Amazing Lather? Check!
Simple ingredients? Yep, only three.
When it comes to soap, this is probably the easiest recipe you’ll ever make. And if you’re willing to break a few rules it can one of the most versatile, too. Here’s what I mean:
Traditionally, soaps are made from 5-7 oils blended to balance cleansing/moisturizing/and lathering properties. One of the well known “rules” is that a soap should be made of more than 30% coconut oil because it’s so effective at breaking up oil/grease that it can be drying.
Fortunately, there’s a way to simplify things without skimping on the end product – it’s called “superfatting.” Basically, you add the equivalent of “one quarter moisturizing cream” like big brands do, only you leave out the toxic slew of chemicals that usually go with it. By adding 20% more coconut oil than the lye can convert to soap, you end up with a luxurious body bar. Of course, this doesn’t work with most vegetable oils which go rancid easily – coconut oil’s high shelf stability is what makes it a good choice here.
The best part? Not only can you superfat and get the best of both worlds for your skin, you can break another rule and get your laundry clean, too!
How To Adapt This Recipe To Make Laundry Soap
Normally it is not advised to make soap with under 4% superfat due to the fact that it can be excessively drying and even burn skin if some of the lye remains unconverted, but for laundry soap it’s perfect!
I’ve found that using a 1% superfatted recipe yields a very cleansing bar with no extra oil. Since I’m washing my clothes to get oil OUT rather than put it IN, this totally works for me. I’ve actually washed my hands with this version and have never had any irritation from it, but it’s really only recommended for laundry.
Here’s the full scoop on making your own laundry detergent using just the laundry soap recipe below and one other ingredient. It’s been a tried-and-true recipe in my house for years, and lots of people have written me to say they’ve had amazing results with it also. Here’s a comment Hillary left after making laundry detergent with the coconut oil soap below:
“I washed a couple loads of laundry today- and it worked so well! Our laundry is always SUPER dirty too! My husband does mechanical work for a logging company and his clothes get REALLY dirty after crawling in, on, and under those greasy machines! I think the detergent cleaned it better than our natural detergent we were buying from Costco! I was very impressed, thank you! : )”
Now, About The One Rule You Can’t Break
One of the most common questions I get about soapmaking is how to make it without lye. As I share in five myths that have kept you from making soap (but shouldn’t!), both are needed to cause a chemical reaction called saponification – aka making soap.
Or, as Marie of Humblebee & Me put it, making soap without lye “is like trying to make a baking soda and vinegar volcano without the vinegar. No vinegar and you’ve just got a pile of baking soda. No lye, and you’ve just got a bucket of fat.” (Curious about the other four myths. Click here to read the whole article.)
Technically, you can actually wash your face with oil using this method, but it’s a totally different approach.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, are you ready to get started?
Video Tutorial: Making Coconut Oil Shampoo Bars
Before I started making soap, I asked a friend if I could stop by and watch her make a batch. She agreed, and that afternoon in her kitchen was what helped me become comfortable with the process. In the video below, I invite you into my kitchen to do the same. I’ll walk you through the method, and then you can scroll down this post for the exact recipe and written instructions to check as you go.
Looking for the shampoo bar recipe I mention in the video? Click the link below to access it:
How To Make Pure Coconut Oil Soap (For Cleansing And Laundry)
All amounts are per weight. You will need to use a digital scale for these measurements.
Lathering Skin Bar (20% superfat)
Makes approximately 44 oz. of soap.
Note: Because this soap is highly superfatted it can create a very dense lather when rubbed directly on skin. For a light, bubbly effect I recommend lathering with a natural sponge like this one.
- 33 oz coconut oil, 76 degree* (where to buy coconut oil)
- 4.83 ounces lye (NaOH)** (where to buy lye)
- 12.54 oz water
- .5 – 1 ounce essential oils (optional)
Laundry Soap (1% superfat)
Makes approximately 44 oz. of soap.
- 33 oz coconut oil, 76 degree* (where to buy coconut oil)
- 5.9 ounces lye (NaOH)** (where to buy lye)
- 12 oz water
- .5 – 1 ounce lavender or other essential oils (optional) (where to buy lavender essential oil)
* For soap making purposes there are several types of coconut oil. The stuff I buy has a melting point of 76 degrees. This is the most commonly available kind and the preferred type for soap making. There is also a coconut oil that has a melting point of 92 degrees and another that is “fractionated,” meaning that the long chain triglycerides have been removed, leaving only saturated fats. I have not tested this recipe with either the 92 degree or fractionated oils, but it works well with the 76 degree type.
** You can often find pure lye with no additional plumbing/drain additives in the drain cleaner section of a mom n’ pop hardware store. Lye is a naturally occurring substance that can be made by burning hardwoods and boiling the ashes, but it’s much easier to just buy. If you don’t see it, ask a sales clerk for help. They may be keeping it behind the counter because it has multiple uses. Be prepared to explain that you want to make soap, not meth. 🙂
- crock pot – 8 quart
- stick blender
- digital scale
- glass measuring cups
- small glass bowls
- plastic spoon with long handle (if you use a wooden spoon like the one pictured below, make sure not to use it for anything but soapmaking)
- rubber spatula
- sink or bowl filled with vinegar and water for cleaning anything that comes in contact with lye. Follow by cleaning with soap.
- protective equipment: long-sleeved shirt, plastic/rubber gloves, safety glasses or protective eye gear
- soap mold – (where to buy oval soap mold or square soap mold) A standard sized bread pan is perfect for this batch, cardboard boxes will also work
- parchment paper for lining the soap mold (where to buy parchment paper online)
Step 1: Weigh your ingredients and set your crockpot to low
Step 2: Add water to a medium-sized glass or ceramic bowl and take it outside along with the lye and long-handled spoon. While wearing your protective gear and taking care not to breathe the vapors, slowly add the lye to the water while mixing gently. Order is important here, so make sure it is the lye you’re pouring into the water.
The mixture will get very hot so be careful! Let it transition from cloudy to clear, then bring it inside. Let cool for 5-10 minutes while you work on step 3.
Step 3: Place coconut oil in a saucepan and heat to 120-130F. Make sure that your thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pot when taking your reading. (You can skip this step if you want to add your oil directly to the crockpot and wait for it to melt, but I prefer not to wait.)
Step 4: Place coconut oil in your crockpot and set to low.
Step 5: Add lye to crockpot (being careful not to splash) and stir a few times.
Step 6: Using the stick blender begin mixing toward “trace.” You’ll know trace is achieved when the mixture has the texture and thickness of a light pudding.
Step 7: Cover and let cook on low. During this process the oils should rise up the sides like a wave and then fold back into the mixture. Mine usually takes 45 minutes – 1 hour but the cooking time will vary depending on how hot your crock pot is. Check on it often. If it rises up the sides and seems like it might overflow just give it a quick stir and it will reduce in volume.
Step 8: When the soap is ready it should look a little like semi-translucent vaseline with no oil puddles in the middle. There are two ways to test and see if it’s done. First, dip a PH test strip and wait several minutes for it to fully change color. It should be between 7-10. If it is higher than 10 it’s not done. For a slightly less scientific approach, take a little of the soap and rub it between your fingers. It should feel a bit waxy. Now touch it to your tongue. If it ‘zaps’ you, it’s not done. Note: It is really important to make sure all the lye is converted – otherwise the finished soap can burn!
Step 9: If you’re adding essential oils, wait until the mixture cools a little and then add them, otherwise they will lose their fragrance. (I skipped this, so no photo!)
Step 10: Spoon mixture into your mold and let cool. If you want to speed up this process put it in the fridge
Step 11: Unlike other bars which need to harden for 24 hours before being cut, coconut oil makes a very hard bar that will be difficult to cut if you let it dry too long. Cut as soon as it’s cool and firm.
Step 12: In an area with good air flow, place bars on a rack/tray with about an inch of space between them. Allow them to dry out and harden for another few days. Though you can try your first bar right away, it’s best to let them sit for 2-3 weeks to let the conditioning properties fully develop.
About 1 year when stored in a cool, dry place.
Disclaimer: Sodium Hydroxide is highly caustic and should be handled carefully and knowledgeably. It is the soap makers responsibility to research safety procedures for soap making.