Whenever I dig in to a major endeavor learning something new, it usually goes like this. First, it’s exciting and intimidating. I study and research whatever it is, then try it out, repeatedly, generally with mixed results. Then I get frustrated and impatient with the learning curve, and try again in fits and spurts. Then I give up for awhile and pout. Eventually, I get over myself and try again, at which point some kind of magic happens and all the experience–albeit frustrating–suddenly starts clicking in my brain, and it’s like the mysterious, anxious clouds part and I understand. My journey into cheesemaking, especially hard cheeses, was like that. I make a lot of hard cheeses now, and the process feels very easy to me anymore. And my cheeses come out great. But it wasn’t always like that. I went through a lot of frustration before I started seeing the light. Liquid soap has been like that for me, too, and I think it’s that way for a lot of people. Try googling homemade liquid soap–there’s not a lot of information out there unless you count tutorials on how to grate bar soap and melt it into liquid soap. When it comes to making liquid soap from scratch using potassium hydroxide, the information pool is pretty small.
I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because, since it’s liquid, it’s more functional than artsy as opposed to hard bar homemade soap. Or maybe also because the best known resource for homemade liquid soap is Making Natural Liquid Soaps by Catherine Failor, in which she presents a very complicated method. I followed that method myself when I started making liquid soap, and I’m not dissing it–it’s a perfectly good method for making liquid soap, but it’s very focused on clear liquid soaps. The way the recipes are formulated and the complicated methodology are all centered on that central concept of clarity. I still recommend the book as a good resource on understanding liquid soap, and I have a lengthy post with recipes for clear liquid soaps here.
But eventually–when I reached the period past initial excitement and intimidation, past study and research, past frustration and impatience and giving up and pouting, and finally started making liquid soaps again, the magic happened, as it usually does, and the clouds parted–I stopped following the Failor method for making liquid soap. I don’t care if my liquid soap is clear. I also started formulating my own recipes (using SoapCalc) because published recipes geared toward clear liquid soaps are too high in coconut oil (which contributes to clarity but makes them drying). And I simplified the whole process based on my years of soaping experience, both with liquid and hard bar soaps. I stopped trying to climb this mystical Mt. Everest of perfect liquid soap according to….who all, I don’t know….and just treated making liquid soap like I was making soap. Because, hello, that’s all it is.
Here’s how I make liquid soap now, and I wanted to share this here because it’s been years (five years!) since I first wrote about liquid soap. Because I don’t have all the time in the world to make every type of soap I use in my home on a daily basis, I mostly make shampoo. It goes on my hair. I’m mostly interested in what goes on or in my body, not so much what goes on my dishes or my laundry, but you can create (or find) recipes for those types of soaps, also. Remember, this liquid soap will not be clear–it will be a clear-ish amber color, and it may not be just right for your hair. It’s just right for mine (which is not dry or oily, just normal), that’s all I can say. It’s a Vitamin E-rich liquid soap with its high wheat germ oil content. I use it both as a shampoo and as a body wash. I like to call it my Rapunzel soap (because I have long hair). How much this recipe makes varies according to your dilution, but it should be between 1 and 2 quarts. I keep it in an olive oil dispenser, but an old shampoo bottle will do just as well.
*Remember to use potassium hydroxide, the lye for liquid soap, not sodium hydroxide.
How to make Vitamin E Rapunzel Shampoo & Body Wash:
8 ounces coconut oil
6.5 ounces wheat germ oil
5.5 ounces castor oil
4 ounces olive oil
1 ounce lanolin
4.8 ounces potassium hydroxide
9.5 ounces water
Melt the coconut oil along with the other oils in a large crock pot.
Add the potassium hydroxide to the water (never the other way around! and you should be wearing goggles and gloves). When the lye is dissolved in the water, add the mixture to the oils in the crock pot and stick blend until the mixture reaches trace. Put the lid on the crock pot and cook it till it tests safe using a 1% phenolphthalein solution. Now you have your soap paste, ready to dilute.
Make a borax solution using 3 ounces of borax dissolved in 6 ounces of boiling hot water. The borax solution will aid in dilution. Add to the soap paste (still in the crock pot) along with a couple of cups of water. I’m not going to get detailed about how much water and we’re not going to do any math or consult any dilution tables. Just add water every once in a while and always in small quantities at a time. The goal is to dilute as thickly as possible while still completely diluting. Leave the crock pot on low with the lid on. Check on it periodically, stir it around, add more water if you have to. If it’s bedtime, turn off the crock pot and go to bed. The soap will keep working on itself while you’re sleeping. Next morning, stir it around, see if it’s diluted to your satisfaction. If not, add some more water. I’ve had liquid soap be ready the next morning, and I’ve had batches of liquid soap I’ve left in the crock pot for two weeks! (Mostly because I got busy doing other things and left the pot turned off for days at a time before I got back to paying attention to it. Liquid soap will wait for you.) I don’t rush the dilution phase. I just add a little water at a time, check on it every once in a while, and it’s done when it’s done. I like liquid soap to be about the consistency of molasses, thick but pourable at the same time. In my experience I’ve found that the more slowly and patiently I deal with dilution, the thicker end result I can attain.
When it’s done, I add a couple ounces of sulfated castor oil. Sulfated castor oil is NOT the same thing as regular castor oil. I use it for superfatting. It’s the only oil that won’t separate in a water-based mixture. I don’t add fragrance to this, but you can if you want–use fragrance sparingly, like several drops. Fragrance and essential oils are oils so they are prone to separation in a water-based mixture if you use too much.
And there you have it. If you look back at my post here from five years ago about how I made liquid soap then, you’ll see how much simpler I make it now. And it’s better soap, too, go figure!