How to Make Cold Process Soap for Beginners

A step-by-step guide on how to make cold process soap. Includes information on each soapmaking step, temperatures, mixing lye solution, bringing soap to ‘trace,’ molding, and curing soap. This is part four of the Natural Soap Making for Beginners series.

Natural Soap Making for Beginners: How to make Cold-Process Soap. A simple guide on how to make cold-process soap. Includes information on each soap making step, temperatures, bringing soap to 'Trace', molding, and curing soap. This is part four in the Natural Soap Making for Beginners series #lovelygreens #soapmaking #soaprecipe
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Thus far, in this series, we’ve looked at natural soap ingredients, equipment and safety, and easy soap recipes. Now we’re going to go through exactly how to make cold process soap from scratch. I’ve been teaching beginners how to make soap through in-person workshops and the new online course for over a decade. Through them, I have learned some of the easiest ways to ensure first-time success with making handmade soap. The instructions and tips below will help you easily create small 1-lb (454 g) batches of soap in your kitchen. This is the standard-size recipe I share here on Lovely Greens, creating about six bars in each. It’s the perfect-sized batch for beginners to make.

Making cold-process soap is the most common way to make soap and involves mixing oils, fats, lye solution, and soap additives in a precise way, usually with the help of an immersion blender. You then pour the soap batter into molds, allow it to harden, then cure the homemade soaps for at least a month before using them. I explain in much more detail below, and by the end of this piece, you’ll understand the general steps you take to make most cold process soap recipes. You’ll also have answers to many of the most common questions that come up for beginner soapmakers.

The Natural Soapmaking for Beginners Series

  1. Soap Making Ingredients
  2. Equipment & Safety
  3. Beginner Soap Recipes
  4. How to Make Cold Process Soap
A step-by-step guide on how to make cold process soap. Includes information on each soapmaking step, temperatures, mixing lye solution, bringing soap to 'trace,' molding, and curing soap. This is part four of the Natural Soap Making for Beginners series #soapmaking #soaprecipe

How to Make Cold Process Soap

There are several ways to make soap, but the process I’m about to take you through is cold process soapmaking. It’s called cold process not because all of the ingredients are cold but to differentiate it from hot process soap, which is cooked, typically in a crockpot. Cold process soap is usually made at room temperature to about 120°F (49°C), depending on the oils used and the batch size. Once poured into the mold(s), the soap then needs two days to finish the vast majority of saponification and four weeks to cure and be ready for use. Here are the basic steps to how to make cold process soap:

  1. Measure out the ingredients.
  2. Make the lye solution.
  3. Gently melt the solid oils (if any).
  4. Add the liquid oils to the melted solid oils.
  5. Pour the lye solution into the oils.
  6. Bring the ingredients to trace.
  7. Pour soap into the mold(s).
  8. Cut and cure the soap.
14 Recipes for Handmade Natural Soap -- includes recipes for goat milk soap, natural rose soap, tallow soap, and how to felt soap #soapmaking #soaprecipe #soap #howtomakesoap
Making each batch of soap requires different ingredients and steps

Getting Ready to Make Soap

The above basic steps pertain to making a simple soap without soap additives. If you’re going to naturally color soap or add scent or other ingredients, there may be additional steps. I’ll go through that a little later, but first, let’s get ready to make soap. The first thing that we need to do is get organized.

Cold process soap making involves various ingredients, instructions, pieces of equipment, and safety precautions. That’s why it helps to prepare everything you need in advance. This includes measuring out ingredients and having your station set up. If there’s a moment of panic anywhere along the way, then it definitely helps. Hurriedly measuring out ingredients or searching for an important piece of equipment can lead to mistakes. Before you make soap, you’ll want to:

Herbal Academy Botanical Skincare Course
Wear safety goggles, gloves, and an apron when making soap
  1. Set up your soapmaking station with your required soapmaking equipment.
  2. Prepare yourself by wearing an apron, goggles, and rubber gloves. Wear sensible clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined by splatters of oil.
  3. Measure the solid oils into a stainless steel pan.
  4. Measure the liquid oils into a bowl or jug.
  5. The water amount gets measured into a heat-proof polypropylene jug.
  6. Measure the lye into its own container.
  7. Soap additives should also be measured and had at the ready.
Pre-measure ingredients and get set up before making soap.

Your Cold Process Soapmaking Station

When you’re making cold process soap, it helps to have equipment and ingredients laid out at different stations. Mine includes four different stations with their particular ingredients and equipment set out and ready to go before I start making soap. The first is a warming area, where I’ll melt the solid oils and keep most of my utensils. It’s going to be where your heat source is, whether that’s a kitchen stove or a portable hob. Nearby I have my digital thermometer, spoons, a small sieve, and an immersion blender (also called a stick blender) plugged into the wall.

In another place close to my warming area, I keep the bowl of liquid oils and additional soap additives, such as essential oils. I measure all the main liquid oils (not essential oils) into the same bowl using a digital kitchen scale to measure them precisely. Soap additives for small batches are often easier to measure in teaspoons, so I’ll either pre-measure them into ramekins or directly measure them into the soap batter.

I mix and cool the lye solution in a sink filled shallowly with water.

Cooling and Molding Areas

The third station is a cooling and lye-mixing area. This is usually at my sink, where I’ll mix the lye and water to make the lye solution. Here I keep a stirring implement, either a silicone spatula or a stainless steel spoon, at the ready and make sure to pop open the window for ventilation. In preparation for cooling my lye solution, I fill the sink with an inch or so of cold water.

In the last area, I have my soap mold(s), any decorating materials, and insulation, such as towels or old blankets. Soap batter can easily be cleaned off laminate kitchen worktops, and it doesn’t ruin them. However, if you’re working on marble, granite wood, or another material, putting down a layer of grease-proof paper or cardboard (or both) to protect your worktops is wise.

Make lye solution by pouring the dry lye into the distilled water

Making Lye Solution for Cold Process Soap

Though some people find it a bit scary, working with Sodium hydroxide (lye) is a necessary part of soap making from scratch. All handmade soap is made using lye, and I go through why in How to Make Soap Without Lye.

The very first step you take to make cold process soap is to mix lye and water together to make a lye solution. Safety first; ensure that your goggles and gloves are on, that kids, other people, and pets will not disturb you, and that the area you plan to work in is well-ventilated. Outdoors works, but it’s not always ideal or hygienic. If working inside, I recommend setting up the lye solution area near an open window. You should also ensure that the distilled water (or other liquid used for the lye solution) is at your room’s ambient temperature or cooler. Warm liquids can cause the lye solution to furiously bubble up and out of the jug.

To make the lye solution, carefully pour the lye (it comes in grains or granules) into the water and stir immediately. Always pour the lye into the water, not the other way around. The chemical reaction between lye and water produces heat and fumes, so please be careful and don’t breathe it in. Make sure to stir the ingredients together thoroughly but gently, and when you’re finished, place the lye solution in the sink to cool.

Melt the solid oils over very low heat

Melt the Solid Oils on a Heat Source

You generally make cold process soap with both liquid oils and solid oils. That means that the next step after mixing the lye solution is to melt the solid oils. Coconut oil is a popular solid oil for soapmaking, as is tallow, cocoa butter, and shea butter. Place the pan filled with your pre-measured solid oils on the stove and turn it on to the lowest heat possible. Keep a close eye on it, stirring and breaking up any larger chunks to speed things up. Make sure to take it off the heat as soon as it’s completely melted. You could even take it off shortly before since the residual heat will melt any small pieces of oil.

Add the liquid oils to the pan once the solid oils are melted

Add the Liquid Oils to the Melted Oils

Once the solid oils are melted, pour the liquid oils into the pan too. Not the essential oils though, just the liquid oils such as olive oil, sunflower, and castor oil. If you have castor oil in the recipe, give the entire bowl a stir before pouring. Stirring the oils together helps dilute the stickiness of castor oil, and it pours from the bowl more easily. Also, get every last drop of oil you can since soap recipes are measured very precisely. I use a silicone spatula to scrape the bowl or jug clean.

If you’re making a single-color soap recipe, add the colorant at this point if it’s not already in the oils or lye solution. If it’s mixed into oil or water, pour it through a small sieve and into the pan of oils to catch any pieces that haven’t been fully incorporated. Not all soap recipes call for a colorant, but many will, and adding it before mixing the oils with the lye solution helps distribute the color more evenly.

100°F (38°C) is an ideal temperature for making cold process soap

Cold Process Soap Making Temperatures

Next, I recommend cooling both the lye solution and the pot of oils to around 100°F (38°C). You’ll sometimes hear other soapmakers scoff at temperature but pay that no heed, at least initially. If you are diligent with keeping the ingredients around this general temperature, you can be more confident that your soap won’t volcano, crack, or have unwanted surprises inside when you cut it into bars. You can also avoid other big soapmaking fails like false trace.

As you become more experienced, I encourage you to learn about room-temperature soapmaking and experiment with raising the temperature to help initiate gel phase or to incorporate beeswax in soap recipes. For now, though, stick to 100°F (38°C) for small, simple soap recipes, and you’ll be sure of success. Though old-school soapmakers sometimes use analog glass thermometers, the quickest, cleanest, and safest way is with an infrared thermometer. Digital kitchen thermometers also work well.

The oils and lye solution turn opaque as they emulsify

Bringing the Soap Ingredients to Trace

Once the lye solution and oils are around 100°F (38°C) and about ten degrees of one another, it’s time to combine them to make soap. You’ll first pour the lye solution through a sieve and into the pan of oil. The sieve is to make sure that no bits of undissolved lye make their way into your soap. Once the lye solution is in the pan, submerge the head of the immersion blender in the mixture. Give it a little tap against the bottom to release any air that might have been captured underneath.

A light trace of an uncolored batch of soap

With the immersion blender turned off, use it as a spoon and stir the ingredients gently. Then bring the immersion blender to the center of the pan, hold it firmly against the bottom of the pan, and turn it on for a few small pulses. It’s like magic seeing those first stages of emulsion! Don’t get overly excited, though; focus on your immersion blending technique. Pulse, then stir, and repeat.

With small soap batches, I recommend not moving the immersion blender around at all while you’re pulsing since it can cause the soap batter to splatter or introduce air bubbles into your soap. If you’re unsure about this step, I show exactly what to look for in the recipes in the soapmaking course.

Simple and natural cold process soap recipe. Uses four eco-friendly oils and includes easy to understand soap making instructions #soaprecipe #coldprocesssoap #soapmaking
Medium trace is thicker and begins holding form

Look for a Warm Custard Consistency

Keep pulsing and stirring until the soap comes to a thin trace. Depending on your batch size, it could take anywhere from two to ten minutes. Trace is when the oils and lye solution are emulsified and begin saponifying. Sometimes in soap recipes, you’ll be instructed to look for something called emulsion. However, this is a more challenging stage to look for as a beginner. Instead, look for a thickening of the soap batter – a light trace is very fine, like warm, custard. Pulling the immersion blender out will leave the faintest dribbles on the surface of the soap batter.

Medium trace is easier to look for and can be fine for simple soap recipes. At this stage, it’s thicker, like pudding. If you mix to this stage, you’ll need to work quickly since the batter will continue to thicken up and set solid in the pan. Trace is something that I show how to look for in my online natural soapmaking course.

You can stir in soap additives such as liquid chlorophyll after the soap reaches trace

Adding Ingredients at Trace

Once the soap has come to trace, you’ll need to work quickly to stir in the last ingredients. These may include essential oils, natural soap colorants, exfoliants, antioxidants, and other extras. It’s common practice to add these ingredients at trace, but many can be added before this stage, too. Especially if you’re making single-color, single-fragrance batches of soap. In many cases, it’s really down to personal preference and the recipe itself.

Also, if you add botanical ingredients before the soap has traced, then the immersion blender will pulse them up into fine pieces for you. That’s the case when making this calendula flower soap recipe. You might not want that, though, such as in the case of adding poppy seeds. If there’s ever a question on when to add a soap additive after trace is probably your best bet.

Pouring Soap into Molds

Once you’ve added your last ingredients and stirred them in well, it’s time to pour the soap batter into the mold. There are quite a few different types of soap molds that you can use for small soap batches. My favorites include this 6-cavity soap mold, a small loaf mold, and repurposing drinks cartons into free soap molds. I use the latter in my in-person soapmaking workshops.

Tip the soap batter out of the pan and into the mold(s) while it’s still relatively liquid. Scrape as much out of the pan as possible with a silicone spatula and into the mold. If the soap batter is thick and holding form after pouring it in, you can lift the mold up and gently plonk it on the counter. This helps settle the mix into all the corners and release trapped air bubbles. When you’re happy with how the soap batter looks in the mold, you can decorate the surface with any extra texture and ingredients. Once you’re finished with the next few steps, you can also come back to your dirty dishes and safely clean up after soapmaking.

A 1-lb (454 g) batch of lavender soap in a drinks carton soap mold

Gelled and Ungelled Soap

After you’ve poured the soap into the mold(s), you can leave the mold in a safe place on the counter for the next two days. For cavity molds, this works well, and if your home isn’t hot inside, the soap will likely not gel. Gelling is a heating-up phase that happens after the soap is poured into molds. If the soap fully gels, the color and appearance of the soap can change. It can become deeper, more vibrant, and have an almost translucent quality to the outer layer of soap. It’s purely aesthetic, and some soapmakers ensure all their soap is gelled.

Natural Soap Making for Beginners: How to make Cold-Process Soap. A simple guide on how to make cold-process soap. Includes information on each soap making step, temperatures, bringing soap to 'Trace', molding, and curing soap. This is part four in the Natural Soap Making for Beginners series #lovelygreens #soapmaking #soaprecipe
These soaps are from the same batch. The small ones didn’t gel while the bar was insulated and went through gel phase.

Soap that has not gelled is more opaque and pastel in color. The typical white bar of soap that most people can picture in their minds is un-gelled soap. Many people love the look of un-gelled soap, and some soap makers ensure all their soap is un-gelled.

There is something called partial gel that most soapmakers would prefer to avoid, though. This typically happens in loaf molds, where the inside of the soap gets hot and gels while the outer edges remain cool. The outer edges turn out a softer, less vibrant color. You usually only realize that it’s happened when you start cutting it into bars! It’s not considered a professional look, but if it happens to your personal batches, don’t worry about it. Partial gelling doesn’t affect the soap’s qualities, only its aesthetics.

Natural Soap Making for Beginners: How to make Cold-Process Soap. A simple guide on how to make cold-process soap. Includes information on each soap making step, temperatures, bringing soap to 'Trace', molding, and curing soap. This is part four in the Natural Soap Making for Beginners series #lovelygreens #soapmaking #soaprecipe
Soap that has a partial gel indicated by the darker circle

Insulating Soap

To avoid partial gelling in loaves of soap, you can either put the soap in the refrigerator to stop it from gelling at all or take steps to force the soap into fully gelling. Those steps can include oven processing or, more commonly, insulating the soap with various materials. Insulating soap will keep the temperature warm and steady over the next 12-24 hours, causing the soap to gel and have an even and vibrant color throughout.

Insulating involves covering the wet soap’s surface with cling film or a cutout piece of cardboard and then wrapping the entire soap mold in a big fluffy towel or old blanket. Alternatively, you can put the soap mold into a wooden box. Some silicone molds are even sold with an outer wooden casing and lid to help you gel your batches.

Insulating soap in homemade wooden boxes with lids

Another thing to know is that in summer or in warm regions, soap can fully gel on your worktop without any insulation whatsoever. That’s not been my experience, though, so I take measures to fully gel or stop the soap from gelling altogether. I recommend that you do the same.

Unmolding and Cutting Soap Bars

Unless otherwise stated, it’s best to wait two days from the point that you made the soap to remove it from the mold(s) and cut it, if necessary. This gives time for the majority of the saponification to complete and for the soap to harden up. There’s nothing worse than trying to remove soft and sticky soap from a mold.

I eyeball it when cutting soap bars for personal use

If you’ve used cavity-style silicone molds, you can pop the bars out and set them on shelves to cure right away. With loaf molds, take the block of soap out and cut it into soap bars with a stainless steel kitchen knife or a length of wire.

How large or small you want to cut your bars is up to you. However, measure loaves with a ruler or invest in a professional soap cutter if you want exact-sized bars. Some are relatively inexpensive and good for the small producer. A hack I used for exact-sized soap bars was a miter box that I’d marked out with a sharpie and a kitchen knife to cut.

Tips on how to cure handmade soap and ideas for storing it. Curing is the process of allowing saponification to complete and for the soap to fully dry. It takes about a month to complete #lovelygreens #soapmaking #curingsoap #soaprecipe #soaptechnique #naturalsoapmaking #howtomakesoap
Cure soap in a dim place with lots of air circulation around each bar

Curing Cold Process Soap

Your soap looks finished and might even smell pretty nice at this point, but it’s not ready yet. The last step when making cold process soap is to cure it. The curing process gives time for the soap to finish saponification. It’s also to give it time to dry and for the water to evaporate out of your bars. Lastly, it’s important to make gentle soap since soap needs at least a month to form the crystalline structure, which is important for creating gentle handmade soap with excellent lather. You cannot rush this step and can learn more about it here.

Cure handmade soap by placing it on a layer of wax/greaseproof paper in a dry, airy, and room temperature place out of direct sunlight. Space the bars out to increase airflow and leave them there for at least four weeks. It sounds like a long time but try to forget about the soap and move on to other projects for a while. Before you know it, the time will have passed, and they’ll be ready to use.

After the cure time is up, you can use the soap, decorate it in natural soap packaging, and even sell it if you comply with your region’s laws and business practices. Until you use it, store your bars in the open so that they can breathe. The worst thing you could do is put them in a sealed container or wrapping, which often makes the bars sweat and the superfat go rancid and smell odd.

Natural Soap Making for Beginners Course

This piece concludes the free soapmaking series, but if you’d like more one-on-one guidance, I’d like to invite you to enroll in my Natural Soapmaking for Beginners Online Course. It includes sixteen instructional videos, including soap recipes that lead you through using different ingredients, including essential oil, clay, dried flower petals, and goat milk. You also get printables and are shown exactly how to prepare, measure, and make handmade soap at home. It’s a comprehensive course that will get you started making soap pronto! Learn more

Lovely Greens Natural Soapmaking for Beginners Course

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  1. Hi there I would like to know for your Shea butter soap recipe , you have rice bran oil. What can I substitute it with.
    These are the ingredients:
    61g lye
    110g water
    1 tsp sodium lactate

    95g coconut oil
    23g cocoa butter

    222g olive oil
    41g rice bran oil
    32g castor oil

    41g Shea butter
    3tsp rose geranium essential oil

    Warm Regards

    1. Hi Rasheeda, you could replace the 41g of rice bran oil with 41g of olive oil. All the other ingredients and amounts can stay the same. Happy soapmaking!

  2. Could you cure the soap on newspaper instead of wax/greaseproof paper? Just trying to reduce using materials unnecessarily. Save the earth!

    1. The ink on newspaper would imprint on the soap wherever it touches. A little wax paper isn’t going to kill the Earth :)

  3. I’ve used this recipe three times now and since using this soap my hands are so soft and skin doesn’t crack.

    I garden and bake and use my hands a lot

    Thank you, this is amazing, I had to leave you a comment xxx

    1. I’m so pleased that the recipe worked so well for you, Jac :) Which one did you use? Thanks so much for the positive feedback!

  4. Hi Tanya,

    I always wanted to make a soap for my dogs using madre cacao leaves and guava leaves extract. Can you tell me what article I’m going to follow? Also, is it okay to use handheld electric mixer to mix the ingredients instead of the immersion blender, since I don’t have one and I have no budget to buy just to make the soap. Since the ingredients are in liquid form already and all I need is just to mixt and blend the ingredients. Please share your thoughts

    1. Hi Maria, handheld mixers are dangerous to use in soapmaking since they tend to lead to splatters. When working with lye, you must be very careful because it can burn your skin, your furniture and countertops, and hurt any animals that might accidentally walk in spilled soap batter. As for recipes, you can use most cold-process soap recipes as dog soap. The important thing is to avoid using essential oils that are toxic to dogs. Best to leave it unscented or stick with safe ones like lavender, rosemary, and citronella.

  5. Hi Tanya,
    I have been reading your amazing blog for a few days while preparing myself for trying my first batch of soap. This is a question about a very small detail but, once you strain your lye solution into the pan with the oils, if there are any bits of undissolved lye that are left in the sieve, how do you dispose of them? Can you just rinse them under running water or in the bin? When washing up after finishing the recipe, do you need to neutralize the leftover bits in the pan or is it okay to do it as normal?
    I also wanted to say that I really appreciate all the extra wisdom in people’s questions and your answers in all your posts!
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Igua, and that’s a question I’ve not been asked before! Lye is commonly used as a drain unblocker and it’s fine to rinse the sieve off under the tap. Just make sure to give your sink a good rinse with water afterward. As for other pots and utensils, here’s how to clean up after soapmaking. You do not need to neutralize anything but you do need to dispose of any excess soap batter in the bin. Lye-solution and soap batter will neutralize naturally when exposed to air but it can take some time.

  6. Justin whalen says:

    Hi thanks for all the great tips! I was curious about fresh zest (zested small), if added during trace, are the soaps likely to get mold bc of it? There’s mixed feelings about it all over the internet, some say add during trace and you’ll be fine, others say don’t add it at all.

    1. It comes down to your climate. People in hot and humid climates can see any amount of botanical material in soaps begin to rot or mold. In places like here (Britain), it’s perfectly fine to add dried/fresh zest to soap batches. In fact, I have a recipe here that shows how.

  7. Stephane Ouellet says:

    are these recipes cold process ones ? ive read some recipes that cook their soap at low after trace for at least 50 Minutes…

    1. Nearly all from-scratch soap recipes can be made using the cold process method or the hot process method. Most of my recipes include instructions on making them using cold-process, but I have a hot process recipe (with a cook) to try here.

      1. thanks for the quick reply. If i want to do activated charcoal soap, is there any special way to do it or i simply add some after trace ?

        1. You can mix it in a little oil and add it at trace or to the melted soap oils. If you do the latter, it disperses a lot better. You can also use charcoal to create ‘pencil lines’ in soap.

  8. Fantastic, this tutorial is really helpful but can you please help on process ans recipe of making laundry bar soap with sodium hydroxide and palm kernel oil.
    Thanl you

  9. Thank you so much for this insightful blog! So I do not have a mixer like the one in your pics here, I have a Russel Hobbs hand mixer, will it do?

    1. Hand mixers are too messy (and unsafe because of the lye) for soapmaking. You’ll need to get your hand on an immersion blender to make soap :)

  10. hi there!
    i’m just a beginner in soap making.
    i’d like to know if i can develop my own recipes using soapcalc and if you’ve got a guide in doing so.

    thank you

  11. Thank you for one of the clearest tutorials I have seen yet. You mention that the lye solution cannot be reheated. I made my very first batch the other day (have not even un-molded it yet) and was concerned that I had let the lye solution get too cold, so I threw it in the microwave for 90 seconds so it would conform to the specified temperatures. Did I ruin the batch? I checked the batch in the molds after 24 hours and it was still sticky and there was a bit of a volcano in one. To complicate matters, I know that I only blended it to a very light trace (to the point where I thought, perhaps, that I had not blended it enough, but was very concerned about over blending and not being able to pour the soap). I used an established recipe that contained olive oil and coconut oil.
    Thank you so much for your time and attention. I really enjoy your blog!

    1. I think you’ve answered your own question here :) If you ever find that your lye temperature gets a little too cool, don’t worry, and just let your oils cool to within ten degrees of it. Lots of soap makers create soap at room temperature, and though it takes longer to trace, it works just fine.

  12. Hi, thanks for all the nice recipes. I bought a mold and tried it out today. The problem was that is was thickening up very fast after trace. How can I slow that down, that the so that I have a smooth surface in the mold?

    1. Hi Mark, some fragrances and essential oils cause soap to firm quickly, as does steep water discounting. I expect that you’re a beginner though(?), but don’t worry, with experience you’ll know when to stop stick blending at a light trace so that you can pour easily.

  13. Can I use animal fat instead of liquid oil?that is the fat available easily around me. Can I use NaCl/ash instead of caustic soda?

  14. Hi tanya i am interested with ur discussion but i have some questions with respect to ingredient. Can i use ash or NaCl instead of caustic soda?2nd can i use animal fat instead of liquid oil? i am poor chem teacher from Africa. I cant get fabricated caustic soda and liquid oil.

  15. rebecca spilsbury says:

    Hi Tanya
    I am about to embark on a soap making journey and have been scouring the interweb for good “how to” guides, and yours looks fab! However, I am very partial to a good handbook and wondered if you know of a good ‘go to’ book that would complement your beginners series?
    Kind regards

  16. Dhanushka says:

    How to improve quality of the soap sample

  17. Interesting read – thanks. I might give it a try over the summer (when I have some time). Maybe make some for Christmas!

  18. Hi Tanya! I love your blogs and I want to start my own soap making journey.
    I have a few questions though, a local store here is selling “handmade soap with baking soda” for skin whitening and cleansing benefits, have you tried adding baking soda to your soaps? will it cause a chemical reaction? which part of the process should you add it?

    Thank you so much and more power!

    1. Hi Kim — baking soda in soap would be scratchy and would not whiten the skin. Instead it disrupts your skin’s natural acid mantle and along with soaps cleansing of oil, it could cause skin irritation. I’d avoid that soap.

  19. Hi, whn we add vegetables r fruit puree,should we keep d soap in fridge until it sets?

    1. There’s no need to refrigerate soap because of added fruit puree. It won’t spoil if you’re using the correct amount. What soap does need is plenty of air during the curing process to allow the water in your recipe to evaporate out.

  20. Hey Tanya , thank you so much for all these usefull and very clear informations!
    i just started Diy soap making nearly one year ago and your tips helped me a lot!! I’m also looking forward to start a business as i love to make it !

    i have some questions:
    after the curing process, where do you store the soaps? and how long can a soap last before all the fragrances are lost?
    I use only pure or organic essential oils. For the moment i store them on the same shelf as my curing soaps. some are stored in a closed cardboard box but all together. i red on internet that some were using rubbermaid box with one scent / box….And as i live in Cambodia, with a tropical climate,i have no cool place, so the best place i can get is in my corridor, wich is shady, and ventilated wether by fan or draught.

    i’m also concerned about learning some basics about skin types. some friends asked me “for my skin what soap would you suggest me?”..Well, i have no answer…haha… or “be carefull with essential oils, some are allergic, pregnant women and kids are more sensitive”…. how can i know which essential oils to use/avoid in these particular cases? Some have to be avoid if applied directly on the skin. what about if it’s not more than 2-3% in a recipe?
    i would really like to learn more about skin, the use of essentials oils an its restrictions in cosmetics…i feel stuck lol. do you have any advices, tips, or informations to share about it?

    Do you have any suggestions about how to start a business in this field, what i need to know about legislations and further for labelling?

    Thanks a lot !!


    1. Hi Siu! I use plastic bins to store my soaps in and it’s one scent per box. Storing them together can affect the scent.

      As for essential oils, in soap making quantities they’re all pretty safe. Some essential oils you do need to take care of though — certain ones should only be used as less than 1% of the recipe. Have a read of my piece on using essential oils in soap making here:

      I’d also recommend that you pick up a beginners book on aromatherapy to learn most of what you need to know about essential oils. Hope this helps :)

      1. Hi Tanya! Thx for your you put the lid on your plastic bin without any air? In average how long can you keep a soap in this bin? Thx for your tips! :D

        1. Yes I seal the lid. The shelf-life of your soap can be up to two years but is completely dependent on the expiration date of the exact bottle/box of oils you use. Look for the closest best by date and that’s how long your soap will be certain to be good by.

  21. Thank you Tanya, the list you shared is so helpful there are some i passed by all the time in the market but now i Know, so what are some of the natural fragrances that remains even after the curing process u would suggest? i have been using eucalyptus and it stays but i want to change to others, i guess imma keep reading your reviews for more clarifications, i am definately into natural soap making.

    1. Most essential oils hold well in soap — the only really problematic ones are citrus oils like Mandarin, Sweet orange, and Lemon. They tend to dissipate over a very short time. Happy soaping Nicole :)

  22. hey Tanya i am a new soap maker from Rwanda , i’ve read so many soap reviews but yours ranks them it is so crystal clear, i do have a question tho ,so could botanicals like dried rose flowers, dried lavender flowers and chamomile be used as fragrances and colors?

    1. Hi Nicole and lovely to hear from you! Some dried botanicals can be used to naturally colour soap — here’s a list of some of the most common ones. As for scent, unfortunately, you won’t get very much from using dried plant material direct in soap. It’s more for decoration.

  23. Hi….my question is regarding soda ash on my soaps and they at very clear and smooth. Please help

    1. In my experience, the best way to avoid soda ash is to use a water discount. Whatever the recipe gives you for the Sodium hydroxide amount (in weight — grams, oz), multiply that by 1.8 to get a new water amount for the recipe. This is the ratio that I use regularly.

  24. Absolutely! That’s exactly what I’ll do — make more soap!

  25. Tanya, thanks for all the info on this site. I just made my first batch ever, and I’m so delighted with it! I used coconut, sunflower, and palm oils — and 0% superfat. I have a couple of questions:

    1. Once the soap cures and I use it, can I use the grey water to water my plants? (I have used nothing but the oils and lye.)
    2. Despite no superfatting, if I try to do my dishes with it, it leaves an oily residue. What should I change to get squeaky clean, non-oily dishes?

    1. Also, if I add essential oils, when I cure the soap in a well-ventilated area for a month, won’t the smell go away?

      1. Oops, please ignore the question about the essential oils — I read your part 1 again!

    2. Yes you’re completely fine with using your grey water (from doing your dishes) to water your outdoor plants. I probably wouldn’t try it with house plants though since I imagine the soap would accumulate in the soil. I’m not 100% sure about it though but my gut feeling says no. Also, a soap with zero superfat should not leave any residue on dishes. What recipe and process did you use?

      1. Thanks, Tanya.
        I used 6 oz. coconut oil, 5 oz. palm oil and 5 oz. sunflower oil. And 2.5 oz. lye. Cold process.
        Perhaps it’s possible that the soap still is too fresh? I made it just five days ago, and I have been using the flakes left in my mould — it might ‘improve’ in 4-6 weeks?
        Anyway, in the worst case, I’ll probably grate it and use it as a laundry soap!

        Yes, good point — about not using the grey water in indoor plants or those with limited soil.

        1. Hi Nandita. It makes sense now — your recipe is good but you need to let cold-process soap cure for at least four weeks before using it. Technically saponification is supposed to finish 48 hours after you make soap but it could take more time. It could smell, look, and act different to what the end product will be at the end of the cure time. Be patient, give it time, and come back to it in another 23 days.

          1. Thanks; I will. Sigh, a watched soap is long in curing! :-) And I love to keep going back and smelling it — that *pure* soap smell — I’ll probably keep mine unscented!

            Thanks once again — I really like your site. And I realised that there is so much info to digest that I should go through each of the four parts at least 3-4 times to absorb all that you are saying!

            1. The best way to forget about your soap while it’s curing is to make more soap! :D If you have any further questions just let me know.

  26. Tanya thank u so much for this wonderful blog. I am from india and have tried making cold process soaps. I have a problem Tanya, in the monsoon season my soap sweats. and another problem is my fragrance never lasts very long. please suggest some good fragrance oils and at what stage to put them. thanks

    1. Hi Arefa and thanks for you message. I’d recommend to keep your cured soaps in air tight boxes to stop them from sweating. Also try to cure and store them in an area that is cooler than the rest of the house if possible. As for scents, some essential oils don’t last very long — orange and lemon for two. Others last a long time especially if you use the maximum 4% (amount reflects the percentage of your entire recipe). Read more about using essential oils in soaps here:

      1. Thanks a million. You are a darling. Ihave read so many posts regarding soaps but by far yours isthe best.

  27. so nice work nice nice very nice

  28. Very nice recipe and love your tips, thanks Taniya!

  29. Marianne Thiede says:

    Hi Tanya, I’m new to soap making and even though I am very keen to make bars for personal care, I am also interested in making a laundry soap from scratch. Any advice on how to go about it or maybe a link?
    Thanks for all the great info and guidance! I’m from Pretoria, South Africa.

    1. Hi Marianne and welcome to soapmaking! A simple DIY laundry detergent includes a bar of soap grated with a cheese grater and one cup of Washing Soda. Use 1/5 Tbsp per load. Hope this helps.

  30. Natália Monteiro says:

    Hi, Tanya! What an amazing tutorial! I’m new to soapmaking and it was really valuable to me so I’m just passing by to tell you how much I appreciate it and also to let you know that you have a new follower, from Brazil. Wish you all the best and thanks again! :D

  31. Hello,
    I have just stumbled again your posts/website via a link on Pinterest.
    Making soap, from scratch is something I have been interested in doing for yeeeears. I’ve never quite had the confidence to actually try. Your posts are so thorough, I am already making lists in my head. ?
    Thank you for sharing this wealth of information.
    Many thanks,

    1. lovelygreens says:

      Thanks for your return visit Nina! If you have any questions about making soap do leave them here and I’ll try to get back to you with answers. All the best – Tanya

  32. I was wondering have you started teaching class yet. I live in the US. If so where do I go to here you teach. Do your classes cost if so how much. Carol

    1. Hi Carol! I do teach soapmaking classes but from my home on the Isle of Man. I have a soapmaking e-book coming out soon though and will post it on this page. Please feel free to sign-up to my newsletter to get news on when it comes out too:

  33. This is one of the best tutorials I have read so far. I’m just about to start venturing into the soap making world and these posts helped clear up a lot of questions I still had. Also is there a huge difference between extra virgin olive oil and the pomace olive oil?

  34. Hi, Tanya! Thank you so very much for writing this series! I have studied it and have made three batches of soap! The only part I have trouble with is matching the soap lye temperature. I know you said it is not complicated, I just have to master the process! I am getting my oil too hot in the first place. I am going to get two thermometers so I can keep a closer eye on the temps. Thank you again for writing this! I very much appreciate it!

    1. You could very well do that but the other thing I can recommend is that you only heat the solid oils in the pan. When they’ve JUST melted, take the pan off the heat and add the liquid oils. This should make your soap-making life much easier :)

      1. Yes, of course!! Thank you!!!! :)

  35. hi Tanya I am a fan of yours, if I am using the melt and soup base, how long before I can use it? is it also 4 weeks

  36. Hi Tanya, I follow you on Instagram, but wasn’t aware of the blog until I recently started to research soap making. I am really interested in making herbal soap and salves. Specifically a poison ivy soap recipe for the gardeners and friends who I am always making up batches of jewelweed and plantain in a witch hazel base. You can never have enough of this stuff on hand it seems so soapmaking would be a great option. Thank you for the articles, they lowered the stress factor for me. I have family members who are vegan, so am interested in options besides palm oil. Just saw the Orangatang who signs video (sigh).

    1. Hi Carolyn! There are many recipes that don’t use Palm oil or which specifically use Sustainably Sourced Palm. The top three main oils for a non-palm recipe would likely be olive oil, coconut oil, and sunflower oil.

      Great idea for the gardeners’ skincare products and good luck with making them :)

  37. For my first soap I was hoping to do a fairly simple recipe. I tried using the calculator and I wanted to verify that my recipe will work. Please advise?
    Water 109.44 grams
    Lye 49.52 grams
    Cocoa butter 14.4 grams
    Coconut oil 273.6 grams

    1. Hi Vanessa! Your recipe is probably not going to give you a good batch of soap. You need to add some conditioning oils like sunflower or olive oil (as the main oil I recommend). Tip: When you enter your values into the soap calc press the button to ‘2. View or print recipe’. There’s a box in the bottom left called Soap Bar Quality with ranges for each value provided – your own numbers do not fit into any of the ranges. I recommend you start with an existing soap recipe such as the ones I’ve provided and then tweak it in the soap calc. Good luck!

  38. I’m just in the process of learning how to make soap, this was a most useful post, I will regularly be referring back to it. Great work.

  39. Thank you very much for giving such an informative post on soap making!
    I have made a few soaps in the past but am keen to master the process and use all natural ingredients that are safe for the whole family.
    It will be hard to wait a month for them to be ready but Im sure it will be worth it.
    Keep up the great work!

  40. Lilly Rivas-Waits says:

    I have a lot of respect and appreciation for your time and effort on this post! I’m a fairly new soap maker but I’ve done a lot of research online, with books and also join a few groups on fb, you are straightforward, very informative while keeping it simple, I wish lots of blessings on you for sharing all the knowledge you have. Have you ever done the Hot process method? That is all I’ve done because I’m impatient but I am ready to give the CP a try. Thanks so much for the information.

    1. Thank you so much for this kind message Lilly! I have tried Hot Process but the rustic look of the soap afterwards isn’t my favourite so I mainly stick with CP. Trust me, once you make a few batches and then stash them away, a month to wait is over in the blink of an eye.

  41. Judit Zsedenyi says:

    Thank you for the detailed explanation of making soap.
    Currently i am in indonesia where the wheather is humid. Hot but very moisty. So my question is after finishing uo my soap and i am in the patiance period where i wait and see the turn fan and coring it up with a towel couldbe good to this period or should i just let it uncovered in a room?
    Thank you

    1. In a hot Indonesian room it shouldn’t need any insulating towels – there’s a chance the soap could overhead and have a volcano effect out of the mould. If I were you, I’d experiment with simply leaving the moulds on a tabletop as you suggest.

  42. hi Tanya thank you so much for this extensive and informative tutorial. I am ready to start now. Wish me luck!
    I hope the bars are finished before Christmas! I am prepared for the worst! But I’m hoping for the best.
    I love following you on FB and reading Lovely Greens blog. I’ve got the rest of my life to spend following some of these home made recipes. It’s what I’ve always wished to do!


    1. So lovely to hear from you here and on my Facebook page Pia :) It sounds like your heart shaped soaps will be a hit this Christmas!

  43. Awesome advice and step by step tutorial! Super stoked to start making my own soaps! I do have just one question- I’d rather ask this one than chance it.. When exactly do you add honey or sugars, or milks (if those ingredients are in fact in your recipe)? Thank you so much and thanks again for sharing your tips and tricks!

    1. That would make a good blog post in itself! It’s all different Chelsea and depending on what you want to do with the sugars. If you add a little in before saponification then you can achieve a lovely natural golden colour to your bars. If you want the bars to be unaffected (colour-wise) by the sugar you need to be far more careful. Making goats milk soap often including freezing the milk before use.

  44. This was the best information I have found yet. I will try your recipes. Wish I had found this before I spent a fortune on oils, FO, etc. Oh well ! I don’t mind that much. This soap making process is helping me getting through a ruff spot in my life so… it’s all worth it. I love making soap and learning. I will share your blog with friends., Thank you so much for all of this information :) God bless you .

  45. Hi Tanya. First of all, thank you so much for this tutorial. I made my first batch of cold process soap tonight, and am eager to see how it will turn out. I had a couple of questions re: superfat that I would really grateful if you could help me with. In your tutorial, you say to add whichever oil/butter you want as superfat after trace. I chose cocoa butter to add at this point. My first question is re: SoapCalc. Should I enter the cocoa butter in the oils section, along with olive oil, coconut oil etc? Or do I just calculate how many grams 5% is? Secondly, I have been told that you cannot choose your superfat when making cold process soap as the lye chooses which oils it will saponify and which it will leave to superfat. Can you clarify your thoughts on this please? Thank you again!

    1. Hi Sarah and happy soapmaking! I hope your first batch turns out well but if you run into issues (like I did on my first THREE batches) just keep at it.

      To answer your questions:

      SoapCalc calculates the Superfatting in a recipe by looking at the oil amounts you input and by changing the amount of lye required for the recipe. The higher the percentage of your superfatting option, the lower the amount of lye needed. So basically, any five percent of your oils added after trace will have the best chance of surviving saponification.

      Choosing oils for Superfatting: The term ‘Trace’ means that most of your oils have bonded with the lye and are on their way to becoming soap! If you add your oils after Trace, there will be a lot less chance of it finding lye and a much higher chance of it staying in your bars as oil. There are also some oils that don’t bond with lye as easily as others (Shea Butter for example) so even if you add it before Trace it’s likely to remain more of a superfatting oil.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tanya,
    I am a little confused on one thing so I do apologise.
    When you add a superfatting oil or any of the other extras after the process off mixing lye water and oils together. Do I include their measurements in the original ingredient amount but do not add until the end?
    Thank you,

    1. That's right Emmelina! In the Soap Calc ( ) you can change the amount Superfatting percentage and all the oils you need for the recipe will be calculated for you. Just reserve approximately the same percentage of oils from your finest oils (the ones you want to be free-floating in the soap bars) for the end.

  47. I'm always wanted to try my hand at cold process soap making. Your tutorial is by far the best I've seen and I'm feeling empowered. Thank you.

  48. My wife and I make cold process lye soap every Fall. Thank you so much for publishing this excellent tutorial! I have made lots of batches of soap. Your tutorials have answered many of my questions. I am looking forward to make my next batch and adding cornstarch and GSE to it. :-) I"m also looking forward to experimenting with natural colorants and using botanicals.

    One botanical we have added for exfoliant that I didn't see mentioned, was used coffee grounds. It adds exfoliant and color. It makes for a great hand cleaning soap and invigorating shower bar.

    Also a good hack for a soap cutter is a cheese cutter. It works great! :-)

    We try and integrate rendered venison tallow into every recipe we make. The tallow adds a great hardness and silkyness to the soap and it makes great use of an otherwise useless product. Making use of this tallow is how I got into this soapmaking hobby. :-)

    Thanks again! Cheers!

  49. I am hesitant to make soap from scratch using lye, however I am looking for an alternative to the harsh chemicals in store bought soaps. what is your opinion on the ingredients in the melt-and-pour pre-made soaps? are they more natural or just as bad as the store bought soaps? thank you so much!

    1. It depends on the Melt-and-Pour really – I personally don’t see any issues with using it as long as it’s SLS and SLES-free. These chemicals are often used in ‘Soap’ to boost bubbles and lather or just as a surfactant.

  50. Tanya-
    Thanks for the awesome information! I was wondering if I could use lard instead of the tallow fat because it seems easier to find in my area. Thanks so much for your help. Sharing of your time, advice and knowledge is truly commendable!

    1. Hi there! Of course you can use lard instead of tallow…the main difference is that lard comes from pig fat and tallow from beef fat. HOWEVER, they have different saponification values – these determine just how much lye is needed to convert the fats into soap. Pork lard is 0.138 and beef tallow is 0.1405. Just use the soap making calculator (check out the third part of this series for a link: 3. Basic Recipes and Formulating Your Own) to determine your final recipe and you'll be fine :)

  51. Hi Tracy, we used your Herbal Soap Recipe for our first attempt. After about 36 hours we tried to cut into it, and it is squishy and sticks to the knife. What did we do wrong? Did we not mix it with the stick blender for long enough? Thank you!!

    1. I meant Tanya, sorry. :-P I just woke up.

    2. Hi Sam – I've just replied to your email regarding this. Please check your ingredient measurements and try again. It could be that you didn't allow the soap to trace properly but my guess is that you may have added too much water to the recipe.

  52. Thank you so much. Maybe I missed something, but how did you calculate how much oil you used to superfat at trace? Do you calculate the 5% on the total recipe weight or on just what oils/butters are in the recipe. Thank you so much for your help.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this great tutorial. I have switched to all natural beauty products and foods for 2014 so I wanted to try making my own soaps. I have been doing research for the last few months on soap making. Your site is the best. Thanks again!

  54. Anonymous says:

    Your directions are excellent, thank you! A friend wanted me to talk her through this via phone as she doesn't live near me. It was great to be able to send her to you, so thank you!

    Have you ever tried using herbal tea instead of water as you make the soap? It may sound a bit odd, but it gives a lovely product. I brew a strong batch of tea and it works just like it does with water. My favorite is Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea (double strength) in a soap that I add powdered oatmeal, cinnamon essential oil and either rosewood or sandalwood oil. It gives it a dimension that the same recipe just doesn't have when plain water is used. I have also used Tazo Wild Sweet Orange tea in a batch that I added lemon, orange and cinnamon essential oils to.

  55. Thank you so much for this Tutorial. I was going to give up on soap making… my first batch didn't turn out so well. It suds for a while then it stops. I was starting off simple by buying ingredients from HL but I will try your method.

  56. Anonymous says:

    The post on soap-making is extremely helpful and detailed. I've been making soaps recently, but the problem is despite adding essential oils, the soap doesn't smell that great. Could it be because i'm adding the essential oil too early? Do i need to wait for the soap temperature to lessen before adding EO? Would be really helpful if you can tell. Thanks.

    1. Hi Scinia and yes, it could be that you're adding the essential oils when the soap is too hot. Essential oils are quite delicate and can evaporate in batches that are too hot – especially citrus based essential oils. Try adding them as the very last ingredient and see if that works? Also, I'd try mixing your lye-water and oils at a lower temperature too – 95-100F perhaps?

    2. Thanks a lot for your valuable advice. Love your blog. Following you via email:)

  57. Tanya, thank you so much for this detailed tutorial. I recently took a small soap-making class where we made our own batch of soap to take home, and plan to try my hand at making it myself. Your instructions are so thorough and easy to understand, I will definitely be referring to them closely when I try it. Bless you!

  58. Allen Dawson says:

    The procedure you have shared about making soap is nice. Some soap contains triclosan as their main ingredient. We need to choose triclosan free soap because they do not harm our skin.

    1. Avoid any soap that's labelled as 'Anti-Bacterial' and you can avoid coming into contact with Triclosan! It won't be the main ingredient in bar-soap recipes but is added to products to help kill bacteria. Funny thing is, a recent study by a U.S. FDA advisory committee found no added cleansing benefit to using Tricosan-based anti-bacterial soaps opposed to just ordinary soap and water. Funny that…

  59. Very generous of you to share your knowledge and expertise, Tanya. I doubt I'll be making soap at any time soon (no space for the equipment or time) but it really underlines the hard work and attention that goes into every bar that you make. Awesome!

    1. Thanks so much Caro :) I've had quite a few people ask me about how soap was made so thought this would be a good opportunity to show the process. I'm also going to be offering soap making courses from next year and setting down some information seemed the best step in that direction.

  60. Looks like caramel to me in the top pictures especially. Good enough to eat!

    1. It literally smells like caramel too Reifyn…the colour comes from honey that caramelises in the soap making process :)

  61. excellent tutorial-thank you I make soap with the melt and pours cause I am very leary about the lye-I may try this when I can work outdoors

    1. Melt and pour is perfect for the home crafter who isn't as keen to work with lye. It's also a great way to introduce kids to making soap since it's so safe.

  62. I haven't made soap yet but I think that I can do it now that you have posted this series that even I can go with. I am collecting fat still. I can probably get some from some people who are butchering hogs, they usually have a lot.

    1. Pork fat (lard) is a really good fat to use in soapmaking – as long as you're not a vegetarian of course! While it's not great to use as a sole oil, using some of it in your recipe will add conditioning and a creamy texture. I've never rendered down port fat before Sunnybrook but would be interested to hear how you get on if you manage to get some from your hog contacts!

  63. Tanya – Thank you so much for the information you have so willingly shared with us – bless you.

    I have been making a soap which uses a lye solution, coconut oil, pomace and canola oil – and an essential oil mixed in at the end. I let the temperature reach 50oC (120oF) before mixing the lye and oils together.

    I have tried using a hand mixer, a stick blender, and a spoon / hand whisk, and I have never managed to get it to trace in under an hour – sometimes 1 1/2 hours. Very tedious. Where am I going wrong? It does make me hesitate to make another batch until it is absolutely necessary, as I don't always have 1 1/2 hours to spare to stand and mix soap…

    I love the scent that pervades a room whilst the soap is curing – a natural air fresher LOL

    Merry Christmas Tanya – and all the best for 2014.