How to use essential oils to scent handmade soap
Detailed information on using essential oils for soap making. Includes max usage rates and how many teaspoons of essential oil can be used in a soap recipe.
If you want to naturally scent handmade soap, you need to use essential oils. These highly scented flower and plant essences are natural but in such high concentrations that you need to be careful with them. If you use too much you’ll not only waste money but your soaps could cause skin irritation.
There’s some confusion as to which essential oils can be used in soap making and how much of each you can use. I’ve listed some of the more common essential oils below along with how much of each can be used in a batch of soap. The information includes maximum percentage in a recipe, maximum amount in ounce and grams, and also how much in teaspoons can be used in a one pound batch of soap.
How much essential oil can be used?
It’s tricky to answer just how much essential oil can be used in soap recipes. I’ve seen different recommendations but base my own soap recipes on what the stricter European Union outlines.
Remember that just because essential oils are ‘natural’ does not mean that they are always safe. Using too much in soap can cause all kinds of issues including skin irritation and photo sensitivity. You can’t be too careful if you’re making natural soaps to give to loved ones or the public.
All the naturally scented soaps I make through Lovely Greens Handmade use less essential oil than outlined below. In my opinion, there is no need to exceed the 3% maximum usage rate.
I spent quite a lot of time calculating teaspoon amounts for the essential oils in the chart. Using volume measurements (tsp, Tbsp, cups) is not recommended in making soap or other beauty products because it’s not exact. However, measuring small amounts of essential oil on the average kitchen scale can also be inaccurate.
The amounts in teaspoons listed are rounded down to the nearest 1/4 teaspoon. You’ll also notice that the teaspoon amounts will differ between essential oils even if the oz/grams are the same. That’s because some of the oils weigh more than others. Visualization: a cup of feathers weighs less than a cup of lead.
Creating an Essential Oil Blend
The last column of the chart gives essential oil blend recommendations. Creating blends can be a complex (yet fun!) business but the main idea is:
- 30% of a blend should be Top Notes
- 60% of a blend should be Middle Notes
- 10% of a blend should be Base Notes
Please also keep in mind that the total amount of essential oils in ounces or grams should not exceed 3% of the soap recipe. As explained above, a soap recipe is based on the total amount of soaping oils (coconut, olive, sunflower, castor, etc.). 3% of a one pound batch of soap is a total of 0.48 ounces or 13.6g.
Essential oils for Soap Making
The EU considers an essential oil usage rate of 3% or less to be safe in wash-off products like soap. For clarification, that 3% of the total amount of soaping oils in a soap recipe.
This chart includes many of the most commonly used essential oils for soap making but there are others too. Before using any essential oil, please do research on how much can be safely be used in soap.
Essential Oils for Soap Making Chart
|Essential oil||Max% recipe*||Max tsp PPO*||Max PPO*||Note||Information||Blends with|
|Amyris Amyris balsamifera||3%||2.75 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Base||West Indian Rosewood has a soft resinous aroma similar to Benzoin. It's used as an alternative to Sandalwood and is useful in helping to 'fix' soap scents||Cedarwood, Geranium, Lavender, Rose, Sandalwood|
|Bergamot Citrus bergamia||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Clean and refreshing citrus scent that's used not only in soap making, but also in Earl Grey Tea. One of the few top note essential oils that can be used on its own in soap making.||Citronella, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Neroli, Palmarosa, Ylang Ylang|
|3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle to Top||A warm and peppery scent that should be used sparingly. Permitted usage rates are higher than most people will enjoy as a soap scent. Start with just a few drops and blend with another essential oil(s).||Basil, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Lavender, Peppermint,|
|Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle||Sweet and spicy essential oil that works best as a blend. Works well with most other oils but especially citrus, spice, and woodsy scents.||Bergamot, Cedarwood, Cinnamon, Orange, Ylang Ylang|
|Cedarwood Cedrus atlantica||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Base||Warm and woodsy aroma that blends well with floral, spice, and wood oils.||Bergamot, Frankincense, Juniper, Lavender, Rose, Rosemary|
|Chamomile (Roman) Anthemis nobilis||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle||Roman chamomile is sweet and floral and blends well with other floral and citrus oils. You might come across German Chamomile oil too -- it's more expensive and used mainly in leave-on skincare products.||Geranium, May Chang, Neroli, Palmarosa, Rose, Ylang Ylang|
|Clary Sage Salvia sclarea||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle to Top||Deeply earthy and slightly floral scent that does better in blends than on its own.||Cedarwood, Geranium, Lavender, Lime, Sandalwood, Vetiver|
|Eucalyptus Eucalyptus globulus||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Sharp and powerful resinous scent associated with medicinal products. Does well in blends, especially with citrusy oil.||Citronella, Juniper, Lavender, Lemongrass, May Chang, Pine|
|Frankincense Boswellia carterii||3%||3.25 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle to Base||Woodsy and earthy and faintly sweet. Frankincense oil smells different from the pure resin and is best used in blends.||Geranium, Grapefruit, Lavender, Patchouli, Sandalwood|
|Geranium Pelargonium graveolens||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle||Floral, earthy, and deep, Rose Geranium is one of the most beloved essential oils. It's often used to replace Rose Absolute as it's less expensive. Use on its own or blended.||Bergamot, Clary Sage, Grapefruit, Lavender, Sandalwood|
|Ginger Zingiber officinalis||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Spicy and warming but may smell completely different from fresh ginger. Use in blends with other deep scented oils.||Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Geranium, Rosemary, Vetiver|
|Grapefruit Citrus grandis||3%||3.25 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||A fresh and sweet citrus aroma that blends well with floral and citrus essential oils.||Bergamot, Chamomile, Geranium, Lavender, May Chang, Rose|
|Juniper Juniperus communis||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle||Crisp, sweet, and woodsy aroma that blends well with citrus oils.||Bergamot, Geranium, Lemongrass, Orange, Sandalwood|
|Lemongrass Cymbopogon schoenanthus||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Lush and green citrus scent that does well on its own in soap and when blended.||Basil, Black Pepper, Clary Sage, Lavender, Patchouli, Thyme|
|Lavender Lavandula augustifolia||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Middle||Long used in the perfume industry, lavender oil is sweet and floral and blends well with many other essential oils.||Basil, Clary Sage, Geranium, Lemon, Patchouli, Rosemary|
|Lemon Citrus limonum||3%||3.25 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Lemon essential oil unfortunately does not last well in soap. If you're trying to use it, try 'fixing' it with the stronger scented May Chang||Chamomile, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Lavender, May Chang|
|Lime Citrus aurantifolia||3%||3.25 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Lime essential oil can be irritating so only use distilled oil when making soap. Like other citrus oils, the scent may not be strong after the first couple of weeks. 'Fix' the scent by using May Chang essential oil.||Basil, Geranium, May Chang, Palmarosa, Ylang Ylang|
|May Chang Litsea cubeba||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||May Chang, known officially as Litsea cubeba is another top note oil that can be used on its own. It's sweetly citrusy and smells like Lemon Sherbert candy.||Cedarwood, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Grapefruit, Palmarosa|
|Neroli Citrus aurantium||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top, Middle, and Base||Neroli is the floral-honey scent produced by the bitter orange tree. Depending on what it's blended with, it can make up any of the notes in a fragrance.||Geranium, Lavender, Lime, Palmarosa, Rose, Ylang Ylang|
|Palmarosa Cymbopogon martini||3%||3 tsp||0.48oz / 13.6g||Top||Palmarosa is also called Gingergrass and its scent is like a musky grassy rose.||Bergamot, Geranium, Lavender, May Chang, Rose, Sandalwood|
|Patchouli Pogostemon cablin||3%||2.75 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Base||Though it can be used on its own, Patchouli has broader appeal when it's blended with other oils. It's earthy and dark and very powerful.||Clary Sage, Geranium, Lavender, Lemongrass, Neroli|
|Peppermint Mentha piperita||2%||2 tsp||0.32 oz / 9g||Middle to Top||Sharp and filled with herbal menthol, Peppermint can be used on its own or blended with other herbal essential oils||Lavender, Marjoram, Rosemary, Pine, Spearmint|
|Petitgrain Citrus aurantium||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Middle to Top||Like Neroli and Bergamot, Petitgrain comes from the Bitter Orange tree. It's extracted from the bark and has a woodsy, floral, and slightly bitter scent. Best expressed in a blend.||Cedarwood, Geranium, Lavender, Orange, Palmarosa, Ylang Ylang|
|Rose Absolute Rosa damascena||1%||1 tsp||0.16 oz / 4.54 g||Middle to Base||Rose Absolute is overwhelmingly scented of roses. Mainly sold in dilutions, its usage in soaps is restricted due to its Methyl eugenol content.||Clary Sage, Geranium, Lavender, Neroli, Patchouli, Sandalwood|
|Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Middle||Sharp and herbal rosemary blends well with other herbal scents as well as citrus.||Citronella, Geranium, Ginger, Grapefruit, Lime, Tea Tree|
|Rosewood Aniba rosaeodora||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Middle to Top||Spicy, woodsy, and floral, Rosewood is used in blends with other wood and floral scents.||Cedarwood, Frankincense, Geranium, Rose, Rosemary, Sandalwood|
|Sandalwood Santalum album||3%||2.75 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Base||Soft, warm, and woodsy, Sandalwood is a gorgeous base for many citrus and floral oils.||Frankincense, Geranium, Lavender, Lemon, Palmarosa, Rose, Ylang Ylang|
|Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Middle to Top||Sharp and herbal, Pine blends with other herbal, woodsy, and citrus oils.||Cedarwood, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree|
|Spearmint Mentha viridis||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Top||Sweet and fresh mint scent without as much natural menthol as Peppermint. Use in blends with other herbal oils.||Basil, Rosemary, Peppermint, Tea Tree, Vetiver|
|Sweet Marjoram Origanum marjorana||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Middle||Scent similar to basil and oregano and can be blended with other herbal, citrus, and floral oils||Bergamot, Chamomile, Rosemary, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang|
|Sweet Orange Citrus sinensis||3%||3.25 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Top||Like some of the other citrus oils, sweet orange doesn't last well in soaps. Blend with May Chang to 'fix' the scent||Geranium, Juniper, Lavender, May Chang, Neroli, Rosewood|
|Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia||1%||1 tsp||0.16 oz / 4.54 g||Top||Sharp, camphorous, and medicinal scent. Use sparingly -- 10-20 drops in a blend is usually more than enough||Citronella, Lavender, Lemon, May Chang, Rosemary|
|Vetiver Vetiveria zizanoides||3%||2.75 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Base||Green and earthy and related to lemongrass. Blend with floral oils and other deep scents||Clary Sage, Ginger, Lavender, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang|
|Ylang Ylang Cananga odorata||3%||3 tsp||0.48 oz / 13.6g||Base||Called the 'Flower of Flowers', this oil is sweet and tropically floral. Use in blends with citrus, floral, and woodsy oils||Grapefruit, Lavender, Rose, Patchouli, Sandalwood|
Max% recipe* — this is the total percentage that this essential oil can be added to any soap recipe.
Max tsp PPO* — this is the maximum amount in teaspoons that this essential oil can be added to a one pound (454g) recipe.
Max PPO* — this is the maximum amount in ounces and grams that this essential oil can be added to a one pound (454g) recipe.
How to add essential oils to soap
You stir essential oils into your soap after it thickens to a light to medium ‘Trace’. This happens after you add the lye-water to your soaping oils and you begin mixing. You can add them earlier but some say that some of the scent doesn’t make it through the process.
A light ‘Trace’ means the soap is the consistency of runny honey, medium is the consistency of custard, and a thick trace is so stiff that it will hold its form. Watch this video to see what Trace looks like.
Natural Soap Making for Beginners Series
For more information on getting started with making your own soap read through this free four-part series from Lovely Greens.