Step-by-Step How to Make Cold Process Soap for Beginners

A simple guide on how to make cold process soap the easy way. 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.

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Making cold process soap is the most common way to make soap from scratch. It’s easy enough for anyone to try and you can make soap easily in your own kitchen. Though there’s usually some uncertainty in your first attempt, you’ll get the hang out of it by the second try. I know this because I’ve been running in-person soapmaking workshops since 2014 and they always involve two batches. Once you make cold process soap the first time and succeed, it becomes easier for the next batch, and the batch after that.

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
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
Learn how to make cold process soap from scratch

In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you the steps I go through when making cold process honey soap. However, you can apply the instructions to practically any cold process soap recipe, including the ones I provided in the piece on easy soap recipes. When you make cold process soap it does refer to temperature but also the process. It’s in contrast with hot process soap which as you can guess is a lot hotter and follows a different set of steps. More on temperature below, but just to reiterate, this is part four of the Natural Soapmaking for Beginners series:

  1. Soap Making Ingredients
  2. Equipment & Safety
  3. Beginner Soap Recipes
  4. Step-by-Step Cold Process Soap Making
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
The first step is pre-measuring the ingredients and setting up your stations

How to Make Cold Process Soap

Cold process soap making involves a lot of ingredients, quite a few instructions, specific 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. Take your time to read through the steps I’ve outlined and then set out everything you need. Even after many years of cold process soap making, I set up my stations every time.

As said previously, this is the last part of the Natural Soapmaking for Beginners series. It’s important to work safely and I encourage you to read the part on equipment and safety. To make cold process soap safely, you should wear rubber gloves, safety goggles, wear long sleeves, and even consider a mask if you’re working in an area with poor ventilation. Many soapmakers have their studios in basements or garages. I also recommend wearing an apron or clothes that you don’t mind ruining with streaks of oil.

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
Measure all of your main liquid soap oils into a bowl. Not your essential oils though.

Set Up Cold Process Soap Making Stations

My stations include my warming area where I’ll melt the oils and keep most of my utensils. Nearby I have my digital thermometer, spoons, and mini sieve, as well as an immersion blender (also called a stick blender) plugged into the wall. In another area, I keep my bowl of liquid oils and additional measured ingredients, such as pre-measured essential oils in their own ramekin, or a natural soap colorant. I measure all the liquid oils I’m using into the same bowl and the solid oils, such as coconut oil, into a stainless steel pan. I use a digital kitchen scale to measure ingredients precisely.

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My cooling area is my sink and this is where I’ll mix the lye and water to make the lye solution. Here I keep my stirring 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 a little cold water. I’ll also measure the distilled water and lye into two separate containers. For safety purposes, I use containers made polypropylene (PP) plastic since they’re heat-proof and lye-safe. Glass can crack because of the heat involved so avoid using it for mixing the lye solution in.

In the last area, I have my soap mold(s) sitting out along with any decorating materials In the last area, I have my soap mold(s) sitting out along with any decorating materials and insulation such as towels. Soap mixture can easily be cleaned off laminate kitchen worktops and it doesn’t ruin them. If you’re working on marble, granite wood, or another material, it’s wise to put down a layer of freezer paper (or baking paper/greaseproof paper).

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
A digital scale is a necessity for making cold-process soap

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.

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 though: ensure that your goggles and gloves are on, that kids and pets are not going to disturb you, and that the area you’re planning to work in is well ventilated. Outdoors is best but if you need to work inside, set up your lye solution area near an open window. Also, ensure that your distilled water is room temperature or cooler. Warm liquids can cause the lye solution to volcano.

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
Always wear gloves and eye protection when working with lye

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

If it’s cold, I have set the lye solution outside to cool before. I don’t do that very often though now because I have outdoor cats and I don’t want them to get hurt. There are also wild birds that might land in it, or some other awful accident waiting to happen. Instead, I set the jug of lye solution in cold water in my kitchen sink. It helps to cool the lye solution down quicker and is much safer.

Melt the solid oils over very low heat

Melt the Solid Oils in the Soap Recipe

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. 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 since it’s quite heavy and likes to stick to the bottom. Get every last drop of oil you can since soap recipes are measured very precisely. I use a silicone spatula to ensure I scrape that bowl or jug clean.

Also, if you’re making a single-color soap recipe add any liquid oil (or water) that you’ve tinted with a colorant at this point. Pour it through the sieve and into the pan of oils to catch any pieces that haven’t been mixed in. Not all soap recipes call for a colorant but many will and adding it before mixing helps distribute the color more evenly.

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

Cold Process Soap Making Temperatures

When I was first starting to make soap, one of the most confusing parts for me was at what temperature do you mix the lye solution and the oils? Do they have to be at the same temperature? Why?

Soap making temperatures can be different based on the ingredients you use and personal preference. Temperature affects not only how quickly your soap will saponify, but also its color and texture. There are several factors that you’ll need to consider when choosing a soaping temperature and they’ll include batch size, type of mold if sugars (honey, milk, sugar) are used, melting temperature of butters and oils being used, and what color you hope your batch will turn out.

That’s why taking the lye solution and the oil’s temperatures is important when you make cold process soap. Though old skool soapmakers sometimes use analog glass thermometers, the quickest, cleanest, and safest way is with an infrared thermometer. I also used to use digital kitchen thermometers and they work well too.

Soap making temperatures vary but I tend to soap at 100°F (38°C)

Ideal Temperatures for Cold Process Soap Making

Personally, I make soap when the oils are between 85-120°F (29-49°C) and err on the cooler side if I’m using sugars. I only make cold process soap at higher temperatures when I’m using beeswax as an ingredient. Also, the lye solution should be at, or within ten degrees of the oil’s temperature. If there’s a big difference in the oil and lye solution temperature, then strange things can happen including false trace.

As a beginner, I’d recommend that you stick with the temperatures recommended by other soapmakers. In my soap recipes, I always give the temperature I recommend for that particular mix of ingredients.

Adjusting Temperatures

Sometimes getting the lye solution to cool down to the same range as the oils can be challenging. When you make cold process soap, please don’t let this step stress you out. Try to get them as close as possible but if the lye is getting too cool just get them mixed. That’s because it’s difficult to warm the lye solution up safely.

Oils are easier to control though. To cool them, you can float the pan in the sink of water or even set them in the fridge. If the oils get too cold, you can gently warm them on the stove.

Some soap makers work with lye solutions that are room temperature while their oils are warm. As long as the overall temperature once you mix the lye solution and the oils are above the lowest melting point of your oils then you’re fine.

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
Pour the lye water through a sieve or mini-strainer when adding it to your oils

Bringing your Soap Ingredients to Trace

Now comes the exciting part. To make cold process soap from your ingredients 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 too. Give it a little tap against the bottom to release any air that might have been captured underneath. While the immersion blender is turned off, stir the ingredients gently. Then bring the immersion blender to the center of the pan and turn it on for a few small pulses. For small batches, I recommend not moving the immersion blender around while you’re pulsing since it can cause the soap batter to splatter.

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 comes to ‘Trace’ when it becomes more opaque in color and thickens

Repeat the stirring (with immersion blender off) and pulsing until the soap comes to a thin trace. Depending on your batch size it could take anywhere from 1-10 minutes. Trace is when the oils and lye solution are first emulsified then begin to saponify. During saponification, the soap will thicken and harden up and trace is the first stage of this. You’ll know when your mixture has traced when it reaches a pudding-like consistency. Once you lift your immersion blender out of the mix, you’ll notice that you’ll be able to see a little dribble of soap on the surface of the soap batter.

Trace will continue thickening from a light batter consistency to thick and gloopy. Work quickly or sometimes it will firm up inside your pan. It’s a little difficult at first to understand what trace is, but you’ll see it happen in my soap making videos.

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
Add ingredients like oatmeal and essential oil after the soap hits trace

Adding Ingredients at Trace

Once the soap has come to trace you’ll need to work quickly to add in the last ingredients. These may include a specific superfatting oil, essential oils, colorant (some are added at this point too), exfoliant, and other extras. You add these after trace because the steps before could destroy fragile ingredients. Heat can evaporate essential oils, for example.

Also, if you add whole ingredients before the soap has traced, then the immersion blender will pulse them up. You could want this and do it deliberately, but you might not be aiming for that and so we add exfoliants and extras once the immersion blender is set aside. The last reason specifically touches on the super-fatting of your recipe.

Superfat soap bars with extra oil and butter such as comfrey oil

Superfatting Cold Process Soap

Most modern soap recipes include a superfat, meaning an extra amount of oil that makes the soap gentle and conditioning. The way it works is that lye in a recipe can only convert a certain amount of oil into soap. If you add more than what it can interact with, that extra oil stays free-floating in the soap.

Most of my recipes do not include a superfat step. I have the superfat built into the main recipe so that your free-floating oils are a combination of all the oils you use. I find this way of super-fatting easier for beginners since it doesn’t require an additional step. However, sometimes you’ll come across a recipe that will call for it. If it’s a solid oil/butter, like cocoa butter, you’ll need to melt it in advance and add it after the soap traces. You do not need to worry as much about the temperature of the superfat oil but try to keep it on the lower side if you can.

Antioxidants can help prolong soap’s shelf-life

Adding Antioxidants to Cold Process Soap

Some soap makers use antioxidants in soapmaking and others think they’re unnecessary. The role of antioxidants is to help keep free-floating oils in your bars from going rancid over time. However, if all of your ingredients are well within their best-by date, and you’re not using ingredients that go rancid quickly (hemp seed oil, for one), then you probably don’t need to worry about it. There are two main antioxidants that soap makers use: Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) and Rosemary Oleoresin Extract (ROE). ROE has been shown through tests to be more effective.

Read up on them and choose which one will be best for you. I should also say that antioxidants are not true preservatives but work to keep the extra oils in your soap from going rancid. They help stall the oxidization of free-floating oils. Soap does not require preservatives so you do not need to add any. The pH and very low amount of water left in soap bars rule out bacteria wanting, or being able, to colonize it.

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 poured into silicone loaf molds and about to be insulated using a wooden box

Pouring Soap into Molds

Once you’ve added your last ingredients, and stirred them in well, the soap is ready to be poured into the mold(s) — I have a guide to soap molds that you can read here. Most simple soap recipes are a single color and all you need to do is pour the soap batter into the mold. Scrape as much out of the pan as possible and into the mold. I also find that it helps to lift and plunk your molds down a couple of times after the soap has been poured in. This helps settle the mix into all the corners and release trapped air bubbles. Once you’re finished with the next steps you can also come back to your dirty dishes and safely clean up after soapmaking.

Insulating the Soap

Now you’ll have a choice on whether you’d like to insulate your soap or not. Insulating it will keep the temperature warm and steady over the next day or so. Keeping it warm will cause the soap to gel and this will deepen the color and add slight transparency to the finished bars.

Keeping soap in a closed wooden box helps keep it warm and to ensure it gels

You can insulate your soap in a closed wooden box, or line the top of the soap with cling film and wrap a big fluffy towel around the mold. In summer, or in warm regions, soap will gel without any insulation whatsoever. You can simply leave the molds on the countertop. In winter or cold climates, a towel might not be enough for small batches. When it’s cold I preheat the oven to 170°F (76°C) and place the soap inside after I pour it into the mold. I’ll turn the oven off after the soap is inside if there are any ingredients that might make the soap heat up. Otherwise, I’ll leave the oven on for 15-60 minutes before turning it off and letting the soap cool. This is called oven-processing soap.

If you choose not to insulate your soap then the color will be much lighter and opaque. Sometimes the center will be warm enough to gel but the outer edges are too cold. In that case, you’ll get a partial gel and your bars will have a darker circle in the middle. It’s purely aesthetic, so don’t worry if it happens to you. If you want to avoid your soap gelling at all you can put it in the fridge after you’ve poured it in the mold. Keep it on the bottom shelf and away from open food and it’s perfectly safe.

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

Unmolding and Cutting Soap Bars

Once you’ve made cold process soap and poured it into the mold you’ll need to wait. I tend to recommend leaving it in the mold for 48 hours since by that time the ingredients will have nearly completed saponifying. That means very little lye is still present in the soap and it’s safer to handle.

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 bars with an ordinary stainless steel kitchen knife. You can also use a pastry cutter, or wire cutter, to cut your soap block into bars.

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
Take the soap out of the mold after 24-48 hours

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

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
Cut the soap immediately and cure it for at least four weeks

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 you take when you make 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 for making gentle soap since soap needs at least a month to form the crystalline structure that is so important to good handmade soap. You cannot rush this step and you can learn more about it over 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 just 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, gift it, or even sell it if you comply with your region’s laws and business practices.

Hopefully, this tutorial on how to make cold process soap has been helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section. There’s also a lot of information in the other three posts of this series so have a browse through them too. For more soapmaking inspiration you can browse recipes and ideas here.

Natural Soap Making for Beginners Series

  1. Soap Making Ingredients
  2. Equipment & Safety
  3. Beginner Soap Recipes
  4. Step-by-Step Cold Process Soap Making
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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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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 :)

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. Dhanushka says:

    How to improve quality of the soap sample

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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 :)

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. so nice work nice nice very nice

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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

  29. 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:

  30. 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?

  31. 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!!!! :)

  32. 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

  33. 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 :)

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

  36. 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!

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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.

  41. 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 .

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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!

  46. 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.

  47. 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 :)

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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!

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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:)

  54. 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!

  55. 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…

  56. 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.

  57. 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 :)

  58. 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.

  59. 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!

  60. 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.