Make your own bright and fragrant handmade soap
A simple cold-process calendula soap recipe with dried flower petals and citrus essential oils. Includes full DIY instructions.
What I love about this soap recipe is that it’s simple, looks pretty, and smells divine. It really has a citrusy punch that so many other natural soaps lack. The trick is to forget about using lemon or orange essential oils since they fade very quickly in soap. Instead, I introduce a blend using lemongrass and litsea cubeba essential oils. The latter is also called May Chang and is a lemony scented citrus fruit native to China.
Paired with golden calendula petals and a mineral color, this soap is one perfect for the whole family. It’s gentle on the skin and its scent is popular right across the board. It’s also palm-oil free and has clear and simple DIY instructions.
Calendula Soap Recipe
On its own, calendula doesn’t have much of a scent. What it does add to handmade soap is natural color and decoration that don’t discolor. All too often, flower and plant materials will fade or turn brown in your cold-process soap recipes. Not so calendula. In this recipe it adds decoration to the tops of the bars and piece of it natural color the insides. It’s paired with a vibrant yellow mineral to give the soap a bright and sunny hue.
Also called the Pot Marigold, calendula is a skin-healing flower that you can use in skincare recipes. In cold-process soap it’s debatable as to whether those properties survive. If you wanted to make soap that has a better chance of providing therapy check out this recipe.
Soap molds to use
Using this recipe you’ll end up with about 5-6 standard sized bars. You might be wondering what soap molds to use though. The answer is any soap mold that you’d like. Silicone molds are my favourite and I have an entire piece that introduces many of the other types too.
The mold I used to make these bars is a take-away container. The kind that your rice comes in with your Chinese take-out. Line it with grease-proof paper like I’ve done in the photo above and your soap will be easy to pop out. One of these containers can be used indefinitely for soap making and will save you money and give waste a second life.
Soap Making Equipment
Most of the equipment you need to make handmade soap is already in your kitchen. If it’s not, you can purchase it and in many cases use it for both soap making and cooking. To protect yourself from the lye-solution you should wear goggles and rubber gloves. You will also need a few other pieces of kit:
- Digital Thermometer gun
- Digital Kitchen Scale
- Stick (Immersion) Blender
- Stainless steel pan for melting the solid oils
- Heat-proof jug for the lye-solution
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- Rubber spatula for stirring and scraping
- A small dish for mixing the color in
- Small sieve (strainer)
- Mixing color is a whizz with a milk frother
Zesty Citrus & Calendula Soap Recipe
- 64 g Sodium hydroxide 2.27 oz
- 115 g Distilled water 4.06 oz
Add after Trace
- Pre-mix the yellow iron oxide in about a Tablespoon of the olive oil.
- Next, dissolve the lye (Sodium hydroxide) crystals in water. Gear up with eye protection, gloves, and wear a long sleeved top. In an airy place, outdoors is best, pour the lye crystals into the water and stir well. There will be a lot of heat and steam so be careful. Try not to breath it in. Leave outside in a safe place, or in a shallow basin of water to cool.
- Melt the solid oils in a stainless steel pan on very low heat. When melted, remove from the heat and set on a pot holder. Pour in the liquid oils including the colored oil. Sprinkle in one teaspoon dried calendula petals (or two teaspoons fresh).
- Measure the temperatures of the lye-water and the oils. You should aim to cool them both to be about 120°F / 49°C.
- Pour the lye-solution into the pan of oils. I tend to always pour the liquid through a sieve to catch any potential undissolved lye or bits.
- Dip your immersion blender into the pan and with it turned off, stir the mixture. Next, bring it to the center of the pan and with both your hands, hold it on the bottom of the pan and blitz it for just a couple seconds. Turn it off and stir the soap batter, using the blender as a spoon. Repeat until the mixture thickens up to 'Trace'. This is when the batter leaves a distinguishable trail on the surface. The consistency will be like thin custard.
- With your spatula, stir in the essential oils. Working quickly, pour the soap into the mold(s). To get the same effect on the tops of the bars as pictured, swirl the tops with a wooden skewer. Swirl it in small circles back and forth along the top. Afterwards, sprinkle the tops with more dried calendula petals (fresh won't work here).
- Turn your oven on to very low and heat for just a minute or two until it's 100°F / 38°C. Then turn your oven off, and pop your soap molds inside. Leave overnight. Oven-processing the soap like this intensifies the color.
- The next day, take the soap out of the oven and set someplace to rest for another day. Once 48 hours have passed, you can take the soap out of the mold(s). Cure it for 28 days before using. Curing means leaving the bars spaced out on a protected surface out of direct sunlight and in an airy place. This allows the extra water content to fully evaporate out.
- Once made, your soap will have a shelf-life of up to two years. Check the oil bottles that you're using though -- the closest best-by date is the best-by date of your soap.
Simple soap recipe series
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing soap recipes that have the same base oils and lye and water amount. What’s different about each is the color, natural scent, and botanical decoration.
Soap making ingredients can be expensive. However, if you are able to use the same base recipe different batches then you can save a lot of money and reduce waste. This is the first recipe in the series so make sure to check out the other recipes when they’re available.
- Zesty Citrus & Calendula soap recipe
- Lavender & Poppy seeds soap recipe
- Rose Geranium soap recipe
- Herbal soap recipe
- Read this introduction to Lovely Greens soap making for even more inspiration.