestions? I wondered about having leaves in oil for some time or boiling up leaves/ flowers in water for use with the caustic soda.
It’s the leaves that hold the color. Look in the post and there’s a link showing how to traditionally create indigo dye using fresh leaves. It might be the thing you’re looking for!
Thanks for the recipe! I really love the darker blue color. Just wanted to point out that in step 10, did you mean to take the soap from the oven vice the fridge? Your site is always a pleasure to read. I have been gardening on our 1/2 acre for 40 years and I’m always happy to learn new things. I also started making cold and hot process soap about 15 years ago. Although I love making soap, I haven’t done so for a few years. You’ve inspired me to jump in again. Thanks for the all time you put into your website.
Thanks for pointing that out JoAnn — updated now :) It’s funny how we can drift away from things we love only to rediscover them again! Let me know if you have any soapmaking questions and good luck with your next steps in soapmaking ~ Tanya
I am experimenting with making my own lye from wood ashes and distilled water. If I have home made lye water how much do I figure out how much to use in a cold process soap recipe?
Hi Raja, there’s no way to measure how much caustic soda is in homemade lye. That’s why it’s not recommended to use it in soapmaking since your solution can either be too weak or too strong.
Can’t wait to try this! Do you have a preferred source for the indigo? I’m in US.
My blue indigo is from the Wonky Weaver (Etsy seller) but I’ll bet that you’ll have more choice in the US. Try to purchase from a reputable seller such as Brambleberry or a natural dyer if possible :)
Hi, do you know another place to get the indigo, Bramble Berry is out of stock, and Wonky will take too much time to send it to the USA, thank you!
I live in Canada and order from Maiwa in Vancouver. Their dyes are great.
Hope this helps,