Create a Basic Homemade Soap Recipe

Starting From Scratch

Homemade lavender soap display
Homemade lavender soap. Bill Boch/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

So you want to make some homemade soap?

Just like consulting a cookbook, starting out by using a recipe from a book or website is great. It's good to learn the craft of soap making by using a tested recipe at first. But think of those recipes as just a starting point - because there's nothing quite like creating your own recipe from scratch. Whether it's because you only have certain oils on hand, or you're looking to create the perfect bar of soap, creating your own recipe allows you to control each and every ingredient.

Though you can make soap using only one oil, the best soap recipes have a balance of oils.

Soap making oils each have different fatty acid makeups. The percentage of each of the fatty acids in the oil determines how each oil will contribute a different quality to the final bar of soap. I generally think that the qualities can be categorized in four ways:

  • Hard, stable, long lasting - (palm oil, beef tallow, lard)
    • these oils give a stable, creamy, low lather
  • Lathering - (coconut, castor, palm kernel)
    • these oils give bubbly, fluffy lather
  • Moisturizing/Conditioning - (olive oil, canola, sunflower, soybean)
    • these oils give a low creamy, milky lather
  • Luxury/Super Moisturizing - (cocoa butter, shea butter, almond oil, hemp oil, jojoba)
    • too much of these oils can dampen the lather - but they sure are good for your skin - they also help make the bars harder (they contain some of the same fatty acids that the "hard" oils have

    (Many oils will have multiple characteristics - e.g. shea butter is super moisturizing and makes a very hard bar of soap as well. Coconut is primarily used because it makes a great lather but makes a super hard bar too. Tallow is primarily used as a base oil (hard), but it makes really creamy, moisturizing lather.

    Etc.)

    Balanced Recipes With Different Types of Oils

    A basic balanced recipe should have some of at least the first three oil categories - hard, lathering, and moisturizing. So a basic recipe could be:

    • 30% tallow
    • 25% coconut oil
    • 45% olive oil

    That would be a great, balanced basic bar of soap.

    (Note: I'm using percentages instead of measurements. If this is confusing, or to scale your recipe to any size, read Measurements vs. Percentages in Soap Making.)

    Now, if you wanted to use only vegetable oils, you could use:

    • 25% palm oil
    • 25% coconut oil
    • 25% olive oil
    • 15% canola oil
    • 10% sunflower oil

    This is a great, basic recipe for soap.

    Note: Many soapers also swear by adding 4-6% castor oil to their recipes. I'm one of them. It increases the lather and gives the soap a nice creaminess.

    So...an even better great, basic recipe for soap would be:

    See how it's balanced with a combination of hard, lathering and moisturizing oils?

    After you have decided on a balance of oils, you just need to run your combination of oils through a lye calculator of your choice and you're ready to go.

    My best advice is to not be afraid to experiment.

    Share your experiences with others in the soap making a community. Take good notes in your ​soap notebook, and above all, keep on soaping!