Using turmeric to naturally tint handmade soap
This turmeric soap recipe is in partnership with iHerb, a supplier of high quality natural products. The ingredients used for this tutorial come from their online shop.
As a natural soap maker I’m always on the look-out for ways to color my batches using flowers, herbs, roots, and spices. One spice that’s caught my eye is turmeric — a bright yellow spice made from the dried and powdered turmeric root. Unfortunately, many of the turmeric soap recipes that I’ve come across have results that are more neutral in shade. A shame really since turmeric is such a vibrant color.
I’ve done some experimentation though and have found a way to get a much brighter color. Depending on how much spice you use, you can achieve natural soap colors ranging from a pale pinky-yellow to a deep burnt orange. It also adds a beautiful speckled effect to your soap although the amount of speckle can be controlled.
Turmeric Soap Recipe Ingredients
One place that you can get the majority of your soap making ingredients is iHerb. I ordered most of the ingredients from their online shop and they had it in my hands in no time flat. iHerb supplies high quality natural supplements and oils and have over 400 different products from Nature’s Way alone. I’ve ordered from them several times now and their service is excellent and their delivery prompt.
iHerb also ships to over 160 countries and have support in ten different languages. I’m based on the Isle of Man and it literally took less than a week for the ingredients to arrive from the USA. If you’ve not ordered from them before, iHerb also offers a discount to new customers.
iHerb’s oils are high quality and in many cases food grade. That means that you can use whatever’s left of the refined coconut oil for sautéeing, for example. You can of course use the oils to make even more soap and other beauty items — I have a lot of recipes you can check out over here.
Tumeric in natural skincare
The Nature’s Way Turmeric Powder I use for coloring soap is a fine powder and of dietary supplement grade. That means that anything you have leftover can be used to make other beauty products.
Aside from its use in natural coloring soap, turmeric also supports skin health. A relative of ginger, turmeric roots contain the natural healing compound curcumin. It gives turmeric its color but also helps speed up the healing of wounds and skin infections. It can also give your skin a healthy glow.
To get the most benefit from turmeric you can use it in handmade soap or add it to facial masks. Mix half a teaspoon with yoghurt and honey and leave it on your skin for 10-15 minutes. Rinse off with warm water and gently pat your skin dry.
It’s best not to use turmeric in bath bombs or other bath products though. That’s because it has a tendency to collect in porous surfaces so might stain your tub.
Turmeric Soap Making Oils
This recipe uses a mixture of oils that are combined to compliment turmeric’s color and to create a great bar of soap. Coconut oil gives fluffy lather, olive oil for conditioning and castor oil and sunflower oil for stabilizing the lather. Cocoa butter and shea butter add hardness to the bars and a creamy texture.
My recipe uses oils that are either light or yellow in color. Considering this, I’d recommend that you use a light olive oil for this recipe. It may be called ‘Pomace’ oil or you might find it under ‘Light olive oil’. Extra virgin olive oil is not only more expensive, but its darker color could affect the color of your soap.
Essential oils can also affect the color of your soap. In this recipe I use a light colored lemongrass essential oil that pairs beautifully with the soap color. Some essential oils are much darker so consider this when you use turmeric for naturally coloring soap.
Turmeric Soap Recipe
454g / 1lb batch — makes six bars
Measurements are in weight
This turmeric soap recipe includes three different measurements for turmeric. Choose just one amount per batch and note that the more you use, the darker and potentially more speckled your soap will be.
63g | 2.2oz Sodium hydroxide (lye)
120g | 4.2oz distilled water
181g | 6.4oz light Olive oil
45g | 1.6oz Sunflower oil
23g | 0.8oz Castor oil
Special Equipment needed
- Digital thermometer
- Digital kitchen scale
- Stick (Immersion) blender
- Rubber spatula
- Measuring spoons
- 1 heat proof jug
- 2 more jugs (they don’t need to be heat proof)
- Stainless steel pan
- Fine mesh strainer and a piece of muslin
- Soap mould of your choice
Natural Soap Making for Beginners
If you’re new to making soap have a series for beginners that you’ll want to check out. It includes an introduction to the types of ingredients you’ll use, the equipment you’ll need, and the full soap making process.
For other natural soap coloring ideas, visit this piece listing different ingredients based on color. Another natural ingredient you can use to get orange soap is annatto seeds — there’s a recipe you can follow over here.
Turmeric Soap Recipe Preparations
Before you begin, first get your station set up. You want to work undistracted and completely organized — it will help you stay on course and not miss a step. Put an apron on, wear eye protection, and rubber/latex/vinyl gloves. Set your equipment out and at the ready.
The recipe is laid out in sections that will help you with each step. Pour the water into the heat proof jug. Measure the lye into one of the other jugs along with the turmeric powder. There are three measurements for how much turmeric to use in this recipe. Using smaller quantities will give you a lighter color.
Pre-measure all of the ‘Solid oils’ into a stainless steel sauce pan. Measure the oils in the ‘Liquid oils’ section into a jug. You’re now ready to begin.
Step 1: Make the Turmeric-lye solution
This step is what makes my tutorial different from other recipes. Instead of infusing the turmeric in oil first or mixing it directly into the soap I infuse it into the lye solution. This really seems to make the color pop! It also creates some speckles in your soap so if you’d like an alternate idea that minimizes spots scroll to the bottom of this recipe.
There is heat and steam in this step so please be prepared. You don’t want to breathe in the steam so work in a well ventilated area like an outdoor table or an open window.
Pour the turmeric and lye from one jug into the water. Stir it together with either your spatula or even better, a metal whisk. Turmeric has a tendency to clump and a whisk does come in handy for this step.
When mixed together this solution will be hot. Place the jug in a shallow basin of water or the sink to help it to cool down.
Step 2: Melt the solid oils
As soon as your lye solution is mixed, turn your hob on to the lowest setting and gently melt the solid oils. They melt quickly so don’t leave the pan unattended.
When there are just a few tiny pieces of un-melted oil floating around, take the pan off the heat and stir until the pieces are melted. As soon as they are, pour the pre-measured liquid oils into the pan and make sure you scrape the bottom of the jug. Castor oil is sticky and can be difficult to pour out.
Step 3: Balancing temperatures
The next step requires some moderating of temperatures. If you’d like to get the same colors of soap shown in the pictures, you’ll need both your pan of oils and the lye solution to be within a few degrees of 100°F (43°C). Your colors may vary if they’re not at the same temperature but you can make soap if they’re within a few degrees of each other ranging from 100-130°F (38-54°C).
If the oils or lye water need cooling down, set them in the basin of water and stir. I use a digital gun thermometer to take quick temperature measurements but a digital stick type thermometer works well too. When the temperatures are right, you can carry on to the next step.
Step 4: Mixing the oils and lye-solution
Pour the turmeric tinted lye solution through the strainer and muslin and into the pan. The more turmeric you use, the longer it will take to pass through. Don’t try to pass it through quicker than it wants though since that will cause more of the spice to go into the soap. More actual spice means more turmeric speckles.
Step 5: Blending
For the oils, spice, and lye-solution to become turmeric soap you’ll need to saponify it. This is a fancy word for blending the ingredients together so that they form a natural chemical bond. To do this you’ll need a stick (immersion) blender.
Slide the head of the blender into your pan of ingredients at an angle. This minimizes the amount of air in the head and thus air bubbles in your soap. With it turned off, use the blender like a spoon to gently stir the pan’s contents together.
Bring the blender to the center of the pan and press it against the bottom. Turn the blender on for a few seconds but try not to move it while it’s on. After those seconds, turn it off and use it like a spoon again to stir. Repeat these two steps until the soap begins to thicken up. You’ll know it’s time when drips of soap will leave a trace on the surface of the soap. This phase of the soap making ingredients is literally called ‘Trace’.
Step 6: Scent & Antioxidant
Once your soap has thickened up, you can add the essential oil and four drops of the grapefruit Seed Extract. The first adds a lovely natural scent to your soap and the second is an antioxidant. Your handmade soap will be loaded with lots of moisturizing free-floating oils and the GSE stops them from going rancid.
Stir them in relatively quickly since your soap will thicken up fast once it’s at Trace. Move quickly to the next step.
Step 7: Moulding your turmeric soap
Pour your soap batter into a mould of your choice. You can use a 6-cavity silicone mould like the one I use or something different. One of my favorite recycled soap moulds is an empty paper milk or juice carton. Rinse it out and dry it and it will create roughly square shaped bars.
Get as much of the batter into your mould(s) as possible and now leave them to harden and cool. They’ll firm up quickly but you should leave them in the mould for 48 hours. I’ve left my soap batches uncovered on a table-top but if your house is cold you might want to tuck them up inside a cardboard box. Keeping the soap warmer for longer at this stage will intensify the color but it’s totally optional.
Step 8: Curing your turmeric soap
After 48 hours have passed you can safely pop the soap out of the moulds. It takes a full two days for the lye to combine with the oils and for it to disappear. However, there’s still a lot of water in your soap so you’ll need to let them ‘Cure’ for a month.
Set the bars in an airy place out of direct sunlight. Space them out on greaseproof paper to increase air flow and leave them there until your month is up. The texture will change from soft and slightly squishy to hard like parmesan cheese. The larger speckles might leak color so make sure the soap bars are on a protective surface.
Using your turmeric soap
You can use the turmeric soap immediately after the cure time is up. The bubbles are big and fluffy and white and I quite like how the speckles look. This turmeric soap recipe creates bars that have a shelf-life of up to two years. Check the best-by dates of each ingredient you use though since the closest date tells you your soap’s shelf-life.
To maximise your soap’s shelf-life, order fresh ingredients from iHerb. New customers can get a discount off their Nature’s Way Order plus get an additional $5 of their order of $40 or more by clicking this link.
There’s a solution for if you like the color of these soap bars but would like to reduce the speckles. At the beginning of this recipe I instruct you to place the turmeric powder with the lye crystals and then mix it with water. Instead, follow these steps:
- Place the turmeric in a sealed paper tea bag
- Infuse the tea bag with 150g (5.3oz) of scalding water
- Leave the spice in the water for at least an hour and until the water is room temperature. Discard the turmeric tea bag.
- Strain the tinted water and measure the 120g (4.2oz) that you’ll need for this recipe.
- Mix the tinted water with the lye crystals and continue with the rest of the steps for this turmeric soap recipe