Use just three ingredients to make this simple coconut oil soap. It uses a 20% superfat stops the bars from being too drying and is one of the bubbliest soap recipes to make. You can even make it without an immersion blender!
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Soapmakers are taught that to make a good bar of soap, you need to choose several oils. Olive oil is a common one, as is shea butter, but probably the most common is coconut oil. The idea is that coconut oil soap is very hard and very bubbly but that it can be overdrying, so you need to balance the recipe with milder oils. This recipe blows away that principle and shows you how to use just coconut oil to make a really good bar of soap.
This cold-process soap recipe uses just three ingredients including coconut oil, lye, and distilled water. That’s it! The result is very hard white bars that won’t dry out your skin and that have excellent lather. Coconut oil soap is also a recipe that traces quickly so you do not need to use an immersion blender to make it. Stirring alone is enough to bring the ingredients to trace.
Single Oil Soap Recipes
The vast majority of soapmaking oils do not make good soap when used in single oil soap recipes. The bars can be soft enough to squeeze like putty, the lather can be poor, and the cleansing ability is too drying or not cleansing enough. Each oil and fat has a different price-point and sustainability level too, which deters us from using some, or at least, using a lot of one in a recipe.
For example, palm oil on its own can make a decent bar of soap, but many soapmakers, and soap customers, refuse to use it as an ingredient due to its huge environmental toll. Olive oil makes an excellent single oil soap recipe, called Castile soap, but it can be an expensive oil and the bars need a long cure time. Tallow is another fat that makes really good soap on its own, but being that it’s beef fat limits your market since many people will only use vegetarian or Vegan soap.
Can I make soap with just coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a very popular soapmaking oil because it helps create hard bars with fluffy, stable lather. It’s also inexpensive for many of us and readily available. However, because it’s seen as drying, most soapmakers won’t use it at any more than 20-30% of a typical soap recipe. At that rate, it contributes the best of its qualities without drying out your skin.
It turns out though that soapmakers have been wrong all along, though. You CAN use more than that amount of coconut oil in a soap recipe. The trick is giving the recipe a 20% superfat and the finished bars an extra-long cure time. This recipe accounts for both and will give you hard white bars that lather well and that are gentle on your skin.
Which Coconut Oil to Use in Soap
Another thing that can confuse people is what type of coconut oil to use in soap? This recipe calls for refined coconut oil. It’s a less expensive type of coconut oil used for healthier frying and does not smell of coconut. You can get a large quantity of it, and if it’s food-grade, feel free to try using it to roast potatoes and cook with.
I don’t advise using delicious and more expensive virgin coconut oil in soapmaking. There’s no point really since the coconut scent does not survive the soapmaking process. Better to use virgin coconut oil in food or natural skincare. Also, do not use fractionated (liquid at room temperature) coconut oil for this recipe. It has different properties and a different saponification value to solid coconut oil.
Coconut Oil Soap with 20% Superfat
One of the most surprising aspects of this soap recipe is that it needs a 20% superfat. Say what?! Yes, that much. Some people make pure coconut oil soap with superfats of up to 30% even, but 20% is plenty enough in my opinion.
Soap recipes are calculated to have enough oils/fat for the lye to use up plus a little extra to create the superfat. It works by using less lye than is needed to transform all of the oils in the recipe into soap. You do this by increasing the superfat amount in whichever lye calculator you’re using. The extra oil left in the bars helps make the soap feel mild and conditioning on your skin.
When we make soap with multiple types of oil, the superfat will be a mixture of all of those oils. The way it works is that lye saponifies with whatever oils are around them. The oil is left after the chemical reaction finishes, and the lye is used up, is left free-floating in the soap. Having a higher superfat (more than 8%) risks some of those oils going rancid. It’s especially a problem with oils like sweet almond, sunflower, canola, and many other oils.
Most oils, in fact, but not coconut. That’s why it’s safe to use such an exceptionally high superfat in this recipe. And in case you’re wondering, that superfat does not make the soap soft. Coconut oil soap bars are very hard.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Coconut Oil Soap
The soap that you’ll make in this recipe is simple, unscented, and unadorned. Coconut oil soap has a lot of benefits! It’s pure and natural and perfect for everyday use, especially if you have allergies to essential oils and other fragrances. It’s also quick to trace, meaning that you do not need to use a stick blender (immersion blender) to make it. Depending on your region, this could be a very inexpensive soap to make too.
There are a few disadvantages to coconut oil soap too. Because it traces quickly, I would not consider it a candidate for making swirled soap. A simple one-color natural soap colorant would be okay though, and I have a list of color ingredients over here.
Coconut oil soap also needs to be cured for a full ten weeks before it’s gentle enough for your skin. That means that you need patience and that it’s not great as a last-minute gift idea (this other soap recipe is). Curing is more than about saponification and water evaporating. It’s a process where the soap crystals inside the bars more fully develop. Use soap too early and it can be over-cleansing. Curing is better explained here.
Make Homemade Coconut Oil Soap
This is a very simple soap recipe easy enough for beginners but you could customize it too. The coconut oil and sodium hydroxide ingredient amounts must remain the same, but you could replace up to half of the distilled water with coconut milk. If you do so, I recommend adding the coconut milk after you’ve brought the soap to trace. That way you can avoid it scorching and turning your soap brown. Adding coconut milk may change the color of your bars from white to cream though.
You could also add desiccated coconut as a botanical decoration, though this is probably only best if you live in a region that is not humid. Though there is no such thing as coconut essential oil, you could use coconut soap fragrance oil, if you wish.
Coconut Oil Soap Recipe (Cold Process)
- Stainless steel pan for melting the solid oils
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- 454 g Coconut oil (refined) (16 oz)
Soap Making Preparation
- Ensure that your soapmaking station is set up with all of the equipment, materials, and tools you need. Pre-measure the ingredients using a digital scale. Take care to wear gloves when measuring the lye.
Make the Lye Solution
- For full information on soap-making safety and equipment please head over here. It’s important to read it before trying to make soap the first time. Put on your rubber gloves and eye protection (goggles) and set yourself up in an area with good ventilation. Under a hob, on the doorstep, or outdoors is perfect. Pour the sodium hydroxide into the water and stir with a stainless steel spoon. Be careful not to breathe in the fumes.
- Stir well and leave someplace safe to cool to 100°F (38°C). I tend to set the jug containing the lye solution in cold water in the sink.
Melt the Coconut Oil
- In a stainless steel pan, heat the coconut oil on very low heat until just liquefied. Coconut oil has a low melting point of only 76°F/ 24°C so it will melt quicker than you think. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat.
- When fully melted, take the pan off the heat and cool on a potholder. Stir every few minutes, and cool to 100°F (38°C). Although the recipe does not call for an essential oil/fragrance you could add one to the melted coconut oil at this point if you wish*
Make Coconut Oil Soap
- Get the soap mold prepared and double-check that your goggles and gloves are on and that you won't be disturbed for the next ten minutes.
- When the lye solution and oils are both about 100°F (38°C), pour the lye solution into the pan of oils. Pour the lye solution against a spoon held in the oils as this will reduce air bubbles in your final bars.
- Next, blend the lye solution and oil together until it reaches trace. I don't recommend using a stick blender for this recipe if you're a beginner. At least, not at first as it can trace (thicken/emulsify) quickly. Instead, gently stir with a silicone spatula or stainless steel spoon. If the soap does not trace as quickly and you are stirring after a few minutes, feel free to dip your stick blender in the pot and give it a few pulses.
- The soap will be at trace when the consistency looks about the thickness of warm pudding. It will not have a purely flat surface, but a light texture, especially if you drizzle batter down on top of it.
Mold the Coconut Oil Soap
- Pour the soap into your mold, and I recommend a silicone mold with cavities. That's because coconut oil soap hardens quickly, and may be difficult to cut into bars if you wait too long to cut it.*
Cut and Cure your Soap
- Leave your coconut soap bars someplace airy and out of direct sunlight to cure for at least ten weeks. This sounds like a lot of time, but if you use the soap before the time is up it may over-cleanse your skin, making it feel dry and uncomfortable. After ten or more weeks, coconut oil soap is mild enough to use as any other body soap. More information on curing is here.
- At the end of the cure time, the soaps will be hard and white. For full instructions on how to cure handmade soap head over here
- Once made, your soap will have a shelf-life of up to two years. Check the coconut oil best-by date though, since that will be your soap's best-by date too!
More Simple Soap Recipes
Coconut oil is a quick and inexpensive soap to make! With the lashings of extra coconut oil in these bars, they’re mild and perfect for everyday use. Though you might have seen coconut soap recommended as laundry detergent before, I do not recommend it for this recipe. All those extra oils can get into the fibers of your clothing and linens. Instead, treat this soap recipe as a typical soap recipe for bathing and washing hands.
The majority of the soap recipes I share are very easy to make and use all-natural ingredients. The batch sizes are small too, and perfect for beginners! If you’re looking for more soapmaking inspiration check out the ideas I’ve recommended below. You can also browse all of my soap recipes.
- 100% Olive Oil Soap Recipe
- Make pure-white goat milk soap
- 9 Natural Soap Plants for Lye-free Soap
- Homemade dish soap recipe for the zero-waste home